Thursday, August 14, 2014

Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling Through Hollywood History

Author:  Mark Bailey
Illustrator:  Edward Hemingway
Genre:  Anthology/Hollywood

Five Stars
Humphrey Bogart got himself arrested for protecting his drinking buddies, who happened to be a pair of stuffed pandas.  Ava Gardner would water ski to the set of Night of the Iguana holding a towline in one hand and a cocktail in the other.  Barely legal Natalie Wood would let Dennis Hopper seduce her only if he provided a bathtub of champagne.  And sweet Mary Pickford stashed liquor in hydrogen peroxide bottles during Prohibition.
From the frontier days of silent film up to the wild auteur period of the 1970s, Mark Bailey has pillaged the vaults of Hollywood history and lore to dig up the true-and often surprising-stories of seventy of our most beloved actors, directors, and screenwriters at their most soused.
Bite-sized biographies are followed by ribald anecdotes and memorable quotes.  If a star had a favorite cocktail, the recipe is included.  Films with the most outrageous booze-soaked stories, like From Here to Eternity, The Misfits, and Apocalypse Now, are featured, along with the legendary watering holes of the day (and the recipes for their signature drinks).  Edward Hemingway's portraits complete this spirited look at America's most iconic silver-screen legends.
I wanted to read this book because I am a huge fan of the Golden Era of Hollywood.  I love movies made during that time.  Which isn't to say I don't like other movies, I just have a preference for the classic black-and-whites.
Now this book was different:  it took me longer to read than others because every so often I would find myself curious - not about the anecdotes involved, for I believe everything Mr. Bailey has written, having heard some of the stories previously.  But because being a huge classic film fan, I found myself referring to the Glorious Internet occasionally to find out other facts about certain stars (such as Rita Hayworth's ex-husband Dick Haymes.  When he was referred to as "Mr. Evil," I naturally wanted to know why.)  And, of course, that led to looking at facts about his other ex-wives, etc., etc...
Back to the book: I knew the stars drank, I just didn't realize so much.  Who travels with a suitcase full of liquor, for Heaven's sake?  Included in the stories are the mean drunks, the happy drunks, and the totally oblivious drunks - those who can't remember anything from the night before.  Many of the stories are humorous, others are downright sad.  But when Hollywood was young, liquor was the choice stimulant, although it has transitioned from booze to drugs, I think (not that one is any better than the other, mind you).
I have learned a little about the personal habits of many of the stars, and noted that in quite a few cases they died young, probably due to their habits, which is unfortunate. But in the end, this is indeed an interesting book and recommended for anyone who is interested - like myself - in old Hollywood and what it used to be.

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