Top 5 Essential Books on the Film Business

The following five books offer a window into Hollywood?s history. Not only do they delve into the stories behind many of the greatest pictures ever made, but they also allow a deeper understanding of Hollywood itself.

1. “Memo”

By David O. Selznick

?Have gone over and carefully thought about Gone With the Wind,? Selznick telegraphed his longtime story editor Katharine Brown on May 25, 1936, shortly after she had obtained the manuscript to Margaret Mitchell?s unpublished novel. ?Think it is fine story and I understand your feeling about it. If we had under contract a woman ideally suited to the lead, I would probably be more inclined to buy it than I am today, but I do feel that its only important showmanship values would be in either such star casting or in a tremendous sale of the book.?

A day later, as we discover from this peerless compilation of the mega-producer?s letters and telegrams, Selznick changed his mind about the subject that would make his name ? just one of the multitudinous revelations in this rich and fascinating collection. ?Want you to know that I have thought further about Gone With the Wind and the more I think about it, the more I feel there is an excellent picture in it, especially if they can [give] the very colorful man?s role to Gary Cooper,? Selznick cabled. ?Were I at MGM, I believe I would buy it now.?

2. “The Name Above the Title”

By Frank Capra

?I hated being poor. Hated being a peasant. Hated being a scrounging newskid trapped in the sleazy Sicilian ghetto of Los Angeles.? Thus begins the director?s gut-wrenching autobiography, initially published in 1971, but as powerful today as it was then.

I first read this book as a teenager, before I?d even seen most of Capra?s films (It Happened One Night, It?s a Wonderful Life), and it?s never left my mind. I still remember being swept up in the raw emotion of Capra?s family as they make the journey from Sicily to America; the heartrending death of his father, chopped up in a farm machine; and the searing migraines Capra experienced ? a lesson to all of us ? when he agreed to make a movie he didn?t believe in. Not even Joseph McBride?s magisterial biography (Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success), which takes aim at the less savory aspects of Capra?s personality, was able to dislodge this book from my heart.

3. “Indecent Exposure”

By David McClintick

It?s hard to imagine that a near-600-page business account of the greatest financial scandal to rock Hollywood ? written by a stranger to the business ? can be as riveting as any work of fiction. But from its very first page, McClintick?s novelistic account of what became known as the Begelman affair (the story of a top Columbia Pictures executive who defrauded the company, and the fallout that ensued) is a page-turner as compulsive as it is deeply reported.

David Begelman was charming, talented and crooked, a character rich enough to fuel this inside look at the industry that, alas, was written years before the sad coda to Begelman?s story: In 1995, knowing he had no money and no prospects, he shot himself dead in a Los Angeles hotel.

4. “A Life”

By Elia Kazan

Kazan writes with such emotional power and apparent authenticity that you have to force yourself to ask: how much is fiction, how much the truth?

This dazzling account tells of the director?s upbringing in Constantinople, his emergence with the Group Theater and Actors Studio, his revelatory work on such plays as Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire, and of course, his handling of such classics as On the Waterfront and East of Eden. Crucially, it also discusses his experiences in the McCarthy era and his decision to name names, which made him persona non grata in Hollywood for much of his later career. I?d have ranked this book number one on my list, if I didn?t have nagging doubts about its veracity.

5. “City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s”

By Otto Friedrich

There?s no original reporting in Otto Friedrich?s compendium of Hollywood stories from the 1940s, all drawn from previously written accounts, and yet there isn?t a single moment when you don?t scream with laughter or roar in outrage at stories you?ve never heard before, one more outrageous than the other.

My favorite: Louis B. Mayer?s discovery that the starlet he?d shipped to Paris, where he planned to ditch his wife and propose to her, had secretly brought her lover in tow. When L.B. found out and knocked at her door, ?he was white and shaking, with a large envelope in his hand,? recalled the starlet, Jean Howard. ?It was from a detective agency in Hollywood and told him all about Charlie and me. Suddenly he picked up a bottle of Scotch, poured out a whole glass and gulped it down. He never drank and it made him drunk. He went wild. He roared around the room and then, suddenly, made a move to throw himself out the window. The three of us needed all our strength to hold him back. We got him down on the floor, where he wept and moaned. I went straight back to New York, and Charlie and I were married.?