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Hollywood: The Oral History

Review

Hollywood: The Oral History

What better way to learn about history than from the people who lived it?

In HOLLYWOOD, Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson have painstakingly put together a collection of interviews with these men and women, starting with the first adventurers who traveled across the country to set up shop in the wilds of California. It’s a fascinating look at the creative processes that went into bringing this medium to the public.

"I can’t imagine two people better qualified to collaborate on this entertaining volume.... Despite more than 700 pages --- and like a great flick --- you always want more."

Everything was experimental in the earliest days --- from the use of equipment to the physical actions of the actors, especially before “talkies” allowed for more than the most dramatic pantomimes. Try to imagine the first person who devised a lens to give the film a specific look. New technologies allowed for “bigger and better” but also presented challenges. Not every silent film star was blessed with the vocal talents to allow them to thrive in the sound era. More than a few were professionally doomed at that juncture, sometimes with devastating outcomes.

HOLLYWOOD has the cliched “something for everyone,” but for me the most interesting part of the book was the chapter on “The Studio Workforce.” The stars and directors are the ones who get the most attention (and money), but it takes a village, to use the phrase. There are dozens of others behind the scenes --- writers, cameramen, editors, costume designers, art directors, and those who create and provide the soundtracks --- who never seem to get enough thanks. You can have the best performers in the world, but without the support of those whose names zoom by in the closing credits, who would know?

Between them, Basinger and Wasson have published nearly 20 books on the stars and overviews of various films and genres, so I can’t imagine two people better qualified to collaborate on this entertaining volume. The editing involved in “transcribing” these comments from hundreds of actors, producers, directors and camera people --- literally anyone who had a connection to the industry --- to make the reader believe that these figures were sitting down together over a drink to dish the dirt is amazing. But it is also a bit of a drawback. Sometimes the authors appear to be trying too hard to make the pieces of the puzzle fit.

Despite more than 700 pages --- and like a great flick --- you always want more. Perhaps future books could be dedicated to specific topics covered in HOLLYWOOD, offering, for example, a more in-depth look at the years before television, when movies were the only game in town. I am looking forward to the sequel.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on January 6, 2023

Hollywood: The Oral History
by Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson

  • Publication Date: November 8, 2022
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction, Performing Arts
  • Hardcover: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0063056941
  • ISBN-13: 9780063056947