Ann Harding: Cinema’s Gallant Lady by Scott O’Brien

Title: Ann Harding: Cinema’s Gallant Lady
Author: Scott O’Brien
Format: PDF transferred to my Kindle Fire
Year Published: 2010
Source: I was sent this book by the publisher for review. 

Several years ago I read Scott O’Brien’s excellent biography of Kay Francis, so I couldn’t wait to read his book on Ann Harding. I wasn’t disappointed. Ann Harding: Cinema’s Gallant Lady is an excellent and extensively researched book about the film and stage star Ann Harding.

Harding grew up a military “brat” and ended up working on the stage, where she was an immediate success, due to her natural talent and beauty. This caused a rift with her father, Brigadier General Gatley, who did not approve of her career choice. Eventually she ended up in Hollywood.

Harding was one of the biggest stars of films in the early 1930s during the post-talkie, Pre-Code era, but she is little known today except by devoted fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Many of her movie roles were of the noble, self-sacrificing type, and she quickly became typecast in that kind of role. She was famous for her patrician beauty, throaty voice, and long blonde hair.

Here is Harding in one of her films, with the wonderful Myrna Loy and Leslie Howard:


She wasn’t frivolous, but an intelligent, mature actress. She spent much of her time honing her skills on the stage, especially “little theater.” It is clear that O’Brien respects Harding as a fine actress. She had a common-sense approach to her career, too, not worrying about her status or whether she was still a “star” or a romantic lead. She was acting because she enjoyed acting. Being a “star” meant little to her.

Much of the book is consumed with describing Harding’s career on film and stage. Each film is thoroughly reviewed. There is some discussion of her personal life, however. Despite her genteel image, Harding did have a difficult private life. She had affairs with married men, suffered through two failed marriages, a custody battle with her first husband, and eventually a distant relationship with her daughter.

She seems to have cut herself off from many of her friends and even her natural daughter as she aged. Inexplicably, she seems to have “adopted” a grown woman in her later years. However, she seems to have escaped the real tragedies that have beset other Hollywood actors from the same era.

If you are a fan of Ann Harding or the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, I highly recommend that you read this book. You can order this book by clicking the badge below!

Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels by Michael G. Ankerich

Title: Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen
Author: Michael G. Ankerich
Format: PDF transferred to my Kindle Fire
Year Published: 2011
Source: I was sent this book by the publisher for review. 

Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen tells the mostly tragic stories of now-forgotten actresses of the silent film era. 

The actresses included in the book are: Agnes Ayres, Olive Borden, Grace Darmond, Elinor Fair, Juanita Hansen, Wanda Hawley, Natalie Joyce, Barbara La Marr, Martha Mansfield, Mary Nolan, Marie Prevost, Lucille Ricksen, Eve Southern, and Alberta Vaughn. 

Each actress gets a chapter devoted solely to her. I’ve read about some of these actresses before (Ayres, Prevost, La Marr), but some of them I had never heard of before (Hawley, Ricksen). 

I found it fascinating to find out what happened to these women. Most silent actors faced a unique dilemma, because during the last years of the 1920s Hollywood began transitioning away from silent films to “talkies.” Some actors struggled to adapt to talking pictures, whether because of a poor voice or bad acting technique. 

Then the stock market crashed right during that transition, and some of these women, through no fault of their own, were wiped out financially. Some of them struggled with drug or alcohol addictions, and some suffered from untreated mental illnesses, at a time when these conditions were little understood and there were no proper treatment programs. When their careers crashed, their stocks failed, their youth and beauty started fading and they lost their stardom, they were left broke and unemployed. 

Others were simply incredibly unlucky, and a couple of the actresses profiled in this book managed to have somewhat normal lives after their fame faded away. Some of these are unbearably tragic and hard to read. It is actually sadder to read about the ones who weren’t self-destructive and died through no fault of their own – Martha Mansfield was killed in a horrifying fire, and little Lucille Ricksen died at age 14, possibly from tuberculosis. 

I’m glad that Michael Ankerich wrote this book and really glad that he chose some silent movie actresses that have been neglected by other authors. There have been plenty of books and articles written about Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson, for example. It is about time these actresses get their due. If you are a silent film fan, I heartily recommend this book. 

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Don Ameche: The Kenosha Comeback Kid by Ben Ohmart

Title: Don Ameche: The Kenosha Comeback Kid
Author: Ben Ohmart
Format: PDF transferred to my Kindle Fire
Year Published: 2007
Source: I was sent this book by the publisher for review. 

Don Ameche: The Kenosha Comeback Kid  by Ben Ohmart is a thoroughly researched biography of Ameche’s surprising career, which spanned over 60 years and including starring roles in film, radio, theater, and television.

Ameche was a star of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He became famous after his starring role as the inventor of the telephone in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell.” His role in this film made him so famous that people joked “you’re wanted on the Ameche!”

Ameche also was a very big radio star, as well as starring on Broadway and early television. By the late 1970s, however, he was reduced to small parts on big television series. He loved performing, however, and he continued to work in touring theatre companies, out of the spotlight.

Then he made one of the most surprising comebacks in Hollywood history with his delightful performance in Trading Places. He got the part because Ray Milland did not pass the physical that all film companies require, and director John Landis called Ameche to read for the role of Mortimer Duke.

Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd were wonderful in the lead roles, but Ameche and Ralph Bellamy (in my opinion) steal all of their scenes as the nasty Duke brothers. Ameche he went on to star in several more films, winning an Academy Award for his work in Cocoon. He thoroughly enjoyed his career renaissance, and was delighted to win the Oscar.

This biography is interesting because I learned so many things I didn’t know about Don. During the 1980s I saw him interviewed a few times, and it was interesting to read about Ameche’s private life.

There were no scandals, but that does not mean his relationships with his family were not complicated. Don and his wife Honore (“Honey”) had six children, and he was a strict father. Don was constantly busy with his movie and radio work, and rarely home. His sons were sent away to boarding school early, and this also helped to create a somewhat distant relationship with his children. 

Even though he stayed married to his wife from 1932 to her death in 1986 – they spent approximately the last two decades unofficially separated. There are no explanations in the book for why transpired between them, except perhaps basic incompatibility – his wife did not like life in the spotlight, while Don seemed to love it. Don’s devout Catholicism precluded him from getting a divorce. They just lived in different parts of the country and didn’t see each other.

I definitely get the impression from this fine biography that Ameche was a complex man, and that his children really didn’t get to know their strict father, and his real personality remains somewhat elusive.

This book does go into great detail about Ameche’s professional life, including every film and almost every television show he ever did. It is profusely illustrated with wonderful photographs. It is well worth reading if you are a fan.

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Foxy Lady:The Authorized Biography of Lynn Bari by Jeff Gordon

Title: Foxy Lady: The Authorized Biography of Lynn Bari
Author: Jeff Gordon
Year Published: 2010
Format: PDF transferred to my Kindle Fire
Source: I was sent this book by the publisher for review. 

Lynn Bari was a beautiful, underrated actress of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She made many films, and became a reliable star at Twentieth Century Fox. However, she never really became a top-rank star, despite being intelligent, beautiful with a statuesque figure, and adept at both comedy and drama,

She was known as the “Queen of B Films,” a title she despised. When she did an A film, she typically played “the other woman.” But she had a sense of humor about it: “I’d go from one set to another, shooting people and stealing husbands.” This sense of humor made her popular on her home lot of Twentieth Century Fox.

Jeff Gordon has written a thoroughly researched (more than 500 pages!) biography of Bari: Foxy Lady: The Authorized Biography of Lynn Bari. Gordon analyzes why Bari never became the star big star she should have been: problems with her home life. Lynn was saddled with a difficult, alcoholic mother, haunting memories of her father’s apparent suicide, and her continual poor choices of husbands.

One of the main reasons that this book is so well-done is that the author actually interviewed Bari numerous times for the book, shortly before she died in 1989. He was also able to interview several of her friends and relatives to piece together Lynn’s life and find out the true story of what happened to her.  This access to Bari and other people who knew who is invaluable. The author is also sympathetic and understanding towards his subject, and the book is well-written, with many beautiful photos!

Bari spent the last several years of her life dealing with various personal and medical maladies. Despite her problems, she was good-natured with a wonderful sense of humor, which helped make a difficult time in her life easier.

I highly recommend this book to other fans of Lynn Bari, and fans of The Golden Age of Hollywood.

You can order the book by clicking the link below:

Book Review: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by John O’Dowd

Title: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story 
Author: John O’Dowd
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Film
Format: Paperback
Year Published: 2007
Source: I purchased this book.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story by John O’Dowd is the very sad true story of how a beautiful actress who once co-starred with big stars like William Cagney and Gregory Peck ended up as an alcoholic street prostitute on Skid Row.

Barbara Payton seemed to have it all in 1951. She was starring in a film with James Cagney, she had youth and beauty, and she had a string of lovers. She didn’t care what people thought of her, but flaunting her complicated private life in the staid 1950s didn’t win her many supporters in the movie industry. She paid far more attention to her love life than her career, and people in the movie business did not take her seriously.

Here is the trailer for her best film, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, in which she is touted as an emerging star:

Her apparent inability to contain her private life is what did her in. She had a compulsive nature and a perverse wish to destroy herself. Both of her parents were alcoholics, and Barbara’s eventual severe addictions to drugs and alcohol ruined her career and drove her into prostitution on Skid Row and eventually killed her at age 39. She may also have suffered from an undiagnosed mental disorder, which would explain some of her most self-destructive tendencies, in addition to a genetic predisposition to alcoholism.

The book was meticulously researched and well written. The author goes into incredible detail about Barbara’s life. What I like best is that he shows both sides of the story, not just the self-destructive side, and you get to know Barbara had many good qualities, too.

If you are interested in Old Hollywood, you might be very interested in this book. It is extremely well done.

You can read more about the book here

Happy New Year and Auld Lang Syne

This may be the most beautiful, intensely romantic scene I have seen in any movie, from the tragic film Waterloo Bridge.

Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor were so, so beautiful. I love the music, the dancing, and the musicians snuffing out the candles. No words are needed.


Happy New Year everyone!

Book Review: All That Is Bitter and Sweet by Ashley Judd

Title: All That Is Bitter and Sweet

Author: Ashley Judd
Genre: Memoir
Format: Kindle
Year Published: 2011
Source: I “borrowed” this Kindle book from through my local library

Ashley Judd’s memoir is not your typical movie star autobiography. She actually hardly discusses her movie career at all. It’s mostly about her traumatic childhood and her adult role as a humanitarian.

Judd discusses her extremely dysfunctional childhood (how many memoirs would there be if people had functional childhoods?) Her mother is Naomi Judd and her older sister is Wynonna Judd. Her mother and sister would sometimes leave her alone for days at a time and Ashley had to fend for herself. Sometimes she would live with her father (her parents were divorced) or with other relatives.

Ashley’s childhood was chaotic and unstable and as a child she never felt that her emotional needs were being met. If she tried to voice her feelings, she was not taken seriously. She also suffered from being molested. She felt marginalized and was made to feel that she was unworthy. From a very early age she suffered from undiagnosed depression.

She was a brilliant student at the University of Kentucky, studying French and women’s issues among other things, and became involved in many humanitarian and feminist causes. She realized that she wanted to be an actress. She also wanted to continue her involvement in humanitarian causes, but didn’t know how she could do both. It turns out that her fame as an actress opened many doors to being involved at an international level.

Her feelings of abandonment and abuse stood her in good stead as a humanitarian. Ashley’s work has focused particularly on the way women are treated around the world, especially in Third World countries. These women have no training or education and live on subsistence levels. Many end up working as sexual slaves. The treatment of women has a direct correlation to the AIDS pandemic in many countries.

Ashley has found a real purpose for her life in humanitarian works, but the bad memories stemming from childhood traumas sent Ashley spiraling into a terrible depression and she finally needed to be hospitalized. She got the help she needed, and she is now a happier person.

She is also a profoundly religious person, and has been inspired by her meetings with people such as Desmond Tutu. Ashley went on to graduate school at Harvard and is continuing her fight for the rights of the the poor and voiceless around the world.

You can also read Ashley’s blog.


Let’s Help Mom Clean House!

Anne Taintor
In this wonderful 1949 film, Mom gets sick and the house gets to be a real mess. Mom is struck with a blindingly brilliant idea! The house will stay cleaner if everyone in the family picks up their own stuff!

Amazing! And the family agrees. Dad, and Bro, and Sis start to clean up, and even do some redecorating.

This is one of those wonderful Coronet Instructional Films, made from the 1940’s to the 1970’s. They are available at the Prelinger Archives from The Internet Archive, one of my favorite websites!

Book Review: Life Itself by Roger Ebert

Title: Life Itself
Author: Roger Ebert
Year Published: 2011
Genre: Memoir, Non Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: I purchased this book

Roger Ebert is a top film critic whose career and life were shattered by cancer. The various cancer treatments have left him unable to speak except through a computer. He finally started a blog to write his thoughts down, and the blog posts have eventually morphed into this book. Ebert tells the story of his life, starting with his childhood in Urbana, Illinois and his education at The University of Illinois.

He fell in love with journalism, and started writing for newspapers. He was a long-time film buff, but fell into film criticism by accident when he was assigned film reviewing by an editor.

This book is interesting when he tells about his family and his complicated relationship with Gene Siskel, his follow critic on several television shows. It is also interesting when he chats about some famous film stars and directors. Ebert also goes into detail about some of his personal friends. I’m sure that these are nice, interesting, quirky people if you know them personally, but frankly, they aren’t too interesting to read about. Sometimes “colorful” characters fall flat on the printed page, especially if you don’t know them.

I wish that there had been more stories of the famous people Roger has known, and fewer stories of his personal friends. I also wish that he had discussed his favorite films in more detail and how they affected him, but I suppose his numerous books of film criticism fill the need for that.

Ebert also talks about his alcoholism, and his many years of attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and devotion to the AA cause. He mentions that one day he just stopped drinking. He didn’t know it was his last drink at the time. I was wondering, however, when he KNEW he was an alcoholic and when he knew he had hit rock-bottom. Perhaps he didn’t have a rock-bottom. He doesn’t discuss the drinking bouts in any detail. Perhaps the drinking was part of that whole hard-drinking reporter crowd, where Ebert and his friends hung out in bars after work. His mother also developed a drinking problem later in her life.

Ebert does discuss his great love for his wife, Chaz, and he was lucky to have her when numerous cancer operations and treatments when awry. Fortunately, he had her and her extended family to give him comfort. If you are interested in films and a fan of Roger Ebert, you may well like this book. But if you aren’t, you probably won’t find it that interesting.