The Movies: 10 Must-Read Books Coming This Fall

September 14, 2012

The fall promises to be a great season for books about the movies and movie stars. Three of the most insightful critics writing today — David Thomson, David Denby and Ty Burr — each have new books coming out, as does one of our most accomplished film historians, Anthony Slide.

The Fall 2012 Season will also see a handful of promising biographies and biographical studies on the likes of Henry Fonda, Lyle Talbot and Lew Ayres, along with more broadly themed works of film history. Women also come in for consideration, and reconsideration, with exceptional new books on two early film superstars, Mary Pickford — “America’s Sweetheart,” and Mae Murray — “the girl with the bee-stung lips.”

These days, university presses are publishing some of the best and most provocative books on film and film history. Don’t miss Go West, Young Women!: The Rise of Early Hollywood by Hilary Hallett, due out in December from the University of California Press.

Besides the ten recommended titles which follow, there are other new releases also worth checking out, like Variety: An Illustrated History of the World from the Most Important Magazine in Hollywood, by Tim Gray (Rizzoli), and John Wayne: The Legend and the Man: An Exclusive Look Inside the Duke’s Archives(powerHouse Books). Oh, and Uggie (the canine star of The Artist) also has a book due in October. It’s Uggie — My Story: A Memoir by Uggie (Gallery Books).

Seen the movies? Now read the books. Here’s a guide, ordered by date-of-release, to the big new releases and lesser-known titles which should pique the interest of film buffs and book lovers alike.

Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame by Ty BurrGods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame
by Ty Burr
Publisher: Pantheon, $28.95
Date: September 18, 2012
Summary: How — and why — do we obsess over movie stars? How does fame both reflect and mask the person behind it? How have the image of stardom and our stars’ images altered over a century of cultural and technological change? Do we create celebrities, or do they create us? Ty Burr, film critic for the Boston Globe, examines these questions and more in this lively anecdotal history of stardom, with all its blessings and curses for star and stargazer alike. From Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin to Archie Leach (a.k.a. Cary Grant) and Marion Morrison (a.k.a. John Wayne), from Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts to today’s instant celebs famous for being famous, Burr takes us on an insightful and entertaining journey through the modern fame game at its flashiest, most indulgent, most revealing and, occasionally, most tragic.


Hollywood Unknowns: A History of Extras, Bit Players, and Stand-Ins by Anthony SlideHollywood Unknowns: A History of Extras, Bit Players, and Stand-Ins
by Anthony Slide
Publisher: University Press of Mississippi, $40.00
Date: October 1, 2012
Summary: Extras, bit players and stand-ins have been a part of the film industry almost from its beginning. Their stories, both on a personal and a professional level, are told in this new book, the first history devoted to extras from the silent era through today. Slide, one of our leading film historians, chronicles events such as John Barrymore’s walking off set in the middle of the day so the extras could earn another day’s wages, and Cecil B. DeMille’s masterful organizing of casts of thousands in films such as Cleopatra. Through personal interviews, oral histories and the use of newly available archival material, Slide reveals the story of the men, women and even animals that helped make the movies a magical medium.


Do the Movies Have a Future? by David DenbyDo the Movies Have a Future?
by David Denby
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, $27.00
Date: October 2, 2012
Summary: Like David Thomson, New Yorker critic David Denby sounds the alarm in Do the Movies Have a Future? Drawing from work published over the last dozen years, Denby — another of our most insightful critics — examines the art, business, and future of what he sees as America’s once primary form of entertainment. Denby traces the radical evolution in the commerce and art of movies, which now competes with television and the Internet in a global marketplace that is driving the film business toward spectacle, digitalization and, perhaps, eventual extinction.



The Man Who Saw a Ghost: The Life and Work of Henry Fonda by Devin McKinneyThe Man Who Saw a Ghost: The Life and Work of Henry Fonda
by Devin McKinney
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, $29.99
Date: October 2, 2012
Summary: At last, the first major biography of the iconic actor Henry Fonda, a story of stardom, manhood and the American character. Fonda’s performances in The Grapes of WrathYoung Mr. Lincoln12 Angry Men and On Golden Pond helped define “American” in the twentieth century. He worked with movie greats including Ford, Sturges, Hitchcock and Leone. He was a Broadway legend. He fought in World War II and was loved the world over. Yet much of his life was rage and struggle. McKinney’s Fonda is dark, complex and fascinating, a man haunted by what he’d seen, and by who he was.



The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies by David ThomsonThe Big Screen: The Story of the Movies
by David Thomson
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35.00
Date: October 16, 2012
Summary: David Thomson is the acclaimed author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, which is now in its fifth edition, and Have You Seen… ?: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films, among other books. He is also one of the great authorities on movies, and an elegant writer. Now comes The Big Screen, an enthralling and even provocative look at film: their rise and spread, their remarkable influence in the war years and their long, slow decline to a form that Thomson says is often richly entertaining but no longer lays claim to our lives the way it once did.



Lew Ayres: Hollywood's Conscientious Objector by Lesley L. CoffinLew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector
by Lesley L. Coffin
Publisher: University Press of Mississippi, $35.00
Date: November 1, 2012
Summary: Lew Ayres (1908-1996) became known to the public when he portrayed the leading character in the epic war film All Quiet on the Western Front. The role made him a household name, introduced him to his closest friends, brought him to the attention of his first two wives and would overshadow the rest of his career. To be a movie star was his first and only ambition as a child, but once he found success, he was never fully satisfied in his choice of profession. This new book tells his story.




The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century by Margaret TalbotThe Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century
by Margaret Talbot
Publisher: Riverhead, $28.95
Date: November 8, 2012
Summary: Using the career of her father — the early Hollywood actor Lyle Talbot — New Yorker writer Margaret Talbot tells the story of the rise of popular culture through a personal lens. Indeed, the arc of Lyle Talbot’s career echoes the story of American entertainment. He left his home in small-town Nebraska in 1918 to join a traveling carnival. From there he became a magician’s assistant, an actor in a traveling theater troupe, a romantic lead in early talkies, then an actor in major Warner Bros. pictures alongside stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Carole Lombard, then an actor in cult B movies and finally a worker in early television, with regular roles on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to BeaverThe Entertainer is an “entertaining” combination of Hollywood history, social history and family memoir.

Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies edited by Christel SchmidtMary Pickford: Queen of the Movies
edited by Christel Schmidt
Publisher: The University Press of Kentucky, $45.00
Date: November 15, 2012
Summary: Ahead of the major Mary Pickford biopic now in the works comes this collection of essays on one of cinema’s first great stars. Co-published with the Library of Congress and featuring more than two hundred color and black and white illustrations,Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies outlines the story of “America’s Sweetheart,” a gifted actress and film superstar who was also a philanthropist and savvy industry leader who fought for creative control of her films and ultimately became her own producer. Pickford was also one of the co-founders of United Artists and, as this book reveals, a key figure in American cinematic history.


Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips by Michael G. AnkerichMae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips
by Michael G. Ankerich
Publisher: The University Press of Kentucky, $40.00
Date: December 5, 2012
Summary: Murray (1885-1965) was popularly known as “the girl with the bee-stung lips.” She was drop-dead gorgeous and a fiery presence in silent-era Hollywood. Renowned for her classic beauty and charismatic presence, Murray’s moment in the spotlight was inevitably fleeting. The introduction of talkies, a string of failed marriages, a serious career blunder and a number of bitter legal battles left the former star in a state of poverty and mental instability that she would never overcome. This intriguing biography, which restores an important figure to the limelight, includes perspectives from actor George Hamilton, whom the actress befriended at the end of her life.


Go West, Young Women!: The Rise of Early Hollywood by Hilary HallettGo West, Young Women!: The Rise of Early Hollywood
by Hilary Hallett
Publisher: University of California Press, $29.95
Date: December 15, 2012
Summary: In 1920, Los Angeles became the only western city where women outnumbered men. In Go West, Young Women, Hilary A. Hallett explores the relatively unknown New Woman of the West and her role in the development of Los Angeles and the nascent film industry. As early publicity stories about female celebrities focused on their independence, resourcefulness and traversal of Los Angeles’ increasingly bohemian terrain, Hollywood came to represent a different kind of frontier, one that spoke to a country torn between Victorian rectitude and individual emancipation, dreams of upward mobility and fears of moral dissolution. From Mary Pickford’s rise to become perhaps the most powerful woman of her age, to the racist moral panics of the anti-war years and the aftermath of Hollywood’s first sex scandal, Hallett describes how the path through early Hollywood presaged the struggles over modern gender roles that animated the century to come. “An outstanding and path-breaking work of scholarship that re-reads the role of women in Hollywood as part of broader U.S. social and cultural history. This work is exemplary of the historian’s art: to go deeply and broadly into primary sources, original documents, and ephemeral materials in order to paint a fresh picture and tell a different story.” — Robert Sklar, author of Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies


langdon-combinedLittle Elf: A Celebration of Harry Langdon
by Chuck Harter and Michael J Hayde
Publisher: BearManor Media, $49.95

The Silent Films of Harry Langdon (1923-1928)
by James L. Neibaur
Publisher: Scarecrow Press, $60.00
Summary: Can’t wait for a new release? Then check out these two new titles on comedian Harry Langdon, who had one of the saddest, and most beautiful faces in the history of film. These two very different, just-out books look at the career of one of the greatest comic actors of the silent and early sound era. Langdon started out with Mack Sennett and skyrocketed to fame under the direction of Frank Capra; partisans rank Langdon alongside Chaplin, Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Upon his death, the New York Times wrote, “His whole appeal was a consummate ability to look inexpressibly forlorn when confronted with manifold misfortunes — usually of the domestic type. He was what was known as ‘dead-pan’… the feeble smile and owlish blink which had become his stock-in-trade caught on in a big way.”


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