Two books devoted to that volatile and endlessly fascinating era…
Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells
Edited by Graydon Carter
Drawing from the best of the Vanity Fair archive, this selection of essays, poems, stories and columns from the early days are a looking glass into the era. Beginning with the days of WWI and into the 1920s, the reader can see the evolution in thinking from some of the most influential writers and thinkers of the flapper generation.
As any book should, it kicks of with an hysterical piece by P. G. Wodehouse. A serious column from a fighter pilot is sandwiched between acidic poems by Dorothy Parker. Syyen Shaykh Achmed Abdullah contributed a personal essay called “An Afghan in America” in 1916 and one sees many things that haven’t changed. Robert E Sherwood spits darts at the American movie culture (back in 1920!) and Bertrand Russell explores sociology and “behaviorism.” Robert Benchley’s “The Art of Being a Bohemian” could easily stand in for Brooklynites today.
All that you have got to do is, after the day’s work is done (the day’s work may consist in thumbing a wad of clay into futuristic representations, writing in liberated verse, or selling life insurance) to gather with the crowd in some so-called restaurant that has boxes for tables in the front parlor and a bunch of gutta-percha grapes suspended from the ceiling. Then you must toast the proprietor in eau de quinine and of course call him by his first name. (Any first name will do. That’s practically all there is to Bohemia. ~Pg. 54
This is a must for any lover of that sparkling era — or anyone aspiring to be a flapper or a swell.
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (October 30, 2014)
Many thanks to Penguin Press for the review copy.
By William Mann
A must read for fans of early cinema and that dichotomy of sparkling glamour and seedy underbelly that was old Hollywood. Young women in search of fame and fortune often found something much more sinister behind the plywood sets and bright light. And even the most successful and respected directors can find himself on the wrong end of a gun. This was the case for William Taylor Desmond one chilly morning in February 1922. He was found dead in his bungalow and a ring of actresses, acquaintances and household staff are drawn into the corrupt circle around his murder.
Mann introduces all of the main characters, tracing their backgrounds until they end up in Hollywood and in Taylor’s orbit. Was it Mabel Normand, the successful silent screen actress who was aging out of the spotlight and had a bad drug habit? Was is it the immature teenaged idol Mary Miles Minter? Or her overbearing stage mother Charlotte Shelby? One of these women’s jealous boyfriends? A greedy, blackmailing chauffeur?
There was no lack of suspects but there was a severe lack of evidence collected at the scene by law enforcement (some people showed up and walked out with boxes of papers).
Set against the backdrop of the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and the enforcement for the Hays Code, the book illustrates just how essential it was for some struggling studios to keep the death (and circumstances around it) quiet.
It’s engrossing nonfiction that reads like a thriller. My only complaint is the tendency for each chapter to end with overly dramatic final line. One can almost hear the ominous organ “dun-dun!” chiming in. In all other ways, the book is a solid account of true noir.
Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: Harper (October 14, 2014)
Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.5 inches
Read via NetGalley