Thursday, January 06, 2011

Book review – “Hollywood” by Garson Kanin

Fun, but surprisingly not as good as Kanin’s books about Maugham and Hepburn/Tracy. Maybe Kanin is uncomfortable writing about himself – he seems drawn to personalities stronger than himself (although as a highly successful writer-director he must have had strength); more time seems devoted to characters like Harry Cohn and Sam Goldwyn than Kanin himself. And sometimes having characters in the book telling stories via dialogue doesn’t feel real, at least not in the way it did in the Maugham and Hepburn/Tracy books (eg Carole Lombard). (Could this be because Kanin wasn't keeping a journal back then?)
Still, there are some great stories, like getting John Barrymore to lift his game by having all the crew on The Great Man Votes refer to him as “Mr Barrymore”; Barrymore getting annoyed at a child actor who was pulling focus and throwing her across a sound stage; Goldwyn saying “no one knows anything” (‘you believe, you feel, but you don’t know’) years before William Goldman; Vivien Leigh being jealous of Greta Garbo talking to Laurence Olivier; negotiating contracts with Harry Cohn and Goldwyn; dealing with the temperamental Charles Laughton on They Knew What They Wanted (constantly afraid of saing the wrong thing, “finding” a performance in the vineyards the night before a shoot and having to go back during the shoot to find it again – only to have Kanin ruin the takes by constant sneezing); Ginger Rogers aggressively going after the role of Elizabeth in John Ford’s Mary of Scotland (you know something? She wouldn’t have made the film worse); Sam Goldwyn on the importance of story; Kanin visiting a brothel where all the hookers look like movie stars (years before LA Confidential – Kanin even admits he’d sleep with the hookers); Ginger Rogers being distracted by an extra on the set of Tom, Dick and Harry and asking him to be removed, only to marry him later on; MGM executives at lunch all comparing pills.

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