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The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties Paperback – May 17, 2003

3.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The 1950s are often dismissed as a peaceful interval between the war-ravaged '40s and the socially stormy '60s. Not so, according to journalists Kashner and MacNair, who offer a juicy, gossip-gorged expos‚ of '50s Hollywood. They begin, appropriately, with the story of Confidential magazine, a publication that outed gays and revealed interracial romances, prison records and extramarital affairs. The chapter "The Lavender Closet" concentrates on homosexual scandals involving tennis great Bill Tilden, actress Lizabeth Scott and writer/actor/director No‰l Coward. Kashner and MacNair comprehensively cover anticommunist hysteria, along with powerful studies of blacklisted screenwriter Alvah Bessie and actor Lee J. Cobb. The book's most striking subject is Nicholas Ray, director of Rebel Without a Cause. Inevitably, the authors emphasize the film's sexual backstory (Ray and Rebel cast member Dennis Hopper were both having affairs with Natalie Wood), but Ray's genius, his battles against the studio system and contribution to the fiery James Dean legend enhance the director's stature as a neglected immortal. Kashner and MacNair deal amusingly with Hollywood's religious period, ranging from Billy Graham's low-budget Mr. Texas to Twentieth Century Fox's Cinemascope circus, The Robe. Well-known anecdotes about Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Lana Turner are outshone by gritty profiles of legendary screenwriter Ernest Lehman (The Sweet Smell of Success), self-destructive novelist Grace Metalious (Peyton Place), anorexic actress Sandra Dee (Imitation of Life), suicidal playwright William Inge (Picnic) and cutthroat columnists Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper and Sheilah Graham. These accounts, often dipped in acid, will keep readers flipping pages and highlight Kashner and MacNair's intention to write "a prismatic rather than an academic view of 1950s Hollywood." Photos.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

While Fifties Hollywood meant Disney films, the Legion of Decency, and pious epics like The Ten Commandments, it was also the era of Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, the blacklist, the scandal sheet Confidential, and the "lavender closet" as the authors note, homosexuality was considered "a kind of sexual equivalent of Communism." This popular, subjective history is a series of vignettes capturing a Hollywood in transition, pressured by television, the studio system's decline, and the postwar emerging permissiveness. Topics include the influence of the short-lived but much-feared Confidential; the clout of aging gossip queens Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, and Sheila Graham; and the uproar over an interracial romance between Sammy Davis and Kim Novak. Journalist Kashner and MacNair, a writer for The Jim Lehrer Newshour, write most perceptively on the era's classics (Sweet Smell of Success), and the best chapter describes how director Nicholas Ray forged his timeless portrait of teen-age angst in Rebel Without a Cause. The book is a brisk read but not the last word on Fifties Hollywood (though other, better books on the subject are out of print). The chapter on the misdeeds of the children of Hollywood stars could apply to any era, and chapters on Oscar Levant, Mae West, and Grace Metalious seem of dubious relevance. Despite its flaws, this book is recommended for public library collections. Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (May 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393324362
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393324365
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #892,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeff Sherratt on May 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
Tantalizing and sometimes dark stories about the movie creators of the 1950s: writers, producers, directors, and yes, even a few of the actors are profiled here with intelligent prose and well documented detail. The chapter on the ill-fated, but brilliant playwright, William Inge, is alone worth the price of the book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What did the lives of the Hollywood glitterati mean to American culture during the 1950's? We don't find out. Lots of anecdotes, most quite familiar, but little sense of historical context. The text is well written and goes down well, but when the book is over we are left with no greater understanding of the 1950's or the movie industry, wondering, what was the point.
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This terrifically readable cultural history of Hollywood in the Fifties was inspired by James Ellroy's wish to the authors that there were a book about the era as fine as Otto Friedrich's CITY OF NETS; the authors admit they could not quite match the comprehensiveness of Friedrich's achievement, nor are they quite as erudite or analytically sophisticated. But, in their best chapters (on the culture of Hollywood expatriates, and in fine narratives of the making of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and NIGHT OF THE HUNTER), they come close to matching the engaging tone of and gossipy frisson engendered by Friedrich's famous book. The initial chapters on the scandals covered by and created by "Confidential" magazine read more like Kenneth Anger's HOLLYWOOD BABYLON than Friedrich, but as the study continues it just gets better and better. I didn't want it to end.
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Format: Hardcover
Great! Awesome! Fabulous! The Bad and the Beautiful was sexy and super-fun. It was a great summer read. I was looking to find out more dirt about the hey-days of tinsel town. The authors did a great job at making you feel the glamour, the drama, and the gossip of the time. It was definitely worth the time.
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Format: Paperback
The comparisons to the perfect book City of Nets by Otto Friedrich can only hurt The Bad and the Beautiful by Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair but it is hard not to see this volume as a follow-up of sorts to that classic look at Hollywood's underbelly in the 1940s. This book begins quite weakly with early chapters on such topics as an assorted group of children of stars who fared poorly in Hollywood but the book does eventually take off nicely with later chapters on Lana Turner and Kim Novok and movies such as Sweet Smell of Success and Peyton Place. The choppy nature of the book makes it feel sometimes like a serious of magazine pieces cobbled together. Still, overall it will reward the reader who plows through with many interesting anecdotes and thumbnail sketches of Hollywood life in the 1950s.
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Format: Hardcover
Great book, full of salacious and well-written anecdotes about Hollywood in the 50's.
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Format: Paperback
It's been a while since I've read Otto Friedrich's CITY OF NETS, a survey of Hollywood history and culture in the 1940s, but I remember being both entertained and enlightened. The authors of THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (not to be confused with the movie of the same title) cite CITY OF NETS as the inspiration for their book, but they acknowledge that it turned into something quite different. Indeed.

There are two or three excellent chapters among the sixteen in the book. When Kashner and MacNair focus on a single film or filmmaker, they can provide some valuable information and insight as to how the film came to be, how it was created, and the signficance of the final product. The chapter on director Douglas Sirk (MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS) and his work with Rock Hudson is pretty good, and the section on THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS - the vitriolic Burt Lancaster/Tony Curtis portrait of a Broadway gossip columnist and his stooge -- is excellent. I also found the chapter on playwright William Inge (COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA, PICNIC, SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS) very informative. There are other tidbits to be picked up along the way about the films of the 1950s, but there isn't any real attempt to assess the American film industry of that decade or the changes in the business and in U.S. society that were destroying the "old Hollywood."

Instead, we get, mostly, a series of gossipy sketches of various movie personalities.
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Format: Hardcover
Bad & The Beautiful is a fascinating and informative history of Hollywood in the 1950s which offers a vivid inside portrait of sex and power games, from the rise of tabloid journalism to the rise of legendary film icons. The authors focus as much on cultural trends and perceptions of stars and Hollywood as upon the films and creations that kept it in the limelight of American culture and innovation.
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