Category Archives: Books

“Clarence Brown: Hollywood’s Forgotten Master” is a masterpiece of the man and his movies

There are good directors.

There are great directors.

Then there’s Clarence Brown.

Before the outbreak of World War I, Brown owned his own automobile dealership, the Brown Motor Car Company, in Birmingham, Alabama, earning a very comfortable salary of $6,500 a year. Armed with a double degree in engineering and a practical knowledge of machines, he worked for both the Moline Auto Company in Illinois and the Stevens-Duryea Company in Massachusetts before starting his own business.

By 1915, however, he was working with director Maurice Tourneur on Trilby, giving up a promising career in one burgeoning industry for another. For cinephiles, it was a fortuitous decision. Over the course of a five decade–long career, Brown directed numerous films that have stood the test of time—including The Last of the Mohicans (1920), Anna Christie (1930), Anna Karenina (1935), The Human Comedy (1943), National Velvet(1944), The Yearling (1946), and Intruder in the Dust (1949).

Though he crafted films that garnered 38 Academy Award nominations, Brown is not as well remembered as many of his contemporaries. Historian Gwenda Young hopes to change that with the publication of Clarence Brown: Hollywood’s Forgotten Master, the first full-length biography of the seminal director. She recounts his upbringing as the son of hardworking Irish immigrants, as well as his work with stars such as Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Mary Pickford, which created his reputation for introducing new discoveries as well as revitalizing fading careers. Throughout his long tenure behind the camera, Brown defied expectations to create a lasting body of work that spanned Hollywood’s silent and golden eras.

Brown repeatedly proved his worth by coaching and inspiring great performances. He directed Greta Garbo’s first “talkie,” Anna Christie, which earned her a Best Actress nomination. Garbo later described him as her favorite director. He introduced audiences to a more refined, mature side of Mickey Rooney in The Human Comedy (1943), which Rooney regarded as “one of the best I ever did.” Brown also excelled at redefining and reviving careers, like Norma Shearer in A Free Soul (1931), which helped her to shed her sweet girl persona and define herself as a modern woman for audiences. Perhaps most significantly, he was known for discovering stars, notably Elizabeth Taylor and Claude Jarman Jr.

Brown continually defied expectations, including W.C. Fields’ famous warning about working with children and animals. The Yearling earned a 12-year-old Jarman a special Academy Award for Outstanding Child Actor, and National Velvet introduced the world to Taylor, also 12 at the time. Both films endure for their representation of the relationships between children and their horses.
Though Brown was known for heartwarming slices of Americana, he created films that were hard-hitting and dealt with sensitive cultural issues as well. He explored sensuality in Flesh and the Devil (1926), where viewers were able to see Garbo and John Gilbert’s charged chemistry on screen for the first time, and he directed one of the most revealing depictions of racial prejudice in Intruder in the Dust.

In this first comprehensive account of the life and work of an innovative and unique filmmaker, Young presents the spectrum of Brown’s work in Hollywood as well as his life before and after his creative successes. Spanning from the silent era to technicolor, Brown’s career shows how the industry evolved, and Young reveals the depths of Brown’s hardworking spirit that led him from operating a car dealership in Birmingham, Alabama to creating films that helped define Hollywood across different eras.

Whoever says Shakespeare in all wet? “What Blest Genius?” does . . . with good reason!

Remember the failed “luxury music festival”  that was Fyre Fest? Or the messy (but ultimately rewarding) planning behind Woodstock? The logistics behind major festivals and events are always tricky and sometimes can outright fail. Even many centures. Many.

In Andrew McConnell Stott’s What Blest Genius? The Jubilee That Made Shakespeare (W. W. Norton & Company, $26.95), the focus is on Shakespeare’s Jubilee: the event that established William Shakespeare as the greatest writer of all time in September 1769.

It was also a ridiculous, rain-soaked disaster. Three thousand people descended on Stratford-upon-Avon to celebrate the artistic legacy of the town’s most famous son. Attendees included the rich and powerful, the fashionable and the curious, eligible ladies and fortune hunters, and a horde of journalists and profiteers. For three days, they paraded through garlanded streets, listened to songs and oratorios, and enjoyed masked balls. It was a unique cultural moment―a coronation elevating Shakespeare to the throne of genius.

The poorly planned Jubilee imposed an army of Londoners on a backwater hamlet peopled by hostile and superstitious locals, unable and unwilling to meet their demands. Rain fell in sheets, flooding tents and dampening fireworks, and threatening to wash the whole town away. Told from the dual perspectives of David Garrick, who masterminded the Jubilee, and James Boswell, who attended it, What Blest Genius? is rich with humor, gossip and theatrical intrigue.

What’s juicier than celebrity gossip? How about a book about the controversial scandal magazine “Confidential”

Gossip! I have been gathering it, writing about it and spreading it ever since I began interviewing celebs and their “friends”. And I have a collection of the controversial scandal magazine Confidential, which, without a doubt, was the bible of gossip.

Confidential was the forerunner of today’s titillating headlines and celebrity gossip exposés. American culture in the 1950s revered celebrities as exemplary citizens with high morals and honest characters—Confidential challenged that notion with each issue it printed. The magazine tarnished Hollywood stars’ well-constructed images by publishing raunchy and brazen stories of their misdeeds and transgressions. Soon, the magazine was surpassing other successful publications such as Time, Life and the Saturday Evening Post in newsstand sales. For the first time, readers will learn how Confidential gained its notorious reputation and how it forever altered American culture, law and journalism.

Confidential Confidential: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Notorious Scandal Magazine (Chicago Review Press, $27.99), by Samantha Barbas, presents a thoroughly-researched history of America’s first gossip magazine and the legal disputes that led to its end. With an extensive network of informants, Confidential soiled celebrities’ pristine reputations by publishing the stars’ scandalous secrets including extramarital affairs, drug use and taboo sexual practices in lewd detail.

By 1955, Confidential was the nation’s ruling publication on newsstands, forcing many to question the legalities of freedom of the press and society’s moral obligation to censor indecent content. Ultimately, a slew of multi-million dollar libel lawsuits and criminal charges brought by the state of California—concluding in the infamous 1957, star-studded Los Angeles trial—caused Confidential’ s downfall. Confidential Confidential provides readers with an insider’s view as to how the magazine obtained its juicy stories and how it laid the foundation for future gossip tabloids such as People, the National Enquirer and TMZ. Though it was legally forced to stop its gossip-mongering in 1958, Confidential’s legacy endures as society’s contemporary obsession with sensationalism and celebrity scandal remains more popular than ever.

Insightful and entertaining, Confidential Confidential will appeal to both Hollywood and journalism history aficionados and readers interested in celebrity culture.

Oh, yes, remind me to tell you about the famous movie star who was a notorious shoplifter. And we don;t mean Winona.

“When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon” is an important look at the miracle of organ transplant

The miracle of organ transplants straddles the line between heartbreak and hope—one person’s life extended through the tragedy of another’s loss. Joshua D. Mezrich, a transplant surgeon at the University of Wisconsin, witnesses this complex miracle with everyday regularity, and in his eloquent and illuminating new book, When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon (Harper, $27.99), this dedicated doctor and elegant writer weaves stories from his own awe-inspiring work into a history of the medical advances that have made the extension of many lives possible.

When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon“Joshua Mezrich has performed the perfect core biopsy of transplantation—a clear and compelling account of the grueling daily work, the spell-binding history and the unsettling ethical issues that haunt this miraculous lifesaving treatment,” says Pauline Chen, author of Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality.  “Mezrich’s compassionate and honest voice, punctuated by a sharp and intelligent wit, render the enormous subject not just palatable but downright engrossing.”

Joshua D Mezrich, MD

“My goal is not to provide a chronological depiction of my coming-of-age as a surgeon, but rather, to use my experiences and those of my patients to give context for the story of the modern pioneers who make transplantation a reality,” Dr. Mezrich writes. “The remarkable events that allowed mankind to successfully transplant organs between two individuals who are not genetically identical occurred relatively recently…These accomplishments were achieved on the backs of a relatively small number of truly incredible people.”

Mezrich brilliantly captures the urgency of his work, which can find him travelling through a storm in a small plane to a remote hospital where someone is dying from a gruesome accident, consoling an organ donor’s survivors, and renewing the possibility of life in the intense environment of the operating room.

As he recounts his experiences with great sensitivity and compassion, he also engages in the fascinating ethical and philosophical debates that he and his colleagues face: How much risk should a healthy person be allowed to take to save someone she loves? Should a patient suffering from alcoholism receive a healthy liver? What defines death, and what role did organ transplantation play in that definition?

“The Art of the Missing Link” is the wonder that links the book and the film

There’s nothing a great book being the companion to a great flick. Witness Missing Link, a stunning, epic, raucous stop-motion comedy. Now, Insight Editions and LAIKA, the animation studio behind the film), have brought us The Art of Missing Link ($45.00), a must-have companion to the film featuring featuring concept art from the film’s creation—including sketches, storyboards, character designs, and much more.

Hugh Jackman is Sir Lionel Frost: a brave and dashing adventurer who considers himself to be the world’s foremost investigator of myths and monsters. The trouble is, no one else seems to agree.  He sees a chance to prove himself by traveling to America’s Pacific Northwest to discover the world’s most legendary creature. A living remnant of Man’s primitive ancestry . . . The Missing Link.

Zach Galifianakis is Mr. Link:  the slightly silly, surprisingly smart and soulful beast who Sir Lionel discovers. As species go, he’s as endangered as they get; he’s possibly the last of his kind, he’s lonely, and he believes that Sir Lionel is the one man alive who can help him.  Together they set out on a daring quest around the world to seek out Link’s distant relatives in the fabled valley of Shangri-La.

Along with the independent and resourceful Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), who possesses the only known map to the group’s secret destination, the unlikely trio embarks on a riotous roller-coaster ride of a journey.  Along the way, our fearless explorers encounter more than their fair share of peril, stalked at every turn by dastardly villains seeking to thwart their mission. Through it all, Mr. Link’s disarming charm and good-humored conviction provide the emotional and comedic foundation of this fun-filled family movie.

The Art of Missing Link is a lushly illustrated volume that goes behind the scenes of LAIKA’s new stop-motion adventure. LAIKA utilizes cutting-edge technology to advance stop-motion animation in a hybrid of old and new techniques. This book probes deep into the filmmakers’ meticulous process and showcases the one-of-a-kind artwork from the making of the film.

Thank God for Andrew McCabe: Another reason to hate the racist scumbag, Adolph Frump

Does anyone hate Adolph Frump more than I do?
Oh, yes! More than half the nation!
On March 16, 2018, just 26 hours before his scheduled retirement from the organization he had served with distinction for more than two decades, Andrew G. McCabe was fired from his position as deputy director of the FBI.
In The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99), Andrew G. McCabe offers a dramatic and candid account of his career, and an impassioned
defense of the FBI’s agents, and of the institution’s integrity and independence in protecting America and upholding our Constitution.

The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump

McCabe started as a street agent in the FBI’s New York field office, serving under director Louis Freeh. He became an expert in two kinds of investigations that are critical to American national security: Russian organized crime―which is inextricably linked to the Russian state―and terrorism. Under Director Robert Mueller, McCabe led the investigations of major attacks on American soil, including the Boston Marathon bombing, a plot to bomb the New York subways, and several narrowly averted bombings of aircraft. And under James Comey, McCabe was deeply involved in the controversial investigations of the Benghazi attack, the Clinton Foundation’s activities, and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.

The Threat recounts in compelling detail the time between Frump’s November 2016 election and McCabe’s firing, set against a page-turning narrative spanning two decades when the FBI’s mission shifted to a new goal: preventing terrorist attacks on Americans. But as McCabe shows, right now the greatest threat to the United States comes from within, as President Trump and his administration ignore the law, attack democratic institutions, degrade human rights, and undermine the U.S. Constitution that protects every citizen.
Important, revealing and powerfully argued, The Threat tells the true story of what the FBI is, how it works, and
why it will endure as an institution of integrity that protects America.

Da Vinci pops up in 3D in the stunning “Leonardo Pop-Ups”

Ask to name the greatest artist/architect/scientist/mathematician/astronomer/cartographer, and Leo’s name pop ups. He may be called Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci by his family, but most know Leo as Leonardo da Vinci.

He’s still popping up, and so wonderfully in Leonardo Pop-Ups (Thames & Hudson, $34.95), paper engineer Courtney Watson McCarthy’s nifty book offering a variety of dramatic 3-D pop-ups showcasing Leo’s many talents.

 “Today, da Vinci is among the few historical figures whose names are universally recognized,” writes Watson McCarthy in her introduction. “The Mona Lisa is undoubtedly the most famous painting in the world, with The Last Supper a close second. Neglected for centuries, the sketches, diagrams and prescient ideas in his notebooks provoke awe for the eyes that saw so deeply and in such detail; for his exhilarating mind that could leap from mystery to mystery and unravel every one using only the powers of observation and intellect. This book is intended as a fun and engaging tribute to that great mind.”


Featuring many of da Vinci’s most enduring artworks, both as illustrations and pop-ups, Leonardo Pop-Ups includes the Vitruvian ManThe Annunciation, the ornithopter, Da Vinci’s self-portrait, as well as an overview of his architectural designs. The book also features explanatory text and complementary quotes, culminating in a beautiful new way of looking into one of the greatest minds of all time.

A beautiful new way of looking into one of the greatest minds of all time, Leonardo Pop-Ups is fun for experienced art historians and budding artists alike.

David Hockney’s work shatters auction sale records. Too much $? Try Catherine Cusset’s “Life of David Hockney”

Once upon a time in 1998, I met David Hockney. We were at a party celebrating his just-released book David Hockney’s Dog Days, a wonderful and whimsical An engaging collection of paintings and drawings by Hockney of his canine companions, dachshunds Stanley and Boodgie.

I introduced myself, handed him my copy of the book an asked him to sign it to my dogs, Doris (a Harlequin Great Dane) and Alma (a beagle mix).  He smiled and penned away!

I cherish the book. I cherish the memory.

Daring, vibrant and always authentically himself, Hockney, who recently shattered records for the highest selling piece of art by a living artist at auction for his masterpiece “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)”, sold for $90.3 million, is captured in a compelling new hybrid of novel and biography, Catherine Cusset’s Life of David Hockney (Other Press, $15.99). The book releases May 14.

 LIFE OF DAVID HOCKNEY by Catherine Cusset

Through a host of sources, including her personal meeting with Hockney, autobiographies, biographies, interviews, essays, films and articles, Cusset vividly pieces together the puzzle of the revered artist’s life and the enthralling stories that drove the creation of legendary works like “Portrait of an Artist”, painted in a three-month frenzy following a brutal breakup, and “My Parents”.

The book sheds light on the unbreakable spirit at the core of this living legend, who as a homosexual artist in a world where long-standing barriers had yet to be broken down, famously upended the norms of the art world, all through heartbreak and personal tragedy suffered in the wake of the AIDS epidemic. Cusset offers a window into Hockney’s roller coaster love life as he shuttles between London, New York and California, carving out a home in all three locales, whose spirit penetrates and contours his art. 

Self-portrait, 2012. Photograph: David Hockney/National Gallery of Victoria.

Born in the small town of Bradford in the north of England in 1937, Hockney had to fight to become an artist. After leaving his home for the Royal College of Art in London, his career flourished, his work appearing in galleries and sold alongside his professor’s works while still a student, but he continued to struggle with a sense of not belonging because of his homosexuality, which had yet to be decriminalized, and his inclination for a figurative style of art not sufficiently “contemporary” to be valued.

Trips to New York and California—where he would live for many years and paint his iconic swimming pools—introduced him to new scenes and new loves, beginning a journey that would take him through the fraught years of the AIDS epidemic.

Cusset, author of 13 award-winning, best-selling literary novels translated into 18 languages, skillfully depicts a Hockey driven by impulse to always do and create what resonates most viscerally. In her intimate and lively portrait, Cusset submerges the reader in Hockney’s life with clear and bright prose, offering a lens into an artist of unlimited and unfiltered potential, reflected and represented through his dynamic oeuvre, but also as a human being with a tireless work ethic, caring deeply for his family and friends, stumbling and vulnerable at times and defined also by the turns of adversity and loss.

The book offers a fresh vision of a groundbreaking artist in form and style, a painter, draftsman and set designer whose art is as accessible as it is compelling, and whose passion to create is never deterred by heartbreak, illness or loss.

From the streets of Agrabah to “The Art and Making of Aladdin”. Insight Editions offers another gem.

Insight Editions promises that if you rub  a genie’s bottle . . .

And the wishes have come true.

The Art and Making of Aladdin (Insight Editions, $45) treats Aladdin fans to images that capture the visual majesty and behind-the-scenes accounts of the Disney film’s fascinating development and production.

In the book, fans will discover how the streets of Agrabah come to vibrant life in the thrilling live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1992 classic, Aladdin. Yep, this is the exciting tale of the charming street rat Aladdin, the courageous and self-determined Princess Jasmine and the Genie who may be the key to their future.

The Art and Making of Aladdin takes an in-depth look at gorgeous concept art and unit photography and delves into characters old and new, including Will Smith’s Genie and Nasim Pedrad’s new character, Dalia. Revealing interviews with filmmakers, cast, and crewmembers provide unique insight into the Aladdin filmmaking experience through a beautifully designed exploration of the film’s

The beautifully packaged book also features exclusive interviews with director Guy Ritchie,  Disney composer Alan Menken, lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and key cast and crew.

The Art and Making of Aladdin moves beyond a simple commemoration. It is the definitive chronicle of hundreds of people’s shared mission to reimagine a beloved film in a completely new format.

Isaac Mizrahi: His designs on being Jewish, gay, a designer and oh! So much more. “I.M.” is a great fun book!

You’ll need to flip the book back and forth to get the full impact of Isaac Mizrahi’s autobiography. Flip! Huge “I”. Flip! Huge “M”.

Isaac Mizrachi. Perhaps “I, Marvelous”? Or “Isaac, Minnelli”?

The diva designer/actor/QVC flak has unzipped all the details (good, bad, sexy and, yes, even phone sex!) of his life and career (starry-eyed man meets and works for stars . . . think Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Sarah Jessica Parker).

And what an absolute joy (do we dare add “and right on Target”?) I.M.: A Memoir (Flatiron Books, $28.99) is.

So, what was your first introduction to I.M.? Are you one of the people who was lucky enough to get your hands on the designer’s early line in the early ’90’s? Was it the first time you saw his behind-the-scenes documentary, Unzipped? Or when you stepped into a Target and saw that there was a new line by the designer being sold there? (My pooch still loves her official I.M. dog toy!)

Maybe you’ve seen Isaac during one of his cabaret shows in New York City or, flipping through the channels at home only to realize that the charming host you’ve been watching on QVC is none other than the designer himself?

In I.M., Mizrahi offers a poignant, candid, and touching look back on his life so far. And what a life it’s been. He tells the story of growing up gay in a sheltered Syrian Jewish Orthodox family, portraying a strained relationship with his father and a complicated one with his beloved mother. At the famed LaGuardia High School for Performing Arts, Isaac found his people (and appeared in his first movie, Fame). As a budding fashion designer, Isaac worked with luminaries such as Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein.

I.M. with QVC favorite saleslady Shawn Killinger

After branching out on his own, his label’s instant success anointed him the wunderkind of the international fashion world. Isaac’s unique talents drew him into fashion and celebrity circles that read like a who’s who of the 20th and 21st centuries: Richard Avedon, Audrey Hepburn, Anna Wintour, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Meryl Streep, Oprah Winfrey. He looks back on his groundbreaking documentary, Unzipped, and after his first fall from grace, his partnership with Target that brought his high-end collection to the masses and revolutionized fashion retail.

Isaac describes his numerous self-reinventions that landed him back to his first true calling of show business. He delves into his lifelong battles with his weight, insomnia, and depression. He tells what it was like to be an out gay man in a homophobic age and to witness the ravaging effects of the AIDS epidemic. In his elegant memoir, brimming with intimate details and inimitable wit, Isaac reveals not just the glamour of his years, but the grit beneath the glitz. Rich with memorable stories from in and out of the spotlight, I.M. illuminates deep emotional truths.