cover image Hollywood: The Oral History

Hollywood: The Oral History

Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson. Harper, $45 (800p) ISBN 978-0-063-05694-7

The secrets of Tinseltown burn bright in this collection of interviews culled from the American Film Institute’s archives and assembled by film scholar Basinger (The Movie Musical!) and author Wasson (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.). The technical process of filmmaking is expertly explored, and discussions about publicity highlight the work style of individual directors (John Ford “gave in to nobody,” says cinematographer Ray Rennahan) and the charisma of legendary stars such as Marlon Brando. A narrative arc emerges from the hubbub, tracing the freshness of the silent era to the grandeur of the golden age studio system—the “beautiful machinery” of MGM is hymned for its excellent production values and nurturing of new talent—to the modern era of independent producers, high-earning leading actors, and summer blockbusters. The commentary crackles with humorous anecdotes and acerbic insights on topics such as screenplays (“There mustn’t be too much description, because [studio executives] get bored when they read words,” says director and writer Abraham Polonsky) and stunt work (“I used to get $25 every time I jumped a horse off a cliff,” says 1920s actor Hoot Gibson). The result is a fascinating conversation about Hollywood’s magical blending of art and commerce. Agent: David P. Halpern, Robbins Office. (Nov.)