I can’t remember if this was a choice for the July book club, but I know I bought it at the same time. It was either an option that I wanted to read, or a “people who bought this book also liked…” option. Those things reel me in every time. It’s an interesting read, though I suspect people who know more about classic (1900-1950’s) Hollywood are going to find it a fairly dull re-tread. For the most part Petersen simply retells some of the scandals of Hollywood and she attempts to tie those scandals to the studio system: its development, heyday, and eventual downfall. Even more than that, she’s looking at the image of each individual and showing how that image could either bind them into rigidity, creating the scandals when they stepped too far out of the accepted allowance for that image, or allow them to survive a scandal because the incident was within allowable parameters for that iconic image.
Petersen takes two stars from each decade of movie making, starting in the 1900s and describes their lives and the press and image that shaped their fortune. She selected one star who survived their ‘scandal’ and one who was destroyed by it. While I was reading it I was very much aware of what the public expectations for a particular image were and how that contributed to their stardom and perhaps downfall. For example, Mae West completely revolutionized sexuality in the early 30s, and she played on that. However, she was also in her early 40s when her stardom was at its peak. The revelation of this, plus her wild (for the time) behavior, sunk her star and people stopped going to see her movies. In addition, Fatty Arbunkle, who played the genial, sexless fat man and when it was revealed he had sexual desire, it completely sunk him. This isn’t exactly the argument that Petersen is making in the book, but it’s what was constantly on my mind as I read the book.
I think if you’re relatively unfamiliar with any one of these periods in history of Hollywood, then this will be an interesting read.