It would have been a much better book if Collins wasn't so clearly biased against third wave feminists and had given a little more attention to women...moreIt would have been a much better book if Collins wasn't so clearly biased against third wave feminists and had given a little more attention to women of color and queer women.(less)
I absolutely adored Sam Kashner’s most recently published book, Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century (co-wr...moreI absolutely adored Sam Kashner’s most recently published book, Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century (co-written with Nancy Schoenberger), which ignited in me a new interest in the movies of Taylor and Burton, as well as the pre-1980s era of a Hollywood. When I saw he had written The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood In the Fifties–which captures the era through chapters on significant events, relationships, and scandals–I thought it would be a great way to get an overview of the decade from an author I enjoyed. And while at times the The Bad and the Beautiful overreaches in an attempt to cover ten years of eventful movie-making, it proved overall to be an entertaining, if overly ambitious, read. The following are a few of the book’s notable moments.
Rock Hudson is mostly remembered today for being one of the first gay male celebrities to succumb to AIDS in the 1980s, but in the 1950s he was the image of virile masculinity. Of course, the 1950s in the US being what they were, Hudson went to great lengths to prevent the public from discovering the truth about his sexuality. Kashner and MacNair detail that when Hudson lived with a man, he would have two telephone lines, one of which his boyfriend was not allowed to answer to ensure no one would find out they were cohabiting. I found tidbits like this intriguing, but not necessarily illuminating. Certain details of Rock Hudson’s life could (and do) fill entire books, and ultimately, I found this brief chapter too insubstantial to be fully engaging.
Another chapter that followed this “intrigue with too few details” theme was about the relationship between Sammy Davis Jr., and actress Kim Novak. Black men dating white women, no matter how famous the black man may have been, was simply not accepted by society in 1950s America (and was illegal in 22 states). Kashner and MacNair contend that Novak was the love of Davis’ life, but warnings of career ruination from studio directors forced the two to end their not-so-secret relationship. The brief paragraphs explaining this situation only managed to whet my appetite for the social and cultural implications of the relationship, as well as more information on Sammy Davis Jr.’s life.
The Bad and the Beautiful is at its best when tackling minor subjects (as opposed to mega-watt stars like Rock Hudson and Sammy Davis Jr.), as I discovered in the chapter on Peyton Place: the novel, its author, and the film adaptation of the book. Published in 1956, Peyton Place was written by a poor housewife from New England named Grace Metalious. The book was a sensation, selling in outrageous numbers and stirring the movie industry to clamor for the movie rights. They promised her she could “write the script” (only not really) and brought her out to Hollywood, where she at least got to hang out with celebrities for a little while. It’s an interesting subject not only because of the phenomenon that Peyton Place the movie (and later the TV show) became, but also because it explores the effects that sexism and classism had on the author and her family. The chapter really succeeds because the scope of the subject fits the scope of the chapter.
In summary, I loved the topic and the writing in The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood In the Fifties, but the lack of detail was frustrating. A worthy read for an overview of the decade, but I’ll definitely need to read more on the specific people, movies, and books mentioned within it to feel truly satisfied with my knowledge of the era and its stars.