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Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  1,796 ratings  ·  269 reviews
Hollywood gossip meets history in this compulsively readable collection from Buzzfeed reporter Anne Helen Peterson.

Believe it or not, America’s fascination with celebrity culture was thriving well before the days of TMZ, Cardi B, Kanye’s tweets, and the #metoo allegations that have gripped Hollywood. And the stars of yesteryear? They weren’t always the saints that we make
Paperback, 289 pages
Published September 30th 2014 by Plume
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Heidi The Reader
Oct 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Scandals of Classic Hollywood is about movie star scandals, obviously, but also shows the development of Hollywood and how public and private forces place tremendous pressure on the stars of film. I think it's extraordinary than anyone in the business can be normal at all considering what they go through.

The scandals discussed in this book are more than just smut. They're history lessons..." introduction

The most fascinating piece of this book is the role of fixers and reputation creators. It
Sep 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I've been waiting for this book for six months-- and, like any Hollywood movie, it was bound to struggle to live up to the anticipation. Don't get me wrong; for any lover of classic hollywood, this is a good read, and I'd probably have loved it if I hadn't been devouring Anne Helen Peterson's online articles--whether through Hairpin, Buzzfeed, her blog, or other media--for a couple years now. But I have and therein, I think, lies the slight disappointment with the book.

While the promos promise
Nov 03, 2014 rated it did not like it
I hate to give this book such a poor review, but as an avid reader of Anne Helen Petersen's blog, and her columns on sites such as The Hairpin, this book was a HUGE letdown. For someone with little to no knowledge of the star system and old hollywood, "Scandals" is possibly a three star read. As a primer however, you are likely to learn more from reading wikipedia. For those of us classic hollywood junkies there is nothing here to interest you. There literally are dozens of books on these actors ...more
Taylor Reid
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Anne Helen Petersen has a Ph.D. in Celebrity Gossip (really!), and she puts it to good use analyzing celebrity scandals of the classic film age. What makes this book impossible to put down is that Petersen not only shares the dirt on the scandals themselves, but also considers what the actions, coverage, and public perceptions tell us about the times."
Lisa Ahlstedt
Aug 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
I received an advanced uncorrected proof of this book from the publisher. The title intrigued me and I was expecting a juicy tell-all in the manner of "Hollywood Babylon." This book, however, was written by a woman who got a Ph.D. in "the history of the gossip industry" (?). So the book, while lavishly provided with footnotes, isn't really what I was expecting. Most of the scandals that are included are already well-known (Fatty Arbuckle, Clara Bow, James Dean, etc.) so this book didn't really ...more
Apr 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Hollywood's ability to shape the image of their stars is boggling: from the early silent film stars of the 10s-20s to the 'angry men' who challenged the status quo in the 50s, illuminating the cages created for them by their agents, studies, directors, and tabloids is...interesting.

And I think that's really all I can say about this book: it's...interesting. While the 'types' of things kept out of public reach are by no means scandalous to our jaded eyes, seeing the apparatus laid out is
Jun 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, e-book
Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Ann Helen Peterson is a 2014 Plume publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

As I began reading this book it struck me that one of the worst scandals portrayed here was the Fatty Arbuckle scandal which occurred in the silent film era. This the story the author started out with. The more I read the more I had to remind myself that back in the 20's , 30's, 40's and 50's these Hollywood icons were
Oct 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
I have been a huge fan of Anne Helen Petersen's column "Scandals of Classic Hollywood" for The Hairpin. It was funny, juicy, and beautifully illustrated by images of the stars. When I heard about her book deal, I was extremely excited. Unlike many blog-to-books, SCANDALS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD is 100% new content (although it covers some of the same stars).

I have mixed feelings about the result. I really miss seeing the pictures, which say so much about the star's image and presentation. I felt
Is it weird that I fantasize about BEING Anne Helen Petersen? All working at Buzzfeed, all getting paid to read Photoplays from 1929, all having a vast network of academic colleagues who care deeply about Fatty Arbuckle?

Anyway, this book is the greatest. Her writing makes these juicy profiles accessible to anybody who loves celebrity gossip, even people who are brand new to the gossip of the past. But the real meat is in her analysis and her ability to draw clear parallels between, say, Wallace
Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Scandal is incidental to this book. It's really a sociological examination - albeit a lively one - of how the Hollywood press and publicity departments of the early-to-mid 20th century operated within the larger culture. The book avoids grand pronouncements, but this reader couldn't help but draw one rather consequential inference: Hollywood slowly and slyly undermined conservative sexual morality and traditional gender roles by pretending it's movie stars were exemplars thereof when they were ...more
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
i'm a novice to the golden age of hollywood. so, 99% of the book was news to me. and think that's a factor in why i loved it a lot even though there are a lot of negative GR reviews about it from people who were already aware of everything that was analysed in the book.

the romance chapters were the easiest to get through ( reminded me a lot about how PR handles this type of stuff now, the rumours, blind items etc). but the ones about judy garland, dorothy dandridge, montgomery clift etc were
In my other life, I am a film scholar in the making. I am (slowly!) writing a postgraduate thesis on stardom and classical Hollywood. I was familiar with Anne Helen Petersen from her column Scandals of Classic Hollywood on the Hairpin and her blog Celebrity Gossip Academic Style (which now appears to be defunct), so when I saw this book on Netgalley I could not request it fast enough. Gossip! Scandal! Stardom! Hollywood! All of my favourite things. I was super chuffed to receive an ARC and ...more
Nov 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
"In the end, Hollywood forced Dandridge to embody one of the stereotypes she loathed so fiercely: the tragic mulatto, a woman accepted in some ways by both the black and white communities but rejected in other crucial, heartbreaking ways. [...] Yet Dandridge's life, and its parallels to the present, illuminates how far our society has come-and how far it isn't" pg. 196

I agree with many of the reviewers so far in that this book was lacking the classic Anne Helen Petersen humor that her Hairpin
Jun 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It’s an interesting read, though I suspect people who know more about classic (1900-1950’s) Hollywood are going to find it a fairly dull re-tread. For the most part Petersen simply retells some of the scandals of Hollywood and she attempts to tie those scandals to the studio system: its development, heyday, and eventual downfall. Even more than that, she’s looking at the image of each individual and showing how that image could either bind them into rigidity, creating the scandals when they ...more
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Once again, Anne Helen Petersen has written a book that I wish I'd written myself, and one I can only hope to emulate.

Having devoured and adored her exploration on unruly women in modern popular culture, this book takes us way back to Classic Hollywood, starting with the original stars of the silent movies to the thriving young men that changed the outlook of the film industry with one well-placed stare. Covering everyone from Pickford to Brando, Petersen examines some of Hollywood's most
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read, perfect for those, like myself, who feel that they don’t know enough about old Hollywood (and love some light analysis with their gossip). It gives some insight into how the old studios worked, with some hints at how things haven’t largely changed only on the surface. It was a good starting place, but if you already know the basics, it might not be anything new.
Also, fun to know where Anne Helen Petersen got her start in celebrity analysis. Definitely check her out if that
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
The title says it all, if you love classic hollywood then this is for you. Petersen devotes chapters to Pickford and Fairbanks, Arbuckle, Gable and Lombard, Judy Garland, and other legendary stars and how the studio worked to protect them from scandal and the impact the studios had on them.
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Probably the best written book on the subject - reads more like analytical research than clickbait bs.
Sep 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebooks
With the captivating title "Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema" and bold eye catching cover art it was hard to resist reading this fascinating dishy book about historical Hollywood! Movie buffs in particular will be able to add titles of rare classic movies noted in the book to their viewing lists.

The book opens at the turn of the 20th Century, and examines how public opinion influenced by scandal and hysteria could make or break a
May 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
I had hoped for more sex, deviance and drama. Instead I got a break-down of how the studios controlled and killed their stars. It's kind of like reading a car crash - it's horrible and should never have happened, but you can't seem to look away either.
I'm guessing it's so hard to understand how and why Hollywood functioned the way that it did back then, because of how different the world is today - and in some cases really isn't.
Overall it was intriguing to read about old Hollywood and
Mollie 🍂
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
4 ’s (Great). ...more
Felt a lot like a less snappy rehash of Petersen's Hairpin column. Entertaining, and only informative if you know nothing about the era. Otherwise, it feels breezy and maybe a little loose with the details. Where Scandals shines is in its dissection of the studio publicity spin machine, though each chapter's conclusion tends to read like an afterthought. A bit frothy overall.
Apr 12, 2015 rated it liked it
I liked this book but it wasn't really about scandals. It was more about how these celebrities from Old Hollywood were different and how they made their mark. For instance, Clark Gable & Carole Lombard's marriage may have been considered "scandalous" as he was still married when their affair began, but it's one of the greatest love stories of Old Hollywood. Everyone knows Judy Garland struggled with drugs but I wouldn't really call that scandalous. Perhaps at the time it was, but it was also ...more
Oct 03, 2014 rated it liked it
I first came across Anne Helen Petersen's excellent blogs on stardom - past and present - a few years ago. This collection brings together her thoughts on the golden era of Hollywood, how stars were created and sometimes destroyed, from an academic perspective. It's a fun, sparky read that avoids both academic jargon and bloggers' slang. However, the main problem with this book is that print media, unlike the internet, already has a wealth of in-depth material on this very subject. It might be a ...more
Oct 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
First, I am a huge fan of Anne Helen Petersen's work. Her column for The Hairpin was something to look forward to each time. This book, however, is not her strongest work. Most of the material was recycled from her column. Well-known rumors and scandals involving the subjects in this book weren't even mentioned. Worst of all, it ends rather abruptly instead of tying the work together as a whole. It felt especially unfinished, since there are lengthy introductions for each section.
I would not
Feb 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
What do our scandals du jour say about our society?

I enjoyed this one - salacious gossip once the salaciousness has worn off and in a scholar's tone. While it is gossip, certainly, the book is more about WHY this particular celebrities and those particular scandals grabbed the attention of the world - and why they still interest us today.

Individual chapters stand alone, making this almost a short story collection, easy to read in bits and pieces. No narrative thread to keep track of, just a bit
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Super readable essays summarizing how the publicity machines in the Golden Age of Cinema controlled/handled/directed the narratives of stars whose lives skidded out of acceptable norms. From Mae West to Clark Gable to Judy Garland to Montgomery Clift, each essay was not only interesting to me because I love classic film but also because it's easy to draw lines directly from these stories to celebrity gossip machines today.
Laura Jean
Jul 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book surprised me. I thought it would simply be juicy gossip about classic Hollywood stars, but it was so much MORE. The author explained not only the scandals that occurred, but also how the movie industry helped manufacture and control the stars and their images. She also does a great job at explaining how the social constructs of the time helped frame how these stars were perceived. It's really quite a good book and very enjoyable.
Sep 19, 2015 rated it did not like it
This book is pretty much a rehash of rumors & stories about old Hollywood that have been told a million times. I recommend this book if you haven't read alot of books about old Hollywood stars but if you have skip it. Its not worth your time.
Oct 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015, non-fiction
Apparently this is another blog book I stumbled upon. Some of these stories I had heard before, but Hollywood gossip is always fun to read.
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Anne Helen Petersen has an actual Ph.D. in celebrity gossip and writes longform pieces for BuzzFeed.
“Many Hollywood stars have committed versions of the long suicide. Biographies of Clift posit that he drank because he couldn’t be his true self, because homosexuality was the shame he had to shelter within. But if you look at his own words, his testimonies about what acting did to him, you’ll see the culprit. His perpetual question to himself, as he once scribbled in his journal, was, “How to remain thin-skinned, vulnerable, and still alive?” For Clift, the task proved impossible. Clift once said, “The closer we come to the negative, to death, the more we blossom.” He took himself to that precipice, but he fell straight in. And so he remains frozen in the popular imagination, circa From Here to Eternity—those high cheekbones, that set jaw, the firm stare: a magnificent, proud, tragically broken thing to behold.” 0 likes
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