Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Letters from Hollywood


Letters from Hollywood
Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking
by Rocky Lang and Barbara Hall
foreword by Peter Bogdanovich
352 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781419738098
September 2019

AmazonBarnes and Noble Powells

Letters from Hollywood is truly a gift for classic film lovers. It's a time capsule of film history, preserving letters, telegrams and other missives that demonstrate the intricacies of relationships within Hollywood. Writer and filmmaker Rocky Lang and archivist Barbara Hall have curated an excellent collection, spanning from 1921-1976, and provide readers not only with a beautiful scan of the letter in its original form but also a detailed annotation that helps clarify, inform and give the letter context. These letters did not exist in a vacuum. Reading them on their own without knowledge of the circumstances which served as the catalyst for the message would make them infinitely more difficult to understand or appreciate. The annotations are key and I recommend reading them before the actual letter. Once you read the annotation and the letter, pore over the details of the image. That's half the fun. The creases and tears, the signatures, the handwritten notes and illustrations, the elegant corporate letterhead, all add additional charm.

The letters range from gravely serious to light and amusing and everything in between. Some notable letters include:

  • Irving Thalberg's scathing letter to Erich von Stroheim firing him from Universal.
  • Boris Karloff feeding writer Albert Hergesheimer a trivia tidbit for movie magazine fodder.
  • Henry Fonda's Western Union telegram announcing Jane Fonda's birth to William Wyler and Wyler's response.
  • Bette Davis's letter to studio executive Jack Warner pleading for better working conditions.
  • The intricately designed letterhead on which publicist Lou Marangella's puff piece informs Irving Thalberg of the production of Ben-Hur (1925).
  • Hattie McDaniel's carefully written rebuttal to Hedda Hopper regarding the NAACP's call for better roles for African Americans.
  • Ingrid Bergman's gushing letter to Cary Grant about learning of her Oscar through his radio broadcast.
  • Ronald Colman's letter to studio executive Abe Lehr on the advent of talkies.
  • Jean Bello's letter to her daughter Jean Harlow's agent Arthur Landau about "the baby" and the making of Bombshell (1933).
  • Paul Newman's hilarious letter to William Wyler turning down a role in Funny Girl (1968).

I have more thoughts about this book which I share on The Movie Palace Podcast. Give it a listen! Thank you to host Carl Sweeney for the opportunity to discuss this book on the podcast.

This is my third review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

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