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    For the Movie Buff on Your Holiday List

    By Jan Wahl–

    2021 may have been a challenging year on many fronts, but it has been an excellent one for books about movies and movie stars.  From dishy gossip to cinema history to colorful biographies, options abound at this time, so head to your favorite independent bookstore and dig into film fun. 

    Hot off the presses is a blast from film critic and historian Leonard Maltin.  It is appropriately titled Star Struck: My Unlikely Road to Hollywood. Of course, many know him from television (Entertainment Tonight, Oscar specials) and from his many prior books, but this one is particularly fun as we travel with avid film buff Maltin through anecdotes with humongous stars. He has a weird feud with Burt Reynolds, watches a room full of women melt for George Clooney, rakes us deep into the families of Disney and John Wayne, enjoys a trail ride with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and an even bumpier one with Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland, Barbara Stanwyk, and Frank Capra. As a true jazz fan, Leonard swings through Lena Horne, Charlie Parker, and Los Angeles when jazz clubs were everywhere. Jazz and classic Hollywood … I am with you, Leonard!

    The other day I spoke with Leonard, just when I needed him! I was sad about a lecture I had given the night before. It was very successful (she said modestly), but so many of the younger people there were clueless about greats like Bette Davis, Fred and Ginger, and even Funny Girl. Leonard was comforting. “Jan, when I was hired by Entertainment Tonight in the ‘80s, I saw a bunch of really terrible films, boring or mediocre at best. Then I watched one great classic movie, and all was right again. Society changes; points of reference change. I keep thinking of my daughter when she was very young. We’d put on the barn-raising dance scene from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  She’d see it and yell, ‘Again!’ After hundreds of viewings of that great sequence, she wanted the entire movie. Then Calamity Jane and The Pajama Game. It’s a journey to great movies. From one to another.”

    He continued: “The generation now was raised on shows like America’s Got Talent and American Idol, where everyone wants you to see how hard they are working. When I showed my class of usually 300 students the “Begin the Beguine” number (The Broadway Melody of 1940) with Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell, they thought it was too easy. They thought it too perfect. All I can do is set the stage and give them context. Hollywood gave us a fantasy of stars who lit up the screen, larger than life. That’s not the fashion now. There are still gifted people, of course. Just not Cary Grant, Gene Kelly, or the rest. That won’t happen again.”

    As anyone who knows me or reads this column is aware, I am a huge fan of The Celluloid Closet (a fascinating guide to Hollywood’s portrayals of the LBGTQ community). It turns out Leonard knew it’s author Vito Russo in his early days in New York. “We traveled in the same circles,” he said. “Vito was fun, and passionate about the movies and stars he cared about. He was completely authentic. We have come further today from when Vito made us so aware. There are less casual derogatory jokes, and more sensitivity with character. I hope that direction continues.”

    Glad you were star struck, Leonard, and gave us this holiday gift.

    Break open the piggy bank ($45) for the gorgeous coffee table book MGM Style: Cedric Gibbons and the Art of The Golden Age of Hollywood. Author Howard Gutner previous wrote the definitive book on fashion icon Adrian. This time he dives into the production design that made this studio great. From details like props and furniture to interior design, art deco architecture, and landscapes, we see how the unlimited budgets and remarkable talent built the movies from the ground up.

    I can’t help but go into the seedy side of Tinseltown with Hollywood’s Hard-Luck Ladies: 23 Actresses who Suffered Early Deaths, Accidents, Missteps, Illnesses and Tragedies. Laura Wagner introduces us to actresses you might not have known, but who achieved early success before show business or their own problems took them down. We find out success can be as challenging as failure. There are life lessons here, but it is also good ol’ movie dish. The book is sad but engrossing, like some great movies themselves.

    Curl up with a good book and celebrate the holidays!      

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, a film critic on various media outlets, and she has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at www.janwahl.com

    Published on November 18, 2021