endpapers: Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital, 1928-1937
Angel City Press opened its doors twenty-five years ago with a salute to Hollywood history. ACP’s first book, Hollywood Du Jour: Lost Recipes of Legendary Hollywood Haunts by Betty Goodwin is the definitive book showcasing the histories and original recipes of Hollywood’s most famous restaurants. Based on in-depth primary-source research, it has become the go-to resource for the many authors who have tried to tell a similar story. Hollywood Haunted: A Ghostly Tour of Filmland chronicled the spooky side of the entertainment world, taking a whimsical look at the fun that automatically accompanies moviemaking. Authors Marc Wanamaker and Laurie Jacobson turn to scientists to find out just which ghosts have credibility and which are, well, just reel stuff.
Hollywood histories, rich with collectible visuals, have been on the mainstays of the publishing house. In each of the books related to this star-studded part of Southern California history, authors have consulted local and national archives to illustrate a larger history of the region itself. Consider these titles:
Angel City Press co-founder Paddy Calistro documented costume history with her book Edith Head’s Hollywood. After Head’s death in 1981, E.F. Dutton editor Bill Whitehead approached Calistro to finish the autobiography that costume designer Edith Head had begun in 1979. Calistro provided the historical context that framed the many personal stories Head shared about her legendary career. Calistro’s extensive research took her to the archives of USC, UCLA, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science Library (AMPAS), the American Film Institute Libraries in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts and the Museum of Modern Art film department, the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. Head died two weeks after her last film Dead Man Don’t Wear Plaid,” which paid homage to Los Angeles film noir; Calistro went on to interview the stars who had a hand in the film, including director Carl Reiner and actor Steve Martin:
Head was delighted that almost 40 years after she had dressed Stanwyck as the ill-fated heroine of Double Indemnity (1944), she’d be dressing the actor/comedian [Steve Martin] as her blond-wigged double. Reiner had been convinced that only Edith Head could give his spoof of 1940s private-eye films the period flair it needed. “When Edith Head said she’d take the assignment, I knew we had a good movie,” he remembers. For Martin, working with Edith Head was a landmark in his film career. “I felt a sense of history working with her, and I wanted to live up to what she represented.”
In Mabel and Me, author Jon Boorstin brought to life the silent film comedienne Mabel Normand in one of the few works of fiction published by ACP. Boorstin started his fictional tale by intertwining Normand’s life with that of the silent film industry stating that she “died the same year as silent pictures.” For his research, Boorstin had to turn to resources such as 1915 The Art of Moving Pictures by Vachal Lindsay, Gilbert Seldes’ 1924 The Seven Lively Arts and Behind the Motion Picture Screen written by Austin Lescarboura in 1919. To bring the supporting character of Jack to life, Boorstin consulted the Oral History Project of the Directors Guild of America. The result, according to Leonard Maltin in his review:
“Mabel and Me may be a work of fiction but it is impressively detailed in its portrayal of early 20th century Los Angeles, along with the birth and development of moviemaking in Hollywood. The language is often crude, as I imagine it must have been among the uneducated, rough-and-tumble characters he describes. But like Mack Sennett, and an impressionable boy who read his memoirs years ago, he has an abiding love for Mabel Normand. That clinches the deal. Mabel and Me is a wonderful book.”
Written by Darrell Rooney and Mark A. Vieira, Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital, 1928-1937 profiled another dynamic Hollywood life cut short. Considered the first big-screen sex symbol, Jean Harlow was only 26 when the platinum blonde died of kidney failure. While Rooney and Vieira (whose research led them around the world to collectors’ troves and deep into the USC, UCLA and AMPAS archives) shine the spotlight on the dramatic life of the young Harlow, they shed light onto the blossoming city of Los Angeles:
“This is the story of Jean Harlow the person. But what of Los Angeles, the city that made her famous? A look at the best of her photographs reveals a young woman defined by—and defining—an equally young city. Just as she retained a childlike openness, Los Angeles remained a brash daughter of expansion and promotion, giving birth to a district that exists as much in the mind as on a map.”
Hollywood historians develop a unique ability to sift through the glamorous personas carefully crafted by Hollywood publicists. By digging into the library holdings that preserve the important story of L.A.’s film industry—USC, UCLA, AMPAS, and American Film Institute—Angel City Press historians not only illustrate the industry that boosted the region, but define the region that helped boost the industry.