Through interviews with remnants of a long-gone Hollywood, a vivid sense of some of the great formative families emerges.
Readers of George Plimpton's Paris Review will be familiar with the interview structure of this compelling, occasionally gossipy, informative chronicle of the flamboyant personalities from a storybook Hollywood era and the great houses they inhabited in Beverly Hills and Malibu. Stein (Edie: An American Biography, 1982, etc.), formerly an editor at Paris Review and Grand Street, delves into the strange, incredible sagas of early Los Angeles oil baron Edward L. Doheny; Warner Bros. founder Jack Warner; schizophrenic teenager Jane Garland (and her coterie of male handlers); actress and wife of David Selznick, Jennifer Jones; and the author's father, Jules Stein, founder of Music Corporation of America—all of whom were more or less neighbors and party acquaintances in the area. The speakers, aside from their names, are not otherwise identified; readers have to scan the "biographical notes" in the back, a structure aiming no doubt to maintain a fluidity to the narrative. Indeed readable, this work, through its gradual fleshing-out of the biographical portraits, depicts these larger-than-life legends who were vulnerable to scandal and heartbreak. Doheny, one of the richest men in the country in the 1910s, endured the suicide of his first wife and the death of his son following the Teapot Dome trial of 1929. Warner, remembered by his son Jack Jr. early on as a lovable man before success corrupted him, did not live to see his grand house on Angelo Drive bought by David Geffen in 1990. Actress Jones became the ultimate Hollywood hostess while weathering tremendous emotional instability. Jules Stein, the son of Lithuanian immigrants in South Bend, Indiana, left his career as an ophthalmologist to start a band-booking business and created an entire empire.
Slips occasionally into hearsay and grievance but rivets readers with “a kind of fascinated horror.”