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Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’

Nancy Drew in Starlight

October 14, 2015 | by

Who is Nancy Drew, really? The instability of the girl detective.


An illustration from The Mystery at Lilac Inn.

The writer Bobbie Ann Mason once described the Nancy Drew novels as sonnets, or “endless variations on an inflexible form.” The same could be said of Nancy herself: though outfitted with a few baseline characteristics—her freedom, her wile, her supreme politesse—she’s perpetually shape-shifting throughout the series. Alternately sixteen and eighteen, Nancy Drew is a scholar of ancient languages and an amateur archaeologist; a flawless cook, an expressive painter, and a dynamite prom date. She can dance in a corps de ballet and scuba dive fathomless depths. On separate occasions, her friends have walked in on her tap dancing, learning Morse code, and tap dancing in Morse code. Even her hair color is famously inconstant—from book to book, it flickers from blonde to strawberry blonde to her most distinctive shade, Titian, so named for the rosy apricot color used in many of the sixteenth-century Italian’s paintings.

And yet, there are some things Nancy Drew simply does not do. In her decades-long original run of more than fifty books, she never once goes to the movies or mentions an actor by name. Her only brush with Hollywood comes in 1931’s The Mystery at Lilac Inn, where she meets the diabolical Gay Moreau, a washed-up actress who’s also a Nancy Drew impersonator, committing petty crimes to defame the detective. Nancy approaches the case with some amusement at her resemblance to a “blonde actress,” but things take a turn for the weird when the starlet kidnaps Nancy, binds and gags her, and, to Nancy’s horror, begins to actRead More »

Bordellos of the Southland: An Interview with Liz Goldwyn

October 7, 2015 | by

In the foreword to Liz Goldwyn’s Sporting Guide, Los Angeles, 1897, the author waxes poetic on her discursive trawl through illicit Victoriana: “There are moments when the boundaries between dimensions blur. Time is elastic, and you can slip right through, finding the ground you stand upon dissolving, coming back into focus centuries ago … These are the stories of my hometown and the inhabitants I came to know through dusty archives, in hallucinations and dreams.” It seems appropriate that Goldwyn, a vintage collector and designer, editor for French Vogue, and the author and director of Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens, would emulate the profligate, fin de siècle style of Baudelaire, Huysmans, and Proust in a portrait of the late-nineteenth-century demimonde. But her selection of setting may come as a bit of a shock: after all, in the popular imagination, the city of Los Angeles was little more than a sleepy, frontier town before a ragtag group of East Coast filmmakers—including Goldwyn’s own grandfather, Polish businessman and movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn—arrived to establish the movie industry.

Goldwyn’s profile of Southland cribs, bordellos, and opium dens explodes that myth with a heady combination of picaresque fiction and Benjaminian psychogeography. Deploying the lost genre of the sporting guide—a then-popular directory of bordellos and cathouses published in most major cities and traded privately among the upper and haute bourgeois classes—Goldwyn assembles a cast of madams, prostitutes, orphans, and drug-dealers reminiscent of those in Zola’sLes Rougon-Macquartseries. Her Sporting Guide reveals a pre-Hollywood Los Angeles dreamscape, in which streetwalkers, politicians, and industrialists rubbed shoulders (among other things) with the uninhibited libidos of the Gilded Age.

On the eve of her trip to the East Coast for a series of readings, Goldwyn spoke to me about her fascination with Los Angeles, the marginal histories of courtesans and prostitutes, and the emotional pleasures of the archive. Read More »

Everybody Knows Me: An Interview with Walter Matthau

October 1, 2014 | by

Matthau would be ninety-four today. The poet Aram Saroyan, his stepson, spoke to him in 1974 about the vagaries of fame.


Matthau, left, with Maureen Stapleton and Jack Lemmon in a 1974 production of Juno and the Paycock at Los Angeles’s Mark Taper Forum. Photo courtesy of the author

This interview took place at the kitchen table in the Matthau household in Pacific Palisades between two and three thirty in the morning on Monday, December 17, 1974. I was staying overnight in the guesthouse and had returned a short time earlier from a concert in Century City when I happened to catch Walter up and in a talking mood.

I’d known him since I was fourteen and he was thirty-seven, a well-established Broadway actor with a string of rave reviews in a succession of commercial flops. After his marriage to my mother, Carol, in 1959, I knew that he made occasional trips to Hollywood for movie or TV work, but understood that he was a “New York actor” and made the trips for money. After the Broadway smash he had in The Odd Couple in 1965, he began the move West and the transition from stage to screen, which, culminating in the screen version of The Odd Couple, established him as a movie star. During the transition, he had very nearly died of a coronary, an experience he was never noticeably reticent about.

Older than most stars—in his fifties by the time the dust settled again—Walter seemed to take fame in stride. But seeing him for the first time ensconced in his Pacific Palisades home with the high-powered trappings of Hollywood success, after having known him in what was by comparison a New York artistic bohemia, I couldn’t help being struck by the magnitude of the change. One felt that he relished being a movie star and at the same time regarded it with a certain skepticism, which extended to the business and his colleagues in it at large. When a movie he’d starred in received bad reviews, he sighed and said to Carol, We’re going have to start being nice to people again.

You’re back on the stage again in Juno and the Paycock. What’s that like, after ten years in the movies?

It’s very satisfying. Doing a good play on the stage is like eating a good meal at home—assuming your wife is a great cook, or that she’s hired a great cook. Doing a movie is like eating five hundred canapés at a cocktail party—you’re never really full. You don’t feel as though you’ve eaten a meal, and yet you can’t eat anymore. You’ve had a little hot dog here, and you’ve had a little caviar there, and a fish here, and a sardine. The feeling is just marvelous, especially if you’re good at what you’re doing, and I think I work much better on the stage because I have things to offer a stage that don’t show up in movies. Read More »


More Than Mere Brotherly Love, and Other News

September 9, 2014 | by


Nicolaus Knüpfer, Bordeelscène, ca. 1650.

  • If you were a rake headed to Philly in the 1840s, you wanted to have this pocket guide with you—it lists all the brothels in town, with some helpful editorializing about each. “None but gentlemen visit this Paradise of Love,” one description says. Another: “Beware of this house, stranger, as you would the sting of a viper.”
  • A list of the one hundred most popular books on Facebook contains exactly zero surprises.
  • From a new documentary on Susan Sontag: “She sat me down on her bed … and ran through the argument of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. She must have been fifteen.”
  • “We all have bodies; we all wear clothes; we all have reflections that vex us; we all exist in dynamic relationship to our communities, and fashion is a medium for testing or strengthening those bonds … anyone who diminishes the significance of that is carrying water for the patriarchy, deferring reflexively to those thousands of years of human history when men got to decide what was frivolous or not. You know what's frivolous? Fantasy football.”
  • In 1932, Einstein endorsed a psychic. And she endorsed him: “Dr. Einstein is indeed the most remarkable personality I have ever contacted [sic]. And his aura is just sublime—pure blue electric sparks, instead of color. It was just like talking to God.” And so Einstein’s credibility as a scientist came under fire: “Now he is the tamest lion in the intellectual zoo. He goes everywhere. He attends picture openings with the regularity and aplomb of Clark Gable. He is at all the public dinners.”



August 13, 2014 | by

Bacall&Hawks copy

Lauren Bacall and Howard Hawks, ca. 1943

When I heard the news that Lauren Bacall had died, at first I felt the melancholy we all feel when another legend of a fading age goes. And then I thought: Is she in the Scotty Bowers book?

Since Valentine’s Day, 2012, the world has been divided unevenly between those who still live in a state of blissful innocence, and those who have read Scotty Bowers’s memoir, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. If you enjoy old movies, mourn the passing of the Golden Age of Hollywood, want to be able to watch Mutiny on the Bounty, or have a soul, I beg you not to open this book, for once you do, you’ll feel compelled to devour every page in fascinated horror. Everyone else: read it immediately.

My mom was the first one I knew to read the book. She spoke so darkly and incessantly about it that I felt compelled to buy it. (This was one of the few cases in which I felt an e-book was the appropriate medium.) After reading it, obsessively, I started evangelizing myself, much as my mom had, in the vaguest and most menacing terms. I wanted people to know—and yet, I didn’t. I felt like a sort of Ancient Mariner, wandering the world and sharing the darkness I had seen.

Not that the book is especially dark, mind you. Scotty Bowers is possibly the happiest man to have ever walked the earth. Here is the rather sanitized Wikipedia description: Read More »

Throw the Book at Him, Ernie, and Other News

August 12, 2014 | by


Manhood not pictured.

  • Hemingway once slapped a critic in the face with a book. Here’s what that critic wrote: “Hemingway lacks the serene confidence that he is a full-sized man … ”
  • One of many bizarre real Victorian novel titles: The Egg, Or The Memoirs Of Gregory Giddy, Esq: With The Lucubrations Of Messrs. Francis Flimsy, Frederick Florid, And Ben Bombast. To Which Are Added, The Private Opinions Of Patty Pout, Lucy Luscious, And Priscilla Positive. Also The Memoirs Of A Right Honourable Puppy. Conceived By A Celebrated Hen, And Laid Before The Public By A Famous Cock-Feeder.
  • “What no one wants to accept—and no doubt there is an element of class prejudice at work here, too—is that there are many ways to live a full, responsible, and even wise life that do not pass through reading literary fiction. And that consequently those of us who do pursue this habit, who feel that it enriches and illuminates us, are not in possession of an essential tool for self-realization or the key to protecting civilization from decadence and collapse. We are just a bunch of folks who for reasons of history and social conditioning have been blessed with a wonderful pursuit.”
  • As Hollywood continues to reboot every franchise in sight instead of developing new concepts, one cultural critic has some strong advice: Keep up the good work! “Our cultural mythologies exist not to be venerated and preserved in amber, but to be played with, reconstituted, reconsidered, dismantled, dissected, and stripped for parts.”
  • Remembering Idris Muhammad, one of the greatest drummers in jazz, who died last week.