Sunday, February 13, 2011

Five best books on remarkable Hollywood lives

Stefan Kanfer is the author, most recently, of Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a list of the five best books chronicling remarkable Hollywood lives.

One title on the list:
Elia Kazan: A Life
by Elia Kazan (1988)

For a period in the 1940s and 1950s, Elia Kazan towered over New York and Hollywood. He co-founded the influential Actors Studio and launched the careers of Tennessee Williams and Marlon Brando by guiding "A Streetcar Named Desire" to Broadway. In Hollywood, Kazan showed an equal facility for directing feel-good productions like "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" and critical and commercial blockbusters such as "On the Waterfront" and "East of Eden." Yet when Kazan was given an honorary Oscar for life-time achievement, the heavily liberal Hollywood crowd booed. For Kazan had briefly been a communist in his youth, and in 1952, when the House Un-American Activities Committee investigated Hollywood "subversion," he furnished it with the names of his "fellow Reds." In his autobiography, Kazan addressed all that and more. The man who emerges is not particularly admirable (he was a world-class seducer of actors, women, journalists—anyone he could use); still his story remains as compelling as any of his productions. It's impossible to fully understand 20th-century theater or movies without reading this pugnacious self-defense.
Read about the other books on Kanfer's list.

Elia Kazan: A Life
is among Richard Schickel's five best show-biz biographies.

--Marshal Zeringue