The star of such films and TV shows as A Kiss Before Dying and It Takes a Thief revisits the architecture, fashion, restaurants and pastimes of Hollywood’s golden age through anecdotes and personal memories.
With veteran biographer and film historian Eyman (Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille, 2010, etc.), with whom he collaborated on his previous memoir (Pieces of My Heart, 2008), Wagner presents a brisk account of early Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, their surrounding neighborhoods and the silver screen notables who frequented them, including James Cagney, Gloria Swanson, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart and many others. Topical chapters provide generous vistas on a world marked by exclusivity. The author dedicates a substantial, meticulous chapter to houses and hotels, with emphasis on the home of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, Pickfair; Rudolph Valentino’s Falcon Lair; the Beverly Hills Hotel; and similarly iconic structures. Tracking the shift from a pre-1929 “architecture as entertainment” perspective to a less opulent style, Wagner enlivens many sites and landscapes that have largely disappeared. For dedicated movie buffs, a handful of choice remarks on the personal habits of stars provides respite from tedious details. Other chapters consider facets of privilege, from a preference among certain male stars for English-inspired wardrobes to the nightlife of the times. A few mild, curmudgeonly laments on current realities—such as paparazzi swarms, the bottom-line nature of moviemaking and an increasing informality that sharply contrasts with bygone glamour—underscore the actor's nostalgia for the studio days, yet they stop short of idealizing; he briefly acknowledges the industry's later midcentury problems. Ultimately, the book is a charmed and mostly charming tribute to off-screen lives during a period many may regard as Hollywood's finest.
A diverting ancillary note to heavier biographies.