cover image Faces in the Crowd: Players and Writers

Faces in the Crowd: Players and Writers

Gary Giddins. Oxford University Press, USA, $30 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-19-505488-0

It is the job of critics of popular culture to reevaluate what the public has dismissed or enshrined. This is Giddins's ( Riding on a Blue Note ) role in a collection of essays that highlight the underappreciated (e.g., Kay Starr, a 1950s singer, is described as ``incomparable''86 ) and shed new light on icons (e.g., Jack Benny ``virtually invented situation comedy''5 ). With its neat categories--``show people,'' ``divas,'' ``players,'' ``writers''--and range of celebrities, from Irving Berlin to Spike Lee, the volume presents a well-rounded assortment of 20th-century pop culture figures. But that seems beside the point. As with any good collection of essays, subject matter and organization serve mainly to rein in the author's ideas, which, in Giddins's case, erupt almost uncontrollably from each sentence: a mention of Myrna Loy elicits discussion of Woody Van Dyke, the Production Code, the homecoming scene in The Best Years of Our Lives , Boris Karloff, Burt Reynolds and more. This makes the book less a series of epiphanies about culture than a trip through Giddins's democratic, erudite mind. (June)