Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema by Anne Helen Petersen.
This book is: an academic look at some of classic Hollywood’s controversial figures.
Other elements: the changing attitudes of society, social trends, the ever-changing nature of what is acceptable to the public eye, the evolution of the publicity machine.
Read it: if you like your classic Hollywood scandals with a bit of psychology and anthropology.
Overall rating: 7/10
Looking at the online reviews of this book, it seems like a lot of people were surprised and disappointed by the intellectual nature of it: they came for salacious scandals, they found well-researched accounts of real events and analysis of how the public reacted to these events. Scandals of Classic Hollywood doesn’t read like a vintage version of The Tatler, instead, it takes an almost anthropological approach to recounting notable moments in the evolution of Hollywood scandals: investigating the real facts, looking at how the myths developed, and analyzing both how societal attitudes at the time effected the public’s reaction and how the nature of Hollywood as an industry evolved in response. I found it fascinating, well-written, and thoroughly enjoyable.
My biggest complaint is that I wanted AHP to take her analysis a little bit further. After the final chapter – a profile of a single historical figure, like all the rest – the book simply ends. I found it very jarring; the rest of the book had been so thoughtful and cohesive that I was really expecting some kind of overarching conclusion or at least a summary to bring it all together. I was also left feeling a little unsure as to how AHP chose the figures that she did: she thoroughly analyzes James Dean and Montgomery Clift, for example, but mentions Elizabeth Taylor (personal favorite) and Marilyn Monroe only briefly.
It’s still very much worth a read, if it sounds like your kind of thing. I read it very slowly (for me), as I tend to do with nonfiction, and I found it super relaxing as a bedtime story.
Check out AHP’s columns for The Hairpin if you want to get a sense of what to expect.
My thanks to Plume for providing me with a review copy of Scandals of Classic Hollywood.
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