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Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex,…

Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden…

by Anne Helen Petersen

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11219165,873 (3.41)6
"A collection of shocking clashes and controversies from Hollywood's Golden Age, featuring notorious personalities including Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Jean Harlow, and more"--
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    It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright (ligature)
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    Alice Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: Professional historians interpret newspapers and other documents to bring readers new perspectives on old scandals.

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Felt a lot like a less snappy rehash of Petersen's Hairpin column. Entertaining, and only informative if you know nothing about the era. Otherwise, it feels breezy and maybe a little loose with the details. Where Scandals shines is in its dissection of the studio publicity spin machine, though each chapter's conclusion tends to read like an afterthought. A bit frothy overall. ( )
  Mavrodafni | Nov 19, 2018 |
I spent an entire evening awhile ago devouring all of Anne Peterson's Scandals of Classic Hollywood blog posts, so when I saw she had a book I was super psyched. She's written it in the same approachable, non-academic yet intelligent manner as the original posts, which made for a great read. The chapters are brief, making it easy to read a chapter or two on a lunch break. I was obsessed with Classic Hollywood as a teen, but Peterson frames her narrative in a way that makes the subject matter easy to understand even if you've never seen a film in Technicolor. I also learned lots! Recommended. ( )
  annhepburn | Mar 4, 2018 |
This is a great introduction novel for anyone interested in this time period and the exact way Hollywood once worked.

I was fortunate enough to receive this book from a friend who works in publishing. The world of classic Hollywood has been quite alluring to me ever since I took my first college film course that explored pre-Code and 1930s movies. So it didn't take much to get me excited about reading Scandals.

Having never been introduced to the author's other works or blog posts, I did learn a few fascinating facts about some of the actresses and actors of this time period, several of whom I was previously unfamiliar with. However, the book itself reads like a series of Wikipedia mini biography entries in the form of a dissertation.

Related stories are grouped together within chapters, with each chapter providing a brief introductory summary. From there, each story is told somewhat differently. Some include a mention of the scandal in the beginning while others start on a very lengthy plunge into the background story of all involved before the scandalous details are even touched on or revealed. Where the cover illustrates the idea of a classy but salacious foray into classic Hollywood stars' lives, we are given instead biographical history lessons of where each celebrity started, how their roots shaped their early personalities, and subsequently how the studios manufactured them into untouchable stars. Peterson also helpfully cites rumors and legends alongside true events and deciphers between fact and fiction. While we're afforded a glimpse into heydays of Hollywood where studios swept away stories and fed their own spun versions of tantalizing details to the media to make or break the actors on their payrolls, Peterson also throws in morality lessons or fantasy-woven sentences like, "for the first time, he had met his match." It sounds like Peterson is confused about the point of this book since the writing and focus seems all over the place.

While it was fun to read biographic featurettes on the stars and their humble beginnings, Peterson sometimes attempts to add cultural ties to modern day Hollywood, which was rather befuddling for two reasons. The first is that it does nothing but alienate the reader. If you chose to read this, it is probably easy to comprehend the insurmountable fame held by the stars of the past without requiring a comparison of modern day celebrities to equate to. I don't need to know that Clark Gable was just as famous as the likes of say Robert Pattinson is to the ladies today. Second, Robert Pattinson? That's who Peterson can come up with? I'd argue that Gable achieved a heck of a lot more fame and success, even long after his prime than Pattinson ever has even with the latter's roles in Harry Potter and Twilight.

Again, throughout the book, I find myself lost about what exactly I'm supposed to be reading. Each story heavily mentions the influence of the major movie studios and how they effectively "owned" the stars. We repeatedly see how hard the studio fixers worked to maintain the popular but ultimately "good" reputations of these celebrities and the underlying theme of how actors struggled to differentiate their lives from the roles they played. Personas were fixed or evolved to help facilitate the role model heavy responsibility Hollywood's elite carried for its hungry public.

But what I found missing were actual "scandals." Some of these did have them, like the sordid affairs of Bacall and Bogart, and Lombard and Gable, painted vividly by the media through the studios as "destined" pairs, or the tragic story of Judy Garland, who spent most of her life in Hollywood but never quite "grew up." But for others, like Marlon Brando, that element is missing. Though entertaining, it would have been better to have a more aptly titled book. Nonetheless, since I find this era of Hollywood and history quite fascinating, I probably would have read it just the same, with slightly altered but truer expectations.

( )
  ThePdawg | Jan 14, 2018 |
Anne Helen Petersen examines the star-making machines of the Hollywood movie studios and what that means for the actual people whose lives are manipulated in the press, and for how those stories reflect the desires and prejudices of America at the time. Scandals of Classic Hollywood looks at thirteen star stories, almost entirely sourced from newspapers and magazines, with the occasional public record or star's own writings to give a glimpse to the truth behind the headlines.

In an effort to focus on specific facets of society and how that influenced the studios' PR, the aspects of the stars' stories are occasionally elided or truncated for space, but otherwise Petersen takes a broad picture view, much as the gossip columns and magazine spreads did. Each story begins with the "discovery" - how the star became a star - and traces out how that set a star image, which was then further developed by movie roles and offscreen behavior. There are hundreds of potential stories to choose from, and Petersen selected this baker's dozen carefully: they are arranged chronologically, and also grouped to highlight certain themes. The first batch shows the formation of the Hollywood Star Image in the early days of the studios, followed by sex symbols of the 1920s, then sex symbols of the 1930s, two iconic romantic couples, women that were destroyed by the studios, and men who rejected the studio system.

I had originally come to the Scandals from The Hairpin, where I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the media and gossip surrounding the old movie stars and how that reflected contemporary American society, and also how the expectations of society and big business constrained the stars' actions. That series, which I read almost from the beginning in 2011, greatly changed how I watch and appreciate movies, and even gave me a new understanding of modern celebrity gossip. So I was predisposed to like the book, which provides almost entirely new material of the same theme. I was surprised to realized that a lot of my enjoyment of the series came from seeing the magazine covers and publicity photos alongside Petersen's analysis. While the book has a very thorough list of every single article or headline referenced in the stories, it's not quite the same as seeing the headlines and the context of clothing or pose or even other headlines and titles on the same page. At least the references allow me to look them up, and the different format of the book to the Hairpin posts means the lack of images wasn't a complete loss. It would have been nice to see at least a few. (How amusing that the book's cover design is an explicit callout to the Confidential rag, which was so influential in its short lifespan, which I only know because of the Hairpin posts.)

It was also a little strange to read a few different anecdotes and to realize that certain parts of the star images and accepted truths may very well be pure fabrication, which Petersen only occasionally reminds of. She does point out that she's analyzing the gossip and PR and what it means on a sociological level, so it doesn't necessarily matter what the "real" truth is - the falsehood is still true to millions of people. But there's a short bit in the story about Clark Gable and Carole Lombard that refers to his on-set romance with Loretta Young, and the resulting secret baby - only a few months after she wrote this, Petersen herself learned from Young's son that it was no romance at all, and she felt unable to speak out about it or name it as anything else, partly because she didn't know for over 60 years that there were words to describe what had happened. It was only a brief paragraph reference in Scandals, but this additional knowledge of this specific incident really drove home for me how much was fabricated, and how much the studios controlled the stars, beyond what Petersen describes.

This is a fascinating book and it charts the rise and fall of the Hollywood studio system in an interesting way. I suspect that much of my appreciation and enjoyment comes from being an avid reader of Petersen's work online as well as in the book. I would love to have a print version of the essays she had originally wrote for her blog about modern starmaking and the additional ones from the Hairpin that go into more depth about the gossip columnists and the fan magazines, to accompany this book. ( )
  keristars | Jan 15, 2017 |
An enjoying and thoughtful book dissecting on major Hollywood scandals from the golden age of cinema and how they reflect on the social mores and fears of the times. I would have enjoyed a few more recent stories to explore whether and how things have changed since the era of a few powerful gossip columnists being drip-fed stories by studios, but there's a lot to like here anyway. Petersen's writing hits the perfect balance between pulpy pop and thoughtful academia and the stories she's chosen have broad appeal both as classic Hollywood gossip and as thoughtful sociology. ( )
  mjlivi | Feb 2, 2016 |
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