City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940's
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2000
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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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2001
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." Another interesting character sketch provided by Friedrich is that of Austrian emigre Billy Wilder, who fled Hitler's Germany and became a major figure in films, first as a writer, then as a director-writer.
The anecdotes and richness of the character portraits transpose the reader back to Hollywood in the forties. As revealed, it was a truly fascinating, wildly unpredictable place during a pivotal period of American history.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2001
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 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2001
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 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2009
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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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2008
"City of Nets" is far and away the best popular history of a Hollywood era yet written, or likely to be. Friedrich's rich, evocative overview is at once sweeping and intimate, meticulous and eminently readable, elegiac and hilarious. He captures the studio era on the cusp of a greatness largely undone by war and the elevation of mediocrity, yet limns as well the rise of the great Billy Wilder and others who would continue to nettle and challenge moviegoers -- and the movie business -- for decades to come. (Fittingly, he ends his book with the advent of Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard," the greatest satire on Hollywood ever made.) The book is a must for serious students of the movies as well as the casual reader who doesn't yet know a great deal about the subject. This is captivating stuff. I've never read a book on Hollywood I've loved more or gone back to more often.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2014
Nothing new here, unless you've never read about Hollywood. The author himself says as much upfront. He also reminds us that most of the famous anecdotes come in many different versions, because these showbiz types are tall-tale-tellers, after all. But then if he relates two of them, it is hard to know which is the more likely. In other words, he is not doing any real investigation for us. Okay, so we know what we're getting: no "new" interviews with surviving Hollywood people, no new and revealing research. That makes this book less compelling by far, but at least we're getting a sweeping survey of the decade's moviemaking in one tome, right? Sort of. I should point out there are some small errors of fact, such as details of what actually appears on the screen (!). The book was published before the explosion of restored films on VHS and DVD, so the author may have had to rely on memory. Not that facts matter in Hollywood.

Anyway, if you crave entertainment in the form of a highly readable "sort of" history of a crazy but fascinating time and place, this book will serve.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
If Hollywood in the 1940s is of any interest, take note of Otto Friedrich's book, A City Of Nets. From the humble beginnings of a small desert town, Otto takes the reader on a front seat ride through the makings and breakings of Hollywood and talks lively about the myriad of characters: from gangsters to starlets to directors, actors, writers such as Chandler and Hammett and musical geniuses. From Faulkner to Bogie, Chaplin, Mayer and Zanuck and most all famous directors and actors/actresses of the 1940's, no stone goes unturned from some snippet or tale or two.

This book is a series of chapters on some of the more interesting tales from Hollywood in the rich days of the 1940s and each chapter has a few pictures of who is portrayed. It's a beefy 400 pages with pages and pages of notes and source. There are also pages and pages of bibliography for when a story or person stands out and you want to learn more than the chapters contain in this volume.

I really enjoy movies from the 1940s, they relax and entertain me, so for many of the characters I am familiar with, I enjoyed reading of the drama and challenges they faced when Hollywood produced movies like, Mildred Pierce, Citizen Kane, Gone With The Wind and The Postman Always Rings Twice. For light, festive reading, if you like old movies, I highly recommend this tome.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2000
If you liked "Hollywood Babylon" as much for the history as for the macabre events, this is your book. This book is hysterically funny, profound, sad and painlessly informative. I've seen pieces of it lifted in current magazines in the two weeks since I finished it and wondered why PBS's recently aired American Experience about Ronald Reagan didn't include the remembrances of his Culver City Commando troops, as the book did.
It's one of the best books I've read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2014
There's been much written about Hollywood in the 40s, most of it about its biggest stars. This very well-written volume digs below the surface and shows a different perspective: the wheel works behind the glittering machine the public got to see (and still gets to see on TCM). If you're looking for dirt on the stars, there's quite a bit of that here as well, but the author's focus is more political in nature. The Communist scare and the resulting blacklists (interesting) get a lot of pages, as does union labor unrest in the workers that aren't at the top of the film credits (less interesting to this reader), and the studio system's monopolizing practice of owning their own theaters and controlling exactly what (and who) the public got to see. The author admirably injects some high culture into the mix and the reader will see how some of the great composers and writers of the era fit in (usually not very well) with the world of Hollywood. There's a bit too much focus on, for instance, Bertolt Brecht for my tastes, but, hey, Friedrich forewarns you in his introduction that he's going to present a different picture than you're accustomed to reading.

The writing is five-star all the way and Friedrich makes even the drier parts interesting, but I did find myself more interested when the focus shifted to the figureheads rather than the relatively peripheral figures. That's the only thing preventing me from giving City of Nets a perfect rating, and it's probably carping a bit. Truthfully, I've given higher ratings to books that intrigued me more but weren't nearly as well done as this gem. For that reason, I'm tempted to up my rating. Call it 4.5 stars, for now. But, oh, my, if there were a book of this quality and magnitude that focused more on the stars (a la Hollywood Babylon) I'd be downloading it now.

By the way, if you're reading a digital copy, the footnotes provide interesting tidbits and are definitely worth reading (as annoying as it is to jump back and forth in the text on your Kindle).
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