Wednesday Book Review ~ Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

LILYTed—a gay, single, struggling writer is stuck: unable to open himself up to intimacy except through the steadfast companionship of Lily, his elderly dachshund. When Lily’s health is compromised, Ted vows to save her by any means necessary. By turns hilarious and poignant, an adventure with spins into magic realism and beautifully evoked truths of loss and longing, Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.

I have to be honest. I’m supposed to read this book for my book club. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. The premise snagged me. I won’t lie. A guy and his dog. Yep. I’m a dog person. Okay, I’m a critter person. I’m the one who swears at the movie when the people live but the dog/cat/ferret/etc dies. I knew what would happen. Spoiler alert…yeah, there’s a very tissue-worthy moment at the end. Like super tissue-worthy.

But to tell you how I feel about the book…it’s complicated. I liked it. Okay, I liked parts of it. The connection between Ted and Lily was a riot. How she talked… In! All! Exclamation! Points! is very much how Dachshunds bark, so effectively how they talk. I loved that part. How she was his support was good, too. If you’ve ever had a connection with a dog, you know they aren’t just pets. They’re family. So I got and loved that part.

But there were points I kinda wasn’t impressed. The whole portion with the octopus was a little hard to handle. Once I understood, then I understood, but it took a bit. Then there was his tendency to drown his sorrows in pills and booze. Hey. We’ve all been there. Done things we wouldn’t normally do. That made Ted real, but I guess I expected something different. Maybe more….arguing. More fighting. Maybe I lost it in the metaphor of the octopus.

Either way, the book was good, but I’m not sure I can read it again. The bit at the end where I mentioned the tissues was a tad too real for me. Having put an animal down not long ago, this made those memories rawer. So if that’s a trigger for you, then read the book, but be warned. If you’re looking for a sweet, sappy ending, you might be surprised.

I’d buy this one and keep it, but I’m not sure I can handle reading it again right now. See what you think. You might be pleasantly surprised…after tissues.

Wednesday Book Review ~ Dorothy Dandridge by Donald Bogle

DOROTHYDorothy Dandridge — like Marilyn and Liz–was a dream goddess of the fifties. All audiences ever had to do was take one look at her — in a nightclub, on television, or in the movies — and they were hooked. She was unforgettable, Hollywood’s first full-fledged African American movie star.

This definitive biography — exhaustively researched — presents the panoramic dimensions of this extraordinary and ultimately tragic life. Talented from the start, Dorothy Dandridge began her career as a little girt in Cleveland in an act that her mother Ruby, an actress and comedienne, created for her and her sister Vivian. By the time she reached her teens, she was working in such Hollywood movies as Going Places with Louis Armstrong and A Day at the Races with the Marx Brothers. She also appeared at New York’s Cotton Club in a trio called The Dandridge Sisters, but soon went solo, determined to make a name for herself. She became one of the most dazzling and sensational nightclub performers around, all the white breaking down racial barriers by integrating some of America’s hottest venues.

But she wanted more. Movie stardom was her dream. And she got it. Dandridge broke through the glass ceiling of Tinseltown to win an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for her lead role in Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones. Other films such as Porgy and Bess, Island in the Sun, and Tamango would follow and the media would take notice. In an industry that was content to use Black women as comic mammy figures, Dorothy Dandridge emerged as a leading lady, a cultural icon, and a sizzling sex symbol.

She seemed to have everything: glamour, wealth, romance and success. But the reality was fraught with contradiction and illusion. She became a dramatic actress unable to secure dramatic roles. While she had many gifts to offer, Hollywood would not be the taker.

As her professional frustrations grew, so did her personal demons. After two unhappy marriages — her first to the great dancer Harold Nicholas — a string of unfulfilling, love affairs, and the haunting tragedy of her daughter Lynn, she found herself emotionally and financially — bankrupt. She ultimately lost all hope and was found dead from an overdose of antidepressant pills at the age of 42.

Drawing on extensive research and unique interviews with Dorothy Dandridge’s friends and associates, her directors and confidantes, film historian Donald Bogle captures the real-life drama of Dandridge’s turbulent life; but he does so much more.This biography documents the story of a troubled but strong family of women and vividly recreates Dandridge’s relationships with an array of personalities such as Otto Preminger, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, Harry Belafonte, Diahann Carroll, Peter Lawford, Ava Gardner, and many more. Always at the center though is Dorothy Dandridge, magnetic and compelling.

Donald Bogle — better than anyone else — goes beyond the surface of one woman’s seemingly charmed life to reveal the many textured layers of her strength and vulnerability, her joy and her pain, her trials and her triumphs.

I’ve heard the name Dorothy Dandridge many times. I’m from northern Ohio and she’s a cult figure there because she, like Halle Berry, made it big. But I didn’t know much about Dandridge. I’d seen pictures of her and knew she was a star, but who was this woman?

That’s where this book comes into play. I’d watched the documentary, Jazz, by Ken Burns and in the course of the episodes, Dandridge’s name was mentioned. I’m the kind of person that when I hear the name, I want to know more. But not just a simple internet search. I love my library and went there.

Bogle covers all of her life. There aren’t any glossed over portions and he’s candid about who this woman was. She wanted a happy life. She wanted to be happy and to have the love of her life. Bogle touches on her marriages, her struggle with her daughter–who was special needs before special needs was a thing–and her problems with drugs.

Dandridge is fascinating in her drive. She let very few things hold her back. When she wanted something, she went for it. Of course she dealt with racial discrimination, but the way she did, with grace and aplomb, was interesting. She held her head high when others might have cowered.

This isn’t a short read. It’s long and detailed, but it’s so fascinating. I didn’t breeze through it, but once I dove in, I had the book devoured in a matter of days. Check it out for yourself.

Book Review ~ The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger #oldhollywood #review

STARFrom one of our leading film authorities, a rich, penetrating, amusing plum pudding of a book about the golden age of movies, full of Hollywood lore, anecdotes, and analysis.

Jeanine Basinger gives us an immensely entertaining look into the “star machine,” examining how, at the height of the studio system, from the 1930s to the 1950s, the studios worked to manufacture star actors and actresses. With revelatory insights and delightful asides, she shows us how the machine worked when it worked, how it failed when it didn’t, and how irrelevant it could sometimes be. She gives us the “human factor,” case studies focusing on big stars groomed into the system: the “awesomely beautiful” (and disillusioned) Tyrone Power; the seductive, disobedient Lana Turner; and a dazzling cast of others—Loretta Young, Errol Flynn, Irene Dunne, Deanna Durbin. She anatomizes their careers, showing how their fame happened, and what happened to them as a result. (Both Lana Turner and Errol Flynn, for instance, were involved in notorious court cases.) In her trenchantly observed conclusion, she explains what has become of the star machine and why the studios’ practice of “making” stars is no longer relevant.

Deeply engrossing, full of energy, wit, and wisdom, The Star Machine is destined to become an invaluable part of the film canon.

I’ve said before that I love old Hollywood stories. Love them. This one was no different. When I saw the title, The Star Machine, I knew I had to learn more. Why? I’ve always been fascinated with the means by which the studios created the stars. Why did some actresses make it and others withered? Why did some actors only get to play certain parts while others were allowed to branch out? This book answers those questions and more.

I particularly liked the parts on Norma Shearer, Tyrone Power and Jean Arthur. Since these are three of my favorite players in Hollywood, it was fitting. I also enjoyed the portion on Lana Turner.

Shearer was seen as only becoming popular because she played loose women, then because she married the head of the production department. But there was a lot more to her. The production code screwed her over. Irving Thalberg, her head honcho husband, was the love of her life. She did a lot for Hollywood and was willing to fade into private life, rather than to keep making pictures when she knew she was past her prime.

Jean Arthur has always fascinated me. She’s smart and not exactly the usual in Hollywood. From her husky, quirky voice to her no-nonsense attitude, she was an unintended star. She bucked the system often. I loved how the author focused not so much on her being difficult (read: she knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to take it), but her desire to do her own thing.

Power, the poor man, was blessed and cursed with beauty. Now, it might seem like that’s a silly thing to look at as a curse. He’s gorgeous and the author points out how he was lit in his pictures more than his female co-stars. More often than not, Power was seen as the star vehicle because the brass knew he could get people in seats at the theater. Make him handsome-r and the women will come. But he wasn’t allowed to branch out of the swashbuckling handsome star until after he came back from World War 2. When he was a tad more weathered, he was allowed to be more than arm candy. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to enjoy his newfound gravitas.

If you want a book that’s got lots of information, but doesn’t seem like you’re just reading facts, then this is a book for you. If you want to learn a little more about old Hollywood and get to know the inside scoop on the stars, then this is the book you want. If you’re interested in how the studios built people up, only to tear them down…then what are you waiting for?

Book Review ~ Paulette: The Adventurous Life of Paulette Goddard by Joe Morella, Edward Z. Epstein

PAULETTEPaulette Goddard was already a legend during her lifetime. At her peak she was considered one of the sexiest, most glamorous, and most personable movie stars of the silver screen. She was known for her marriages to Charlie Chaplin, Burgess Meredith, and Erich Maria Remarque. But few know what an exciting and adventurous life she truly led. From her humble beginnings, Paulette was determined to earn stardom. She quickly reached her goal, starring in films with Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, and Jimmy Stewart. For many months she was the top candidate for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, a role that eventually went to Vivien Leigh. Paulette was also a sophisticated patron of the arts, with distinguished friends like John Steinbeck and Aldous Huxley. Through her wit, charm, and intelligence, she always attracted genius. Paulette’s many admirers included Clark Gable and George Gershwin. Most favored her with gifts of magnificent jewelry. Soon she had a fortune in precious gems, because, as she put it, “I never give anything back.” The star also collected great works of art, and often posed for the famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera.Always in the public eye, her controversial lifestyle prompted the FBI to investigate her, even as she dined at Hyde Park with FDR! In this revealing and insightful account, the authors detail the life and loves of this fascinating woman.They recount her Oscar nomination for So Proudly We Hail, and her participation in the first transcontinental flight, piloted by none other than Howard Hughes. Here also is the answer to the mystery of the Chaplin-Goddard relationship (Were they married or not?); a complete account of her feud with famed movie director Cecil B. DeMille; and the scandalous under-the-table incident at Ciro’s. The story of Paulette Goddard’s life is more captivating and provocative than fiction.The rare combination of brains, beauty, glamour, and success made Paulette Goddard a one-in-a-billion star.

I’ve always been fascinated by Paulette Goddard. She managed to swirl right into the circles of wealthy men and with ease. I knew she’d been married to Charlie Chaplin. Yes, I saw the movie, Chaplin. But I didn’t know just how complicated this woman was. She’s a trailblazer. She did pretty much what she wanted the way she wanted. She was a force to reckon with. She understood the art of working her image long before a lot of people figured it out. If she wanted to be taken seriously and thought of as a star, she dressed that way. If she wanted money, she found a way to get it.

She’s much more than a former wife of Charlie Chaplin or the wife of Erich Maria Remarque. She did things her way.

The author tended to get wordy occasionally, but the story flowed well. I read the book in a little more than a day. If you’re looking for insight on this old Hollywood star or want a story that’s so remarkable, it would only be possible in Hollywood, then this is the book for you.  If you can find this book at your local library, a used book sale or used online, then nab a copy.  Worth the read and fascinating.

Book Review ~ Celebrity Feuds!: The Cattiest Rows, Spats, and Tiffs Ever Recorded by Boze Hadleigh

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FEUD

Celebrity Feuds! dishes the dirt with in-depth stories of every word uttered, letter written, or fist swung from the cantankerous stars’ first calamitous encounters to their deathbed declarations. Exposing the shocking tactics of the most bitter rivals in the entertainment industry and the vindictive, unseen ire of our favorite stars, this book reveals Hollywood with all its claws bared.

I love reading books about arguments. Why? Because I’m not the one arguing. Heh, heh. That said, this one was a tad of an eye-opener. I knew about some of the feuds, but not all. I’d heard all about the Bette Davis-Joan Crawford one. Who hasn’t? There’s even a television series about it. But like the TV show, this isn’t the last word on their disagreement. They didn’t hate each other, but didn’t love each other, either. It was still neat to read about it. Then there was the series of disagreements between Shirley MacLaine and Warren Beatty. Hey, siblings fight, too.

This isn’t the most informative book. There are spots that are rather glossed over, but if you want an afternoon read about many people in Old Hollywood, then this is a good bet. If you’re wanting to know more than surface stuff about the players, then keep looking.

The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s by Joseph Egan

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DIARIESOne of Hollywood s first scandals was nearly its last.
1936 looked like it would be a great year for the movie industry. With the economy picking up after the Great Depression, Americans everywhere were sitting in the dark watching the stars and few stars shined as brightly as one of America’s most enduring screen favorites, Mary Astor.

But Astor’s story wasn’t a happy one. She was born poor, and at the first sign that she could earn money, her parents grabbed the reins and the checks. Widowed at twenty-four, Mary Astor was looking for stability when she met and wed Dr. Franklyn Thorpe. But the marriage was rocky from the start; both were unfaithful, but they did not divorce until after Mary Astor gave birth to little Marylyn Thorpe.

What followed was a custody battle that pushed The Spanish Civil War and Hitler’s 1936 Olympic Games off of the front pages all over America. Astor and Thorpe were both ruthless in their fight to gain custody of their daughter, but Thorpe held a trump card: the diaries that Mary Astor had been keeping for years. In these diaries, Astor detailed her own affairs as well as the myriad dalliances of some of Hollywood’s biggest names. The studio heads, longtime controllers of public perception, were desperate to keep such juicy details from leaking.

With the complete support of the Astor family, including unlimited access to the photographs and memorabilia of Mary Astor’s estate, The Purples Diaries is a look at Hollywood s Golden Age as it has never been seen before, as Egan spins a wildly absorbing yarn about a scandal that threatened to bring down the dream factory known as Hollywood.

I never knew the lengths to which Mary Astor had to fight in order to gain custody of her daughter. If nothing else, this book put into perspective just how crazy the press can be and certainly was back in the 1930s when this story took place.

Mary Astor was a lot stronger than she looked. I remember her from the Maltese Falcon, but not many other films. Seeing her as a human, not just a star, like she’s portrayed in this book was a real eye-opener. She wanted what was best for her daughter. I commend her for that.

Gravy, though, the amount of publicity for the proceedings and how much the press fixated on Astor being a single parent. To modern ears and eyes, this seems silly, but back in the day it was scandalous. I can’t imagine the stress, struggle and strain she went through.

The author had a way with words, drawing me right into the story. Of course, I had to know what would happen. The photos only tell half of the story and I needed to know if the little girl ended up with her mother or father.

One thing this book put into perspective for me was the struggle to find the right parent and for the parents to behave in order to gain custody. Having never been through such a fight, I never realized just how much of a play it can be.

If you’re looking for a book that’s long on story and has heart, despite the courtroom antics, then this might be the one for you. If you love old Hollywood and want a better understanding of the stars at the time or the real struggles they went through, then this might hit the mark.

@MeganSlayer ‘s Wednesday Book Review ~ The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd by Michelle Morgan

Every so often, I’ll post about books I’ve read. Mostly these aren’t in my writing genre. Why? Everyone needs a break and to read for pleasure. This is one of those reviews. I’m a sucker for old Hollywood bios and this one was no different.

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A beloBLONDEved film comedienne who worked alongside the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and dozens of others, Thelma Todd was a rare Golden Age star who successfully crossed over from silent films to talkies. This authoritative new biography traces Todd’s life from a vivacious little girl who tried to assuage her parents’ grief over her brother’s death, to an aspiring teacher turned reluctant beauty queen, to an outspoken movie starlet and restaurateur.

Increasingly disenchanted with Hollywood, in 1934 Todd opened Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café, a hot spot that attracted fans, tourists, and celebrities. Despite success in film and business, privately the beautiful actress was having a difficult year–receiving disturbing threats from a stranger known as the Ace and having her home ransacked–when she was found dead in a garage near her café. An inquest concluded that her death, at age just twenty-nine, was accidental, but in a thorough new investigation that draws on interviews, photographs, documents, and extortion notes–much of these not previously available to the public–Michelle Morgan offers a compelling new theory, suggesting the sequence of events on the night of her death and arguing what many people have long suspected: that Thelma was murdered.

But by whom?

The suspects include Thelma’s movie-director lover, her would-be-gangster ex-husband, and the thugs who were pressuring her to install gaming tables in her popular café–including a new, never-before-named mobster. This fresh examination on the eightieth anniversary of the star’s death is sure to interest any fan of Thelma Todd, of Hollywood’s Golden Age, or of gripping real-life murder mysteries.

I’ve always loved the work of Thelma Todd. She’s a riot on screen and one of the gems Hollywood didn’t get to use nearly enough. When I saw this biography was available, I had to read it.

The author did her homework on Todd. I not only loved Todd more, I respected her as a person and businesswoman. Oh, sure. She had her moments, but who doesn’t?

The writing flowed well. Once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down. Nope. I had to know how it would end–okay, I knew…, but I wanted to see how the author put her spin on telling the tale.

My one quibble with the book was the author’s tendency to add speculation into the writing. No one knows exactly how Todd died. There are theories and she did suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning, but how she got there…it seemed like the author spent more time wondering than finding more information. Still, it was a good read and I’m glad I did.