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Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 7, 2010

4.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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*Starred Review* DeMille wasn’t the sole originator of the huger-than-huge Hollywood movie, but he was one of its most successful purveyors. And unlike some silent-film auteurs, DeMille made the change to talkies seamlessly in a career that spanned more than 50 years of stage and screen hits across genres. Aided by access to DeMille family papers unavailable to previous biographers, Eyman, a seasoned biographer of Hollywood heavyweights, undertakes an exhaustive and evenhanded look at DeMille and his oeuvre. Whereas Sidney Lumet thought “DeMille vulgarized everything D. W. Griffith did,” Eyman finds that “DeMille was always a populist filmmaker, like Frank Capra,” albeit one who “took serious . . . successful flyers at Art.” And such flyers he took: his The Ten Commandments (1923 and 1956) and The King of Kings (1927) are gaudy touchstones of epic filmmaking grandeur and glorifications of conventional Christian values, but he also directed The Volga Boatman (1928), “a surprisingly sympathetic account of the Russian Revolution.” In his career, DeMille directed a veritable who’s who of Hollywood stars and also found time to appear in films as an actor, his best-known role perhaps being as himself in Billy Wilder’s 1950 masterpiece, Sunset Boulevard. Eyman’s sprawling biography fully gives the master his due. --Mike Tribby

About the Author

Scott Eyman has written thirteen books, including biographies of Hollywood legends such as John Wayne (a New York Times bestseller), Ernst Lubitsch, Cecil B. DeMille, and Louis B. Mayer. He also collaborated with Robert Wagner on two books. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. He was formerly books editor of The Palm Beach Post. He lives with his wife, Lynn, in West Palm Beach. Follow@ScottEyman1.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743289552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743289559
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #773,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Christopher Barat on October 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The legendary director is at last ready for his OWN close-up as Eyman -- with excellent biographies of John Ford and L.B. Mayer already under his belt -- draws upon previously unavailable archival matter to craft this fascinating volume. My only real quarrel with the book is its title, which seems a little... I don't know... cotton-candyish for such an imperious figure. Much better would have been something simpler like "Director" or "Showman." C.B. was perhaps THE major figure in the development of the "cult and culture" of the Hollywood director (or, as he was originally called when preparing his first feature THE SQUAW MAN, "director-general") and, as Eyman makes clear, he was a legitimate artistic pioneer during the silent era, introducing challenging and daring subject matter (miscegenation, the challenges facing married people) in addition to technical tricks. During the sound era, DeMille broadened his canvas and made the "epic" his own while, at the same time, paying less and less attention to realism in scenario and dialogue. This went against the grain of contemporary practice and ensured that C.B.'s films would often go begging for critical acceptance, but, when all the elements were in place, his films were among the most effective, exhilarating, and memorable ever made.

Eyman makes a number of the same points that Simon Louvish did in his 2007 biography CECIL B. DEMILLE: A LIFE IN ART but is considerably easier on DeMille's politics and personality in general. The fact that Eyman was writing a bio authorized by the DeMille estate may have influenced the tone of the book somewhat, but the manuscript is certainly not sycophantic; rather, it is, as the slogan goes, "fair and balanced," which is all that one can ask when it comes to such a controversial figure.
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Format: Hardcover
I've always liked Cecil B. DeMille. He's a fascinating man and one of old Hollywood's most popular (probably the most popular, in terms of name recognition and box office) filmmakers. But this book has managed to take my opinion of DeMille and make it even stronger. This is one of the best filmmaker biographies I've ever read, ranking it up there with Kevin Brownlow's masterful book on David Lean, Tag Gallagher's book on John Ford, and Barth David Schwartz's book on Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Not only does Eyman cover DeMille's career, he also sheds light on the man himself, his eccentricities (which are rather charming), his work ethic, the way he made films, the way he treated others (he was very kind, loyal, and quite often willing more often than not to help out old friend and colloberators), and his struggles with Paramount and the triumphs of his work. Despite being an authorised biography, it is no whitewash. Eyman goes over about DeMille's marriage and his mistresses, and DeMille's attempt to take down Joseph L. Mankewicz during the heated, legendary battle of the Director's Guild during the McCarthy era (as we know, DeMille lost, rather badly). It also shows that DeMille hired Edgar G. Robinson at a time he was blacklisted, so DeMille's politics were a little more complicated than the simple right vs. left garbage. Eyman interviews many actors and technicians who worked with DeMille, and many show deep respect for him, and admire his absolute belief in what he was doing.

DeMille started out in the silent days of cinema, and was always sorrowful that those days were gone. He excelled at silent filmmaking, and managed the transition to sound without losing his perspective or his career.
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Format: Hardcover
When I pick up a book about a Hollywood personality I'm looking for 3 things: (1) some basic info about their personal history, especially any childhood experiences that helped shaped them, (2) lots of info about their films and the people they worked with, and (3) positive and negative perspectives from a wide variety of sources. Too often these books tend to give us too much personality and too little filmography (e.g., William Wellman's "A Short Time for Insanity"), or one- dimensionally drawn to portray the person is a too favorable light (e.g., Anthony Quinn's "One Man Tango").

So what a pleasant surprise it is to pick up Scott Eyman's 2010 book "Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille." Every few years Eyman puts out another Hollywood book - his previous works covered Louis B. Mayer (2005), John Ford (2001), Ernst Lubitsch (2000), and Mary Pickford (1991).

Eyman's book on DeMille has something for everyone. There's lots of detail about DeMille's childhood, plenty of material about his major films (and even some of the minor ones), and lots of source material, from comments by his collaborators to reviews to copies of his personal correspondence. As a plus, it's well written and easy to read, and Eyman seems more concerned with covering his life rather than painting it one color or the other.

Film buffs will find this one of the better biographies.
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Format: Hardcover
I feel like the eleventh juror weighing in, after the previous ten reviewers all gave this book 5 stars, and here I go again, echoing their thumbs up. In fact I should have kept the number frozen at ten, to mirror the number of commandments on the stone tablets Moses brought down from his meeting with Our Lord. Anyhow Scott Eyman shows that, after a run of lackluster postwar pictures like UNCONQUERED, De Mille somehow got back on the saddle and saw off his career with the trifecta of SAMSON AND DELILAH, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. and the remake of his own TEN COMMANDMENTS. What a way to go out! Perhaps it was the anger and confusion brought on by the Cold War and by De Mille's increasing involvement with directorial politics (right wing variety) that had weakened his interest in his own movies, but something about the 50s, and his general awareness that Eisenhower wasn't going to be a troublesome radical, that set him free once again to pursue his epic canvas. Eyman's story of the making of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (second version) is worth the price of the book.

De Mille's sufferings on the set are like the trials God dealt to Job, and they make Francis Ford Coppola's wellknown problems during the filming of APOCALYPSE NOW seem like a walk in the park. De Mille killed himself little by little, not wanting to let Paramount down. Didn't Coppola work for Paramount too? It must be a studio that inspires intense loyalty among its directors.
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