The History of Hollywood is the history of 20th-century America—more precisely, a saga of mass-produced fantasy co-starring the people who made the movies and those who consumed them. No book can expect to tell a story. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in the first chapter of his Hollywood novel, “The Last Tycoon,” that “half a dozen men have never been able to keep the whole equation of pictures in their heads.” Nevertheless, these books, published over seven decades, offer a prismatic view of what used to be called the Dream Factory, even as the film industry itself has become a legend. Each is a part of the equation.
‘Picture’ (1952) by Lillian Ross
Originally published in The New Yorker, Lillian Ross’s character-rich account of John Huston’s 1951 adaptation of “The Red Badge of Courage” showcases how a particular film made (and unmade) the story more interesting than it is. Could be the film itself. Looking at the fascinating life forms found on film sets, in studio offices, and at Hollywood parties, Ross is the prose equivalent of a fly-on-the-wall documentary.
Classic Hollywood movie stars were holy monsters as well as cash cows. A French sociologist, occasional filmmaker (best known for co-directing the cinema’s famed classic “Chronicle of a Summer”) and virtuoso stylist, Edgar Morin considers the greats and their admirers: “The Star System Behind not only the folly of the fanatics, the lack of inventiveness of the screenwriters, the commercial ingenuity of the producers. The heart of the world is and is love, another kind of nonsense, a more profound humanity.”
‘The Movie Moguls’ by Philip French (1969)
And behind the stars, Muggle. Oversized figures, many of them immigrant Jews who created the Hollywood studio system, acted out human comedy behind the screen. One of the most militant of British film critics, Philippe French describes his failures with a mixture of irony, affection and astonishment.
‘Toms, Coons, Mulatto, Mamie, and Bucks,’
by Donald Bogle (1973)
Donald Bogle’s groundbreaking work addressed a void in Hollywood history, turning a further focus on the industry by examining all the ways in which American films dealt with racial issues as well as a way of representation by African-American actors. Removed. The book basically ended with the dawn of superstition; Since then it has gone through three new versions.
Film critic Molly Haskell has viewed classic Hollywood films through a feminist lens. Her then-controversial thesis argued that, rather than liberating, the permissive films of the 1960s and 1970s were fundamentally sexist and even reactionary, which featured strong women such as Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, and Barbara Stanwyck. The stars underpin the tradition that had flourished over the past decades.
Naming Names (1980) by Viktor Nawasky
The story of screenwriters, directors, and actors drawn by the film industry to their real or imagined Communist affiliations during the Cold War is one of the most compelling of Hollywood back stories. The Nation’s longtime editor, Viktor Navaski, pays a lot of attention to interviewing both the blacklisted and the blacklisters. The book is as psychologically intense as it is historically resonant.
‘Lulu in Hollywood’ (1982) by Lewis Brooks
Kansas-born Louise Brooks was a teenage Broadway chorus girl who had her greatest success in two silent German films—achieving screen immortality as Lulu in G.W. Pabst’s 1929 “Pandora’s Box”, the supernatural, self-destructive female fatale. . A bit of Lulu himself, even if as intelligent as he was, Brooks absorbed Hollywood enough in his relatively brief career to write a prolific series of memoirs published in the 1970s and After that the compilation was done.
‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’ by Peter Biskind (1998)
Peter Biskind’s riotous, hyperbolic, gossip account of Hollywood’s last golden age – a 12-year rule of brutal film-school educated young directors known as “movie brats” – depicts a group of prodigies as self-confident because they were full of self-confidence. The indulgent Coppola, Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese and De Palma brought counterculture to Hollywood, but when they appeared to be remaking the film industry in their own image, Biskin suggested it could have been the other way around.
‘Hollywood Censored’ by Thomas Doherty (2007)
The exemplary social historian Thomas Doherty has repeatedly reviewed 1930s Hollywood, exploring the studio system from different angles. Here his subject was Joseph I. Breen, the apprehensive enforcer of the production code and, given his absolute prowess, is arguably the most influential figure in the film industry from 1934 to 1954.
‘We Will Always Have Casablanca’ by Noah Eisenberg (2017)
Noah Eisenberg’s first book on “Casablanca,” but, published to mark the film’s 75th anniversary, it sure remains — the deftly building, welcoming, and afterlife exploration of the classic Hollywood quintessential production.
Jay Hoberman is the author of the “Found Illusions” trilogy: “An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War”; “The Dream Life: Movies, Media and the Mythology of the ’60s”; and “Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan.”