Drawing from the biographies of some of Hollywood’s most glamorous women of the screen, author Caroline Young has done a fascinating thing: she has woven a history of cinematic Rome at its pinnacle, infusing it with a heavy dose of sultry Mediterranean sun-drenched days and nights steeped in wine, torrid passions, and an ever-present paparazzi.
Following the end of World War II, a new lust for life rose from horror and deprivation, sparking a refreshing cinematic renaissance, centered in Rome. The stars and their entanglements were larger than life and so were the movies. Roman Holiday: The Secret Life of Hollywood in Rome, beautifully depicts this era, covering the fifties, sixties and into the early seventies, as the glamour aged into a seedy bohemian spirit.
The fledgling Roman cinema, centered upon Cinecitta, began by tentatively exploring the sense of desperation that typified the war years. As recovery took hold this shifted to a technicolor joyousness, celebrating the resilience of the human spirit in its many cinematic forms but never leaving behind an inherent romanticism that captured the imagination of a weary world. Indeed, this seemed to be the balm for its soul, providing not only film treasures but rich soil for fans never-ending taste for the salacious. Actors, famous and infamous, were fiercely pursued by photographers, the latter typified by their aggressive tactics. Dubbed paparazzi, these snapshot artists, hungry from years of hardship, were an unrelenting presence as they sought their share of the money that flowed so freely from Hollywood profits prohibited from traveling overseas. If the money couldn’t come to America, then its stars and their entourages would go to Rome.
The spirit of these heady times is captured in some of the most memorable films of the era: Quo Vadis, Three Coins in the Fountain, The Barefoot Contessa, La Dolce Vita, Cleopatra, and of course Roman Holiday, from which this book takes its title. Arranged in a loosely chronological fashion, each chapter focuses on a particular leading lady (with Richard Burton being the sole exception), sometimes returning as each actor’s story resumes several years later. For those who have previously perused the biographies of Audrey, Ava, Elizabeth, Ingrid and more, some of this may be a review but the clever way that Young weaves together ambiance, friends and lovers, and film-making history makes this a fun and snappy read.
There are times when it all seems to come together: the zeitgeist, the talent and the easy money. Roman Holiday captures it all with detailed descriptions of the places, streets, restaurants and movie sets. If you’ve ever wished that you were there, amidst a steamy Roman adventure when the city was known as “Hollywood on the Tiber”, you’ll find the next best thing in Young’s juicy, richly interwoven accounts of the private and professional affairs of some of Hollywood and Europe’s most luminous stars.
Thank you to Trafalgar Square Publishing, the author and NetGalley for providing me with an eReader copy of this book. Roman Holiday: The Secret Life of Hollywood in Rome by Caroline Young (The History Press 2018) is available in Hardcover and eBook from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble or your favorite bookseller.