Even in 2019, there is something very seductive and appealing about classic Hollywood, and the people who established it. Maybe it is the glitz and the glamour. Maybe it is the fact that the Hollywood film industry has arguably lost its way recently with so many reboots and remakes (we’ve had three Spider-Men in less than twenty years), and looking back to the way things were might in this case actually be helpful rather than a hindrance.
Letters from Hollywood is a hefty volume of 137 letters, notes and telegrams. Spanning from 1921 to 1976, from Cecil B DeMille to Tom Hanks and Jack Nicholson, Lang and Hall have painstakingly gathered a very interesting collection of historical snippets which any serious film fan will love.
Visually, Letters from Hollywood is a very good looking book. The letters and telegrams are reproduced in their original state, which is fascinating in itself; a letter from a publicist working on Ben Hur is written on Ben Hur headed notepaper, notepaper that is a work of art in itself. How great would it be if movies still had that? The world has missed out on Lord of the Rings official stationary. Thankfully, the book also transcribes every letter too, which is a necessity for the handwritten ones – who knew Marlon Brando had such terrible handwriting?
There are some real highlights here for film buffs. My personal favourite is a very blunt and unforgiving two line note from Albert Broccoli (original James Bond producer) in which he says that they can probably do better than Sean Connery in casting the first Bond. The little potted piece of historical context tells us that at the stage in the process the note was written, Cary Grant was apparently a very serious contender for the role. There’s some parallel world out there where the Bond series went in a completely different direction, and this note is proof. I also like the little personal letters, such as where Fred Astaire wrote what is basically a fan letter to legendary producer David O. Selznick, waxing lyrical about the movie Rebecca for no reason other than he happened to really like it. The flashes of humanity are what makes this book compelling.
The issue with it is that I’m not sure the book really knows who it is here for. The little potted histories are interesting, but if you are a big golden age of Hollywood aficionado, there probably isn’t very much here that you don’t already know. But if you’re an amateur, there also aren’t a lot of names in the contents list that you are going to immediately recognise and be interested in reading about. You have to put a lot of trust in the authors that these are letters which will be worth the time it takes to read them, and although that isn’t a bad thing as such, I wonder exactly who it is that will be picking this book up and really enjoying it. I don’t know if it would have the draw that people unfamiliar with the topic would really need to get into it.
That being said, Letters from Hollywood is an enjoyable read if you do have some interest in the subject already, and it is a worthy addition to any collector’s shelf.
Review copy provided
Serious fans will love it but new ones might struggle to see the appeal of this informative but niche film history.