Thursday, July 16, 2015

My First Time in Hollywood by Cari Beauchamp


I've finally taken the plunge into NetGalley. One of the first books made available to me was an electronic version of My First Time in Hollywood by Cari Beauchamp (2015). 

The book is a compilation of stories from more than forty actors, directors, writers, and crew about their experiences in early Hollywood, taken from speeches, letters, biographies, and autobiographies. The book covers the period in Hollywood from the 1900s through the late 1920s.

Here is part of Mary Pickford's 1910 account of working with D.W. Griffith: 

"Our film caravan arrived like a band of hardy pioneers in the thinly populated village of Los Angeles with its eucalyptus palms and heady orange blossoms.

Our studio consisted of an acre of ground, fenced in, and a large wooden platform, hung with cotton shades that were pulled on wires overhead. On a windy day, our clothes and curtains on the set would flap loudly in the breeze. Studios were all on open lots--roofless and without walls, which explains the origin of the term 'on the lot.' Dressing rooms being a nonexistent luxury, we donned our costumes every morning at the hotel. Our rehearsal room was improvised from a loft which Mr. Griffith rented in a decrepit old building on Main Street. A kitchen table and three chairs were all there was of furniture. Mr. Griffith occupied one of the chairs, the others being reserved for the elderly members of the cast. The rest of us sat on the floor. Surveying his squatters one day, Mr. Griffith announced he needed a split or half reel.

'Anybody got a story in mind?' he asked."

Mary Pickford, 1916
from Wikimedia Commons

In My First Time in Hollywood, there's a good representation of famous Hollywood folk such as Lionel Barrymore, Myrna Loy (with stories about her early days as a dancer), Mary Astor (whose early days in Hollywood included an affair with John Barrymore), Cecil B. DeMille, Anita Loos, Frances Marion, Hedda Hopper (talking about her acting days), King Vidor and others. 

I also enjoyed various accounts from people who worked on the early films who aren't so well known. Robert Parrish, a child actor in the mid 1920s who went on to become a film editor as an adult, tells a delightful story about his experience of working as a ten year old with Charlie Chaplin in the film City Lights. I also enjoyed Winifrid Kay Thackrey's account of her start as a set decorator and the challenges of discovering what kinds of fabrics and furniture look best in a black and white silent film. There are others whose work in films puts them in the background, but their stories are no less compelling. Another plus of this book is that Beauchamp adds a section at the end of all the accounts to tell what each person went on to do in his or her career and in retirement. 

The only drawback to My First Time in Hollywood is that for the electronic version of the book, the pictures are very small. There are lots of great photos, but I would've liked to have gotten a better look at them.

I recommend this book for people like me who enjoy reading about the history of Hollywood. While not the glamorous place we think of today, early Hollywood was a time of great innovation and a place where women thrived not only as actresses but also as directors and writers. There's so much interesting information that I couldn't stop reading My First Time in Hollywood

Hollywood, 1923
from Wikimedia Commons

4 comments:

  1. This sounds like heaps of fun! In fact, I wish I'd seen it a week ago for a birthday present... maybe for Christmas! But in the paper, I think. Those photos look too good to pass up!

    Thanks for stopping by Marmelade Gypsy today. Must check out your PIJ post! I'm behind...

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  2. That does look like a fascinating book, but I agree-- I don't request Netgalley books or any e-books for that matter, that have photos due to the lack of photograph quality. However it seems the stories themselves made up for that. I hope you enjoy Netgalley; I enjoy it a little too much and have taken a step back for a couple of months.

    Ironically I live within a reasonable distance from the Hollywood sign (well, not as the crow flies is longer, over the mountains, so about 2 hours) and never made the attempt to see it or any of the places I've heard about over the years. There is now so much traffic and frankly so much crime on the local news from there...it's a shame how it turned out since those days...

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  3. This sounds very different and one I might enjoy. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Love the description of L.A. as thinly populated...my how times change!

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