on September 10, 2002
This is a very good book. Hawks apparently left no papers, and some aspects of his life are undocumented. (For example, McCarthy keeps mentioning Hawks' great friendship with Gary Cooper, but because of both men being dead and no documentation, Cooper remains a very shadowy presence in this book. Hawks' friendship with William Faulkner gets far more space, since Faulkner left papers.)
So there is not a lot about "the inner Hawks." However, there is a lot about Hawks' films. Once the talkies begin, there is a chapter on practically every film Hawks made. I was fascinated by the stories behind the films, how long it took some films to get made (Hatari began as an idea for a movie with Cooper), the films Hawks never made (apparently a very traditional vampire film), and his frequent tangles with Howard Hughes.
McCarthy did a lot of research, and he does not uncritically accept the stories Hawks told (frequently told) about his work. So if you like the films of Howard Hawks and are familiar with books such as Hawks on Hawks and Howard Hawks Storyteller, this is a book that you will still get a lot out of.
To use a term from Hawks' films: "This book is good enough."
on August 20, 2009
Todd McCarthy has just about closed the book on Howard Hawks. It isn't that there is no more to be told about Hawks, particularly about his private life, it's that for one reason or another -- death or discretion -- no one is going to tell it.
"Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood" gives us everything we wanted to know about Hawks' professional life, his deals with the studios, his treatment of his performers and crew, and then it gives us more than we needed to know. I frankly got bogged down in his cross-chases with moguls like Darryl F. Zanuck and idiosyncratic millionaire nuts like Howard Hughes. But it has to be admitted that McCarthy did his homework. My God, what a heap of information on display, and what a Mount Everest of papers and documents and letters and memoranda he must have dug through in order to unearth this stuff, going back all the way to the businesses run by Hawks' grandparents. (Was the business a success? No power on earth could drag the answer from me.)
We also get a reasonably objective picture of Hawks' character. McCarthy is no fawning fan. When Hawks makes a stinker, McCarthy admits it and tries to figure out why. And we get Hawks as a person too. He was, in a word, dull. Dullness, it could be argued, was his most interesting trait. He was dull as the child of a wealthy Midwestern family and he didn't evolve over the trajectory of his life. He didn't even visit Europe until his professional responsibilities required it. Neither did President George W. Bush or Elvis Presley. This lack of curiosity could be called insular American. When you already are certain about things, why challenge yourself? This complacency is reflected in his plots (which he rewrote extensively during shoots) and even his technique. His directorial style is straightforward and scenes are shot from eye level. No razzle dazzle, no furbelows. And he stole from his earlier work shamelessly. He seemed to have two chief motives for making movies. (1) It was "fun", and (2) it made you a lot of money.
Slow in every dimension, he rarely showed anger or any enthusiasm or amusement that required more than a smile for its expression. He gave his old friends and relatives occasional jobs but showed them little affection. If he hired some people repeatedly it was largely because he knew he could rely on them, not because he especially enjoyed their presence. He died in December, 1977. John Wayne spoke (briefly) at Hawks' funeral but hardly anyone else of note showed up. He had always been distant and reserved.
Well -- except in a few regards. As a younger man he enjoyed gambling on horses, which sometimes landed him in considerable debt. He could be relied on to lie in ways that boosted his image. And he did have a few co-workers with whom he appeared to share an unspoken bond. William Faulkner was one. (Hemingway was not.) He and Faulkner were comfortable simply sitting next to each other, silently, except for an occasional drawled remark.
The Australian actor Leo McKern met with Hawks when Kern was being considered for one of the parts. His description of Hawks' drawling interactional style is kind of amusing.
"I have never met anyone who spoke or moved slower; a broad gesture with an arm took so long that it became an effort not to take the eyes from his face and follow its movement like a stoat-thralled rabbit; and yet the word it accompanied . . . 'e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e' . . . lasted as long as the gesture. I believe that it was long ago that he had simply decided that if anyone was going to come down with an ulcer, it was not H. H."
Hawks went through women as if they were going out of style. The one he found most attractive, and took the usual advantage of, conformed to the same generic template -- beautiful, tall, outdoorsy, stylish with appearing to put much effort into it. Lauren Bacall, whom he turned into a star, was emblematic. He was married three times -- once to a woman who suffered from a mood disorder, next to a socialite, finally to a high-maintenance lady less than half his age.
Which brings up a question that in the context of Hawks' life is inevitable. He had all the women he ever wanted. All he had to do was beckon. Yet they didn't remain with him for long, usually leaving of their own accord. So how was he in bed? He was about as dynamic in the sack as he was in his social life. In the 1930s, Jean Harlow expressed an interest in dating Hawks. It was arranged. Later, the panderer passed Harlow on the beach and asked her how it went, and she scowled and pinched her nose. Hawks had no religion or politics, but in turn-of-the-century small-town Indiana, you didn't get too demonstrative about anything.
There isn't much of the author in this biography. I kind of missed the personal touch. McCarthy missed some opportunities for guesses or wisecracks that might have been incisive or richly humorous. Not that anyone would want a tabloid expose, but, I mean, what ABOUT all that supposed homoerotic subtext in Hawks' work?
Anyway, I got through the book, and although it has its longueurs, it includes just about everything you might want to know about Howard Hawks, one of America's iconic film directors -- a superb story teller.
on July 6, 2011
Todd McCarthy is that too rare bographer. His books can be read with enjoyment, they are not scholarly tomes intended to pulverize the reader into accepting the author's analytical brilliance, but fun and chock full of insight and information. Most of all they are well organized proceeding in a thoughtful logical manner. As a subject film director Howard Hawks was among the most colorful men to helm major film productions so it is surprising that there are so few good fun books about the man. The man and his movies. Few directors can match Howard Hawks record for quality films so this book is an essential guide to many of the greatest films ever made. Todd McCarthy takes the reader through the process of making films as Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, To Have & Have Not and so many others, therefore this biography explores the intricate web of personalities involved, mini biographies of actors as diverse as Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Rosalind Russell, and so many more.
Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood Is a delightful book by a gifted writer who actually takes the time to research his subject rather than relying upon plagarized rewrites of tabloid trash. Todd McCarthy's brevity and wit are welcome in this realm of biography.
on November 21, 2015
Howard Hawks (1896-1977) was an important film director who began his directing career in the silent film era, making his first film in 1926. He went on to direct 33 sound films and most were box office hits such as Scarface (1932), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings(1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Sergeant York (1941), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), Thing from another World (1951), Monkey Business (1952), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Rio Bravo (1959), and Hatari! (1962). Hawks is said to have been a major influence of such modern directors such as Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter, and Quentin Tarantino and his films are admired by many notable directors including Peter Bogdanovich (who featured Hawks in his wonderful book “WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT”), François Truffaut, and Michael Mann. In 1942, Hawks was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for Sergeant York, and in 1975 he was awarded an Honorary Academy Award as "a master American filmmaker whose creative efforts hold a distinguished place in world cinema”.
So now you’re asking yourself why should I be interesting in reading a 700 page biography written 19 years ago about a film director who died 38 years ago. And guess what? I have no way of answering that question because rest assured I realize there is a limited audience for this book and topic. After all I have had the book on my shelf unread for 19 years sitting next to several other biographies about famous film makers. Among these books are, “DAVID LEAN, a biography” by Kevin Brownlow, “SHOWMAN, The life of David Selznick” by David Thomson, and “PRINT THE LEGEND, The life and times of John Ford” by Scott Eyman. Yet I am glad I reached back and decided to give Todd McCarthy’s book a chance. It was a pleasant read.
The book is structured, in part, almost like a reference book as each chapter covers the making an individual film and covers the events in its making from casting, screenplay writing, producing, and filming as well as the box office and reaction of the critics. This made the book rather enjoyable to read and helps to hold your interest. What’s interesting about Hawks is that he never stayed with one studio for very long so he worked for the likes of Howard Hughes to Jack Warner. The problem with Hawks is that he was a rather cold fish as a person so you never warm up to him or route for him. He went through three marriages, numerous affairs, and rung up huge gambling debts. Yet he meet and worked with so many famous personalities such as William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway while also giving film breaks to the likes of Lauren Bacall, Montgomery Clift, Carole Lombard, Rita Hayworth, Frances Farmer, Jane Russell, Joan Collins, James Cann, and Angie Dickinson. So
I enjoyed the book and if you are at all interesting in film… what many term the golden age of the movies, I think you will enjoy your time with this book. For me Hawks was of personal interest because I loved RED RIVER, RIO BRAVO, and HATARI and all were with John Wayne in the lead. Maybe not among Hawk’s very best but they have stood the test of time. (But then why I am I still left asking….Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo? So bad.)
on May 4, 2005
As a native Hoosier I was prepared to like Howard Hawks. Hawks was born into relative luxury in Goshen, Indiana. He was raised
in Pasedena, graduated with an engineering degree from Cornell,
served briefly in World War I and rose to directorial fame in
Hawks wed three times. Wife one was Athole the daughter of
the lovely and nice Norma Shearer. His second wife "Slim"was a
social climbing fashion plate whose nickname was used by Lauren
Bacall in To Have and Have Not with Bogey. His third wife Dee
was an aspiring actress who wed the older Hawks to achieve a life of comfort. Hawks was a womanizer throughout his life who was unfaithful and often cruel in his dealings with women.
Hawks was also a gambler losing fortunes and also known as a drinker of note matching bourbons with such buddies as William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper. His closest friend was famed director Victor Fleming the director of Gone With the Wind and other classics.
Why then spend almost 700 pages on this taciturn, egocentric,
cruel man? Simply put -the great movies he directed. Hawks is
known for such classics as Dawn Patrol; Sergeant York; To Have and Have Not; the Big Sleep. Classic westerns directed by Hawks include Red River with John Wayne and Rio Bravo with the Duke.
Sophisticated comedy delivered at torrid rates of dialogue verbniage include His Girl Friday with Cary Grant and Rosalind
Russell. Grant also stared in Hawks's Only Angels Have Wings
and "I Was a Male War Bride" with Ann Sheridan. My personal
favorite of the great director are "To Have and Have Not" and
"The Big Sleep" with Bogey and Bacall.
On and on I could go listing the classics making this man's
oeuvre impressive; his influence on younger directors and his
storytelling skills reasons to celebrate the genius of HWH!
Movie books like this one could be boring to someone who tires of reading countless pages on the making of each movie, the financing of the films and the often legal troubles Hawks engaged in against such powerful moguls as Mayer. Warner and
Zanuck. To those of us who enjoy learning about the golden age of Hollywood they are glorious glimpses in the story of Tinseltown.
Hawks was a man of action enjoying sports, auto racing and
even croquet! He loved horses, bourbon, babes and making films!
Hawks was no intellectual and admired he-men like Wayne. If we
look at America we see the vision of HOward Hawks making an impression for generations of filmgoers. His films never won an
Oscar but his ability to excell in many genres from Westerns to
light romance to war/adventure tales is admirable.
McCarthy gets a good grade for showing us Hawks in all his
glory and all his greedy desire to seize life by the neck!
on September 23, 2013
Just about everybody knows of John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean and gives them proper due but too few are aware they need to rank William Wellman, Preston Sturges and this director, Howard Hawks, with them. Hawks has such a diverse filmography and was so successful with all genres that he deserves a film retrospective on both the east and west coasts.
BTW,where you ask is Billy Wilder? He's ahead of the pack due to his Groucho wit and screen writing skills.
on June 14, 2015
on October 29, 2011
Great book, but I was disappointed that 85 photos listed in index were not included in my kindle edition. That fact should have been indicated in the description.
on October 21, 2001
McCarthy's reach far exceeds his critical grasp in this one-dimensional biography of a Hollywood icon. Like the famous description of 1930s Los Angeles - "there's no `there' there" - McCarthy's superficial account of Hawks' life, times and work is a sprawling, unfocussed mess. Clumsily written and sprinkled with the tongue-twisting Varietyese McCarthy employs at his day job (he's the uber critic at the Hollywood trade paper, usually a very perceptive one), this book is a difficult read as well as a shallow one. The definitive biography of Hawks, whose life was every bit as complex and multi-layered as his films, remains to be written. Whatever his other talents, Mr. McCarthy is no Boswell.
on March 30, 2000
This is a true life adventure about the Air Force's para jumpers, a group of heroes I've never heard about. In fact almost no one realizes that they are the ones on tv doing all those splashy things.They are the ones that dove out of the helicopters looking for John F. Kennedy Jr. They are the ones who are out there to save floundering people in the ocean. They are the ones who help with NASA and the space program to dive in the ocean and rescue or support the astronauts and equipment. I always though that those people who did this were the Coast Guard or Navy--no as I have learned.
What this book does is tell the real life story of a local Long Island boy Jack Brehm, who winds up trying to make it in life by entering into this elite outfit, this fraternity of men even tougher than the Navy Seals or the Army Rangers, and does it. It tells the story of their training and the danger of each mission and how regardless of how good you are, regardless of what excellent shape you are in, any mission can be your last. The scenario for this real life adventure is supported by a cast that is Jack Brehm's family. A group of normal rambunctious kids who turn into teenagers and then adults while their father goes to work each day at the base and jumps into danger to save others. Then its home to the kids and wife.
The contrast of a cold calculating job where a mistake can easily cause loss of life, and the warmth of the family make a juxtaposition that is really fascinating.
I loved the book because it was a about a real hero. Someone who risks his life that others may live-and then he goes home and plays with the kids. Real life! Only for a very few whom we never hear about unless tragedy strikes.
If you like real life adventure, I recommend it!