An unabashed admirer of Robert Frank, Jack Kerouac once told the great Swiss photographer, "You got eyes. "
This new batch of film books show off the Hollywood photographers' eye. Largely photo essays, they are celebrity chronicles, told through the camera. While none have the remarkable intimacy of "Jean Howard's Hollywood," they do offer absorbing images of artists, actors and craftsmen--at work and at play.
Perhaps the best collection is Hollywood At Home: A Family Album 1950-1965 (Crown Publishers: $30; 144 pp.). Before the arrival of People magazine, which snuck us into celebrities' homes (the kitchen and the bathtub being particular areas of interest), there was Sid Avery, an award-winning photographer whose work appeared in such family magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, Look and Colliers.
Marlon Brando with his bongos. Audrey Hepburn astride her bike, cycling on the Paramount lot. Kirk Douglas with his kids, all wearing fake mustaches. These are playful, authorized portraits from an age when the protective studio machinery was still in high gear. As Richard Schickel's elegant introductory essay acknowledges, there's nothing especially garish or probing about these shots. Yet the passage of time gives the pictures more than just a nostalgic tug.
Thanks to Avery's watchful eye and good humor, they often have a giddily campy appeal, whether it's a photo of Ernest Borgnine reading the comics with his kids, or Lawrence Welk posing with his band, showing off a fleet of new Chryslers donated by his TV sponsor.
Who's that chewing the fat over their Beverly Hills back fence? Why, it's friendly neighbors Rossano Brazzi and Jimmy Durante! Who's sunning herself on the set of "Giant"? Why, it's Elizabeth Taylor, looking impossibly young and erotic.
This is a Hollywood book, so the pose is the thing, especially when you see Rock Hudson barbecuing in his back yard wearing a "Wolf in Chef's Clothing" apron. But sometimes the pose has an odd poignancy. To see a frail Humphrey Bogart reading to his child under Lauren Bacall's watchful eye, while a trio of massive boxers doze nearby, is to see an image of Hollywood at the end of an era.
It seems appropriate that Avery later became a successful TV commercial director. His images are fresh and candid, without ever casting a harsh glare. It's sometimes hard to tell, however, whether Avery has captured an intimate moment--or simply a moment of studied informality.
The images are far less striking in a pair of new James Dean collections, James Dean: Behind the Scene by Leith Adams and Keith Burns (Birch Lane Press: $29.95; 223 pp.) and James Dean: Shooting Star by Barney Hoskyns (Doubleday: $40; 191 pp.). The former is an awe-struck compilation of still photos, letters, studio memos--even cast and crew lists, complete with vintage addresses and phone numbers. (Fanatics take note: When Dean made "Rebel Without a Cause," he lived at 1541 Sunset Plaza Drive.)
Neither book has much new to say. Buttressed with a rambling introduction by Dennis Hopper (who did "Giant" with Dean), "Behind the Scene" is largely devoted to shots of Dean on the set of his three Hollywood films. The memos offer the tastiest tidbits. One highlight is a letter to Jack Warner from Hays Office czar Joseph Breen, ordering trims in the "Giant" script, including three "damns," one "Good Lord" and an offending "Madre de Dios."
Both books view Dean as an icon of devotion. "Shooting Star" offers photos as Dean as a toddler, as a high-school basketball star and as Malcolm in a 1951 UCLA production of "Macbeth." (We also see him clowning around with Milton Berle--Dean armed with a cigarette, Uncle Miltie with his cigar.)
The segment of the book which surely will attract the most notice is its account of Dean's brief live-in relationship with a homosexual TV director, who took him to gay bars and helped get him bit parts.
Dean got even more career assistance from the press. Author Hoskyns mentions Dean's shrewd media courtship only in passing, but it's an apt footnote to his emergence as a mythic youth-culture idol. According to Hoskyns, "Giant" director George Stevens put it this way: "Dean was the only person he knew who could walk into a crowded room and instinctively pick out the four journalists in it."
At 81, Katharine Hepburn can ignore the media--and everyone else. At the beginning of John Bryson's The Private World of Katharine Hepburn (Little, Brown: $39.95; 175 pp.), the feisty actress is pictured at her front gate, which has a sign reading: "Please Go Away." An old friend, Bryson somehow passed muster and has photographed Hepburn for more than 15 years. Unfortunately, it's the least interesting 15 years of her life--and it shows in this forgettable photo book, which is crammed with the kind of fluffy snapshots that should've remained buried in Bryson's closet.
We see Kate's shoe collection, her old golf clubs and, of course, a photo of her Oscar statuettes (which is pompously captioned: "The first photograph of the four Hepburn Oscars together"). Even the insider shots, of Hepburn at work with George Cukor, Henry Fonda and John Wayne, are mostly forgettable movie-location fare.
Hepburn's assessment of Wayne has all the sass and poetry that these photos lack. "He had tiny Irish feet," she says. "Enormous man. Tiny feet. Big hands. You leaned against him and it was exactly like leaning against an oak tree."
Hepburn is only pictured once in Fashion in Film (Prestel/te Neues Publishing: $49.95; 244 pp.). But this history of Hollywood costume design, edited by Regine and Peter W. Engelmeier, is a luscious treat. Even if you couldn't give a hoot about Christian Dior (who did Marlene Dietrich's sleek outfits in Hitchcock's "Stage Fright") or Hubert de Givenchy (who provided Audrey Hepburn with a series of stunning outfits), you can't help but be enchanted by this collection.
Full of alluring photos of Hollywood's most glamorous women (and debonair gents), it offers an absorbing portrait of shifting fashion trends, from Pola Negri's Caligari cloaks with batwing sleeves to Madonna's Hell's Angels leather and lace bustiers.
Not all the fashions look so chic today, especially the pop-art outfits of the late '60's. Don't miss Britt Ekland (from "The Bobo") who looks as though she's wearing a shrimper's net, or Raquel Welch, who displays a hairdo in "Roustabout" that appears to have been a prototype design for a new football helmet.
Hedy Lamarr once said she felt naked without something on her head. But Hollywood's hat fashions have usually been more ridiculous than sublime. In "The Merry Widow," Mae Murray has a headdress with more feathers than anything Sitting Bull ever owned, while Mitzi Gaynor gamely wears a hat in "Anything Goes" that appears to have been patterned after a Tiny Naylor's drive-in.
"Fashion in Film" pictures John Wayne in a natty sports jacket, but let's face it--the Duke looked more at home in dusty cavalry britches and a battered cowboy hat. That's the way we see him throughout Ted Sennett's Great Hollywood Westerns (Abrams: $49.50: 272 pp.), a massive volume which chronicles seven decades of our most fabled film genre.
The great Western directors, from John Ford to Budd Boetticher and Sam Peckinpah, were just as taken by the vast landscape as by its swaggering heroes. And the epic sweep of the West is pictured here in all its majesty, from the forbidding buttes of Monument Valley to the flat prairie, its arid stretches dotted with ragged lines of covered wagons.
Wayne is the genre's most affecting hero whether he's on horseback with Henry Fonda, in a rare color still from "Fort Apache," or slouched wearily against a huge rock during his painful quest in "The Searchers." Despite his dry prose, Sennett is a thoughtful writer, especially when critiquing the Western's shoddy treatment of the Indians (who couldn't even play themselves, as noted in a photo spread picturing Victor Mature, Robert Taylor and Charleton Heston as fierce Indian braves).
Unless you count the brat-pack cowpokes of "Young Guns II," the Western is largely dead and buried today. But Sennett's book does an admirable job of illustrating its gospel of rugged individualism. As Paul Newman says in "Hud": "If you don't look out for yourself, the only hand you'll ever get is when they lower the box."