I’m a big fan of Old Hollywood, due in large part to my father, and have read several books about the time period. Robert Wagner uses his decades long experience as an actor to tell brief anecdotes about the leading ladies of the silver screen. My biggest issue is the brevity of his anecdotes; most of the actresses get only a few paragraphs to have their story told.
He starts in the 30s and makes his way to the 80s; his most detailed sections are in the 40s and 50s. He touches on a few actresses I’m familiar with like Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch as well as lesser known actresses in the modern age like Gloria Swanson, Norma Shearer, Loretta Young, Joan Blondell, Irene Dunne, Rosalind Russell, Dorothy Lamour, Debra Paget, Jean Peters, Linda Darnell and Betty Hutton. He also includes a lot of photographs.
One of the most interesting sections was the history of the Studio Club, a low rent clubhouse run in part by the YWCA for struggling women in the arts. Ayn Rand was a member! Along with Marilyn Monroe, Donna Reed and Barbara Eden among other well knowns.
In the early 1920s, many of the studios and a lot of businessmen donated money for the construction of a permanent building specifically to house the Studio Club. Their generosity was stimulated partly by altruism, but also by alarm. The three huge scandals of the early 1920s- Fatty Arbuckle’s manslaughter trial, the William Desmond Taylor muder, and Wallace Reid’s death from the effects of drug addiction- scared the entire industry.
While he has interesting historical information about some of the lesser known actresses, as well as women he didn’t know personally, I felt like he could have cut out some women’s brief stories to make room for more depth in others. Mostly, I wish he had focused his attention to women who were his leading ladies in film & television as well as his romantic involvements with Natalie Wood (who is barely mentioned), Marion Marshall and Jill St. John. I think it would have been a lot more focused and there could have been a lot more elaboration.