TALES FROM THE HOLLYWOOD RAJ: The British, the Movies, and Tinseltown by Sheridan Morley

TALES FROM THE HOLLYWOOD RAJ: The British, the Movies, and Tinseltown

Email this review


Undistinguished show-biz writer Morley (Marlene Dietrich, Gertrude Lawrence), son of Robert and grandson of the late, great Gladys Cooper, presents a loose, anecdotal parade of expatriate British actors and writers (plus a director or two) in Hollywood--""intentionally written much in the style of a radio or television documentary approach."" In other words: superficial, gossipy, and sometimes blatantly chintzy--as in cutesy chapter titles (Mrs. Pat's Hollywood debacle is ""Campbell in the Soup""), or gratuitous swipes as such non-favorites as ""the unbelievably glutinous Greer Garson."" Morley goes back to Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (his disastrous silent Macbeth), to Chaplin and Laurel; he concentrates on writers in the 1920s--Elinor Glyn, ""Eddie"" Knoblock, and others, some of whom, like English-classical actors, provided the respectability so valued by Hollywood's ""new puritanism."" Then: the sound era--bringing employment for hundreds of well-spoken Englishmen, ""by and large. . .a second-rate lot"" compared to the serious thespians who stayed behind in London. Ronald Colman was the ""uncrowned king"" of the Hollywood Brits. George Arliss laid down ""a pattern of old colonel behaviour in 1929 which was to be eagerly imitated in the years ahead by the likes of Cedric Hardwicke and Aubrey Smith."" The London play Journey's End became the 1930 basis ""for almost every army, navy and air force film of the next thirty years."" Arthur Treacher and Eric Blore created the butler stereotype. And so it goes--through such thrice-told tales as Olivier and Leigh (Wuthering Heights, GWTW), through the controversial WW II years (when those who stayed in the US were maligned at home), through the postwar boom in kids and ""Memsahibs"" (Roddy, Liz, Garson, Deborah Kerr). . . to the careers of James Mason, Michael Calne, Michael Wilding, etc., etc. (Despite Hollywood's decline, ""the British still hang in there . . . there is still a market for what is left of the stiff upper lip."") Via Gladys Cooper and some family friends, Morley offers a handful of fresh stories and reminiscences. The rest, however, is hand-me-down material, often in big chunks of excerpt. Biographical snippets are haphazardly researched, oddly selective in detail. (Morley goes on at length about Leslie Howard's embodiment of anti-Nazism yet declines to mention his Jewishness.) And the prose throughout is casual, sometimes vaguely snide, never really stylish or pointed. Slight, untextured, only mildly entertaining.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1984
Publisher: Viking