Roman Holiday: The Secret Life of Hollywood in Rome

 

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.

Recommended.

Peck and Hepburn unscripted

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.

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THE GIRL: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Inch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist

 

That Marilyn Moroe was a dazzling presence, that she achieved legendary status is without question.  That she is a feminist icon however is a question that has rarely been pursued.  The reasons for this are debatable but author Michelle Morgan has undertaken this very issue in THE GIRL:  Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist.

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Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl, A Marilyn Monroe Production

Credit must be given for a valiant attempt.  Certainly there are indicators of an independent, indomitable spirit. During the period in question, generally the summer of 1954 to the summer of 1956, although Morgan makes forays into years both preceding and following, Monroe loosens the grip of her studio contract, starts her own production company and immerses herself in the influential Actors Studio.  She makes herself a bit of a New Yorker, eschews the role of ’50’s housewife by divorcing Joe DiMaggio and develops friendships and acquaintances among the artistic and literary, ultimately marrying playwright Arthur Miller. But sadly, as is the case when delving into Monroe’s life, her emotional instability, at times debilitating insecurity and wavering identity are unavoidable aspects of the actor.  Morgan tries to shift focus to her accomplishments, intellectual pursuits and artistic interests, those she impressed and those who attempted to unsuccessfully oppress, even providing expository cultural context, yet the book suffers by the nature of its subject.  Monroe’s life rarely followed a straight line and as she winds along her path of halting self-discovery, frustratingly unfocused during the few years she was free (and alive!) to truly pursue her luminous talent, the book follows in a similar meandering fashion.  The actor, so innately gifted, does as much to hurt as help her career during this two year period; the book ultimately culminates in the filming of The Misfits and the end of her crumbling marriage to Miller. Yet Morgan has provided exhaustive detail for this brief two year period leaving this mini-biography well-positioned to be fascinating to fans of Monroe.

Due to the focus upon Monroe as potential feminist icon and smart and savvy professional, short shrift is naturally given to rich back stories, particularly on set, that are familiar to many fans of this most charismatic of stars.  In that way too the book frustrates as it struggles to makes its points.  Along the way we do learn of the many ways in which Monroe attempted to advance herself, culturally and artistically, yet at the end of it all, I was only wishing she’d left us with more movies and a little bit more of her time.

Warmly recommended for die-hard Marilyn Monroe fans.

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Marilyn Monroe, during filming of The Seven Year Itch.

Thank you to Running Press for providing me with an Advance Reader copy of this book.  THE GIRL: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist by Michelle Morgan (Running Press 2018) will be available  for purchase May 8th in Hardcover, eBook and Audio CD from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble or your favorite bookseller.  It is currently available for pre-order.

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Turner Classic Movies: Must See Movie Musicals: 50 Show-Stopping Movies We Can’t Forget

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Ruby Keeler, 42nd Street (1933)

While you might be tempted to lightly peruse and selectively reference Turner Classic Movies: Must See Musicals: 50 Show-Stopping Movies We Can’t Forget, don’t.  If you don’t read this one cover to cover, you’ll miss out on the lovely pleasure of discovering the evolution of the movie musical and all that the genre has meant to cinema and classic movie fans everywhere.  Mirroring their times and technology, musicals are unique in their ability to transport, uplift and move.  They are so frequently the panacea for their moment.

Must-See Musicals

Starting with The Broadway Melody (1929) and moving on through to La La Land (2016), author Richard Barrios has put forth a love letter, highlighting some of the most iconic musical moments in movies.  Might your favorite film be missed?  Perhaps.  But each selection and their accompanying chapters not only details why that film has its place in history but also gives hints for several others who share its space. You’ll likely find your personal preference somewhere in these pages.

 

 

 

The book opens with a foreword by Michael Feinstein and a heart-stopping full-page shimmering black and white image of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; it only gets better from there.  A dive into the chapters finds a nice structure.  Each carefully selected musical is given an overview that includes its special place, appeal and most iconic moments as well as a few luscious behind the scenes tidbits.  Barrios’ moves on to ‘What’s More’, generally more fun background and ‘Musically Speaking’, a bit about the songs and numbers themselves.   A movie poster, cast and credits, and four or more photos, some from in-production, completes each section.

 

 

Classic movies can be like comfort food and a musical perhaps more than any other genre really hits that sweet spot.  While many are timeless confections, others move in the realm of resonant relatability. From the soaring strains of Streisand belting a heart-breaking ‘My Man’, the defiant, gritty synchronicity of the Jets in West Side Story, a luminous Judy Garland’s aching rendition of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, and the bright, technicolor joyousness of An American in Paris, musicals stir a place inside rarely touched by other films. It’s no wonder we welcome them into our homes time and time again. And you’ll do the same with this guide.  In handy paperback, it’s a quick way to not only catch up on some easy information but also a neat way to relive a few memorable movie moments.

While I’m a big fan of movie musicals I confess to having given a few a cursory or partial viewing.  Some perhaps seemed dated, others a little too frothy. I found that even for those films I may not prefer or have yet to discover, I have now been given enough background information to appreciate their place in cinema history and what might make a particular picture shine for a particular fan.  Many of these films have continued to move audiences’ hearts and spirits for decades and there’s always a good reason why.  Barrios finds that reason.

 

 

Printed in luscious heavy stock, the book is worth the price of admission for the photos alone; many are full page. I found myself stopping just to appreciate their glamour and artistry.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved this book.  I was moved to tears both by the joyful eloquence of its author and by a genre that sometimes gets overlooked in our ‘oh so serious’ times; I’ve added many new films to my ever-growing list of ‘Must See’.

This book is sooo highly recommended. Not only would it make a perfect holiday gift but it’s also just the escape from the madness that we all need right now. Here’s to 2018!!!

La La Land - Gosling and Stone
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, “Planetarium,” La La Land (2016)

Thank you to Running Press/Turner Classic Movies for providing me with an advance review copy of this lovely book.  Turner Classic Movies: Must-See Musicals: 50 Show-Stopping Movies We Can’t Forget (Running Press 2017) is available in sturdy paperback or eBook from SHOPTCM.com and Amazon.com.

West Side Story - Wood and Beymer

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Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style

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“Sophia Loren, aside from being extremely beautiful physically, is one of the most exciting, witty women on this planet.”

Tippi Hendren, costar in A Countess from Hong Kong

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Sophia Loren did two notorious things in her life.  The first was to have a romance with Cary Grant, one that elicited a proposal of marriage.  She declined, leaving him in despair.  The second scandal is more significant.  Loren carried on a long-time affair with married producer Carlo Ponti, one that led to an eventual marriage with admirable longevity but was nonetheless quite shocking in its time.  Loren met Ponti when she was only fourteen years old.  He was twenty-two years her senior. Initially he provided her with professional advice and friendship but it didn’t take long for their relationship to blossom into romance.  Divorce was not yet legal in Italy and Rome was having none of their liaison.  Hollywood provided a welcome refuge and Mexico a ‘legal’ means of marrying,yet one that branded Ponti a bigamist in his home country.  The couple opted to become French citizens, with the Italian producer finally obtaining an elusive divorce, allowing for their longed-for marriage.  The addition of children, and later grandchildren, only made it that much sweeter.

If Loren had any further dalliances with her co-stars, a stunning array of men that included Gregory Peck, Clark Gable, William Holden, Peter Sellers and Richard Burton, among others, she hasn’t breathed a word of it. However such speculation seems doubtful.  Her lifelong love affair with Ponti appears to be one of several constants in her life, the others being her creativity, her love of family, and the simple joi de vivre of being Sophia Loren.

Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style by Cindy De La Hoz conveys this joy for living nicely.  A photographic journey through the actor’s life and movies, it stuns with literally hundreds of gorgeous photos, the majority in the glorious technicolor of many of her films.  A breezy biography fills in the specifics of Loren’s life beginning with childhood struggles of living in war-torn Italy and continuing to the present day.  Almost two-thirds of this coffee table worthy book consists of a synopsis of each of her films, providing the Loren aficionado with a comprehensive compendium of her work.  This is especially helpful as many of her films, even those that have been translated from the original Italian, remain in limited distribution.  Her most familiar Hollywood successes are highlighted too including Houseboat, It Happened in Naples, Arabesque and The Millionairess.

Loren Two Women
Two Women (1960)

Yet Loren differs from many of her Hollywood peers due to her significant contribution to Italian cinema.  For her portrayal of a mother trapped in WWII Italy in a gritty, heartbreaking turn in Two Women (1960), she became the first actor to win an Oscar for a foreign language performance.  She has won five special Golden Globes, mostly for World Film Favorite. Her partnership with fellow countryman Marcello Mastroianni was the kind of rare collaboration that is seen only with the likes of Tracy and Hepburn, Powell and Loy, and Allen and Keaton.  The duo made an impressive seventeen movies together, working with Italian luminaries such as director Vittorio de Sica and producer Ponti, lifting Italian filmmaking to new heights of popularity and artistry. She is considered Italy’s most celebrated female actor of all time.

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With Mastroianni in Sunflower (1970)

Truly an international movie star, Loren is known for her staggering beauty, yet she has an acting legacy that spans over six decades.  That this is not widely known in not the fault of the star but rather the overwhelming seductiveness of her presentation and the breadth of her film catalogue, one that crosses continents.  Loren is an iconic sex symbol, an actor whose curvaceous presence signifies sexual nuance and allure the moment she enters a scene. Her statuesque beauty perfectly fit her debut era, one marked by swing dresses that celebrated the female form.  Just as America was tiring of the blonde bombshell, along came Loren, with an exotic mystique enhanced by big brown almond eyes and voluptuous lips and hips.

Loren Yesterday Today and Tomorrow
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963)

If there is one quibble with the book it is that it ends too soon.  Loren is described as possessing incredible warmth, vitality and an enduring presence that is rare among female performers who too often are not permitted to age gracefully or choose to bow out of their own accord. One hungers for more of Sophia the woman, the survivor. What is clear is that her apparent pragmatism, emotional stability and business acumen are additional assets that have contributed to her longevity and her mystique.

Loren in Nine

Loren remains riveting when attending red carpet events. She has shown a remarkable ability to retain her beauty and to age with stunning grace.  The many quotes from Sophia regarding her life philosophies, experiences in filmmaker and from those who have worked with her are a treat in this new work.  The book ends with a final quote from Loren speaking to a belief that has served her well:

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love.  When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”

She may yet gift us with future endeavors springing from her own overflowing creative spirit.

De La Hoz’s new pictorial biography is a glorious introduction for newcomers to Loren’s life and career that should also prove satisfying to devoted fans due to its respectful treatment and multitude of photographs.  It is a worthy addition to the field and to any film lover’s collection. I am quite pleased to add it to mine.

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Thank you to Running Press/Turner Classic Movies for providing me with an advance review copy of this lovely book. It is available for Pre-Order through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Shop TCM or your favorite bookseller.  This book will be available on September 26, 2017 in Hardcover or E-Book.

This post is the fourth in the 2017 Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Raquel Stecher of Out of the Past.  For more book reviews please check her blog throughout the summer!!

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Loren in her teens and turning heads

 

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Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies

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In retrospect Ava Gardner can be a mysterious and contradictory figure, awash in allure and breathtaking beauty. Considered to be one of the world’s most stunning women, she was contracted to a studio that seemed to be at a loss with how to manage her; she did some of her best work on loan or independently.  She had a stated desire for domesticity, children and marriage but her most significant decisions expressed an overwhelming hunger for experience and adventure. Despite insecurity regarding her own talent, she boldly entered varying shooting locations with unfamiliar faces, unknown actors and half-written scripts, doing so with courage and aplomb, only losing outward signs of professionalism as her private life unraveled and the hurts exacted a toll. Too often she bolstered her confidence with liberal amounts of alcohol, resulting in distilled bravado. Not surprisingly she did her best work with sympathetic supportive directors who could tap into her raw sensuality and vulnerability while respecting her fearless beauty and artistic integrity.

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Functioning as both coffee table book and detailed biography, Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies knowingly embraces these contradictions and chooses to move along at a fast, luxurious clip. The pace matches the mercurial, hectic and audacious life of one of the last of Hollywood’s true movie stars, a magnetic screen presence as earthy as the North Carolina soil from which she came. Eminently readable and meticulously researched, the book includes a multitude of photographs, behind the scene candid shots, movie stills and promotional images, beautifully interspersed to illustrate pivotal points in this actor’s life. Yet these are still secondary to the text, which treats its subject to a respectful yet honest look at her life and career. As such it lends itself to being a gorgeous reference book, not only a picturesque gallery for each of her films but a source for understanding the heartaches and frustrations that Gardner faced in filming, in loving, and in living.

Gardner’s adventurous spirit and joie de vivre was apparent from her first trips to New York, heady experiences for a young woman from a simple background. As a child, her enthusiastic embrace of life expressed itself as a tomboy’s love for fun and simple pranks. Ava’s early years of poverty and frequent moves, grounded in her love for her father and the devotion of her mother, are given sufficient exploration here, laying the foundation for an understanding of the unchanging aspects of her inherent nature; Her values are clear at the outset. Yet Gardner’s beauty was not easily ignored and despite her naivete, a life-changing photo shoot while visiting her sister in the big city ultimately led to a screen test with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Later Gardner’s passion for new experiences transported her to homes, location shoots and lovers in Hollywood, Madrid, Rome, Mexico and London. Her restlessness led to both good and bad choices, world-wide fame and crushing heartbreak. Gardner was a woman ahead of her time, independent in spirit and frequently in conflict with her studio and her inner desire for respect as an actor, despite her many protestations that she was merely seeking the lucrative pay. In the mid-fifties, following filming that repeatedly took her to Spain, Gardner finally settled there, leaving America for good. As such she developed the lifestyle of many ex-pats of the era, a decision that suited the filming schedules and on location shoots that became arguably de rigueur as the major studios struggled to face the challenges of television. Through it all she wrestled with her own fears that audiences and those in the industry would discover she was merely ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Animal’ as she was so famously labelled, a moniker now glaringly dated in its sexism.

One wonders if Gardner might have had different inclinations regarding her talent if her romantic life had transpired differently. Gardner’s husbands pursued her unrelentingly. Her three marriages were combustible; her third to Frank Sinatra was a union marred by immeasurable passion and unending conflict.  Yet the first two were traumatic as well and potentially emotionally damaging. First husband Mickey Rooney, the perpetual boy in a man’s body, was unprepared for marriage to a beautiful naïve daughter of the south.  Indeed, once the MGM marvel bedded his virginal bride, leading to a sexual awakening for Gardner, he had difficulty fulfilling the role of devoted husband, remaining a gregarious, roaming Lothario. Second husband Artie Shaw inflicted a different kind of wound. Determined to act as Professor Higgins to Gardner’s Eliza, he was mercilessly critical of her lack of intellectualism and cultural sophistication. In a period reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s own attempts to overcome feelings of inadequacy stemming from a simple background, Gardner worked to keep up with him.  She met his unrelenting criticism and demands by taking classes, reading literature, pursuing her interests in jazz and classical music.  But as she did so he grew bored and the marriage folded. Her deep disappointment at the failure of these two marriages left her vulnerable and open to a third with a volatile, charismatic Frank Sinatra. A fiercely determined talent and temperamental womanizer, Sinatra met his match in Gardner, a woman possessed of the same impetuosity and high spirits. He was so enamored of the raven-haired green-eyed rising star that he left his wife of twelve years. Yet such was the warmth of Gardner that his famous offspring remember her fondly as a natural beauty, glamorous even without make-up, accepting of their presence, both fascinating and giving.

Sinatra and Gardner’s affair was a public relations nightmare that instigated a barrage of criticism. Gossip columnists and film fans perceived the actress as a home wrecker and the crooner as a fallen Catholic. Both careers suffered temporary blows. Following a tempestuous marriage, the two eventually settled on a lifelong simmering friendship once the flames cooled, with Gardner wistfully reminiscing on what might have been with the second sight of maturity. Sinatra carried his own contradictions; he became a steady rescuer for her on numerous occasions as their lives progressed.

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The dynamics of these relationships and others are well-elucidated by authors Kendra Bean and Anthony Uzarowski, who provide specifics without indulging in salaciousness.  Personal details of Gardner’s private life are neatly juxtaposed with accounts of her experiences in making movies, each grounded in chronological time and place. While some of her films may have at times lacked substance or even popular appeal, in others her smoldering persona captured the sensual yearnings of audiences. From her breakout role in The Killers to Mogambo, Bhowani Junction and On The Beach, Gardner was unrelentingly riveting.

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In hindsight John Huston’s rendering of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana stands as perhaps her greatest film; it was her last significant screen role.  As the wise, weary Maxine Faulk she ultimately reaches the epitome of her talent, delving within for a rich, worldly vulnerability that in many ways echoes the woman she had become.  If Gardner was ever to have been awarded an Academy Award it would’ve been for Iguana yet that recognition was never bestowed.  The authors pay loving attention to this significant film, rightfully and rewardingly so.

As with any actor she passed on some good roles and was overlooked for others. Yet she worked with many of the most significant directors and writers of her time, establishing enduring relationships along the way.  Her warm friendships with John Huston, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and many other significant figures are a remarkable testament to the fascination this woman held for those who appreciated her unique brand of Southern charm and sensuality. The lifelong presence of other friends, such as Grace Kelly and Gregory Peck speaks to her generosity of spirit. Film fans familiar with these larger than life personalities of the twentieth century will find exploration of these relationships a satisfying aspect of this biography.  Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, beautifully presented in a format sure to resonate with fans of classic film.  As such it is a treatment that Ava Gardner ultimately and finally richly deserves.

ava 5.jpgMany thanks to Running Press for providing this lovely book for this review. It is appreciated. Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies is available through Amazon and other booksellers.

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This post is the second in the 2017 Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Raquel Stecher of Out of the Past.  For more book reviews please check her blog throughout the summer!

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