Dec 3, 2015

Book Review: Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays

Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays
Karie Bible and Mary Mallory
Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2015

Teresa Wright, two time Academy Award winner, had a clause in her contract with Goldwyn Studios that stated she:

…shall not be required to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in the water. Neither may she be photographed running on the beach with her hair flying in the wind. Nor may she pose in any of the following situations: In shorts, playing with a cocker spaniel; digging in a garden; whipping up a meal; attired in firecrackers and holding skyrockets for the Fourth of July; looking insinuatingly at a turkey for Thanksgiving; wearing a bunny cap with long ears for Easter; twinkling on prop snow in a skiing outfit while a fan blows her scarf; assuming an athletic stance while pretending to hit something with a bow and arrow.

While Wright would have looked adorable in a bunny cap, it's easy to see why a serious actress would reject these seasonal photo sessions. I think we all know that Hollywood and dignity rarely intersect though. While it's true that these promotional photos can be absurd, and sometimes downright surreal, that's what makes them interesting. In a new photo book compiled by Karie Bible and Mary Mallory, you get to see over 200 of these glamour shots compiled, which makes them appear even more bizarre and wonderful.

These shots were not films, with characters and plots; they were direct star to audience communication. It is how Hollywood thought the masses wanted to see its stars. They are an interesting fantasy, showing an innocence, patriotism, piety and sense of order, oddly, but not surprisingly juxtaposed with short-shorts and lots of cheesecake. Here normally animated subjects are made static, and presented to the public like goods for sale. You feel for their them being objectified in that way, but you can't help admiring the glossy beauty of it all.

Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays is organized for the most part by holiday, with a few additional categories for special subjects like television and war. Most of the shots are from the 30s to the 50s, but there are a few from the silent era and the decades following the Eisenhower era.

It's a thoughtfully curated collection, unsurprisingly dominated by cheesecake, but also with shots of child stars, comedians and some truly odd photos, like the one of the dour-faced Little Rascals stuffed into stockings hanging by the fire while Santa looks on in confusion or a family shot of the Buster Keatons participating in perhaps the most depressing tree trimming ever. I was also fascinated by an unsettling shot of Peter Lorre preparing to hit Santa Claus from behind with a baseball bat. Which is not to say the other seasons didn't have their unusual moments; it's just that the studios really got creative with their Christmas shots.

I love that the co-authors of the book are clearly knowledgeable about classic Hollywood. This isn't just a bunch of pretty shots slapped together by a gift book company for an easy profit. In fact, co-author Karie Bible is perhaps best known for dressing in period dresses and giving fact-packed presentations as the official tour guide at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

This would be a good gift for a classic film fan. Why not print this review and leave it out somewhere for a hint?

Many thanks to Schiffer Publishing for providing a copy of the book for review.


  1. This looks really interesting! I'm always strangely fascinated by the seasonal photo shoots from this era (some of them can be so bizarre!) I'll have to check this out!

  2. I think you'd like it Kate. There are so many of these shots online that you almost start to take them for granted, but seeing them together in a curated collection was fascinating. I like how the world of these photo shoots is so different from that of the movies. It really is its own odd art form.