Introducing the 1st edition of his seminal The Filmgoer’s Companion, Leslie Halliwell wrote,
“Thirty or forty years ago, when the idea of the cinema as an art was new, people started to write highbrow treatises about it. Unfortunately, few of the books seemed to have much connection with what one saw at the local picture house. Even earlier began the still-continuing deluge of fan magazines and annuals, full of exotic photographs but short on solid information. We film-makers had our own reference books, but these were often incomprehensible to the layman and gave him more undigested facts than he needed. Nobody wrote for the sensible middlebrow picturegoer who was keenly interested in the craft of cinema without wanting to make a religion of it.”
When Halliwell penned this in 1965, books about the movies had changed dramatically. The numbers had increased exponentially. Whereas The Movies by Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer (1957) and Agee on Film (1958) might be found in a city bookshop. Very few bookstores existed in small towns and the new suburbs at mid-century. Sometimes paperbacks on rotating racks in hardware stores might have been the only source. One of the film-related paperbacks of the era and a good overview of the art of the cinema was Arthur Knight’s The Liveliest Art: A Panoramic History of the Movies (1957). That same year Daniel Blum edited the first Pictorial History of the Talkies, a fully illustrated, year by year survey with a short introduction describing trends and important films.
But the decade of the 1960s was coming up fast and the postwar generation was coming of age. It might seem curious or even ridiculous to say that this generation invented film as art, but it was a public many of whose members recognized that movies were not merely entertainment but could be mined for hidden meanings, for what we now call subtext. Subtext and hidden meanings were rarely identified by Bosley Crowther (d. 1981), the “dean” of film reviewers at The New York Times.
A book Halliwell might have considered too erudite for the average moviegoer was Hollywood: The Dream Factory by Hortense Powdermaker (1950). It was an anthropologist’s take on tinseltown. Despite it’s scholarly nature, because it existed it needed to be acquired by the boomer even if he or she never read it cover to cover.
Nineteen-fifty-seven was a key year for books that wouldn’t be published until 1965. Humphrey Bogart died on January 14 and over the next half dozen years his legacy grew. Baby boomers gravitated to the world-weary but noble souls Bogart often portrayed, and in ’65 the books started coming: Bogart by Richard Gehman, Humphrey Bogart: The Man and His Films by Paul Michael, and Clifford McCarty’s Bogey: The Films of Humphrey Bogart. The last-named was one of Citadel Press’s early endeavors and would be followed by a plethora of “Films of” productions—richly designed, fully illustrated, fact-filled, and including synopses, contemporary reviews and analysis of the star’s movies. In 1966 came Bogie: The Biography of Humphrey Bogart by Joe Hyams, with an introduction by Bogart’s widow, Lauren Bacall. As late as 1973 they were still at it. Humphrey Bogart by Alan G. Barbour was part of the Pyramid History of the Movies series.
Annual screen surveys had been around for some time. In Britain, where there was much excellent writing on film, Picturegoer Film Annual and Picture Show Annual continued until 1960 and 1961, respectively. An annual round-up of British, American and international films that kept on coming through the 60s was Film Review, edited by F. Maurice Speed. With a color cover and many full-page color shots of stars and scenes from movies plus plot synopses, it was a much sought-after item.
The U.S. version was Daniel Blum’s Screen World, first published in 1949, but growing longer every year as the boomers bought every film book that appeared—and for a while this was possible. Screen World was full of facts and black and white photos. Most major films received a page, some, like Doctor Zhivago and Midnight Cowboy, two or three. Like Film Review, there were substantive obituaries for those film folk who’d passed away the prior year. Unlike Film Review, there were no synopses, color photos, “Star of the Year” (Dirk Bogarde in FR, 1962-1963), “The Year in the Cinema,” or “Star of the Past.”
Book-wise, star biographies became part of the menu and included Jean Garceau and Inez Cocke’s Dear Mr. G—The Biography of Clark Gable (died 1960; book published 1961). Clark Gable was a 1961 paperback by George Carpozi Jr. that contained two photo inserts. Gable’s high octane co-star in The Misfits (released 1961) was Marilyn Monroe, who died in 1962. Her Films of… book by Michael Conway and Mark Ricci from Citadel Press was published in 1964.
Television had become instrumental in creating big-screen fans. Not only did UHF and VHF stations slot movies in the afternoon—even seminal foreign films such as Jules and Jim and the great British comedies starring the likes of Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Terry-Thomas, and Ian Carmichael—but the major networks bought up studio libraries after Saturday Night at the Movies succeeded beyond expectations in 1961. The documentary Hollywood and the Stars, narrated by Joseph Cotten, ran from 1963 to 1964 and touched on particular actors and actresses, a genre, or the making of a forthcoming film. Elmer Bernstein’s tear-jerking theme remains the ultimate tribute to an era. Said Bernstein in 1992 for the liner notes of the CD Elmer Bernstein by Elmer Bernstein, “Hollywood and the Stars was one of a series of documentaries made in the 1960s about what was considered, even then, a bygone, Golden Age. I tried to express, in the main theme, a feeling of nostalgia for all the lost glamour and romance.”
Another of those documentaries was Hollywood: The Golden Years, a Gene Kelly-hosted 1961 tribute to the silent era, and in 1963 Henry Fonda narrated Hollywood and the Stars: The Great Stars, again using Bernstein’s theme.
The books continued to come. The Stars by Richard Schickel (1962) was a coffee table delight despite the omission beyond their names of, for instance, Rosalind Russell, Susan Hayward, Jean Arthur, and Joel McCrea. Shickel’s categories were often entertaining, e.g., “The Somnambulists” were Alan Ladd and Kim Novak.
Nineteen-sixty-three was the year of Cleopatra, the astoundingly expensive epic with a lurid backstory involving the romance of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, both married to other folks. My Life with Cleopatra was penned by the film’s producer Walter Wanger with assistance by Joe Hyams (1963). The movie’s publicists Jack Brodsky and Nathan Weiss gave us The Cleopatra Papers that same year.
The Films of Greta Garbo was another 1963 publication. Although her last movie had been Two-Faced Woman (1941), the ultra reclusive star and New York City resident continued to spur the imagination. There were double feature retrospectives like Mata Hari and Ninotchka. Greta Garbo was a 1965 paperback by Raymond Durgnat and John Kobal, the latter a source of photos for so many cinema books.
Jean Harlow, the original platinum blonde bombshell, died of uremic poisoning at age 26 in 1937, but like Bogart her legend grew and flourished in the 1960s, spurred in part by Irving Shulman’s Harlow: An Intimate Biography (1964). That spawned not one but two feature films in 1965, Harlow with method actress Carroll Baker, and Harlow with ingenue Carol Lynley. (Neither was good.) Citadel Press commissioned Michael Conway The Films of Jean Harlow in 1965.
Authors also cashed in on then popular stars, including Doris Day: The Dramatic Story of America’s Number One Box Office Star by Tedd Thomey (1962) and Julie Andrews: The Unauthorized Life Story of a Super-Star (1968) by John Cottrell.
Film censorship was addressed in Murray Schumach’s The Face on the Cutting Room Floor: The Story of Movie and Television Censorship (1964). The times they were a changin’ and in 1968 a new and more liberal motion picture code would be introduced, making Schumach’s tome of historical importance but no longer au courant.
Progressive? Radical? Irritating? In 1965 increasingly famous film critic Pauline Kael offered up I Lost It at the Movies, a collection of her often acerbic film reviews.
In the early 60s the Marx Bros., whose anti-social antics were gobbled up by the public in the 1930s in such movies as Duck Soup, Horse Feathers and A Day at the Races, were rediscovered. They joined Bogart and Harlow as subjects to be studied and admired. Allen Eyles’ The Marx Brothers: Their World of Comedy (1966) was an early take on the quartet, and The Marx Brothers at the Movies appeared in 1968. In 1970 Minnie’s Boys was a Broadway musical based on the Bros.’ youth and their mother’s influence.
The musical genre received coffee-table treatment in 1966 with John Springer’s All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing! A Pictorial History of the Movie Musical. One of the surprising revelations was that only Bing Crosby introduced more hit songs than that terpsichorean master, Fred Astaire.
In The Musical Film (1967), Douglas McVay was harsh on many movies the general public liked or loved, but there were revelations, such as that Gigi (1958) had scant dancing. When you think about it, this is true unless Leslie Caron cavorting around the dining room singing “The Night They Invented Champagne” counts. Louis Jourdan merely walks around while talk-singing. Couples swishing around a nightclub doesn’t make the grade.
Film: An Anthology, the 1959 tome edited by Daniel Talbot, was reissued in 1966. It included such significant articles as Robert Warshow’s “The Westerner,” “Comedy’s Greatest Era” by James Agee, “S-e-x” by Gilbert Seldes, and “Enter, the Movies” by Ben Hecht.
In 1967 appeared Carlos Clarens’s An Illustrated History of the Horror Films. With a cover photo of the Satanic beast from Night of the Demon, aka Curse of the Demon (1957), this was purchased upon sight by a generation weaned on TV’s Shock Theater (1957) with its library of such 1930s Universal Studios classic horror films as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Werewolf of London, The Black Cat, and The Invisible Man as well as the ultra influential magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland (1958). Sadly for many, the Clarens survey was full of severe criticisms of movies they liked. Nevertheless, it had substance, which the little paperback Monsters, Maidens & Mayhem (1965) by Brad Steiger did not. Its strength lay in the illustrations.
On the periodical front, the somewhat highbrow Films in Review from The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures not only analyzed the latest films but presented biographies of past stars.
Alfred Hitchcock, hosting TV’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents from 1955 to 1965, had widespread name recognition, and received in-depth analysis by Robin Wood in Hitchcock’s Films (1965). Wood examined in highly intellectual fashion seven of the master’s movies. The Films of Alfred Hitchcock (1965) by George Perry appeared in 1965. That book was part of the Studio Vista Paperback series that would come to include New Cinema in Britain by Roger Manvell (1969). As indicated earlier, the British could be counted on for superior cinema analysis, and Ian and Elisabeth Cameron co-wrote The Heavies (Camerons, 1967) and Dames (1969). One chuckles over their insights. For instance, from Dames:
“Fashion hasn’t yet caught up with Linda Darnell, who was one of the essential stars of the ‘forties and is as undeservedly neglected as Gene Tierney. Film history has served very ill these ladies who should be in the pantheon of stars alongside Bogart and such less deserving denizens as Greta Garbo and Bette Davis. Neither Darnell nor Tierney was much involved with what was being appreciated at the time as the Art of Film. Stars have benefited less than directors from the critical revaluation of the past few years. A combination of the stolid bad taste of the (Paul) Rotha generation and the campness of its successors have led to some terrible injustices in the reputations of stars. Arty ladies get preferential treatment—thus Louise Brooks is preferred to Clara Bow—and the great female grotesques (who had better not be listed here) are held in ludicrous high esteem.”
In 1969 came The Films of Cecil B. DeMille, like Hitchcock a director with widespread public name recognition.
Studio founders and bosses received attention in such biographies as The Story of Walt Disney (1966) by Diane Disney Miller and Pete Martin, and The Moguls by Norman Zierold (1969). The latter covered Darryl Zanuck, Samuel Goldwyn, Harry Cohn, Carl Laemmle, Adolph Zukor, David O. Selznick, the brothers Warner, and William Fox.
In addition to directors, cinematographers, studio heads and composers, other behind-the-scenes personnel got biographies. Paul Mantz, super accomplished aviator, was the subject of Don Dwiggins’s Hollywood Pilot: The Biography of Paul Mantz (1967). A veteran of many films, he had been killed during the making of the he-man James Stewart adventure The Flight of the Phoenix (1965).
Tarzan’s star never dimmed and he remained big in the 60s. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ famed ape-man, who had ruled the cinematic jungle ever since the silent era, gained new adolescent adherents with the paperback reprints by Ace and Ballantine Books. On the film book scene, Gabe Essoe’s 1968 Tarzan of the Movies was a must purchase.
Perhaps the most important book of the decade was Kevin Brownlow’s The Parade’s Gone By (1968). This examination of the silent era became the standard for the general public as well as the film scholar.
Novels Into Film by George Bluestone (1968) analyzed famous fiction that had been filmed to mostly excellent effect: The Informer, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, The Grapes of Wrath, The Ox-Bow Incident, and Madame Bovary.
Hollywood and the Academy Awards by Nathalie Fredrik was an illustrated run-down of the Academy Awards through 1969 and a book that can profitably be consulted today. It included a page for each Best Picture, Actor and Actress, a half-page for supporting award winners, introduction to each decade, nominees, and winners in each and every category.
For years there were annual paperback mini-reviews of thousands of films telecast on the small screen, most famously perhaps but now kaput the Leonard Maltin et al. TV Movies, later Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide. Predating Maltin and much beloved by boomers was Steven Scheuer’s Movies on TV, published from 1958 until 1993.
The film book publishing trend ran into the 1970s and of course continues today, but like Leonard Bernstein’s Hollywood and the Stars theme music, that first rush of movie books was a super exciting event, especially for those of the postwar generation who had recognized the art of the cinema.