Friday, September 20, 2013

10 Tips on Getting in More Classic Film Reading

I hear a lot of people say that they don’t read classic film related books or don’t read enough of them because they don’t have time. This is an issue for all of us really. We lead busy lives and it’s difficult to get a movie in sometimes let alone a whole book!

As you can tell by my Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge and my many book reviews on this blog, reading classic film books is incredibly important to me. I try my best to fit it into my life because I want to learn. There is so much to learn and even with all the books I’ve read already, I feel like I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg. I know there is so much more out there and my insatiable curiosity won’t let me rest. However, even with my own self-motivation, I still struggle.

Here are ten tips that have helped me get more reading in. I use almost all of them on a regular basis (I have to get better at #10!). I find that I need as much motivation as possible to get in all the reading I want to do. And even then I wish I could read more. Some of these tips might help you, some might not. Look through the list and see if there are any that might help you get in more reading.

 1. Read what you want – I came up with the idea of a Summer Reading challenge instead of a book club because I wanted to people to read what they wanted instead of being assigned something. Don’t pick up a book you think you should read, pick up something you know you want to read. It can be a book about your favorite actor, actress or director or about a genre you love.

2. Challenge yourself – Make goals. Whether it’s to read 6 books in 3 months or to get that one book you’ve been reading for a long time finished by next week. You can even set page goals. For example, make a small goal to finish 100 pages of your book by the end of the day. I know this all makes reading sound like a chore. It really isn’t. Reading is a joy but it comes with effort. And it's more difficult these days with all the distractions. Our attention spans have become shorter. Reading a book will help you work on your attention span and you’ll feel accomplished after each book. Also, if you have an hour to devote to reading and you'll find you'll get advance more pages in an hour straight of reading than an hour's worth of reading in little bits. However, if little snippets of time is all you have then that’s better than nothing.

3. Keep track of your reading – I like to use a website like Goodreads. There is also LibraryThing, All Consuming and a few others. I keep track of books I’m currently reading, books I've read in the past, and how many books I want to read in a year (Goodreads has a cool tracking widget for that). You can also keep an offline journal or keep track of your reading on your blog if you have one. You can do full reviews or small ones to keep track of your thoughts on what you’ve read.

4. Find motivation – Read book reviews by other bloggers or readers, learn about new books coming out, take a look at the book section on TCM’s website, sign up for e-newsletters from your favorite publishers, talk to friends online and offline about what they are reading, etc. I find that talking to people about books or learning about them on and offline really encourages me to read more.


 5. Keep a book by your side constantly – Right now I’m reading Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood. It goes everywhere with me. It’s often found in my car, at my desk at work, in my purse, on my nightstand, on the coffee table by the couch and even in the bathroom sometimes. I read it in the morning when I wake up, at night before I go to sleep and I even read it during my lunch break. Bring a book with you when you travel or go to appointments. You’ll have a lot of down time and you can get some good reading in that way. In fact, if you have a lot of travel time ahead of you, such as a long flight or bus/train trip, then bring TWO books. When you get bored of one, switch to the other. And on that note...

6. Alternate your reading – Do you find yourself overwhelmed with a particular book no matter how much you enjoy reading it? Or is the book your reading a bit of a slog to get through? You don’t have to be faithful to one book at a time. Have a few going at once. I almost always have 3 or 4 books going at the same time. I also read young adult and children’s books for work. So sometimes I’ll alternate between my classic film book and one lighter book I’m reading for my job. Or I’ll alternate between two classic film books. I also like reading general non-fiction, history, classic literature and some contemporary fiction. I try to mix things up and it keeps things interesting.


7. Reward yourself – I remember one time I was so happy that I had finished a particularly long classic film book that was chock full of just so much information, that I rewarded myself with a day of luxury. On that day, I did beauty treatments, went shopping and watched my favorite films. Your rewards don’t have to encompass entire days. They can be small too! Sometimes I even reward myself with finishing one book by buying another. Just don't reward yourself with cake. Ha!

8. Do active reading – I keep a notebook or a pad of paper and a pen handy to make notes while I'm reading. I write down quotes (with page numbers), trivia bits I liked, things that struck me as interesting, thoughts I had about what was discussed and points maybe I want to include in my review if I’m doing one. This is especially useful when you are reading non-fiction like a biography. If I don't have paper nearby, I'll take notes on my iPhone and I'll even take pictures of quotes from the book that I want to refer to later! If you're reading a book about a specific genre of film, sometimes I stop to go to YouTube or TCM's MediaRoom to watch a trailer, scene, musical number, interview, etc. that was mentioned in the book. Or if I read about a film I haven’t seen yet, I go to Netflix or Classicflix to see if I can rent it. Or I’ll look it up on TCM’s website to see if they are showing it in the future. All of this may increase the time it takes you to finish a book. However, it will make you more absorbed in the reading experience and you'll enjoy it more because you have become an active participant instead of just a passive one.

9. Be realistic – You can’t read all the books in the world. There are so many classic film books out there and more are being published every year. Even though our niche is really specific, there is still a huge variety of books on it. So be picky. As I said before, read what you want. Also, if you have a super busy schedule, be realistic about what you can fit in. You might want to read 100 books in a year but if 10 or 20 is more realistic stick with that.

10. It’s okay to put a book down – I should take my own advice because I rarely do this. If you had high hopes for a book and your reading experience has been nothing but a big disappointment, then give yourself permission to stop reading the book . There are a lot of books out there that you will enjoy. It doesn’t make sense to waste your precious time on something that you just don’t like.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge ~ Final Round-up


Here is the final round-up for the 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge. Check out the First Round-Up and Second Round-Up if you haven't already.

Congratulations to Laura and Travis! They completed the 6 book challenge. Instead of awarding a prize to one winner, I decided to split the prize and give them both their pick of any Warner Archive title they want.

ETA: Sara also won too! I didn't find all her reviews on my searches. Whoops! Good job Sara! I added links below and she'll also be getting a prize.

I'm very impressed with everyone's reading and reviews. Here are the last ones:

ETA: Karen of Shadows and Satin submitted 4 after the deadline but I'll still take them!

Born to Be Hurt: The Untold Story of Imitation of Life by Sam Staggs
Hollywood Myths: The Shocking Truths Behind Film’s Most Incredible Secrets and Scandals by Joe Williams
Hollywood Book of Death: The Bizarre, Often Sordid, Passings of More than 125 American Movie and TV Idols by James Robert Parish
Norma Shearer by Gavin Lambert

Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings
Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes by Matthew Kennedy
Movie Love in the Fifties by James Harvey
Romantic Comedy in Hollywood: From Lubitsch to Sturges by James Harvey
Yvonne: An Autobiography by Yvonne DeCarlo

L of Vintage Classic Scrapbook
Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
Film Noir by Alain Silver and James Ursini
Suspects by David Thomson

Margaret of The Great Katharine Hepburn
Celluloid Gaze by Boze Hadleigh

Raquel of Out of the Past
Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations by Ava Gardner and Peter Evans
Cagney by Cagney
Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design by Pat Kirkham and Jennifer Bass
Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker

Rich of Wide Screen World
I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies by Jeanine Basinger

Sara on Goodreads
The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier
To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway

Sebina on Goodreads
Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Film Dames by Ray Hagen and Laura Wagner
Without Lying Down: Screenwriter Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood by Cari Beauchamp

Travis of Cinemalacrum
License To Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films
Mining The Home Movie: Excavations In Histories And Memories
Korean Film: History, Resistance, and Democratic Imagination


Total Books Counted
Karen - 4
Laura - 6
L  - 5
Lindsay - 1
Margaret - 5
Raquel - 6
Rich - 3
Sara - 6
Sebina - 4
Travis - 6

(If I'm missing a link or I incorrectly counted your reviews, let me know!)

Everyone did a great job with their book reviews. Thanks so much for participating! I hope to be able to do this next year.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design

Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design
by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham
Foreword by Martin Scorsese

Laurence King Publishers
(distributed in the U.S. by Chronicle)
Hardcover, 428 pages
October 2011
ISBN: 9781856697521

Barnes and Noble
IndieBound
Powell's

I was so excited when Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design came out. I anxiously waited for a good deal and when I found one I immediately bought the book. As with most books I get really excited about, it quickly got queued along with a lot of other books that were begging for my attention. My Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge was just the swift kick in the pants I needed to devote some time to it.

Many people will buy this book, flip through the pages, ogle at Saul Bass' many gorgeous designs and display the book proudly in their homes. But this book deserves so much more than to just be another adornment on someone's coffee table for cursory perusing. It's a beautiful book meant to be slowly consumed with just as much time spent reading the text as looking at the designs.

The book starts off with a foreword by Director Martin Scorsese, a preface by design historian and Bass family friend Pat Kirkham and an additional preface by Saul Bass' daughter Jennifer Bass. Her preface is very touching and reads like a love letter to her dad. It's not to be missed. Right from the beginning we get the sense that Saul Bass didn't do this alone. He collaborated with his talented wife Elaine Bass and had the support of a team that grew to over 50 employees. Bass worked tirelessly up until his death in 1996.

Pat Kirkham wrote most of the text and Jennifer Bass worked on the design and layout of the book as well as curating all of the design work that is so lovingly displayed. Saul Bass had intended to write a book of his own but had to abandon it while in the middle of the process. Many of the writings in his early draft can be found within the pages of this book. It's divided into 6 chapters: 1. From the Beginning; 2. Renaissance Designer, 3. Reinventing Movie Titles, 4. Beginnings, Middles and Ends, 5. The Wheel Comes Full Circle, 6. Corporate Identity, 7. Personal Handwriting. This structure isn't immediately intuitive but works chronologically through Bass' life and career and the necessity for this structured flow becomes apparent as you work through the book.

Saul Bass' work is vast and encompasses many formats and mediums. He did movie title sequences, movie posters and ads, corporate logos, album covers, food and product package designs and he even designed buildings. His portfolio of logos for companies and organizations such as AT&T, The Girl Scouts, The United Way, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, Dixie Cups, Warner Communications, etc. is remarkable. He and his wife Elaine also directed short films, commericals and one feature length film Phase IV.

His movie title sequences are what I think most of us are enchanted by and we get to ogle at screen shots of his collaborations with directors such as Otto Preminger (they worked on 13 films together), Alfred Hitchcock (did you know that Bass "designed" the famous shower sequence in Psycho?) and Martin Scorsese (who gave Bass complete creative control).

What's really wonderful about this book is not only are Saul Bass' designs presented to us in a visually appealing format, we are also given the history, context and meaning behind each design. You'll learn a lot about why Bass decided to go with a certain look or design element. He was incredibly thoughtful and retentive and each design, no matter how simple, is packed with meaning and symbolism.

My only very slight criticism of this book is that it is presented with bias and definitely glorifies Bass and his work. His talent was incredible and after reading this I wonder if he was super-human and almost without fault? Who knows, maybe he was? Otherwise, this book is a glorious tribute to an incredibly talented man. I love the last chapter which includes quotes, reminiscences and advice from the man himself.

Here are some quotes from Saul Bass and from the book in general along with some of my favorite Saul Bass designs. I also included a making-of-the-book trailer from the publisher. This is my sixth and final entry for my 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge.



On Movie Title Sequences - "... the nature of films was changing, partly in terms of content but also because of competition from television - opening up new possibilities for designers like Saul." - pg 16
On Creativity - "Interesting things happen when creative impulse is cultivated with curiosity, freedom and intensity." - Saul Bass
On Conformity "... Saul noted the links between creativity and non-conformity, pointing to the fear of risk-taking and the stigma attached to failure in a success-oriented society." - pg. 32
 On Criticism -  "You see an artist, a creative person, can accept criticism or can live with the criticism much more easily than with being ignored. Criticism makes you feel alive. If somebody is bothered enough by what you have done to speak vituperatively about it, you feel have touched a nerve and you are at least “in touch.” You are not happy that he doesn’t like it, but you feel you are in contact with life.”- Saul Bass
On Movie Title Squences - "Saul believed that a film, like a symphony, deserved a mood-setting overture, and used ambiguity, layering and texture as well as startingly compact imagery to reshape the time before the film proper began.” p. 106
On the Care and Feeding of Creative People - "When a client repeatedly rejects good ideas the effect on creative people can be devastating. Joy evaporates, motivation diminishes. Conversely, when a client recognizes and supports excellent work, the motivation to be even better is enhanced.”- Saul Bass
On Saul Bass’ ideal title – “a simplicity which also as a certain ambiguity and a certain metaphysical implication that makes that simplicity vital. If it’s simple simple, it’s boring.” pg. 107 

Title sequence for Ocean's 11 (1960)



Title sequence for The Man With a Golden Arm (1955)


Cover of the music album Tone Poems of Color conducted by Frank Sinatra


Corporate Logos by Saul Bass


Anatomy of a Murder (1959) movie poster


Bonjour Tristesse (1958) movie poster




Friday, September 6, 2013

Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations

Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations
by Peter Evans and Ava Gardner
Simon and Schuster
Hardcover, 304 pages
July 2013
ISBN 9781451627695


Barnes and Noble

IndieBound
Powell's

In 1986, actress Ava Gardner suffered a stroke. Two years later she found herself in some financial difficulty and decided to write a memoir so she wouldn't have to "sell the jewels". Biographer Peter Evans was hired to help Gardner write the book after being personally recommended by Gardner's friends including fellow actor Dirk Bogarde. Evans knew that this project would be difficult but couldn't imagine what was in store for him. After months of late night phone calls, bizarre meetings and endless massaging of a fading beauty's ego, the book was called off. A more sanitized autobiography was published much later with the help of someone else. But Peter Evans never let go of the idea of publishing a book about Ava Gardner in her voice and with the permission of her estate put together Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations.

Me reading this book is me keeping a very open mind. As some of you know, I do not like Ava Gardner. But many people do like her and are fooled dazzled by her manipulation charm. I set my differences aside because I thought this book sounded really interesting and I wanted to learn more about her.

The end result was that I quite enjoyed my experience reading this book and learning more about Ava Gardner as an actress and as a woman. This book defies any categorization. It's a sort of biography (Peter Evans' voice), autobiography (Ava Gardner's voice), transcript of conversations and a biography about a biography that never happened. The book is also a tribute to Peter Evans who passed away before he could finish it. Both voices are gone but we have this treasure to remember them by.

Because the initial project was cut short, we don't really have the full story of Ava Gardner's life but we do get quite a bit. Most of Gardner's conversations with Evans are about the romantic relationships she's had. We learn a lot about her first marriage to Mickey Rooney and to some extent her marriages to Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra. All those marriages ended badly. She also had a long romance with Howard Hughes, but refused to marry him, affairs with Robert Mitchum and a bull fighter in Spain and was in an abusive relationship with actor George C. Scott. In her conversations with Evans, Gardner is very restrained but with Evans patience and a couple of drinks, she does open up to reveal some very personal information. She would often times panic later about what she had revealed and plead Evans not to include it. Evans was essentially in the middle of a tug-of-war. He had a publisher to answer to but he also needed to keep Gardner happy and on board with continuing the book. Evans struggle was a significant one and you get really get a sense of his dilemma.

Ava Gardner can come off very vain in this book. She was highly focused on her appearance and how people perceive her. But in many ways this is understandable. Here is an aging beauty who once had
an incredible power over men, driving many of them wild with desire, and doesn't want to let that power go. Who would?

My favorite part of the book was when Peter Evans recalls the time when he arranged a meeting with Ava Gardner and the publishers. The event was to take place at Gardner's home and she was very worried about her appearance. She was much older now and her stroke had left part of her face paralyzed. Gardner told Evans she would only do the meeting if cinematographer Jack Cardiff arranged the lighting so she could look her best. Cardiff came over, staged the lighting around the chair she would sit in and made everything work for her. Evans talked to Cardiff and this is what he said:
When she sits in that chair tomorrow, keep telling her how beautiful she looks. Keep on saying that. How beautiful she looks. Lay it on thick. She won't believe you, she's too smart to fall for blarney, but it's what she wants to hear. It's the tribute you must always pay to great beauties when they grow old. Remember, it's always the camera man who grows old, never the star. - Jack Cardiff (page 83)

This book is amazing and I highly suggest you read it. Did it change my opinion of Ava Gardner? No. But it did give me some insight into this iconic actress and made me understand her allure. I loved reading about her relationships with her mom and her sister Bappy. Evans included parts of the draft that he was working on before he had to cancel the project. Those were really interesting to read. I loved the story of how Mickey Rooney traveled with Gardner to see her mom and made a big fuss over her and made her mom so happy. I really enjoyed how Gardner was open about her mistakes and frank about her career. While she was concerned about what would go into her book, I felt that at heart she was a very honest and open person.

If there is an actress or actor you don't like, I suggest taking some time out to read a bit more about them. It might not change your opinion but it will definitely open your eyes.

This is my fifth review for my 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge. Just one more to go!

2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge  
 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Young Man With a Horn by Dorothy Baker

Young Man With a Horn
by Dorothy Baker
New York Review of Books
Paperback, 192 pages
Originally Published 1938
ISBN 9781590175774

Barnes and Noble
IndieBound
Powell's

Young Man With a Horn by Dorothy Baker is considered to be the first ever Jazz novel. It was published in 1938 and was a critical and commercial success. The novel was adapted into a movie which was released in 1950 and starred Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall and Doris Day (read my review of the movie here). Baker turned down the opportunity to adapt her own novel into a screenplay and because of that the book and movie are very different.

Spoiler alert! In comparing the book with the movie I reveal some important plot points. 

Young Man With a Horn follows the story of Rick Martin from when he was a young boy in the poor part of Los Angeles to when he becomes a professional jazz trumpeter to his downward spiral to his inevitable death. In the movie, Rick comes out of his sickness alive with the help of friends. In the book, it's only Smoke who is by his side and the story ends with his demise.

Race is a big issue in the novel and much time is spent on exploring the class and social difference between whites and blacks. It's unclear whether Dorothy Baker was prejudiced herself but much of the language is very demeaning towards African-Americans and this is dialed down quite a lot in the film. The language in the book might come as a bit of a shock to contemporary readers so its important to note the time frame this book was written in. I thought it interesting that Rick's friendship and collaboration with black musicians isn't questioned much in the film except for when Rick is doing double-duty playing at a fancy nightclub during the evening and a dive with his friend Art later in the night.

Let's talk about the two important men in Rick's life: Art Hazzard and Smoke Jordan. The film has an African-American (well really an Afro-Latino) playing Art Hazzard and a Caucasian man playing Smoke Jordan. In the novel, they are both African-American and it's really Smoke who is Rick's lifelong pal and not Art. Art Hazzard is a musician who helps Rick get ahead but not much more. The whole sop story of Art getting older and sickly and dying because of Rick neglect's is purely an invention of the movie and does not happen in the book. Baker's character Smoke is split into two characters in the movie with some story lines are given to Art and the rest to Smoke. Perhaps it was too much for the time the movie came out for Rick to have one African-American friend and no Caucasian buddy.

I was surprised how little the two main female characters play in the novel versus the film. In the movie adaptation, Jo Jordan is played by Doris Day, a blonde Caucasian actress known for her singing and for playing good girls on screen. Amy North is played by Lauren Bacall, with cat-like features she's excellent playing a seductress and femme fatale. Jo's part in the movie is much bigger than it is in the book. In the novel, Jo is a singer who only briefly comes into Rick's life enough to introduce him to Amy North and to interact with him one other time. She's described as dark-skinned and doesn't have a romance or even a flirtation with Rick in the novel. Both Jo Jordan and Amy North don't come into the story until about 127 pages into the 172 page novel where as Jo appears 21 minutes in and Amy 50 minutes into the 112 minute movie and take up much more time after their initial appearance than they do in the book. The portrayal of Amy is pretty accurate in the movie and although she becomes Rick's wife, she seems to be more of a disastrous mistake in the book than a big cataclysm like the movie portrays her.

The two portrayals of Rick Martin are not that different from each other. However, the book spends a lot more time exploring Rick's childhood and how he develops his skills over the years playing the trumpet. We see Rick, desperately poor and parentless trying to find something in the world worth living for. The novel explores his struggles in school, his fascination with reading library books, his piano playing and his switch to the trumpet, his African-American pals and their adventures together. Some of this is explored in the movie but a lot is cut out to focus more on Rick's adult life.

The movie is much more entertaining than the book possibly because of the love triangle of Jo, Amy and Rick which adds much romantic drama. The book's focus is more on Rick as a jazz musician and less as an object of romantic desire. One thing I thought was really intriguing is that the author Dorothy Baker was fascinated with homosexual relationships and as she wrote more books she became more open in exploring them. Amy North as a lesbian or a bisexual woman is hinted at much more in the movie than in the book. The movie focuses a lot more on sex and I wonder if Dorothy Baker had tackled the screenplay (she refused to do it) whether she would have gone that route or maybe found some other drama to play up.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I read the novel Young Man With a Horn but to me it read almost like a completely different story than the film. The novel has a lot less drama and is an introspective look at the life of a jazz artist. Both the film and the novel have their good qualities, so while I compare them both together in this review they should in fact be seen as two different stories.

I bought the book from New York Review of Books which put Young Man With a Horn after it had been out of print for many years! This is my fourth entry into my 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Cagney by Cagney

Cagney by Cagney
Doubleday
Paperback, 202 pages
Originally published 1976
ISBN 9780385520263

Barnes and Noble
IndieBound
Powell's

"Acting is work, nothing more or less than work, and it comes into existence only with work." - James Cagney

By 1976, at least three biographies had been written about the already legendary actor James Cagney. Frustrated by what he thought was the proliferation of misinformation, Cagney set out to write his on autobiography and gave it, what he refers to as, a "fatheaded title": Cagney by Cagney.

James Cagney tells the story of life from his humble beginnings as a poor kid growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to his career as a film actor to his retirement. Told in a conversational style, Cagney offers us lots of stories especially those of the ordinary folks who influenced him in his early years and the fellow actors whom he would befriend along the way. He spends a lot of time talking about his mother, probably one of the biggest influences in his life, his brothers, his sister Jeanne and a bit about his father, a mysterious figure who died when Cagney was coming into his adulthood. What we don't read very much about is his wife, Francis Willard Vernon, whom Cagney refers to as "My Bill", or about his two adopted kids James Cagney Jr. and Casey Cagney. At one point Cagney writes that his wife asked to not be included in the book but Cagney refused to oblige her request. It might be because of that request that he refrains from going into too much detail about their marriage. There is some detail but not a lot, and perhaps she also asked him to also keep the kids out of the book too. I would have liked to have read more about their relationship because it was a fruitful marriage that lasted a lifetime and Cagney was known to remain always faithful to his wife even with the temptations that Hollywood offered.

Instead, Cagney focuses a lot more on the kids he grew up with, his mother and siblings and his many Hollywood friends including his lifelong friend Robert Montgomery and other buds such as Pat O'Brien, Frank McHugh and Ralph Bellamy. He didn't get along with everyone and when he decides to say something negative about those people he usually doesn't mention them by name.

I'm not sure if Cagney had help writing his autobiography but he wasn't a stranger to writing and over the years penned numerous rhymes and limericks for various occasions. He includes many of them, both old and new, in the text. It gives the reader a sense of his personality: humorous with a playfully devilish side. Cagney was not afraid to speak his mind. He devotes a lot of the book to his frustrations with the studio system and with Warner Bros. in particular. He went on to become part of the Screen Actors Guild and also started his own production company (Cagney Productions) with his brother and business manager Bill Cagney. He also discusses the ups and downs of being an actor, the artificialness of Hollywood and even devotes a chapter to his politics (he went from being a Liberal to being a Conservative).

I learned a lot of interesting tidbits about Cagney while reading this book. He was raised Catholic however he ended up learning Yiddish and used his skills many times throughout the years. Cagney was never interested in being on TV but made a few exceptions including one for his friend Robert Montgomery who had a TV show. He had some disdain for his gangster pictures that he made with Warner Bros. and only really liked the song-and-dance pictures. He never watched any of his films except for those musicals and even then he only wanted to see the song-and-dance numbers. He considered his crowning achievement to be Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and it's the only film he spends a considerable time talking about. Cagney liked to think of himself as a song-and-dance man and not as a gangster. He also discusses his somewhat frustrating experience with One Two Three (1961) which was the last film he did before his retirement (he went on to do a couple more but they were after he wrote this biography).

I particularly liked some of the issues that Cagney explores in the book. He was very fond of nature and owned a farm in Massachusetts. He was particularly interested in issues of conservation and the protection of the environment and discusses his concerns with the building of highways in the 1970s. Cagney was also concerned about how the present society was so fixated on building up heroes only to break them down. It's such a part of our culture today that it's difficult to think of a time when this didn't happen. Cagney also gives some really good advice about living a long fruitful life after retirement: get some hobbies! He picked up painting, martial arts and farming after he stopped acting and his new hobbies kept him going for many years.

Even though the book was fun to read, I was a little disappointed with Cagney by Cagney. I really wanted to know more about his gangster movies, his wife, how he and Bill came to adopt their kids, etc. I have read a few memoir type books recently and have grown a bit weary of them. Actors are performers and their books are often another type of performance. They have an agenda and they want to appear a certain way and sometimes that gets in the way of what the reader really wants out of the book. However, I'm very glad I read it and I can set aside my disappointment and treasure this book for what it is. If I want more, I know there are other Cagney biographies out there for me to enjoy.

I bought this book new at Barnes & Noble and while it's still in print it looks like there are limited new copies available out there.

This is my third contribution to my 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge!




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