by Ken LaZebnik
Kelly's Cove Press
Hollywood Digs seeks to do what an archaeologist does when excavating a site: dig up material and put it into the context of human history. Film and television writer Ken LaZebnik unearths stories of old Hollywood through the discovery of materials, most of which are photographs. He chronicles lesser known tales of notable Hollywood figures including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dick Powell, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Samuel Goldwyn, Farley Granger, Micky Moore and other figures including the real life Gidget and painter Thomas Kinkade.
There are thirteen different chapters, each serves as its own excavation. I read this book from cover to cover, however, each chapter stands on its own and you could easily read them out of order if you wish. There is an introduction at the beginning explaining the books' purpose. The chapters don't flow together and read more like a hodge podge of stories. The whole concept of a "Hollywood Dig" works to put some semblance of cohesiveness to this book. Like with a real archaeology dig, you never know what you'll find.
My favorite of all the chapters was a lengthy one entitled "Samuel Goldwyn's Birthday: A Contact Sheet by Leigh Weiner." It chronicles the story of producer and movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn from his inauspicious beginnings as an orphan in Warsaw up until the grand eightieth birthday party thrown for him by Hollywood elite in 1962. It also tells the stories of the various figures whose images appear on the photographer's contact sheet including Harpo Marx, Eddie Fisher, George Jessel, Jimmy Stewart, Milton Berle, Shirley Jones and Frank Sinatra. I've always loved stories derived from objects and photographs. This chapter was a delight and I had fun going through the contact sheet one image at a time.
"On August 26, 1962, Goldwyn's eightieth birthday, the royalty of Hollywood gathered for a dinner in his honor. The tables were filled with carnations, as if the guests were attending a memorial service for someone who didn't want to pay for lilies. This created a floating could of flowers that bordered the faces of all the stars. The men smoked cigars; the smaller their current stature in the business, the larger the cigar. George Jessel sported an enormous stogie; Frank Sinatra had none." - Ken LaZebnik
Because all of the chapters are so different from one other, the collection as a whole is kind of a mixed bag. There were some sections I didn't care for, including one called Providence which began as an intriguing observation on Hollywood's reluctance to accept failure or to even use the term but I quickly lost interest as it developed into something else. There were a couple chapters that on first glance were not for me but I found something interesting in them. For example, the anecdotes on Peter O'Toole as found in the chapter on painter Thomas Kinkade.
I would recommend this book to a classic film and TV expert who is looking for a non-traditional book with unique and obscure stories. This book is not for a newbie; it's for a seasoned veteran looking to dig up different material.
Hollywood Digs: An Archaeology of Shadows is published by Kelly's Cove Press, a small publisher with a list that focused on California art and literature. You can only purchase this book and other Kelly's Cove Press titles from their website or from a select group of California bookstores. Traditional outlets like Barnes & Noble, Amazon or independent book stores across the country won't carry it, unless it's a used copy for reselling.
Many thanks to Kelly's Cove Press and Julia Drake PR for sending me a copy of this book to review.