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Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master Hardcover – December 9, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fleming, who directed most of The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, and all of The Virginian and Bombshell, was not just a consummate studio craftsman but a distinctive artist, contends this rapt biography. Film critic Sragow has a tough case to make. Fleming's varied oeuvre suggests no signature onscreen style; instead, Sragow celebrates his feel for action and fantasy, and his intuitive way of directing actors. He also credits Fleming with inventing the Hollywood masculinity embodied by screen idols like Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable. Fleming, a big-game hunter and a polished bon vivant known for bedding his female stars, was both a man's man and a ladies' man, Sragow writes, who made male characters correspondingly tough but chivalrous (though offscreen Fleming wasn't above twisting Lana Turner's arm or slapping Ingrid Bergman to draw on-camera tears). Sragow's intricate, engrossing accounts of the making of Fleming's films convey his on-set charisma (and form a fine montage of Hollywood's evolution), but the real auteur is the studio system itself and its well-honed myth-making machinery (Fleming's last movie, Joan of Arc, an independent production, was a fiasco). Sragow's Fleming is a man who personified Old Hollywood, but didn't transcend it. Photos. (Dec. 9)
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"Victor Fleming strides through Michael Sragow's eponymous biography with the panache of Rhett Butler―and no wonder, since the director helped forge Clark Gable's onscreen persona with Red Dust and Test Pilot years before they reunited for Gone With the Wind."―Wendy Smith, Los Angeles Times , reviewing a previous edition or volume

"Not only persuasive in its argument that Victor Fleming was one of the unsung titans of his era, [this book] also makes for a fascinating case study in how power was acquired, wielded, and lost during the 1930s and '40s. . . . For readers with a limited knowledge of the movie industry, its transition from silent to talkies, and the rise of the big studio picture, Sragow's thorough scene-setting could double as a cinematic history lesson―illuminating the many famous lives that Fleming touched (and helped to shape) and the ways in which sets, casts, contracts, and careers worked during Hollywood's grand glory days."―S. James Snyder, Time , reviewing a previous edition or volume

"Sragow is immensely attentive to Fleming's films, and he traces in detail the fortunes of all the people connected to them, but his book is held together by what can only be called the romance of movie-making in the studio era―the large, free, hard-drinking life that the men (but rarely the women) enjoyed when movies were still made quickly and relatively cheaply, craft was spoken of with respect, and art was barely mentioned."―David Denby, New Yorker , reviewing a previous edition or volume

"Michael Sragow's Victor Fleming is certainly among the best film director biographies ever published. Mr. Sragow captures the man, a life and an era that is, as the title of Fleming's most famous film put it, 'gone with the wind.'"―Peter Bogdanovich, Wall Street Journal , reviewing a previous edition or volume --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (December 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375407480
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375407482
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #524,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By G.I Gurdjieff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I snatched this book up at my local bookseller's the week it was released and allowed it to languish on my book shelf for 2 weeks. Big mistake!

If ever there were a case study on how to write a biography of a person who had been dead for nearly sixty years, this book is it.

I've long loved movies that were directed by Victor Fleming and knew the basic info.......Fleming was a ladies man, a competent director, someone who died when he still looked good and should have had had many good years left. It could have well been summarized by his rather unimpressive crypt at Hollywood Forever was someone who once was somebody but was now relegated to obscurity. Not so! Michael Sragow had me within the first five minutes of starting this book. Here was a guy who was larger than life......handsomer than most of the male stars he directed and more fearless, too. A real life romeo, an adventurer, a guy who could be tough when necessary and a gentleman too. Based on interviews with Fleming family members, contemporaries, archival data, analysis, Sragow was able to put together a detailed profile of Victor Fleming that was not only very informative but compelling. I wanted to know where his story was going even if I knew where it was going to inevitably end.

If you are interested in film or just interested in reading a good bio, this book is a wonderful choice.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By L'escribe on January 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I had long admired Victor Fleming, (primary) director of Gone With The Wind, and The Wizard of Oz, two movie greats. This biography by Michael Sragow is outstanding in its meticulous presentation. Origins of Fleming's early life and beginnings as a movie director, as well as a glimpse into the early silent picture era are well documented and make for a good read for those interested in the motion picture era. Interesting as well, for noting the pictures he wanted to have made and didn't, among those, "The Yearling" for reasons too obtuse to be real!
Fleming was a very sensitive artist, a director who could also have been a psychologist, as he understood and dealt with his actors in ways beyond the sterotypical factory approach among directors of the era. Also well documented are the director's various paramours (another word for girlfriends) and marriage. Although a little long, it is fascinating reading. A must for fans of Fleming and the magnificent pictures he directed, or anyone interested in the golden age of movies.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on November 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I remember reading Michael Sragow's movie reviews years ago, when Pauline Kael ws still alive and Sragow was among the very first of her acolytes, the Kaelettes people used to call them. His reviews sounded like hers, though now as stimulating. However in his biography of Victor Fleming, he has developed his own voice. Occasionally it is a shrill one but on the whole it has some resonances and strengths that even Kael never had--perhaps she never bothered with them. Sragow's extended considerations of Fleming's films tell a persuasive story, though methinks he gopes too far when he decides that the lost epic, "The Rough Riders" was probably a great film because the faces of the actors in what stills survive look interesting (and, of course, because Fleming was the man behind the camera). He tells us over and over again that Fleming was the real Clark Gable (the first chapter is called "The Real Rhett Butler"), as if Rhett Butler was an interesting thing to be. Sragow builds up Fleming as handsome enough to be a movie star, so charismatic that every star (Gary Cooper, Gable, Spencer Tracy) modelled himself upon him, --and then he shoots himself in the foot by including dozens of photos in which Fleming appears as a sort of very tall nonentity with a forced smile.

He seems to have scoured every memoir written by any participant in Hollywood's studio system, looking for favorable references to Victor Fleming. Of such scattered gold dust a portrait does not appear, at least not a cohesive one. I couldn't tell whether he was a nog good son of a gun, as Henry Hathaway paints him, or a sensitive and cultured aesthete. Sragow attempts to broaden the canvases constantly, insisting that Fleming was both. He was in fact everything.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Quick! Who directed those two great masterpieces of 1939, "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind?" The correct answer is the talented Victor Fleming (1889-1949). Fleming has long deserved a full-length biography of his life and career. Baltiomore film critic Michael Sragrow has accomplished that task using vivid prose in telling the saga of an American original artist of the cinema.
Fleming was a native Californian born to poor farmers who had migrated west from Missouri. He was enamored of photography, tinkering with cars, chasing women and general old fashioned carousing with his friends. During World War I he became an officer who photographed President Woodrow Wilson during the Versailles Peace Conference of 1919 which transpired in Paris.
Fleming became known as a photographer who soon won a director's chair during the Silent Screen era. He directed and befriended the great Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Fleming was the lover of such silent sexpots as the alluring Clara Bow the famous "It" girl and several starlets. He would later go have affairs with among many others: No
Bessie Love, Norma Shearer and most famously the incandescent Swede Ingrid Bergman.
Fleming was not faithful to his wife Lu but was a good father to his two daughters. He never got past the seventh grade in school but was an autodidatic chap who knew a good deal of history, the art of film directing, mechanics and flying aircraft. His pals were such he-men as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Henry Fonda. He was a macho Hemingway man who was handsome, well spoken, sometimes gruff and always professional on the set. His best pal was probably the irascible film genius Howard Hawks.
We remember him, of course, for the great films he directed.
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