Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hollywood Remembered: An Oral History of its Golden Age by Paul Zollo (2002)

I received a copy of the 2011 reprinting of Paul Zollo's 2002 release, Hollywood Remembered: An Oral History of its Golden Age through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Zollo clearly has a passion for the early days of Hollywood, and although the book has some flaws, that passion and the book's exhaustiveness make it a worthwhile read.

The book is divided into three parts: a history of Hollywood written by Zollo (going all the way back to the dinosaurs!), a collection of oral history "memoirs," and a written tour of existing and torn down hollywood landmarks. By far the most engaging section is the collection of memoirs. Zollo interviews stars (Steve Allen, Jonathan Winters, Karl Malden, Evelyn Keyes), extras, bartenders, secretaries, one of the munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, cinematographers, businessmen, housewives, and lingerie models. Coming at these memories from so many angles makes for an encompassing look at the city and the phenomenon called Hollywood, even if many of the memories are clouded with nostalgia, age, and sometimes bitterness and frustration.

Zollo's subjects are arranged by the year of their birth, ranging from 101 to 62 at the time of their interviews. Each subject is given a brief introduction by the author and then allowed to present his or her own story, without the inclusion of Zollo's questions. The memories include rosy pictures of streetcars, safe streets, and lots of orange groves; kiss-and-tell episodes of famous stars (apparently Anthony Quinn has a huge penis); and grumpy old men reactions to the way kids act these days. While some of the interviews are more interesting and informative than others, they all capture the voice of their subjects. And if they don't always shed light on the way old Hollywood really was, they certainly give a complicated picture of how it was remembered.

The book is nicely indexed (yay!) but has a few more typos than I could overlook, particularly for a reprinting. Still, if you are interested in Hollywood, oral history, and the world of yesteryear, this might just be the book for you.

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