A good biography makes you feel as if you personally know its subject when you're finished, and that's exactly what this book did. It was written by JA good biography makes you feel as if you personally know its subject when you're finished, and that's exactly what this book did. It was written by Jim Bishop, who was Mark Hellinger's copy boy and later his secretary.
Hellinger was born in New York in 1903. Much to his father's dismay, who wanted him to follow in his footsteps by practicing law and marrying a nice Jewish girl, Mark's sole ambition in life was to become a writer. He eventually became one of the most widely read newspaper columnists in America, along with his close friend Walter Winchell. Prohibition was Hellinger's time and Broadway was his milieu. He knew everybody, and loved everybody. He wanted everybody to love him, too, but hid it under layers of gruffness and humor. He spent money as fast as he earned it. He was a drinker and a gambler who counted many gangsters among his friends. He dressed like an underworld character and married Gladys Glad, a Ziegfeld Girl and one of the most beautiful blondes in a country full of beautiful blondes.
After Prohibition, Hellinger slowly gravitated to Hollywood. When he moved to Los Angeles permanently, he dropped his daily column but kept his full-page Sunday column, and enjoyed a wide readership until his death of coronary thrombosis in 1947 at the age of 44.
His work in Hollywood is what he's best remembered for today. At Warner Bros. he worked frequently with director Raoul Walsh, on pictures like The Roaring Twenties (1939), They Drive by Night (1940), and High Sierra (1941). Hellinger really made his mark when he was sole producer. He bought the rights to Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Killers," and turned it into a film. The Killers (1946) was Burt Lancaster's first film. Hellinger "discovered" Lancaster, and made another film with him, the prison drama Brute Force (1947), before producing one of the first and most important police procedural films, The Naked City, which was released in 1948. He consider The Naked City his best film, and it's certainly his most personal. In addition to being a mystery, it's a love letter to New York that Hellinger narrated himself. It was the first film to be shot entirely on location (with hidden cameras for the street scenes).
This book is mostly episodic anecdotes, and it's a great read....more
William Castle is a brilliant raconteur. Reading this book is like standing next to him at a cocktail party, listening to one hilarious and fascinatinWilliam Castle is a brilliant raconteur. Reading this book is like standing next to him at a cocktail party, listening to one hilarious and fascinating anecdote after another, unable to get a word in edgewise but not caring one bit.
Step Right Up!: I'm Gonna Scare the Pants off America is divided into roughly three parts. The first is all about his early life in the theater, before he became a filmmaker. There's a nearly unbelievable, wonderful story in this section about how he secretly trashed his own theater a few days before opening night, drawing graffiti to make it look as if Nazi sympathizers in the U.S. were against him, guaranteeing a load of free publicity for himself. The second part is all about his life in Hollywood in the '50s and '60s. This section will be the most familiar to readers who already know all about his classic thrillers from this period, as well as the gimmicks he came up with to promote them. (For instance, to promote his 1959 film The Tingler, starring Vincent Price, he wired theater seats to joybuzz patrons' spines while a silhouette of the centipede-like "Tingler" crawled over the screen and Price giddily intoned, "The Tingler is loose in the theater! Scream! Scream for your lives!") The third part is all about working with Roman Polanski on Rosemary's Baby, which Castle produced, since the studio wouldn't let him direct it himself due to his reputation as a schlock filmmaker.
I'm a huge fan of William Castle's films, especially The Tingler, Homicidal, Strait Jacket, and Mr. Sardonicus. It's a shame more of his films aren't available on DVD. He made a picture early in his career, for instance, starring Robert Mitchum, called When Strangers Marry that I would love to see. It's also a real shame that this book is no longer in print. It's time for a third edition, people!...more
Enjoyably bizarre and obsessive. Unlike the novel, the screenplay is so short (fewer than 80 pages) that the themes don't have a chance to get redundaEnjoyably bizarre and obsessive. Unlike the novel, the screenplay is so short (fewer than 80 pages) that the themes don't have a chance to get redundant or boring....more