Thanks to Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
A while back I read and reviewed a book in the same series ‘Images of the Past’, called The British Seaside, and I enjoyed the combination of the wonderful images and the informative and humorous text, fairly light on reading but high on entertainment value. In this case, the same is true, even with the serious subject and the unavoidable reflections on how times don’t seem to have changed so much, although know we get to hear about many of the details that in the past would have remained hidden from the general public.
I’ve always been fascinated by the history of cinema, and Hollywood, from its beginnings to now, although times have changed somewhat, and tinsel town is not what used to be (if it ever was). I have watched documentaries and read magazines about the industry, particularly about the era of the big studios, when everything seemed more glamourous and shiny than our everyday lives.
This book looks, mostly at past scandals, from the early history of Hollywood to some more recent ones, but does not include the XXI century, and although some of us, who grew up watching reruns of classics, will remember many of these stars (and some have become icons, like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe), to the youngest generation most of them will sound like ancient history. Only Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, and the TV preachers are still alive, and although their controversy remains alive, it seems to have been dwarfed by most recent scandals.
This is not an in-depth study of any of the cases, but rather a quick survey with a few details of the biographies and circumstances of some of the stars, whose lives became as well-known and exposed to the public attention as that of their characters. Despite that, although I thought I was familiar with the majority of the actors and actresses the book talks about, I discovered I didn’t know many of the details, perhaps because they were not discussed at the time or have been revealed later, and many of the pictures where totally new to me (and I thoroughly enjoyed them, especially those showing the stars when they were young). I am sure, though, that experts or true fans of these actors and actresses will not learn anything new, but I enjoyed the combination of text and pictures (and I particularly relished the introduction, which offers interesting insights into the effects of some of these scandals, like the Hays Code, that went beyond the content of the movies and affected the personal lives of the stars as well), that makes it ideal as a present for people of a certain age who enjoy celebrity magazines of the time, and also for the younger generation who might not have been exposed to these stories and the old-fashioned notion of celebrity and stardom.
It is impossible to read this book without comparing many of these scandals to some of the recent ones. The big studios spent a lot of money on lawyers, on keeping the press at bay, and of course, power has always talked. Thankfully, some of the things that were considered normal practice at the time have now become unacceptable and are the subject of legal procedures.
To give you a better idea of the content, there are fourteen chapters, each focused on one of these stars: Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Jean Harlow, Errol Flynn, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Elvis Presley, Roman Polanski, Joan Crawford, Rock Hudson, Jim Bakker & Jimmy Swaggart, and Woody Allen.
I thought I’d share a couple of the quotes I’ve highlighted, so you get some idea of what to expect. Here, referring to James Dean:
“The star of East of Eden and Rebel without a Cause was bisexual and had affairs with actresses Pier Angeli and Ursula Andrews but when asked if he was gay his reply was: “Well, I’m certainly not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back!” (Blundell, 2018, p. 8).
In the chapter about the TV preachers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart (a fascinating phenomenon that seems pretty unique to the USA), it explains that Swaggart confessed and apologised to his congregation and the viewers of his TV channel the first time he was caught with a prostitute. But the second time, he truly spoke his mind:
“This time, rather confessing to his congregation, Swaggart brazened it out with the rebuff: ‘The Lord told me it’s flat none of your business’ (Blundell, 2018, 143).
In sum, this is a fun book for people who love anecdotes and to peep into the lives of the Hollywood famous, especially those from the era of the Hollywood big studios. If you want a brazen and amusing book, with its dark moments and plenty of pictures to get the conversation going, or are looking for a present for somebody who loves movie memorabilia, I recommend it.
Blundell, N. (2018). Images of the Past. Fallen Idols. A Century of Screen Sex Scandals. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword.