- Paperback: 495 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (May 2, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520209494
- ISBN-13: 978-0520209497
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.3 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,590,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940’s Paperback – May 2, 1997
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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 alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
I was disappointed by "City of Nets". I had hoped for more information about the city, about different strata of people in the film industry, about the realities of Hollywood social life -in other words, something I didn't already know. What I got was a book about prominent Hollywood personalities that tries to cover so much ground that it is superficial. Most of the stories lack depth or analysis. Readers already knowledgeable on the subjects will spot some inaccuracies and misleading omissions. "City of Nets" is best taken as an overview of the most notable Hollywood celebrities of the 1940s, their films, marriages, divorces, and legal problems. Among them are: Producers David O. Selznick, Howard Hughes, Jack Warner, Darryl Zanuck, and Louis B. Mayer. Actors Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Charlie Chaplin, and Rita Hayworth. Directors Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger, Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks, and Billy Wilder. Writers James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, William Faulkner, and Bertolt Brecht. Composers Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg.
I'm giving "City of Nets" four stars because Otto Friedrich becomes more analytical in the book's final chapters, as the decade nears its close and the House Un-American Activities Committee spawns the Hollywood black list, turning an already bizarre culture of make-believe into a "nebulous world where nothing could be proved or disproved because nothing has been officially charged." "City of Nets" is also a good introduction to the personalities of 1940s cinema and how the European émigrés, the War, and partisan politics shaped the films. There is nothing here for film noir fans, as the author does not address issues of film technology, renewed interest in Freudian psychology, or the social environment that might have made audiences hungry for cynical, introverted, uneasy films. Granted, 1940s Hollywood is a subject of more breadth and depth than can be managed in one volume, but "City of Nets" isn't a social, economic, or an urban history. It's a lot of industry anecdotes strung together.
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