When I think about celebrities of old Hollywood, I think about my parents, for many reasons. When I was little I loved hearing stories about them going on dates to see movies together. “I remember the night we went to see From Here to Eternity, you know, the one with Burt Lancaster,” my dad would say, only with his British/Island accent he would say “Beht Lahn-CAH-stah.” All of these old star names I say in my head with his accent. “Mawnt-gumm-ree Clift.” Looking at old photos of when my parents were in their 20s, they seemed glamorous in that old Hollywood way, with my dad’s crisp suits and my mom’s tailored dresses. The feeling of imagining my folks during this time in their life is the same feeling I get when watching old movies. It seems so out of my grasp, so drenched in my own imagination rather than reality, so circumscribed by a narrative that is based on very little real information, and therefore, so dreamy.
Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen is filled with bite-sized essays about a range of old Hollywood celebrities. At around five-ten pages each, you get a snapshot of a celeb (Judy Garland, Mae West, James Dean) from their childhood to how their career got going to the height of their fame to their death. Each essay focuses on how the publicity machines of the day (mostly the old studio system) dealt with these very human actors when their actual lives deviated from the prescribed norms of the time or the commodified images that they were being paid to promote. The essays are slight but pack in a lot of information, and it’ll make you want to hunker down and give these folks a re-watch. I’m about to fire up some Beht Lahn-cah-stah right now.