Top Picks: Hollywood History

The Oscars are upon us once again, so pop some popcorn and get ready to read. We recommend our top picks for Hollywood history. Wow your friends at the next Oscar party or water cooler chat with your extensive knowledge of Tinseltown lore. Climb aboard. Your tour bus is about to depart.

Folks always ask about scandals on this tour, so let's make that our first stop, shall we? Old Hollywood was dripping with the stuff, as early artists found a dizzying freedom on the West Coast, far from the censorious eyes of the Eastern establishment. Cartoonist Edward Sorel delivers a juicy story in his illustrated book, Mary Astor's Purple Diary. The Maltese Falcon star was caught up in a vicious legal feud with her ex who stole her diary and leaked gossip about her love life to one and all. (Guess you could say it's the stuff that nightmares are made of.)

As we leave the classic era behind, let's pause at the 1960s. Mark Harris' Pictures at A Revolution is the definitive portrait of Hollywood transitioning from the classic to the modern era. To compete with TV, the movies had gotten big and bloated, with lots of roadshow musicals and epic histories. But a younger generation was getting restless, and Hollywood had to reinvent itself or die.

No Hollywood tour would be complete without a stop in the legendary 1970s. And here's Peter Biskind with Easy Riders, Raging Bulls to tell us just how those mavericks like Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman and Beatty remade Hollywood for a new generation.

Wave hello to Donald Bogle. The esteemed historian has written classic works on African American movie history. Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams traces the glamour (and challenges) that black entertainers faced from the dawn of Hollywood through the 1970s. Bogle writes of legends like Hattie McDaniel, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dorothy Dandridge.

The 1980s were fun but not so great for the art of cinema (at least from major studios), and a new indie revolution remade Hollywood again. Sharon Waxman's Rebels on the Backlot investigates a new generation of rising talents including Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Jonze and David O. Russell. (All men you say? You're right. Let's hope for more women behind the camera in the future.)

What's that? You want more of the juicy stuff? Well, I shouldn't tell you this, for fear of angering some very powerful people in Hollywood, but have you checked out Lawrence Wright's Going Clear? Or that tell-all by Leah Remini? Quite interesting recent history.

Now remember folks, exit through the gift shop. You can check out any of these books with a library card. And there's lots more Hollywood history books where these came from.

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