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City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940's Paperback – May 2, 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 495 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (May 2, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520209494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520209497
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,051,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The late Otto Friedrich enlivened the pages of many newspapers and magazines with his vigorous prose. His journalistic ability to convey complex material in a vivid, accessible manner is evident in City of Nets, a mordant portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s. (Originally published in 1986, it's the middle volume in a trilogy of superb urban histories that also includes Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s and Olympia: Paris in the Age of Manet.) Friedrich drew on his voluminous reading of everything from celebrity bios to trade-union history to create a unique synthesis that, for a change, depicts Tinseltown not as a dreamland floating above American reality, but as a city subject, like any other, to economic and political forces. Friedrich mingles enjoyable gossip with hardheaded analysis of Hollywood's often unsavory industrial underpinnings, including studio heads' willingness to rely on gun-wielding gangsters to solve their labor problems. There's no other movie book quite like it; Rita Hayworth's divorce proceedings against Orson Welles follow hard on the heels of a gruesomely detailed description of Bugsy Siegel's execution. The '40s were the decade of Hollywood's decline: a blacklist prompted by anticommunist hysteria shut out some of its best talent, while a 1948 antitrust consent decree ended many of the business practices that made the studio system so profitable. Friedrich's brilliantly selective use of colorful anecdotes and revealing details perfectly captures a decaying, but still glamorous, culture. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

In 1939, when 50 million Americans went to the movies every week, Louis B. Mayer was the highest paid man in the country and Hollywood produced 530 feature films, among them Gone With the Wind, Ninotchka, Wuthering Heights and The Wizard of Oz. A decade and 5000 movies later, the studios were tottering, Ingrid Bergman and Charlie Chaplin were exiled, the Hollywood Ten went to prison and millions were watching Milton Berle at home. What happened in those 10 years is as rich and colorful a story as can be imagined and Friedrich has more than done it justicethis is his liveliest book since the popular Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920's, and certainly one of the best books ever written about Hollywood. Taking his title from Brecht's Mahagonny, that "city of nets" where everything is permitted, Friedrich tells the familiar story of Hollywood's heyday and decline as part of a sweeping social and cultural history that takes in everything from Rita Hayworth's electrolysis (to give her a higher hairline) to union corruption, the Zoot Suit riots, the gangster Bugsy Siegel inventing Las Vegas. He is particularly good on the European refugee communityMann, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Brecht, et al.who produced some of their most distinguished work while their neighbors turned out Betty Grable musicals, and whose encounters with the studio moguls are among the most richly comic moments in our cultural history (Schoenberg, asked to score a movie, told a startled producer he would have to control the dialogue as well, so the actors would "speak in the same pitch and key as I compose it in"). The moguls themselves, semiliterate, comfortable with racketeers but lusting for respectability (and in no way the "showmen" legend has made them) could be Preston Sturges characters. Friedrich avoids the cliche Goldwynisms, but has unearthed a good Disneyism: when Walt saw what the Fantasia animators had done to the "Pastoral" Symphony, he said, "Gee, this'll make Beethoven." Friedrich mixes all these elements (and more) in a narrative that is often funny and remarkably even-handed (e.g., his concise account of the HUAC hearings) a must for movie buffs and a rewarding read for everyone else. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Otto Friedrich (1929-1995) was a journalist and cultural historian. A contributing editor at The Saturday Evening Post and Time magazine, he was the author of fourteen books, including Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s.

Customer Reviews

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For light, festive reading, if you like old movies, I highly recommend this tome.
C. Irish
The author captures the personality of the characters in this soapy drama with beautiful ease and, often, humour.
Ricky Hunter
This book is one of the reasons why I became a devoted reader of Otto Friedrich's work.
William Hare

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
I think I've read City of Nets 4 times since I got it. The main reason is because it's so packed with details and fascinating information that I am always finding something I missed or had forgotten in the flood of knowledge. Some might see that as a detraction, but I think it speaks to how well the author did his homework.
One of the great appeals in this book is in its truth and how it correctly points out that 1940's Hollywood, which we think we know so well from legend and the films, was actually much much more. As the book shows, Los Angeles was not only the filmmaking capital of the world, but quite possibly the center of business, classical music, and literature. It was one of those times and places when most things that were "great" were all lumped together. Throw that against a backdrop of World War II and the ensuing Cold War, and you have a narrative that is almost too good to be true.
Really a great read, many times over.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By William Hare on December 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is one of the reasons why I became a devoted reader of Otto Friedrich's work. Two others were his excellent series in Time about Berlin in the rise of Hitler along with "Going Crazy," a brilliant study of psychoanalysis with analyses of some interesting case histories of individuals who were treated for psychiatric difficulties. "City of Nets" explores the fabled city of lights and dreams during one of its most memorable decades. In addition to receiving all kinds of interesting tidbits about Rita Hayworth's tempestuous marriage to Orson Welles and Robert Mitchum's time spent in a California honor farm on a marijuana possession charge that would ultimately be expunged, Friedrich also provides the broader picture of a town thrown into turmoil and confusion during the period following the war.
Friedrich gives a brilliant account of the tragic blacklist period. As one who has studied this period closely as a historian, I was impressed by the breadth of the author's scope as a researcher. German playwright Bertolt Brecht is colorfully displayed. His offbeat intelligence and unconventional demeanor completely astounded House Un-American Activities Committee members as they sought to interrogate him. Long after the author of "Mother Courage", "Galileo" and many other plays had returned to his native East Germany, committee members and others were still trying to figure him out. Friedrich relates the incident when Charles Laughton threw a wild tantrum at the Coronet Theater as he was rehearsing for the Los Angeles premiere of Brecht's "Galileo.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John Guzlowski on December 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
Of the books I've read about the golden age of Hollywood, this is easily the best. Friedrich combines brief biographies of the great directors, actors, and producers of the period along with lesser known stars to give a thorough picture of the film culture of the period. What is especially interesting is his analysis of the role refugees from Nazi oppression played in creating and not creating some of the great films of the 40's.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on February 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
Otto Friedrich's City of Nets (A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940's) is as evocative a portrait of a time and place as one could hope for. The book travels through more than film history (much, much more) as the reader explores, dragged by the wonderful writing of the author, crime, unions, politics, communism, war, racisim and a host of other isms. This book is about the parts of America that float to the surface of the pool of churning, boiling water that is Hollywood and it is not always a pretty grouping of flotsam and jetsam. The author captures the personality of the characters in this soapy drama with beautiful ease and, often, humour. It was a joy from beginning to end and deserves far more than five stars. A book about Hollywood for those who care about history and do not see a light shining on some very gloomy corners of history.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By nto62 on June 4, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
With a title like City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940's, one might expect a book about Hollywood, the place. But, Otto Friedrich doesn't provide this. He touches on it ever so briefly to begin the book and once again to end it, but in between City of Nets is undeniably about people. This isn't so much a bad thing as it is an unanticipated one, for I assumed the book would provide a good share of both.

As a history of the people of Hollywood, City of Nets is an engaging and often eye-opening book. I learned many things of which I wasn't aware. The book sagged a bit over the HUAC hearings - an obligatory and, thus, well-worn subject - but, by and large, clipped along at an enjoyable pace.

Mayer, Goldwyn, Selznick, Hughes and many lesser lights figure prominently as do a bevy of stars. But, this is not a tabloid-style tell-all and those expecting one will be disappointed. It is a sober, often wry, narrative that I devoured quite quickly. Friedrich writes well with earnestness and a begrudging impartiality. I'll take that given the subject matter. 5 big stars.
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