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Born to Be Hurt: The Untold Story of Imitation of Life Paperback – Bargain Price, February 16, 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, February 16, 2010
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Douglas Sirk's film Imitation of Life sparks another beguiling celebration of Old Hollywood for Staggs, author of All About All About Eve. Staggs sections the 1959 melodramas subplots into a campy blonde side (Lana Turner and Sandra Dee as a Broadway star and her daughter, battling over a man), and a tragic dark side (Juanita Miller and Susan Kohner as a black maid and the light-skinned daughter who repudiates her). Refracting themes of racial anxiety, confused identity and the mutual wounds parents and children inflict through Sirks subtly ironic direction, the movie, Staggs writes, is a florid valentine with a deaths-head where Cupid ought to be. Staggs's luxuriously digressive account ranges far beyond the featured attraction. Drawing on chatty interviews with those who worked on or in the film, he profiles studio executives, stars and makeup men alike, assesses their oeuvre and gossips about their scandals, and takes extraneous potshots at everything from modern-day starlets (nasal-voiced and rather dim overall) to the Catholic Church (a monolithic theocracy verging on fascism). Staggs is an often incisive critic, but one who leaves himself raptly open to the emotional impact of movies; he shows readers how compelling Hollywoods imitation of life can be. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“If you believe there is such a thing as politics in movie tastes, Born to Be Hurt is the book for you.  Sam Staggs’s inside story of the entire ‘Imitation of Life’ phenomenon is funny, obsessive and quite revealing and, like any good fanatic, he takes sides.”—John Waters


“Sam Staggs is one of our liveliest and most likable pop-culture historians. His chronicle of ‘Imitation of Life’, one of the iconic movies of the late 1950s, is beautifully researched and told in his own singular, engaging voice. Thanks to this book, I finally understand the peculiar hold that this movie has had on me for all these years.” -- Brian Kellow, author of Ethel Merman: A Life and The Bennetts: An Acting Family


“[A]nother beguiling celebration of Old Hollywood for Staggs…Staggs's luxuriously digressive account ranges far beyond the featured attraction…he shows readers how compelling Hollywood's imitation of life can be.”—Publishers Weekly

"Scrupulously scholarly, yet always droll."--Huffington Post
"There's something compelling about this approach to film history."--Los Angeles Times
"A passionate and witty behind-the-scenes expose."--Turner Classic Movies, www.tcm.com

“A bona fide film archaeologist.”—Chicago Tribune


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; First Edition edition (February 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312605552
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.3 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,878,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sam Staggs has created a franchise telling the stories of the making of classic motion pictures. Behind the Movie - complete with tragedy, triumph, sex-capades and substance abuse. I greatly enjoyed Stagg's first three offerings (on All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard and A Streetcar Named Desire) in part because he treated these fine movies as classics without becoming too precious or too snobby about the whole thing. He writes as an intelligent movie fan for other intelligent fans who aren't above sharing a juicy bit of gossip.

This latest outing - the story of the 1959 version of Imitation of Life - finds Mr Staggs having misplaced his sense of humor. Early on Staggs makes it clear that Imitation is a movie that changed his life and his analysis proceeds from there. Like his two earlier books Staggs provides plenty of backstage gossip about the stars and fascinating details about the making of the movie itself. When Staggs sticks to the story behind the story and writes like a fan telling another fan about their favorite movie of all time this is an entertaining book. But this outing just isn't as much fun for several reasons.

First, Staggs takes this movie way too seriously. I'm all for reclaiming popular art as art. I'm also not in the least snobby about the emotional impact even the lowest of art can have on the viewer. But making a case for Imitation as one of the best movies ever made? There you're on your own, Sam. Especially when he has to go through such contortions to explain away the "blonde half" of the movie starring Lana Turner and Sandra Dee. This would be the part of the movie so beloved by fans of camp - until you've seen Lana "acting" like someone "acting" you just haven't lived - and it's entertaining in its way.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is unusual in that the author seems to have uncovered every tidbit, good or bad, interesting or pointless, about the 1959 film version of "Imitation of Life." Sam Staggs was apparently born to write this type of book by virtue of the staggering minutiae that he has gathered. Yes, it is fact-filled (mostly) and fascinating, but it is also catty and hateful, all at the same time. He has nothing but love for both Juanita Moore (who played faithful maid, Annie Moore) and Susan Kohner (who played her daughter, Sarah Jane), as he was able to interview both of them and get a unique window on this Douglas Sirk-directed tearfest--and about everyone involved in it. It is perhaps because these two lovely women were willing to give him all the information he wanted that he praised them to the heavens in the book. But others were not treated so kindly. Staggs was particularly cruel to John Gavin and goes into the man's politics and other pointless odds and ends that have nothing to do with his relatively solid acting career in Hollywood, despite what Staggs thinks of his talent.

At times the book feels like it is taking you on a second-by-second journey of the film, covering the dialogue, what was going on in the stars' lives, all the backstage drama, all the creative choices, and more. But after a while, it got tiring. There were simply too many tiny details and unnecessary quotes for readers to care. But perhaps more importantly, Staggs seemed to have a vendetta against Republicans and apparently anyone else who does not think or feel or believe as he does about certain issues. None of that had a place in this book. He could have easily stripped the text of about 50-75 pages of unnecessary banter and ranting and raving and embellishing and just gotten on with it.
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Format: Hardcover
I eagerly awaited Sam Staggs' BORN TO BE HURT; THE UNTOLD STORY OF "IMITATION OF LIFE," as I had enjoyed his previous ALL ABOUT "ALL ABOUT EVE," despite its tendency to dwell on minutiae beyond mere trivia, and his obvious, mean-spirited "feud" with actress Celeste Holm, simply because she chose not to be interviewed for his book.

As a big fan of the book and both movie versions of IMITATION, I hoped to learn some new information, or gain some new insights, from this book. Unfortunately, it was not revelatory; if you've watched the documentary and listened to the commentaries on the recently revised 2-disc DVD release of IMITATION, you know most of what you need to. Staggs' exhaustive research is ultimately much ado about nothing. I didn't need to know how many sets existed in the film, what they cost to construct and strike, and so on.

I was surprised that, despite his research into all the other forms of media (television, movies, and such) that IMITATION has influenced, Staggs neglected its most famous "homage," the late 1960s storyline on ONE LIFE TO LIVE where light-skinned black actress Ellen Holly played Carla Gray, who passed in Llanview society as Carla "Benari," an Italian, embarrassing her dark-skinned mother and ending her engagement to a dark-skinned fiance. Carla eventually confessed to passing and embraced her heritage, providing a happier ending than the one that Sarah Jane, the daughter in IMITATION who wishes to pass for white, probably had. If IMITATION influenced any other media (and even WILL & GRACE is mentioned!), it was this story on ONE LIFE TO LIVE.
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