Thursday, July 30, 2015

Documentary Review: Best of Enemies (2015)

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Several months ago I watched the documentary Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia (2013). Then I watched it again. And again. And again. I was mesmerized by this brilliant documentary as well its fascinating subject. It was timely, filmed shortly before Vidal’s death in 2012, powerful and illuminating with almost unfettered access to Vidal himself as well as his friends and colleagues. In that documentary we see some footage of the infamous William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal debates. I was fascinated and wanted to learn more about their debates as well as their vitriolic hatred for each other. That’s when Best of Enemies (2015) stepped in.

Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr in BEST OF ENEMIES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville and released by Magnolia Pictures, Best of Enemies tells the story of Buckley and Vidal’s debates during the 1968 Republican and Democratic national conventions and broadcast by ABC News. William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal were on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Buckley was a staunch conservative and Vidal an unapologetic liberal. Both men were highly intelligent and well-spoken commentators. They both had failed at getting into public office, Buckley ran for Mayor in 1965 and Vidal for Congress in 1960. They recognized television as a powerful platform to deliver their political ideologies and both accepted ABC News’ invitation to debate with each other on live television. What resulted was explosive and would forever change TV news and the lives of both men.

William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal in BEST OF ENEMIES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Buckley and Vidal hated each other. A lot. In the opening scene of the documentary we see archival footage from the 1970s of Gore Vidal. He’s giving the cameras a tour of his stunning home, nestled on a cliff in Ravello, Italy. Vidal takes the camera crew into the bathroom where a framed collection of photographs from the infamous debates hangs above his bathtub. Vidal snidely says of Buckley “he’s a well-known right-wing commentator whose name seldom passes my lips.” Buckley didn’t like to talk about Vidal either. ABC News approached him first about doing a debate with a liberal commentator during the conventions. He said he would not want to debate with a communist or Gore Vidal. They gave him Vidal.

When Buckley lost his cool. BEST OF ENEMIES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Best of Enemies stitches together footage from the ten debates, ABC news coverage, some of it unedited, interviews with a wide variety of talking heads as well as archival footage of both Buckley and Vidal. Both sides are represented as equally as possible however things don’t turn out as well for Buckley who lost his cool in one of the last debates. It’s one of the most infamous moments in TV news history. Vidal calls Buckley a Crypto-Nazi and Buckley calls Vidal a queer and threatens to sock him in the face. That moment is pivotal in the documentary as well as the lives of both men.

Gore Vidal and Paul Newman in BEST OF ENEMIES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Classic film fans, especially ones interested in the culture of the 1960s, will be fascinated with this documentary. It provides a lot of context of what was going at the time politically and culturally. Gore Vidal was no stranger to Hollywood. He was a screenwriter and novelist and his films include The Catered Affair (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), The Best Man (1964), Myra Breckenridge (1970) and Caligula (1979). In 1968, his novel Myra Breckenridge had just been published and was hot topic. Clips from the film adaptation can be seen in the documentary as well as clips from Ben-Hur, Caligula and The Best Man. There is an extended reference to Sunset Blvd. (1950) too. Classic film enthusiasts will spot familiar faces such as Raquel Welch and Henry Fonda and there is also archival footage of Paul Newman and Arthur Miller at the Democratic national convention. Newman was good friends with Vidal and was often in the studio during the debates.


The filmmakers chose some excellent interviewees for the documentary. My favorites include Dick Cavett (talk show host), Richard Wald (former president of NBC News), George Merlis (ABC publicist), Christopher Hitchens (political essayist who passed in 2011), James Wolcott (Vanity Fair), Sam Tanenhaus (biographer of Buckley) and Reid Buckley (Buckley’s brother). I also really loved the commentary from Brooke Gladstone of NPR who put the debates in the context of the history of TV news and John McWhorter of Columbia University who analyzed the language and the importance of the discourse. Fun fact: at one point Buckley exclaims “this is balderdash now!” It was also neat to listen to actors John Lithgow and Kelsey Grammer narrate written pieces from Buckley and Vidal.

Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr in BEST OF ENEMIES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

 Here are some of my favorite quotes from the documentary:

“Networks, did they deal in controversy? No. Did they invite controversy? No. They were in the center. They were cementers of idea not disruptors of idea.” – Richard Wald, NBC News

“Bill Buckley was the first modern conservative intellectual to see that ideological debates were cultural debates. And what he did was to put conservativism on the march and that’s the creation of the movement we have today.” Sam Tanenhaus

“ABC was the Budget Car Rental of TV news” – Frank Rich, New York Magazine

“This has always been an anti-intellectual country. These days anybody who spoke like those two men in public would be seen to be heartless.” – John McWhorter, Columbia University

“The network nearly shat.” – Dick Cavett on the Buckley-Vidal incident

“Argument is sugar and the rest of us are flies.” – Richard Wald, NBC News

“More and more we are divided into communities of concern. Each side can ignore the other side and live in its own world. It makes us less of a nation because what binds us together is the pictures in our heads. But if those people are not sharing those ideas they’re not living in the same place.” – Uncredited

The reason I was most drawn to this documentary is my fascination with Gore Vidal. He is arguably one of the most interesting public figures of the 20th century. This documentary satiated my interested and piqued a new one about his rival Buckley.

William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal in BEST OF ENEMIES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

I could go on for a long time about this documentary but I don’t want to spoil it for you. Instead I want to give you a plan of action. First, watch Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia on Netflix Instant. Second, do a little research on William F. Buckley Jr. to keep things balanced. Third, find out which theater near you is showing Best of Enemies and go see it! This documentary premiered at Sundance to much critical acclaim. It was the opening film for the recent AFI Docs festival. You can watch at select theatres starting tomorrow. Visit the official site for the schedule.

Summary: Best of Enemies (2015) is a powerful documentary depicting a tumultuous time in political history, a turning point in TV news and highly contentious relationship between two intellectual equals William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal. This film entertains as much as it provides history and context. I highly recommend it.



Thank you to Magnolia Pictures for sending me a screener to review!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Haul and Summer Reading Video



I'm being brave and venturing out into the world of YouTube again. I've done a few videos in the past but with much trepidation. I'm not comfortable with public videos, ratings or comments yet but I won't let that stop me from trying out some videos. I was inspired by (i.e. stole the idea from) Vanessa from Stardust who has an excellent YouTube channel and also Aurora of Once Upon a Screen... who encouraged me to be more adventurous with my blog.

In this video I share with you my recent book haul as well as my six summer reading titles. Enjoy!

P.S. The Fritz Lang film I was trying to remember was Harakiri (1919).
P.P.S. I promise to do shorter videos in the future. I just really like talking about Fritz Lang and books apparently.

Titles mentioned:
'Tis Herself by Maureen O'Hara
The Man Who Saw a Ghost: The Life and Work of Henry Fonda by Devin McKinney
Considering Doris Day by Tom Santopietro
Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille by Scott Eyman

The Many Faces of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy by Peggy Caravantes
Memoirs of a Professional Cad by George Sanders
Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast by Patrick McGilligan
Stepin Fetchit: The Life & Times of Lincoln Perry by Mel Watkins
Hollywood in Kodachrome by David Wills
The Dawn of Technicolor: 1915-1935 by James Layton and David Pierce

Monday, July 20, 2015

Memoirs of a Professional Cad by George Sanders

Memoirs of a Professional Cad
by George Sanders
Dean Street Press
Originally Published 1960
9781910570463 - Paperback

Barnes and Noble 
IndieBound
Powell's

“You should watch the film for George Sanders.” In one form or another this is a line I’ve repeated often during my years as a classic film fan. George Sanders could charm audiences regardless of the quality of the film he was in. He made fine classics such as All About Eve and Foreign Correspondent as well as questionable clunkers. Every single film he was in was improved simply by his presence.

“...on the screen I am invariably a sonofabitch, in life I am a dear, dear, boy.” – George Sanders

George Sanders charmed fans on the printed page as well with Memoirs of a Professional Cad. Written and published in 1960, this memoir is essentially a collection of essays broken up into 23 chapters and split into Books I and II. Each chapter has a specific theme or multiple themes as Sanders might decide to veer off into a rant or go on a tangent. As I was reading the memoir I started giving chapters different titles. For example chapter 9 I called “On impulsiveness”, chapter 11 “On how to say no and living the good life” and Book II chapter 4, “Musings on Albert, the butler”. With a few exceptions, most of the chapters stand alone as individual essays. Book II chapters 6 and 7 are presented as a pair. Chapter 6 recounts the filming of Solomon and Sheba which leads into chapter 7 which deals with the sudden death of Tyrone Power.

“To the best of my knowledge, my father came in the mail.” – George Sanders

The essays range on a variety of topics. We learn about his family and early days in Russia, his schooling in England and a variety of jobs he held before he became an actor. Sanders shared some hilarious stories of doing work for a cigarette-manufacturing company. He traveled through Argentina and Chile promoting the cigarettes. He came up with a clever marketing plan: dropping cigarette packages from a Bristol Bi-Plane into remote areas of Chile. He was “thrown out” of many jobs before this one but he seemed to make this one stick. However it all ended when he found himself in a duel with a widow’s fiancee and was consequently thrown into jail. His employer came to his rescue but only long enough to bail him out of a jail and bring him back to England. He was unceremoniously fired shortly after and both the fiancee and Sanders survived the ordeal.

“...the driving force of my life has always been laziness; to practice this, in reasonable comfort, I have even been prepared, from time to time, to work.” – George Sanders

This was a lucky turn of events because his next job brought him into the presence of budding actress Greer Garson. She introduced him to acting and legions of George Sanders fans should be forever grateful to her for doing so. In his memoirs, we learn about Sanders’ early days in theater, the time he bailed out of a Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway production of South Pacific and behind-the-scenes stories of films such as The Moon and Sixpence (1942), All About Eve (1950), Captain Blackjack (1950), Journey to Italy (1954) , Solomon and Sheba (1959) and Bluebeards Ten Honeymoons (1960)

George Sanders had some wonderful observations on Hollywood, acting, work, school, relationships and his own personal quirks. The book is endlessly quotable and I bookmarked many a passage that I heartily agreed with, that made me laugh or that made me scratch my head. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Observations:

“I arrived at the conclusion that to enjoy one’s life to its fullest, one must build contrast into it. And the more extreme the contrast the fuller the life.” 

“The average audience is also incapable of distinguishing between a good actor and a good part. The actor gets the credit every time when more often than not the credit should go to the writer.”

“The mortality rate among stars is extremely high, whereas a good character actor is almost indestructible.”

“It is one of the sad ironies of life that one has to make money in order to spend time but waste time in order to make money.”

“Common household services are better paid for in money than in marriage, which is liable to produce the disagreeable results of a grossly distended waistline coupled with conversation confined to comparative prices of ground beef.”

“To begin with, it is impossible to be in love with a woman without experiencing on occasions an irresistible desire to strangle her. This can lead to a good deal of ill-feeling. Women are touchy about being strangled.”

“To the Englishman it is a continual source of amazement and irritation that the rest of mankind does not consist of other Englishmen.”

Anecdotes:

“My first appearance on the screen was as one of the gods in The Man Who Could Work Miracles. The part called for me to ride half-naked and shiny with grease, at four o’clock in the morning during one of England’s coldest winters, on a horse which was also coated with grease.”

“For a long time I was considered the ideal actor to play sneering, arrogant, bull-necked Nazi brutes.”

On getting his Oscar for his role in All About Eve. “I was grateful and flattered to get mine, but apart from making my already large ego one size larger it did absolutely nothing for me.”

On Marilyn Monroe “I lunched with her once or twice during the making of the film and found her conversation had unexpected depths. She showed an interest in intellectual subjects which was, to say the least, disconcerting. In her presence it was hard to concentrate.”

“Zsa Zsa was like champagne, and I as her husband was hard put to it to keep up with her standard of effervescence”

“There was no air-conditioning in the studio and the heat was so great at times that one had to sit between scenes with ice cubes wrapped in towels pressed against all possible parts of the anatomy in order to survive.”


Sanders talks in detail about his failed marriage to Zsa Zsa Gabor (and her obsession with hair dryers). He was writing his memoirs during a happy time in his life when he was married to Benita Hume. She’s only discussed once in the book at any length where Gabor’s antics take up entire essays. I also noticed that besides a fleeting mention of him in the first chapter, George Sanders does not talk at all about his brother, actor Tom Conway. I imagine at this point in Sander's life they were not on the best of terms.

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for years. I have been hunting down an elusive copy of the original out-of-print hardcover but much to my dismay I could never find a reasonably priced one. That’s when Dean Street Press came to the rescue! This small British publisher brought George Sanders’ memoir as well as his two mystery novels back into print. They were very generous and sent me an e-book version of Sanders’ memoir which I was very grateful to read. I still want a physical copy but now I’m debating whether I’ll buy the reissue paperback or wait for a good original hardcover copy.

“I had had since the beginning a profound sense of unreality about my newly acquired profession which the atmosphere of Hollywood did nothing to dispel. I never really thought I would make the grade. And let’s face it, I haven’t.” – George Sanders

I really wanted to love this book but in the end I just really liked it. Some of the essays are absolute gems and others were so-so. Every chapter had some pearl of wisdom, bit of insightful musing or humorous anecdote to devour so I felt very satisfied by the end. The publisher suggests that Sanders’ memoir is somewhat fictional. There is an after by Ulla Watson, Sanders’ niece. She also backs up the claim of Sanders as unreliable narrator pointing out that Sanders often downplayed his skills and sometimes his lack of confidence caused him to bail out of projects.

Whether we can believe everything George Sanders says or not it doesn’t really matter. Memoirs of a Professional Cad is an entertaining and enthralling insight into the mind of one of the 20th century’s most charming actors.

This is my second entry for my 2015 Classic Film Book Summer Reading Challenge!


Friday, July 17, 2015

Coolest Classic Film Stuff I Own (Part Two)

Here is part two of my collection of classic film treasures. If you missed part one, make sure you take a look before you move on!



Books

Books books books. I love books. I especially love my collection of classic film books of which I have many. Every year I run a summer reading challenge to encourage myself and others to tackle their to-be-read pile of classic film books. Many classic film fans collect books whether they be biographies, memoirs, coffee table pictorials, scholarly text or reference guides. In my opinion, these books are the best way for me to learn about my interest. IMDb and Wikipedia is great but there is nothing like diving into a good book and getting absorbed into the world of an actor, actress, time period, movie studio, etc.



Autographed copy of a Jack Klugman book 

 I never got to meet Jack Klugman in person but I have something he once held in his hands! My signed copy of Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship by Jack Klugman is my most prized book in my collection.  Klugman was well-known for his TV work but he was in some wonderful films too including 12 Angry Men and Days of Wine and Roses. In this book he discusses his friendship with Tony Randall as well as their personal lives and acting careers. It’s like two biographies in one!


TCMFF media passes and social media buttons

I proudly display my media credentials and festival buttons on my cubicle wall at work. I look at them every day and they remind me of all the wonderful times I had at the 2013, 2014 and 2015 TCM Classic Film Festivals. I love that my name is clearly branded on each of the passes and the buttons are just fun to look at.




Buttons

How about even more buttons? I got the I Heart Movies button at a special screening of These Amazing Shadows (2011), a documentary about the National Film Registry. I was personally invited to a screening at the Coolidge Corner Theatre by one of the directors of the documentary. (Thank you Kurt Norton!). It was such a wonderful event I accidentally covered the event twice within one post. Oops!  I’ll fix that eventually. The other buttons are from Kate Gabrielle’s line of Your Fan Club buttons. As you see I have ones for Joan Blondell, Norma Shearer, Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Jack Klugman, Robert Osborne and Edward G. Robinson.


Classic Film Calendar made by Kate Gabrielle 

Let me gush about Kate Gabrielle  a bit. This woman is incredibly talented. She’s clever, thoughtful and has serious skills as an artist. Several months ago I commissioned a classic film themed calendar. I gave her some ideas, a list of my favorite classic film people, my favorite holiday (New Year’s Eve!), a few photographs and she turned all of this into a spectacular calendar. I can’t believe it! If you want to see all the months of the calendar, check out my original post about it.


Robert Mitchum themed birthday card and matching envelope

One year Kate Gabrielle sent me a birthday card with an image of Robert Mitchum from The Night of the Hunter (1955). She replaced the letters on his knuckles to read Happy Bday. I love this card! The envelope even came with an image of Mitchum dancing with hand drawn balloons. I have both the card and envelope up on my cubicle wall at work.

Classic film stamps 
 
I was a budding philatelist when I was a pre-teen but eventually abandoned the hobby. I picked it up again as an adult thanks to the USPS Legends of Hollywood series. In 2014, they honored Charlton Heston with a stamp and I got to attend the stamp ceremony and unveiling. This event was so spectacular and it’s one of my favorite festival memories. I lost an opportunity to buy first issue stamps, and to have them signed by Fraser Heston!. However, as soon as I got home I bought several sheets of stamps. Some of which I used for correspondence and bills and one sheet I kept as a memento.



Cinefest swag 

My first Cinefest was also my last. Cinefest 35 was the last Cinefest and I’m very honored that I had an opportunity to be there. Cinefest goers received printed pass and lanyard, a commemorative coaster and an informative festival booklet, all of which I have kept. While there I also purchased a copy of The Dawn of Technicolor and I got it signed by the two authors who had just done a presentation on technicolor earlier that day.


TCMFF Tote Bags

There is a lot of TCMFF swag to treasure and the tote bags are my favorite. This bag from 2014 beats them all. When I first saw it I wasn't too crazy about the shape and design. However, over time I've fallen in love with it. It's my go-to tote bag for books. Inside you'll find the book I'm currently reading, a notebook and a couple of pens. It's lightweight and the shape makes it lie flat against your side. It's the perfect bag!


TCM mug and blanket

Last but not least is my TCM mug and blanket set. It gets a bit cold at my work so I can often be found sipping hot tea from my TCM mug (I also use a 2015 TCMFF mug as well) and wrapped in my TCM blanket. The blanket was a birthday gift from Jonas and the mug was a birthday gift from Sebina ! Thank you Jonas and Sebina! I treasure these presents.

 I hope you liked my two part series. If you want to participate, please share your favorite classic film treasures either on your blog or on a Pinterest board! Submit your link in the comments section below, or e-mail me or tag me on Twitter.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Coolest Classic Film Stuff I Own (Part One)


Classic film fans are collectors. We can’t help it. Some of us collect movies, others collect autographs and paper ephemera while some chose to collect experiences and memories instead. Part of expressing our love for movies is gathering those objects and memories that mean the most to us.

I’d like to share with you some of the coolest classic film stuff I own. These are the objects in my collection I treasure and hold significant meaning to me. They remind me of special experiences and people I care about. They also remind me why I’m a classic film fan.

I’m splitting this up into two parts because I have quite a bit to cover. If you’re a classic film blogger I encourage you to create your own list. Don’t have a blog? Create a Pinterest board with your favorites from your collection. If you do create your own list please share with me in the comments section. I’ll gather them up and include them in a post on this blog.



My movie collection

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with my own movie collection. I have almost 600 movies on last count and most of them are on DVD or DVD-R. I have a small collection of Blu-Rays. It’s important for me to own these films in physical form versus digitally for reasons that would require an entire post to explain. I loved this media tower because it held my entire collection beautifully. Unfortunately it got destroyed during our recent move. RIP media tower.



Autographed copy of Conversations with Robert Osborne

I got to meet TCM’s Robert Osborne in 2014. He was doing a signing of the DVD of Conversations with Robert Osborne at the TCM Classic Film Festival. Osborne is the sweetest, kindest man on the planet. He was so gracious and loved spending time with his fans. I don’t own many autographs so I treasure this one especially.



Rare films sent to me by friends (mostly Jonas) 

I have a beautiful collection of rare and hard-to-find films thanks to dear friends. About 90% of these films are from my best bud Jonas from All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!. He’s amassed a trove of early treasures and he’s been so generous to send me copies of many delightful films. The picture above shows three of my favorites from this separate collection. (Don’t ask me where to buy these DVDs, they don’t exist!).


 Multiple copies of Bachelor Mother

Because why not?! Bachelor Mother (1939) is my all-time favorite movie and I’ve had multiple copies of it for years. It started it off with at least three VHS recordings off of TCM. Why so many? I lost one, created a new one plus a back-up only to find the original one later. Then when Warner Archive released it on DVD-R I abandoned my VHS copies and bought in on DVD. However the DVD was buggy and didn’t have the built-in 10 minute chapters that WAC DVDs usually have. I inquired with WAC about it and they said I must have a defective copy. When I bought my second one it had the same issue so I kept that one as a back-up copy. How did I come to buy the rest? WAC had one of their final big sales (before the post-WB layoff changes took place) so I decided to take advantage of that last 5 for $45 sale and buy 5 copies of Bachelor Mother. I’ve since sent a few to friends and I have one set aside for a future blog giveaway!




 Casablanca film poster 

This was a prize for winning second place at the Brattle’s Movie Trivia Night. It was a fantastic night and I came away from it with this fantastic poster.


Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg Wedding centerpiece  

At our wedding in 2012, I decided to forego the traditional centerpiece, a large bouquet of expensive flowers, and went with something different. Each of the eight tables at our reception had it’s own classic Hollywood couple presented in an Art Deco style frame with an image designed by my good friend Lisa Rudden. Guests could keep their centerpiece if they wanted but I made sure to snag the Shearer-Thalberg one. Now it sits on my bureau and is a wonderful reminder of my special day.



 Norma Shearer Painting

Created by the ever talented Kate Gabrielle, this was the first piece of art I ever commissioned. I love it! It’s taken from a scene from Norma Shearer’s silent film A Lady of Chance (1928). It’s one of my favorite silent movies and the beach scene is the epitome of what I think about when I imagine 1920s style. The pink background Kate Gabrielle chose really makes the black and white art pop!



My blog business cards

With art by Julianna Rose, these business cards match the current design of my blog. I really love Saul Bass’ title sequence designs and that was the inspiration behind these. I love making business cards with Moo because it’s very easy and customizable and the cards come out looking both professional and fun. I love handing these out at festivals or whenever I meet fellow classic film fans in real life.




Phone case

I’ve had a few classic film themed phone cases that I custom made myself with the help of CafePress. I have two Robert Mitchum cases and one for Susan Peters but they quickly got destroyed. It wasn’t long after that I discovered that Zazzle makes tough, durable cases you can customize. I made one with an image of Bonita Granville and Frankie Thomas from Nancy Drew, Girl Detective (1938) back in October of 2014 and it’s still holding strong. My phone case showcases my love for classic film to people in real life and I always get lovely compliments from non-classic film people when they see it.

Stay tuned for part 2!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fury (1936) Essay for the National Film Registry



Recently I had the honor to write an article about Fury (1936) for the Library of Congress. This Fritz Lang film is part of the National Film Registry and my essay is one of numerous expanded essays available online. Every year the National Film Registry selects “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films” to be archived and preserved. They do great work and if you haven’t watched it already These Amazing Shadows is a wonderful documentary about the history of the National Film Registry.

Thank you so much the Library of Congress for allowing me to contribute an article!

You can check out the list of expanded essays here. My good friend Jonas wrote an article on King of Jazz (1930)!

Here is my article about Fury (1936).



Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Many Faces of Josephine Baker by Peggy Caravantes

The Many Faces of Josephine Baker
Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy
by Peggy Caravantes
Chicago Review Press
Hardcover - ISBN: 9781613730348
February 2015

Barnes and Noble - IndieBound - Powell's

Josephine Baker was an entertainer in the truest sense of the word. She had a charismatic personality that enchanted audiences and entertained people from around the world. Baker was a tireless worker and traveler and a fearless champion for social justice and civil rights. As the title and subtitle of the book indicate Josephine Baker was many things: dancer, singer, activist and spy but also  visionary, mother, wife, lover, daughter, sister and friend.

Peggy Caravantes' The Many Faces of Josephine Baker is a simple yet informative biography presented with a young audience in mind. Students who read this book will learn about an important figure in the history of African-American performers, the Civil Rights movement, WWII, the Cold War era, the theater life of Paris and much more. I would not limit this book only to young readers as it serves as a nice primer to the life of Josephine Baker. I didn't know much about her and this book served as a wonderful introduction. I plan to read Josephine and the Rainbow Tribe by Matthew Prat Guterl, a scholarly text about Baker's failed utopian experiment. I found this part of Baker's life fascinating. It's thoroughly covered in Caravantes book but my curiosity makes me want to read even more about it.

"As beautiful as the night, Josephine Baker is the dream, the clown, the great sensation of the evening." -  Henri Jeanson

Baker grew up poor in St. Louis. Her poor upbringing had both positive and negative effects on her adult life. It both drove her ambition as well as her reckless spending. At one time Baker was the richest black woman in the world however her financial situation was always on the border of disaster. She spent money on extravagancies, travel, animals as well as social justice projects. She was always running out of money. Baker performed on stage for her entire adult life. When in financial despair, those performances always paid handsomely. Besides, she loved the stage. It was never a burden for her to perform and her talent never dwindled. It's safe to say that Josephine Baker was happiest when she was performing.

"She longed for a happy home life but could not resist the footlight's pull." - Caravantes

How did Baker become one of the most famous black women in the world? Sheer perseverance. Josephine Baker made opportunities for herself and would take advantage of any situation she could find to move up in the theater world. She went from living in poverty in the segregated south to living in Paris and performing at the Folies Bergere. Her knack for dancing and comedic performance as well as her willingness to learn and improve her skills made her talents blossom.

Josephine Baker


This slim volume of a book manages to explore many aspects of Josephine Baker's life. We learn about her love affairs, her husbands and her romantic relationships with women including the author Colette and artist Frida Kahlo. Baker traveled all over the world and made numerous trips through Europe and South America. She felt most at home in Paris. In France segregation didn't exist in the way it did in the US. Baker felt it was unfair that she would be treated well in Paris yet would face racial prejudice in her home country. Baker became one of the earliest figures in the Civil Rights movement and championed many social justice causes. During WWII, she became a spy against the Nazis when she worked for Charles de Gaulle. Until her dying day, she always fought for equality.

"Josephine believed she could do more to advance race relations by performing with interracial casts in Paris than with all-black cast in the United States." Caravantes

The most interesting part of the book for me was the extensive look at Baker's Rainbow Tribe. She adopted 12 children, 10 boys and 2 girls, all from different parts of the world, different races and different religions. She purchased a castle, Chateau de Milandes, which was open to the public. With the Rainbow Tribe, she wanted to prove that people from any race or religion can exist together in harmony. She also championed for a College of Brotherhood, an educational institution based on the same idea of the Rainbow Tribe, but it never materialized. The Rainbow Tribe was in many ways a failure. Her career, and her constant need for money, prevented her from putting enough effort into the project that it required, including being a full-time mother to her adopted children. This book includes a fascinating where-are-they-now? chapter in the appendix about the members of the Rainbow Tribe.

Fans of classic movies will be interested to read about Baker's friendship with Grace Kelly and about Baker's film appearances. Folks who are interested in 20th century history will be fascinated by all the figures who became pat of Baker's life in one way or other. These include political figures such as Fidel Castro, Juan Peron, Robert Kennedy and Charles de Gaulle.

The Many Faces of Josephine Baker is a concise and informative primer on the life of star who made her mark on the entertainment industry as well as on the Civil Rights movement.

Thank you to Meaghan from Chicago Review Press for sending me a copy of this book to review! This publisher have some great classic film books coming out this Fall including one on Thelma Todd and a biography on Douglas Fairbanks both of which I can't wait to read!

This is the first of my reviews for my Summer Reading Challenge! I'm on a roll with my reading so I hope to have more up very soon.

Now I leave you with a film clip featuring Josephine Baker's famous banana dance.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

2015 Summer Reading Challenge - First Round-Up


I hope everyone has been having a fantastic summer (or a mild winter if you live in the southern hemisphere). June was such a whirlwind for me but luckily I've been able to catch up on some reading this month. I'm behind on my challenge but glad to see everyone is plugging along. Shout out to Vanessa from Stardust who already has 5 books read and reviewed. WOW!

There is still time to sign up for the challenge! Head on over to the dedicated challenge page and fill out the form at the bottom by 7/15 to enter.

Note to participants. You have to sign-up for the challenge and submit your reviews so I can keep track of everyone.

There are currently 23 participants! I'm very happy that so many of you decided to participate. There are already many wonderful and insight reviews. Below is the first round-up:


B.G. of Classic Reel Girl
Hope: Entertainer of the Century by Richard Zoglin


Eric from Classic Era Movies
All the Best Lines: An Informal History of the Movies in Quotes, Notes and Anecdotes by George Tiffin


Grezilda of Doesn't She Ramble
Nykri Tapiovaara by Sakari Toiviainen
Rock Hudson: His Story by Sara Davidson

Kate from Silents and Talkies
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Josephine Leslie

Kristina of Speakeasy
Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969
Warner Bros.: Hollywood’s Ultimate Backlot by Steven Bingen

Laura of Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings
Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. by Jacqueline T. Lynch
The Lives of Robert Ryan by J.R. Jones


Liz from Now Voyaging
Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel by William Wellman Jr.
Garbo by Norman Zierold
A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott

Rich from Wide Screen World
Scandalous by J. Torres and Scott Chantler

Vanessa from Stardust
‘Tis Herself by Maureen O’Hara
Ziefeld and His Follies by Cynthia and Sara Brideson
Hollywood in Kodachrome by David Wallis
Some Like It Hot: 50th Anniversary Companion by Laurence Maslon
Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star by Peter Cowie

If I missed your review, let me know!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic

Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic
by Cecilia de Mille Presley and Mark A. Vieira
Running Press
Hardcover - pages
November 2014


If you're going to invest in a high quality coffee table book, you shouldn't just go for looks alone. There is a pride in ownership of Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic. Not only is this oversize book a beauty to behold it's also chockfull of interesting information about one of the grandfathers of Hollywood. The glossy pages hold an array of images pleasing to the eye but it's not a book just to flip through. Take your time, pore over the pages, linger on the words, read it like a book for the full experience.

The organization of the text and images in the book is one of the best arrangements I've seen in a coffee table book. It feels organic in its construction. You have the trusted voice of historian and photographer Mark A. Vieira and the insider voice of DeMille's granddaughter Cecilia. There is a little bit of bias because a family member was involved in the book however I never felt it was anything but honest. The book serves more as a tribute to a legendary filmmaker rather than a critical look at his career and it's very transparent about that fact. The front matter includes a glowing introduction by director Martin Scorsese who saw DeMille as a publicity savvy visionary and a foreword by producer Brett Ratner who painted DeMille as a showman whose films served as entertainment for many generations.

If you wanted to give the book an alternate title it could be Cecil B. DeMille: The Showman. The theme of DeMille as entertainer was the glue that holds the story of his life and career together. DeMille's movies were commercial successes because he gave audiences what they wanted; epic stories with fantastic visuals and charismatic stars.

"Mr. DeMille loved to make movies that took you out of your seat and placed you in another time, another world. He was a great showman." - Leatrice Joy

The book is divided into seven chapters with multiple sub-chapters within each. Along with the introduction and foreword we get a short piece by Cecilia de Mille Presley called "My Grandfather" and a preface by Mark A. Vieira about the purpose of the book. The chapters follow DeMille's life and career in chronological order with a bigger focus on his movies more so than his personal life. 

The book is primarily written by Vieira with insights from de Mille Presley presented throughout the book in paragraph-long inserts and quotes in the main body of the text.  There are quotes from voices of the past including Henry Wilcoxon, Mary Pickford, Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston, Leatrice Joy, and Cecil B. DeMille himself. Photos throughout the book have detailed captions adding nice additional content. The book also contains artist renderings, costume design sketches, behind-the-scenes photos, production notes, photographs of film memorabilia and publicity photos. Most photos are a good size with some stretching out over double page spreads and others tucked in among text. Some material has never been seen before.

"DeMille took a great deal of care with the production stills for his movies." - Martin Scorsese

DeMille knew these would be useful in promoting his films and today they make up the pages of this beautiful coffee table book. This is the first pictorial coffee table book about DeMille and the visuals help you escape into the world of his films.

There was a lot of interesting information in the book. I liked reading about DeMille's long working relationships with Gloria Swanson, Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, Gary Cooper and Henry Wilcoxon.



"He believed in women's abilities. Not many other producers were hiring women for jobs behind the camera at that time." - Katherine de Mille Quinn


DeMille was influenced by art and was a very visual director. Critics didn't like his work but the public loved him. His films were known for lavish sets, exquisite costumes and bathtub scenes. He loved to add an element of sex to his movies. I love this quote:



"Motion pictures cannot be made without sex. Take it away from films and you take away their very life." - Cecil B. DeMille


Throughout the book readers learn about the various studios DeMille worked with, the actors, actresses, visual artists as well as behind-the-scenes tales from his extensive catalog of films.

Films covered in the book include:
The Squaw Man (1914) and (1931)
The Ten Commandments (1923)
The King of Kings (1927)
The Godless Girl (1929)
Dynamite (1929)
Madam Satan (1930)
The Sign of the Cross (1932)
This Day and Age (1933)
Four Frightened People (1934)
Cleopatra (1934)
The Crusades (1935)
The Painsman (1936)
The Buccaneer (1938)
Union Pacific (1939)
North West Mounted Police (1940)
The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944)
Unconquered (1947)
Samson and Delilah (1949)
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
The Ten Commandments (1956)


Here are some images of the book in all it's glory! These include my favorite spreads.




On Samson and Delilah - "As concerned as he was with details, DeMille's primary focus was on five big scenes. These could be advertised. These would prompt word of mouth. These had to be show stoppers, played by bigger-than-life stars in eye-catching costumes." - Vieira


I could tell this book was lovingly put together with great attention to detail. Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic is a great investment in your classic film library and a must-have for fans of old Hollywood.

Thank you to Running Press and their PR team for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Note: This review is not an entry of my summer reading challenge! I should be reviewing my challenge books soon.

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