HOLLYWOOD AND THE MOVIES OF THE FIFTIES

THE COLLAPSE OF THE STUDIO SYSTEM, THE THRILL OF CINERAMA, AND THE INVASION OF THE ULTIMATE BODY SNATCHER—TELEVISION

A rich, expansive, and penetrating work of film and social history.

A personal, wide-screen approach to the best and worst of times for movies.

Threatened by TV and the beginning of the end of the studio system, the 1950s was the “most turbulent decade in the history of the American filmmaking industry”—at least until 2020, writes film scholar Hirsch, author of Otto Preminger and A Method to Their Madness, among other books. In this dauntingly lavish book, which will impress film buffs but perhaps overwhelm general readers, the author neatly plumbs a wide range of topics. He profiles the ups and downs of some of the major studios, from the powerful Louis B. Mayer’s MGM (called an “industrial compound” by Elia Kazan) to Mary Pickford and Charles Chaplin’s United Artists, which “nurtured” Stanley Kubrick. Hirsch deftly discusses many of the studios’ films and the actors and directors who worked for them. Hollywood hoped its new “intoxicating visual and aural pleasures” would encourage viewership: Cinerama, touted by the “intrepid world traveler” Lowell Thomas, 3-D, CinemaScope, VistaVision, and Todd-AO. Hirsch is a “cheerleader” for all of them. “In the race for survival,” he writes, “new content was as necessary as new formats,” and he surveys the studio’s high and low offerings, from fancy upmarket “art” fare to the explosion of exploitation fare (“even the detritus of the 1950s is of greater interest than the ephemera of other periods”) to “thoughtful, well-meaning, and non-exploitative” race films (Black, Asian, American Indian, etc.) and those dealing with antisemitism and homosexuality. Hirsch shows how the films from this era were multifaceted and engaged with the political and social issues of the time. He zeroes in on the careers of famous actors as they navigated the changing scene, from the older ones to the up-and-coming “Method-trained” ones. The author concludes with an insightful overview of the strong noir films of the decade, science-fiction films that featured Cold War political allegories, animated films, documentaries, and the fading musicals, epics, and overwrought melodramas.

A rich, expansive, and penetrating work of film and social history.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2023

ISBN: 9780307958921

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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TANQUERAY

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

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A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

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