Imitation of Life sparks another beguiling celebration of Old Hollywood for Staggs, author of All About “"/>

Born to Be Hurt: The Untold Story of Imitation of Life

Sam Staggs, Author . St. Martin’s $26.95 (422p) ISBN 978-0-312-37336-8

Douglas Sirk’s film Imitation of Life sparks another beguiling celebration of Old Hollywood for Staggs, author of All About “All About Eve.” Staggs sections the 1959 melodrama’s subplots into a campy “blonde side” (Lana Turner and Sandra Dee as a Broadway star and her daughter, battling over a man), and a tragic “dark side” (Juanita Miller and Susan Kohner as a black maid and the light-skinned daughter who repudiates her). Refracting themes of racial anxiety, confused identity and the mutual wounds parents and children inflict through Sirk’s subtly ironic direction, the movie, Staggs writes, is “a florid valentine with a death’s-head where Cupid ought to be.” Staggs’s luxuriously digressive account ranges far beyond the featured attraction. Drawing on chatty interviews with those who worked on or in the film, he profiles studio executives, stars and makeup men alike, assesses their oeuvre and gossips about their scandals, and takes extraneous potshots at everything from modern-day starlets (“nasal-voiced and rather dim overall”) to the Catholic Church (“a monolithic theocracy verging on fascism”). Staggs is an often incisive critic, but one who leaves himself raptly open to the emotional impact of movies; he shows readers how compelling Hollywood’s imitation of life can be. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2008
Release date: 02/01/2009
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