Feb 26, 2014

My Movie Book Library: Warehouse Sales, Princess Grace and Embezzlement

A few years ago, I decided to check out the annual warehouse sale of a local used book shop. I heard it was a great place to get some deals. It turned out to be an amazing event and there was a huge selection in the movie history section. I was so excited! My take was a lot better than I'd expected. At $1 a book, I could afford to pick up a few things out of curiosity.

One find was especially gorgeous : a coffee table book with photos of Grace Kelly's private life as a princess. It was in beautiful condition and I could hardly wait to look at it more closely.

When I got home, after gloating for a while over my stash, I settled in to learn about the Princess of Monaco. Almost right away I found a check stuffed inside the pages of the book. It hadn't been cashed.

Though I can't remember the amount of the check or the name of the issuer, I guessed it was for a small business. I decided to call the company and see if the lost check could be reunited with its owner.

It turned out the contact number was for a private residence. A man answered. Once I explained the reason for my call, he let out a long breath and was quiet for a moment.

Then he told me that the check had been made out to his next door neighbor, who had been doing bookkeeping for his business. In fact, the neighbor had made out the check to himself, and not for the first time. He had just been arrested the night before for embezzling funds from the company to support his heroin habit.

I asked if he would like me to mail him the check. Did he need it for evidence? He thanked me and said he would appreciate it if I would. Then he asked me the title of the book, which I told him. He laughed and we said goodbye.

When I told my husband about the call, he guessed why the man had probably asked about the title. If his neighbor stole money from him, he might have taken other things to raise funds too, like books. I felt silly for not figuring that out on my own. I guess I was just too stunned by the whole situation.

Though I thought about calling again to ask if the book did belong to him, and if I could send it back to him if it was indeed his, I suspected he probably wouldn't let me. Even more so, I figured he didn't need any more to bother with that day.

I'm still not sure I did the right thing about the book, but I'm glad I called about the check. I always wondered if things worked out for that business owner and if his neighbor kicked the drug habit.

It was unsettling to buy a book meant to be an escape into beauty, only to be reminded of how complicated the real world can be. And yet, it's still a great book. The events around it didn't change it, despite the fact that I'll always associate it with that story.

Browse the rest of my movie book library on Pinterest.

Feb 23, 2014

Quote of the Week

When you went to the John, she'd think you'd disappeared and she'd been left alone. She'd open up the door to see if you were still there. She was a little child.

-Shelley Winters

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Feb 19, 2014

My Movie Book Library: 239 and Counting

One year ago, Raquelle of Out of the Past shared a photo of her movie book library. This inspired a few other film bloggers to share their collections, including me. Sadly, inspiration did not lead to action--until now.

My collection started with a few gifts from my parents and expanded with frightening speed once I started prowling used book stores. Eventually, I had to either slow down or move to a bigger house. As all you book hoarders out there know, moving is murder when you have a large library.

This is the shelf where I keep most of my movie books:

The rest of it is shoved into other bookcases, piled up on tables, etc. Eventually I will find one spot for all of it. It would be amazing to do something like Artman did here.

One of the things that always bothers me about my library is that I haven't read so much of it. As I wrote in my post a couple of weeks ago, I'm going to do something about that this year.

I thought I would be more likely to read the titles I hadn't cracked if I knew what I had, so I started a spreadsheet and cataloged everything. Going through the 239 books I'd collected was amazing. I had no idea I had so many!

At first I thought about taking close-up shots of my shelves and stacks so you all could browse my library, but by the time I finished entering titles, I knew getting a clear shot of everything would be hard to do.

Putting the covers of my library in a gallery on Pinterest was a great solution to that problem. Wherever possible, I have used the same cover art/edition as the book I own. Check it out here.

Going through all those books was much more exciting than I expected. So many memories! A library is full of life. There are a lot of stories about my books, in addition to those told inside them. I'm going to share a few over the next month. I hope you enjoy them.

Feb 16, 2014

Quote of the Week

Greta was so excited. When people started to laugh, it was the most amazing thing! She looked around her like she'd heard thunder claps!

-Ernst Lubitsch, About Greta Garbo's reaction to the premiere audience for Ninotchka (1939), her first comedy

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Feb 12, 2014

Book Review--Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood's Legendary Director

Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood's Legendary Director
By Marilyn Ann Moss
University Press of Kentucky, 2011

The only truth lies in the joy of telling, the art of being a storyteller.

-Marilyn Ann Moss

Raoul Walsh always insisted that his films were for entertainment. None of that artsy stuff. In a way that was true. His best skill was simply knowing where to place the camera, how to catch the action so that it looked as exciting as possible.

There was often depth beyond the forward thrust of his stories though. They were never quite as simple as he claimed, often leaving a moment for reflection, and space for characters to grow, especially with his later works.

In Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood's Legendary Director, now in paperback, Moss reveals a man who was somehow both complicated and straightforward. It couldn't have been an easy task to write about his life, because he loved his tall tales. Who better to tell stories for a living than a guy obsessed with creating his own legend, all to the delight of the media which encouraged him?

Walsh loved his work, always getting right down to business and finishing his shoots ahead of schedule, acting like a gleeful child during the filming of wild action scenes. He directed (and sometimes acted) from the silent age to the last days of the studio system and would have done more had age and dimming eyesight not stopped him.

He could just as easily lose interest in his work though, reading the racing forms instead of paying attention to a less thrilling scene; ripping pages out of a script to avoid falling behind or just so he could make it to the horse races. His actors were unnerved by his habit of looking, and sometimes even walking, away once he began filming a scene. He'd never looked through a camera lens. If the dialogue sounded right, he moved ahead.

Romance was equally complicated for Walsh. He was at first loving and then distant with his first two wives, actress Miriam Cooper and Lorraine Miller. They'd lose out to the races more often than not. Horses may have been the true love of his life. And yet, he met nineteen-year-old Mary Simpson in his late fifties and fell deeply in love with her. He was still a scoundrel, but remained devoted to her over thirty-three years of marriage.

His adopted sons and stepdaughter also struggled for his attention. Walsh was an absentee father, something that didn't seem to trouble him in his youth. In later years, he seemed to regret not having his own children.

Moss weaves all these elements into a rich portrait. You can feel how alive Walsh was, how passion drove him towards excitement, whatever the cost. She finds the truth wherever she can, but does not shy away from the legend. After all, the way Walsh saw himself is an important part of who he was.

Often when I read a biography, I might get a bit of a thrill learning how a director or performer sculpted their career, but I become impatient to get the to films I know. This was not the case reading about Walsh. His career was wildly exciting.

He jumped right into the silent age, both acting and directing. Gloria Swanson handpicked him to helm her own production of Sadie Thompson (1928), and she insisted he star opposite her as well. He had a huge crush on his married leading lady, but couldn't bring himself to act on it.

Walsh's efficient, brisk style behind the camera was a perfect fit for crime films like The Roaring Twenties (1939) and High Sierra (1941). He loved tough stars like James Cagney and Ida Lupino. He had no patience for George Raft's imperious demands, which ultimately led to his decline. And Bogie: Walsh knew he had chops, but he couldn't stand the way he complained about everything.

Though crime and action are the genres that made Walsh's reputation, he tried a bit of everything. From early musicals to comedy, he applied the same clear focus and hard-driving momentum to them all. He was a good match for the bawdy Mae West with Klondike Annie (1936). In his personal favorite, The Strawberry Blonde (1941) he tenderly explored the past as he would like to remember it and his enduring belief that whatever happened, romance was of deep importance.

There's a story in the book that perfectly captures the Walsh's tough, but romantic nature. While directing Saskatchewan (1954), he became irritated with Shelley Winter's behavior on the set and allowed another actor to handle her roughly during the filming of a scene. And yet, he knew that the actress was pining for her husband, Vittorio Gassman, whom she had just married, and rearranged the schedule so that she could return to him as soon as possible.

Contradictions like these give Walsh's story lots of spice. It's an entertaining read, both the fiction and the non-fiction.

Many thanks to University Press of Kentucky for providing a review copy of the book.

Feb 9, 2014

Quote of the Week

I sometimes wonder if the world will ever seem as carefree and exciting a place as it did to us in Hollywood during 1919 and the early twenties.

-Buster Keaton

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Feb 5, 2014

My Movie Book Library: Seven Books to Finally Read in 2014

After I made my list of 10 new-to-me movies I was determined to see in 2014, I realized there was another very important list I needed to make. I'd just cataloged my film book library, most of which you can see on my Pinterest board, and was shocked to realized I hadn't read most of the books. I have my reasons: library books, titles to read for review, but I'm not going to make excuses anymore. These are the books from my library that I am determined to read this year:

1. Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming

Myrna Loy is one of my favorite stars. I was thrilled to find this book. So why haven't I read it? I think maybe I was a bit too excited about it and afraid it wouldn't be as cool as it looked. But this is Myrna, a certain amount of coolness is built in.

2. Ginger: My Story

Every time I see a Ginger Rogers movie, which is often, I think about how little I know about her. I've gotten the odd crumb of information from time-to-time over the years, but I know there's more to this woman than fabulous, late life appearances on Love Boat and gossip about her partnership with Fred Astaire.

3. Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel, by Carlton Jackson

Same thing here. I always see McDaniel in movies. She was everywhere, though at the same time there was never enough of her. I'm ready to learn more about one of my favorite actresses.

4. King Vidor: A Tree is a Tree

I picked up Vidor's autobiography in a London bookshop about six years ago. The man who sold it to me was wearing the longest cardigan I'd ever seen. Every time I look at the book, I think about it. Sure it looked cozy, but did it ever get in the way? Did he ever curl up in it for a midday nap? Anyway, I want to read the book so I'll have something to obsess over besides the sweater.

5. Lauren Bacall: By Myself

Recommended to me by a Pinterest follower. That crowd seems to have great taste, so good enough.

6. The Star Machine, Jeanine Basinger

I got this for Christmas years ago, and enjoyed reading a few pages, but then I was forced to plow through a stack of library books before they were due. Why does everything I order always come at once, no matter where I am on the list when I reserve it? I love Basinger. She's going to be my priority this year.

7. Simone Signoret: Nostalgia Isn't What it Used to Be

I'm reading this one first, as an appetizer to the new Signoret bio. coming out this year.

Do you own any movie books that you've yet to read? Am I the only one hoarding them after looking at all the photos? Share in the comments!

Feb 2, 2014

Quote of the Week

I like the old masters, by which I mean John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.

-Orson Welles

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