10 Juicy Hollywood Books To Get You Ready For The Oscars, Even If Your Prep Looks A Little Different Than The Stars'
While the stars get spray tans, endure juice cleanses (poor babies!), and try on designer ball gowns before the Oscars, we can prep for the show by setting our DVRs, eating whatever we want, and reading a bunch of books about Hollywood.
The Academy Awards exist to honor the very best of cinema every year. At least, that’s one school of thought. They also exist to bring a little glamour and glitz into our lives during the winter. It’s a time of year when movies that are in the theaters usually suck (I think it’s safe to speculate that Fifty Shades of Grey will not be winning Best Picture next year), summer is still out of reach, and watching a bunch of A-list celebs waltzing down red carpets and surrendering to the “Mani Cam” sounds pretty heavenly. Some people hate the Oscars. They refuse to watch them, and they denounce them as a cheesy, out-of-touch beauty pageant with lame speeches, migraine-inducing musical numbers, and rampant narcissism. Where’s the joy in that, though? It’s Hollywood. Rampant narcissism is part of the fun!
As a lover of both old and new Hollywood, I have devoured books about 1940s film noir, 1970s cinema, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Warren Beatty, and the legendary temper of producer Harvey Weinstein. It’s fun to get immersed in the weird, wonderful world called “Tinseltown.” Warren Beatty slept with a lot of people (he enjoys politics, too — yawn). Richard Burton thought Elizabeth Taylor’s “breasts were apocalyptic.” And legendary director/choreographer Bob Fosse often felt like a fraud, despite the fact that he’d won an Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy in a single year. You can learn all of this and more just by picking up a book or two.
To get you prepped for this weekend’s Academy Awards, here are 10 books about old-school stars, big-screen icons, and the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to make it in the movies.
Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger
Taylor and Burton's love affair was legendary. They married (and divorced) twice, and their passion was so world-shaking that Burton jokingly dubbed it Le Scandale. Furious Love is a fun, well-researched read full of fascinating factoids, Burton's poetic musings about Taylor's hot bod and feisty mind, and the romantic history of one of Hollywood's most celebrated couples.
Lulu in Hollywood by Louise Brooks
Silent film star Brooks was best known for Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. She was also known for rocking that black bob. Brooks was a rebel who didn't always kowtow to the powers that be in Hollywood, and this book is a collection of her writings about her childhood, her career, and her friendships with people like Martha Graham, W. C. Fields, Chaplin, and Humphrey Bogart.
Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations by Peter Evans and Ava Gardner
Gardner is a legendary Hollywood beauty, and she got one Oscar nomination during her long career — for her work in the John Ford romance Mogambo, with Clark Gable. She was married to Mickey Rooney (she has a few choice words to say about that one), Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra, and you should check her out in Night of the Iguana if you want to see sex appeal on screen. This book is as much about Evans coaxing stories out of an aging star as it is about Gardner herself. What she refuses to talk about is most interesting of all.
Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Peterson
This one is based on Peterson's Hairpin column, and with a subtitle like "Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema," how can you resist? It's gossipy yet academic, juicy but smart. You'll get stories about Mae West, Clara Bow (the original "It Girl"), Marlon Brando, and more.
Marilyn by Gloria Steinem and George Barris
How many books have been written about Marilyn? A LOT. But put Marilyn Monroe and Gloria Steinem together (along with famed photographer George Barris) and you get a heartfelt, tender, beautiful portrait of the star.
The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier
It's fitting that this one is called "A Spiritual Autobiography." Poitier just has that kind of presence — he speaks, you listen. He won an Oscar for Lilies of the Field, and how he didn't get nominated for his work in In the Heat of the Night (or anything else he ever did) is mind-blowing, and not in a good way. Anyhow, read his autobiography — it even got Oprah's stamp of approval.
Fosse by Sam Wasson
Do you love and adore Bob Fosse? Yes! Maybe? No. Who the hell is Bob Fosse? If you don't know, this gigantic biography is a perfect place to start. Tortured artist, genius choreographer (Beyoncé and hundreds of others owe some moves to him), and Oscar-winning director, this man has influenced film, dance, and life as we know it in countless ways. Jump in. The book might look intimidating, but it reads like a page-turner.
City of Nets by Otto Friedrich
A fascinating look at one of the most important and defining eras in Hollywood.
Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin
Gavin did his research, and the result is the biography of singer/actress/dancer Horne. She broke racial barriers and influenced people like Eartha Kitt, Barbara Streisand, and Aretha Franklin. The book is about struggling behind the scenes and making it onto the stage. It's an in-depth look at Horne's life and career.
Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson
Before Wasson tackled Bob Fosse, he set his sights on Oscar-winner Audrey Hepburn and the enduring legacy of Holly Golightly. It's about the making of Breakfast at Tiffany's and Hepburn's impact on fashion, culture, and the movies. Like Fosse, this one reads like a novel.
By Myself and Then Some by Lauren Bacall
Bacall's first memoir, By Myself, won a National Book Award. Decades later, this one picks up where the first left off, and if you really want to immerse yourself in Bacall's world, read them back-to-back. R.I.P. Ms. Bacall.
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann
A murder mystery, beautiful starlets, sinister stage moms, and egos run amok - it's Hollywood at its very best. If you're in the mood for a juicy crime thriller, this one is about the unsolved murder of silent film director William Desmond Taylor.
So while Reese Witherspoon and Bradley Cooper are staring into their 15th detox drink of the week, praying that they win an Oscar on Sunday, you can have way more fun than a Hollywood celeb and dive into one of these books. Happy Oscar Week.