The Bad and the Beautiful: A Chronicle of Hollywood in the Fifties

The Bad and the Beautiful: A Chronicle of Hollywood in the Fifties

by Sam Kashner, Jennifer Macnair, Jennifer MacNair

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A vivid portrait of power, fame, and sex in 1950s Hollywood, from the rise of tabloid journalism to the making of legendary film icons. In these tantalizing stories of momentous events and legendary characters, Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair brilliantly re-create the drama and contradictions of Hollywood's most scandalous and dynamic decade. Colorful and humorous


A vivid portrait of power, fame, and sex in 1950s Hollywood, from the rise of tabloid journalism to the making of legendary film icons. In these tantalizing stories of momentous events and legendary characters, Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair brilliantly re-create the drama and contradictions of Hollywood's most scandalous and dynamic decade. Colorful and humorous anecdotes of such public icons as Lana Turner, Rock Hudson, Kim Novak, and Mae West profile the celebrities' lives away from the camera, telling of the private moments that were exploited by tabloids such as Confidential and gossip queens Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, and Sheilah Graham. Chronicling the unique obsessions of the era, the authors also offer behind-the-scenes commentary on the making of classic films: Hollywood's curious religious revival with The Robe; the film industry's exploitation of the potboiler Peyton Place, even as it rejected the housewife who penned it; and the anarchic director Nick Ray, who, on the set of the enduring classic Rebel without a Cause, taught his teenage stars about much more than acting. Guided by the authors' historical savvy and intimate storytelling, we discover a city at a crossroads, attempting to reinvent the magic and mystery of its past glories. Tragic, irreverent, and always entertaining, The Bad and the Beautiful reveals the underground history of this turbulent decade in American film.

Author Biography: Sam Kashner writes for GQ and Vanity Fair and is the author of the novel Sinatraland and other nonfiction books on Hollywood. Jennifer MacNair, a graduate of Columbia University's School of Journalism, is a contributor to the online edition of PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Editorial Reviews

Burt Boyar
I loved this book. The best stroll through glamorous, sexy old Hollywood that I've ever taken.
Ernest Lehman
Many have called the Fifties the darkest decade in Hollywood history. [This] reveals all the fascinating ugly details. It's a must-read.
James Ellroy
Kashner and MacNair have created a City of Nets for hipsters and low-lifes. This book soars.
Suzanne Finstad
A revealing, at times discomforting, ever fascinating glimpse into the shadowy reality and hidden mores of Hollywood.
The New Yorker
In a scene straight out of a screwball comedy, Norma Barzman shoved a pie in her future husband's face on the day they met. In The Red and the Blacklist, Barzman recounts other zany moments among Communist-sympathizer screenwriters during the time of the blacklist. A young Norma Jean Baker tips off Barzman and her husband to police surveillance. They dodge subpoenas by swapping houses with another couple; later they find that a rented house in France is filled with hoarded Nazi gold. Even their political beliefs have a Hollywood glow: Barzman writes, "Communist couples had a romantic notion of themselves as the ideal young man and young woman surging forward with the Red flag, the logo of Artkino (Soviet films)."

Richard Schickel's childhood in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, was never so glamorous, but in Good Morning, Mr. Zip Zip Zip, he recalls the many movies written by the soon-to-be-blacklisted that offered romanticized visions of American and Russian societies during the Second World War. "You can't really tell the difference between those written by Communists and those written by liberals," Schickel notes. "All you can say of this lot is that if their political sins were minimal, their rhetorical ones were heinous."

Hollywood in the fifties was filled with sinners: as Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair recount in The Bad and the Beautiful, those in the entertainment industry survived everything from sex scandals to murder cases. Yet some, like the screenwriter Alvah Bessie, never recovered from political persecution: "People say it's now pretty fashionable to say you were blacklisted, but if that's fashionable, I haven't gotten any offers from Hollywood yet,"he told an interviewer in 1977.

(Andrea Thompson)
Publishers Weekly
The 1950s are often dismissed as a peaceful interval between the war-ravaged '40s and the socially stormy '60s. Not so, according to journalists Kashner and MacNair, who offer a juicy, gossip-gorged expos of '50s Hollywood. They begin, appropriately, with the story of Confidential magazine, a publication that outed gays and revealed interracial romances, prison records and extramarital affairs. The chapter "The Lavender Closet" concentrates on homosexual scandals involving tennis great Bill Tilden, actress Lizabeth Scott and writer/actor/director No l Coward. Kashner and MacNair comprehensively cover anticommunist hysteria, along with powerful studies of blacklisted screenwriter Alvah Bessie and actor Lee J. Cobb. The book's most striking subject is Nicholas Ray, director of Rebel Without a Cause. Inevitably, the authors emphasize the film's sexual backstory (Ray and Rebel cast member Dennis Hopper were both having affairs with Natalie Wood), but Ray's genius, his battles against the studio system and contribution to the fiery James Dean legend enhance the director's stature as a neglected immortal. Kashner and MacNair deal amusingly with Hollywood's religious period, ranging from Billy Graham's low-budget Mr. Texas to Twentieth Century Fox's Cinemascope circus, The Robe. Well-known anecdotes about Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Lana Turner are outshone by gritty profiles of legendary screenwriter Ernest Lehman (The Sweet Smell of Success), self-destructive novelist Grace Metalious (Peyton Place), anorexic actress Sandra Dee (Imitation of Life), suicidal playwright William Inge (Picnic) and cutthroat columnists Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper and Sheilah Graham. These accounts, often dipped in acid, will keep readers flipping pages and highlight Kashner and MacNair's intention to write "a prismatic rather than an academic view of 1950s Hollywood." Photos. Agents, Joy Harris and Leslie Daniels. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
While Fifties Hollywood meant Disney films, the Legion of Decency, and pious epics like The Ten Commandments, it was also the era of Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, the blacklist, the scandal sheet Confidential, and the "lavender closet" as the authors note, homosexuality was considered "a kind of sexual equivalent of Communism." This popular, subjective history is a series of vignettes capturing a Hollywood in transition, pressured by television, the studio system's decline, and the postwar emerging permissiveness. Topics include the influence of the short-lived but much-feared Confidential; the clout of aging gossip queens Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, and Sheila Graham; and the uproar over an interracial romance between Sammy Davis and Kim Novak. Journalist Kashner and MacNair, a writer for The Jim Lehrer Newshour, write most perceptively on the era's classics (Sweet Smell of Success), and the best chapter describes how director Nicholas Ray forged his timeless portrait of teen-age angst in Rebel Without a Cause. The book is a brisk read but not the last word on Fifties Hollywood (though other, better books on the subject are out of print). The chapter on the misdeeds of the children of Hollywood stars could apply to any era, and chapters on Oscar Levant, Mae West, and Grace Metalious seem of dubious relevance. Despite its flaws, this book is recommended for public library collections. Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kashner, an inveterate writer about Hollywood, and journalist MacNair discuss the Red-hunting, keyhole-peeping editor of magazine; the bitter, striving queens of Hollywood gossip; the forgotten, tortured artist William Inge, whose plays were turned into some of the biggest films of the decade, and other facets of the time and place. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
Anecdotal account of the world of 1950s cinema and the forces that helped destroy the studio system and reshape Hollywood. Journalists Kashner and MacNair depict a Hollywood struggling against the audience-draining impact of TV while balancing the demand for wholesome films with the postwar drift toward realism and sexual candor. Thorough research and lighthearted analysis of numerous personalities and trends mix with discussions of landmark films that in retrospect appear to define the decade: Sweet Smell of Success, Rebel Without a Cause, Night of the Hunter, Peyton Place. The authors track the powerful influence on Hollywood of suburbanization, the Red Scare, juvenile delinquency, and societal concerns about the disintegration of the family-in addition to exploring Hollywood's "religious period," which resulted in The Robe, The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, and The Greatest Story Ever Told; the advent of the influential approach to acting known as "The Method"; and the impact of directors and actors who arrived as refugees from Hitler's Europe (Douglas Sirk) or were political or artistic rebels (Clifford Odets, Man Ray). The description of Method acting and the careers of those devoted to the technique (James Dean, Shelly Winters, Montgomery Clift) is a reminder of an era when the determination to capture reality occasionally out-manuevered Tinseltown glitz. The authors are so successful at enumerating the rising tawdriness of celebrities during this period and journalists' inclination toward the expose that the reader is likely to gain new respect for those individuals who survived with their reputations intact. Pages are filled with breezy but artful profiles of those survivors, andothers: Rock Hudson, Robert Mitchum, Gloria Swanson, Burt Lancaster, Oscar Levant, directors Alexander Mackendrick and Nicholas Ray, screenwriter Alvah Bessie, playwright William Inge, Peyton Place author Grace Metalious, and columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. Enjoyable cultural history that gives a compelling sense of how '50s Hollywood reacted to change and how, in turn, it influenced a nation of moviegoers.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.46(w) x 9.66(h) x 1.25(d)

What People are saying about this

James Ellroy
[T]he definitive take on sex, sleaze-mongering, moral vacuity, and paranoia in the American 1950s....This book soars.

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