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Margot Robbie as Barbie in 'Barbie', nominated for eight Oscars. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Brothers

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Going for Gold: 8 Oscar-Worthy Books

New Tinseltown titles explore the glitz, glamour and grit of the silver screen, from the Academy Awards to Hitchcock's leading women / BY Nathalie Atkinson / March 6th, 2024


Get Oscars-ready for Hollywood’s biggest night with books covering cult comedy The Blues Brothers and Barbenheimer fashion, to groundbreaking early Hollywood figures like Anna May Wong and classic cinema stars like Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly. 

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150 Oscar Nightsby Dave Karger

 The popular Turner Classic Movies host adds to the beloved TV channel’s growing library with this catalogue of iconic moments in Academy Awards history. Backstories fill out memorable moments like John Legend’s Best Original Song for Selma, Halle Berry’s historic Monster’s Ball win for Best Actress, as well as mixed emotions about the initial announcement error of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight win for Best Picture or why Elton John thinks he won Best Original Song for the wrong tune. It combines fresh interviews with photos and lore drawing on Karger’s knowledge of movie and pop culture history.


2The Blues Brothersby Daniel de Visé

Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Ottawa’s own Dan Aykroyd) were characters born on Saturday Night Live in 1978; within two years they were headlining the now-cult classic movie. Before even getting to fly-on-the-wall details of the Chicago shoot, Maryland journalist de Visé situates the 1980 comedy within the rise of improv and the lead actors’ roots in comedy. This includes both the history of Canadian SNL creator Lorne Michaels’ early TV writing career and Toronto’s Second City players (Martin Short, Eugene Levy, John Candy, et al.) – who would go on to form SCTV – as well as what it took to assemble music legends like John Lee Hooker, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway for the movie. (March 19)


3Barbie: The World Tourby Margot Robbie and Andrew Mukamal

This past summer, as “Barbenheimer” became a global phenomenon, the press tour by star and executive producer Margot Robbie was an inspired array of red-carpet designer looks referencing vintage doll outfits like the ones adorning 1977 Superstar Barbie and 1960 Solo in the Spotlight. More retro glam from Barbie’s 65 years of fashion had been planned, but promotion was cut short by the prolonged writers’ and actors’ guild strikes. This coffee-table book (with Robbie photographed by the renowned Craig McDean) includes those never-seen outfits created with stylist Andrew Mukamal, as well as rare Mattel archival photos. (March 19)


4Not Your China Doll by Katie Gee Salisbury

Alongside popular leading man Sessue Hayakawa, a Japanese matinée idol of the silent era, Chinese American Anna May Wong was among the first Asian stars of early Hollywood. (Mattel issued her as a Barbie for AAPI Heritage Month last year.) The Brooklyn writer’s deeply researched biography of the pioneering actress details how Wong co-starred with Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express, but was more often typecast as exotic concubines or dragon ladies. She was famously denied the lead in MGM’s adaptation of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth. Instead, white European actress Luise Rainer was cast in the drama about struggling Chinese farmers and performed in yellowface, going on to win the Oscar. Wong spoke out about the industry’s racist typecasting and, through her celebrity stature, attempted to reshape Asian American representation in film. (March 12)


5Cocktails with George and Martha by Philip Gefter

The American historian charts the production of Mike Nichols’ feature debut, the Academy Award-winning Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? adaptation of the Edward Albee play (1966). The movie starred newly married and famously tempestuous couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, whose riveting performance would win her the Best Actress Oscar. Offering deeply researched behind-the-scenes moments, Gefter details how the movie survived censorship, from Broadway stage to screen, why he made provocative creative choices (like shooting in black and white) and how the movie thrived on the the tumultuous moods of its tabloid-grabbing co-stars (detailed in my recent tongue-in-cheek round-up of romance tips from the volatile couple).


6Hitchcock’s Blondes by Laurence Leamer

As in Capote’s Women (the basis for Ryan Murphy’s TV series, Feud: Capote vs. The Swans) and his work-in-progress on Andy Warhol’s muses, Leamer explores the lives of glamorous women orbiting the caprices of an enigmatic and often cruel man. Here he foregrounds the lives and experiences of eight icy-blond heroines, from June Howard-Tripp of the 1925 silent film The Lodger to the Hollywood stars Hitchcock fixated on (Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly and Eva Marie Saint, now 99) to show us the director and his actresses in a new light.


7Audrey Hepburn in Paris by Meghan Friedlander 

The curator of the Rare Audrey Hepburn fan site was enlisted by Luca Dotti, one of the actress’s two sons, to explore her love affair with the City of Light. The result is a dive into how Paris shaped Hepburn as a place of personal respite (she rejuvenated there after the divorce from her first husband, Mel Ferrer, for example), a creative influence through her friendships and fashions (a long professional relationship with couturier Hubert de Givenchy), and on films like Funny Face and How to Steal a Million – all told through correspondence, personal photographs and reminiscences.


8A Murder in Hollywood by Casey Sherman 

In 1958, actress Lana Turner’s 14-year-old daughter Cheryl Crane stabbed her mother’s boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, to death at their Beverly Hills home. The abusive gangster was an enforcer in Mickey Cohen’s mob. Mother and daughter were exonerated by the coroner’s inquest, but Turner, a film noir dame, never truly shook the reputational damage. Sherman, a Boston journalist (The Finest Hours), reassesses the infamous scandal that captivated the public. “For decades, Turner has been wrongly described as a Hollywood femme fatale, when in reality,” he said in a statement, “she was a feminist icon and true pioneer of the #MeToo movement.” The creator of Boardwalk Empire, Terence Winter, would agree: He’s already got a series adaptation in the works.


THE SCROLL

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