The sum of the parts equals more than the whole in Paul Zollo’s “Hollywood Remembered.” The biggest Hollywood names are conspicuously absent from this trip down memory lane, yet the paucity of star power is not the problem with the book. In fact, commingling stars with extras, publicists, bartenders, et al. marks a bright, new, more democratic approach to Hollywood nostalgia-making, allowing perspectives rarely heard from Hollywood’s so-called salad days. But Zollo (a self-described artist, singer, songwriter, and music journalist) never pulls it all together into a cohesive whole that would give the reader a clear portrait of that era. “Hollywood Remembered” just doesn’t feel like a finished manuscript.
One problem is that the collection of reminiscences lacks order and direction, and some of the 35 “voices” could use a bit of editing (not to mention fact-checking — e.g., director John Farrow is called Charles Farrow). Wistfully but predictably, nearly every one-time Tinseltown denizen concludes with the same sentiment: as “actress/activist” Pippa Scott puts it, “the Hollywood that was is not the Hollywood that is. And it’s too bad.”
Still, the volume is worth picking up, even if the highlights don’t make “the Hollywood that was” sound all that golden. Evelyn Keyes, the B-movie star best known as “Scarlett O’Hara’s younger sister,” dramatically recalls how, while she was still a teenager, she met the frightfully intimidating Cecil B. DeMille. Her husband, Barton Bainbridge, committed violent suicide after threatening to kill her. (Apparently the two are unrelated events.)
On other engrossing down notes, Frederica Sagor Maas, a pioneering female screenwriter, candidly discusses how she “had to get a job in an insurance company” when she wouldn’t name names during the blacklist. Jerry Maren, one of the “Lollipop Guild” Munchkins, comments wryly on the demeaning commercial and feature roles he got after achieving fame in “The Wizard of Oz”: Buster Brown, “Little” Oscar Meyer, and Charlie McCarthy’s movie-set stand-in.
Film critic and historian Charles Champlin contributes several unexpectedly tender Alfred Hitchcock stories — notably one about how Hitchcock’s agent, Lew Wasserman, invested generously in the pre-production of “The Short Night,” what would have been Hitchcock’s last film, even though “Wasserman knew better than anyone else that Hitch was not going to make this movie. He never did. He just got weaker and weaker and then died.”
Yet, some of Zollo’s interviewee choices seem arbitrary: If he was planning from the outset to use just a few representatives for each category (composers, restauranteurs, administrative assistants, etc.), then why did he pick Jonathan Winters as one of his designated celebrities? After all, Winters had so little do with any major Hollywood period or project (at least fellow comic, Steve Allen, who is also included, had been an industry player at one time).
Even some of the below-the-line testimonies waste space. For example, accountant Roberta Murray gushes about the stars she either saw or met (from Fanny Brice to Carmen Miranda), but wouldn’t it have been more pertinent (not to mention more tertaining) to hear of long-ago concealed “creative bookkeeping” or some other studio accounting “irregularities”?
“Hollywood Remembered” has the makings of a great book, or at least a valuable and vibrant resource, but even the good old days need a more compelling guide to make them worth revisiting.