9 Enthralling Hollywood Stories to Broaden Your Cinema Knowledge

March 3 2022
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Hollywood award season is the most wonderful time of the year for movie buffs, and there are more ways to celebrate than just binge-watching all the nominees. Check out the best and brightest of Hollywood with this illuminating and enthralling collection of cinematic true stories. No matter what your favorite genre is, you’ll find something fascinating to read with these nonfiction books that will quite literally take you behind the scenes.

Camera Man
by Dana Stevens

More than a biography, CAMERA MAN is a comprehensive exploration of the profound genius of Buster Keaton—an icon of the silent era, physical comedy, and stunt work—amid a century of profound change. Perfect for movie and history buffs, it charts the evolution of comedy from vaudeville to cinema to television, and Keaton’s astonishing work in all three mediums.

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Camera Man
Dana Stevens

In this genre-defying work of cultural history, the chief film critic of Slate places comedy legend and acclaimed filmmaker Buster Keaton’s unique creative genius in the context of his time.

Born the same year as the film industry in 1895, Buster Keaton began his career as the child star of a family slapstick act reputed to be the most violent in vaudeville. Beginning in his early twenties, he enjoyed a decade-long stretch as the director, star, stuntman, editor, and all-around mastermind of some of the greatest silent comedies ever made, including Sherlock Jr., The General, and The Cameraman.

Even through his dark middle years as a severely depressed alcoholic finding work on the margins of show business, Keaton’s life had a way of reflecting the changes going on in the world around him. He found success in three different mediums at their creative peak: first vaudeville, then silent film, and finally the experimental early years of television. Over the course of his action-packed seventy years on earth, his life trajectory intersected with those of such influential figures as the escape artist Harry Houdini, the pioneering Black stage comedian Bert Williams, the television legend Lucille Ball, and literary innovators like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Samuel Beckett.

In Camera Man, film critic Dana Stevens pulls the lens out from Keaton’s life and work to look at concurrent developments in entertainment, journalism, law, technology, the political and social status of women, and the popular understanding of addiction. With erudition and sparkling humor, Stevens hopscotches among disciplines to bring us up to the present day, when Keaton’s breathtaking (and sometimes life-threatening) stunts remain more popular than ever as they circulate on the internet in the form of viral gifs. Far more than a biography or a work of film history, Camera Man is a wide-ranging meditation on modernity that paints a complex portrait of a one-of-a-kind artist.

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Cary Grant
by Scott Eyman

The definitive biography about the definitive Hollywood leading man, CARY GRANT is an in-depth and engaging work based on extensive interviews, comprehensive research, and Grant’s personal writings. From his humble beginnings to his difficult relationships with women (including his own mother and five wives) and his cemented status as a film legend, no stone is left unturned.

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Cary Grant
Scott Eyman

Film historian and acclaimed New York Times bestselling biographer Scott Eyman has written the definitive, “captivating” (Associated Press) biography of Hollywood legend Cary Grant, one of the most accomplished—and beloved—actors of his generation, who remains as popular as ever today.

Born Archibald Leach in 1904, he came to America as a teenaged acrobat to find fame and fortune, but he was always haunted by his past. His father was a feckless alcoholic, and his mother was committed to an asylum when Archie was eleven years old. He believed her to be dead until he was informed she was alive when he was thirty-one years old. Because of this experience, Grant would have difficulty forming close attachments throughout his life. He married five times and had numerous affairs.

Despite a remarkable degree of success, Grant remained deeply conflicted about his past, his present, his basic identity, and even the public that worshipped him in movies such as Gunga Din, Notorious, and North by Northwest.

This “estimable and empathetic biography” (The Washington Post) draws on Grant’s own papers, extensive archival research, and interviews with family and friends making it a definitive and “complex portrait of Hollywood’s original leading man” (Entertainment Weekly).

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Life Moves Pretty Fast
by Hadley Freeman

A fun, witty, and nostalgic celebration of 1980s cinema, LIFE MOVES PRETTY FAST features captivating behind-the-scenes secrets and thought-provoking cultural criticism. From how Eddie Murphy’s comedies changed the way we think about race to how John Hughes affected the way girls view themselves, this is a must-read whether or not you were a child of the ’80s.

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Life Moves Pretty Fast
Hadley Freeman

From Vogue contributor and Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, a personalized guide to eighties movies that describes why they changed movie-making forever—featuring exclusive interviews with the producers, directors, writers and stars of the best cult classics.

For Hadley Freeman, movies of the 1980s have simply got it all. Comedy in Three Men and a Baby, Hannah and Her Sisters, Ghostbusters, and Back to the Future; all a teenager needs to know in Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, and Mystic Pizza; the ultimate in action from Top Gun, Die Hard, Beverly Hills Cop, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; love and sex in 9 1/2 Weeks, Splash, About Last Night, The Big Chill, and Bull Durham; and family fun in The Little Mermaid, ET, Big, Parenthood, and Lean On Me.

In Life Moves Pretty Fast, Hadley puts her obsessive movie geekery to good use, detailing the decade’s key players, genres, and tropes. She looks back on a cinematic world in which bankers are invariably evil, where children are always wiser than adults, where science is embraced with an intense enthusiasm, and the future viewed with giddy excitement. And, she considers how the changes between movies then and movies today say so much about society’s changing expectations of women, young people, and art—and explains why Pretty in Pink should be put on school syllabuses immediately.

From how John Hughes discovered Molly Ringwald, to how the friendship between Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi influenced the evolution of comedy, and how Eddie Murphy made America believe that race can be transcended, this is a “highly personal, witty love letter to eighties movies, but also an intellectually vigorous, well-researched take on the changing times of the film industry” (The Guardian).

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More Than Love
by Natasha Gregson Wagner

Natalie Wood was a glamorous movie star and one-half of a Hollywood It Couple. But to Natasha Gregson Wagner, she was simply a loving mom. In this book, Wagner explores the legacy left behind by her mother’s tragic death and how she and the rest of her family continue to deal with their grief. A poetic and raw memoir that will stay with you long after you finish it.

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More Than Love
Natasha Gregson Wagner

The “graceful, loving,” (The New York Times Book Review), never-before-told story of Hollywood icon Natalie Wood’s glamorous life, sudden death, and lasting legacy, written by her daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner.

Natasha Gregson Wagner’s mother, Natalie Wood, was a child actress who became a legendary movie star, the dark-haired beauty of Splendor in the Grass and West Side Story. She and Natasha’s stepfather, the actor Robert Wagner, were a Hollywood it-couple twice over, first in the 1950s, and then again when they remarried in the 70s. To Natasha, she was, above all, a doting, loving mom.

But Natalie’s sudden death by drowning off Catalina Island at the age of forty-three devastated her family, turned Robert Wagner into a person of interest, and transformed a vibrant wife, mother, and actress into a figure of tragedy. The weekend has long been shrouded in rumors and scandalous tabloid speculation, but until now there has never been an account of how the events and their aftermath were experienced by Natalie’s beloved eldest daughter. Here, for the first time, is a“deeply intimate chronicle of life with her famous mother and how Wood’s death devastated the family” (Los Angeles Times).

Cutting through the shadow hanging over her mother’s legacy, More Than Love is a “poignant” (The Washington Post) tale of a daughter coming to terms with her grief, as well as a “revealing new look at Natalie Wood” (Good Morning America).

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The Star Machine
by Jeanine Basinger

This compelling and revealing chronicle of the Hollywood studio system brings the long-lost world of the golden age of classic cinema to vivid life by exploring how the studios crafted and molded their actors into money-making stars, often to tragic results, and the beginnings of our love affair with celebrity.

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The Star Machine
Jeanine Basinger

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Trejo
by Danny Trejo & Donal Logue

There are few bad guys as beloved as Danny Trejo. On screen, he’s been a machete-wielding secret agent, a vampire bartender, and much more, but his true story is more fascinating than any movie. In his memoir, Danny reveals the ups and downs of his remarkable and redemptive journey from addiction and prison to Hollywood in this unflinching and poignant book.

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Trejo
Danny Trejo & Donal Logue

For the first time, the full, fascinating, and inspirational true story of Danny Trejo’s journey from crime, prison, addiction, and loss to unexpected fame as Hollywood’s favorite bad guy with a heart of gold.

On screen, Danny Trejo the actor is a baddie who has been killed at least a hundred times. He’s been shot, stabbed, hanged, chopped up, squished by an elevator, and once, was even melted into a bloody goo. Off screen, he’s a hero beloved by recovery communities and obsessed fans alike. But the real Danny Trejo is much more complicated than the legend.

Raised in an abusive home, Danny struggled with heroin addiction and stints in some of the country’s most notorious state prisons, including San Quentin and Folsom, from an early age, before starring in such modern classics as Heat, From Dusk till Dawn, and Machete. Now, in this funny, painful, and suspenseful memoir, Danny takes us through the incredible ups and downs of his life, including meeting one of the world’s most notorious serial killers in prison and working with legends like Charles Bronson and Robert De Niro.

In honest, unflinching detail, Danny recounts how he managed the horrors of prison, rebuilt himself after finding sobriety and spirituality in solitary confinement, and draws inspiration from the adrenaline-fueled robbing heists of his past for the film roles that made him a household name. He also shares the painful contradictions in his personal life. Although he speaks everywhere from prison yards to NPR about his past to inspire countless others on their own road to recovery and redemption, he struggles to help his children with their personal battles with addiction, and to build relationships that last.

Redemptive and painful, poignant and real, Trejo is a portrait of a magnificent life and an unforgettable and exceptional journey through tragedy, pain, and, finally, success that will transfix and inspire.

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Five Came Back
by Mark Harris

The inspiration behind the Netflix documentary series of the same name, FIVE CAME BACK is the astonishing true story of the five popular film directors who were sent to the battlefields during WWII to help promote the war effort at home. This is a fascinating and expansive look at how Hollywood propaganda changed the way Americans viewed the war abroad and still affects our cultural understanding of it.

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Five Came Back
Mark Harris

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Rin Tin Tin
by Susan Orlean

Since the beginning of cinema, dogs have been treasured costars and icons in their own right. One of the earliest and most famous canine movie stars was Rin Tin Tin. In Susan Orlean’s moving book, she reveals the German Shepherd’s miraculous rescue from a WWI battlefield and his worldwide fame as a silent film star, along with also exploring what it is about our canine companions—even those on the screen—that call out to our hearts.

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Rin Tin Tin
Susan Orlean

Spanning from a dog’s improbable discovery on a battlefield in 1918 to his tumultuous rise through Hollywood and beyond, this is a quintessentially American story of reinvention.

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The Big Picture
by Ben Fritz

The last twenty years have seen profound change in the movie industry, resulting in executives scrambling for answers. Ben Fritz chronicles how the business of Hollywood has evolved with the advent of streaming and what the studios’ major players are doing to bring you into the theaters. Eye-opening and a little nerve-racking, THE BIG PICTURE is the perfect read for anyone who feels that movies just aren’t the same anymore.

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The Big Picture
Ben Fritz

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MENTIONED IN:

9 Enthralling Hollywood Stories to Broaden Your Cinema Knowledge

By Kerry Fiallo | March 3, 2022

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Photo credit: iStock / tataks

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