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August 11, 2023

8 Books About the Glamour and Scandals of Old Hollywood

From Clark Gable to Casablanca, the Golden Age of Hollywood created some of cinema’s most iconic stars and films. Glitz and glamour defined this era for which we now have great nostalgia. Today, we yearn for the elaborate costumes like Scarlett O’Hara’s curtain dress and showstopping musicals like Singing in the Rain. Yet at the time, the lives of film’s biggest stars could be much more scandalous behind the scenes. . . .

We’ve gathered a list of books that will transport you to most secret parts of old Hollywood, those that sparkle in the spotlight and those hidden in dark corners. From true insider accounts to sweeping fictional romances, there’s something here that is sure to take you back in time to Hollywood’s most notorious but dazzling period.

Do Tell by Lindsay Lynch

A scintillating debut novel that brings the golden age of Hollywood to glittering life, from star-studded opening nights to backlot brawls, on-location Westerns to the Hollywood Canteen. Through character actress turned gossip columnist Edie O’Dare’s eyes, Lindsay Lynch draws back the curtain on classic Hollywood’s secrets.

Back Street by Fannie Hurst

Originally published in 1931, this bestselling classic novel was adapted to the big screen three times, including one of old Hollywood’s most classic films, starring Susan Hayward and John Gavin.

When “fly girl” and gorgeous socialite Ray Schmidt first meets Walter Saxel in Cincinnati, their attraction is instant and everlasting. One fateful day, the settling of her family affairs interferes with their plans to meet, and Walter forms a relationship with another woman. Though years pass, Walter remains in her memory, and a chance run-in with him leads them both to fall into their former ways. What unfolds is the fascinating tale of what life was for selfless, devoted Ray, a prisoner of her love for the one man who would never fully love her back.

The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler

“Raymond Chandler is a master.” —The New York Times

A movie starlet with a gangster boyfriend and a pair of siblings with a shared secret lure private eye Philip Marlowe into the less than glamorous and more than a little dangerous world of Hollywood fame. Chandler’s first foray into the industry that dominates the company town that is Los Angeles.

Delayed Rays of a Star by Amanda Lee Koe

“Dazzling. . . . It’s larger-than-life history made intimately human.” —USA Today

At a chance encounter at a Berlin soiree in 1928, the photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captures three very different women together in one frame: up-and-coming German actress Marlene Dietrich, on her way to becoming one of Hollywood’s lasting icons; Anna May Wong, the world’s first Chinese American star; and Leni Riefenstahl, whose work as a director of propaganda art films would first make her famous–then, infamous.

From this curious point of intersection, Delayed Rays of a Star lets loose the trajectories of these women’s lives. Intimate and clear-eyed, Delayed Rays of a Star is a visceral depiction of womanhood–its particular hungers, its oblique calculations, and its eventual betrayals–and announces a bold new literary voice.

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott

“If you could time-travel to anywhere in the golden age of Hollywood, it would be hard to imagine a place more exciting than the set of Gone with the Wind. . . . [A] breathtaking novel.” —The New York Times Book Review

Julie Crawford left Fort Wayne, Indiana, with dreams of being a Hollywood screenwriter. Unfortunately, her new life is off to a rocky start. Fired by the notoriously demanding director of Gone with the Wind, she’s lucky to be rescued by Carole Lombard, whose scandalous affair with the still-married Clark Gable is just heating up. As Carole’s assistant, Julie suddenly has a front-row seat to two of the world’s greatest love affairs. And while Rhett and Scarlett–and Lombard and Gable–make movie history, Julie is caught up in a whirlwind of outsized personalities and overheated behind-the-scenes drama . . . not to mention a budding romance of her own.

Hollywood Nocturnes by James Ellroy

“You want tough-guy fiction? If you haven’t checked out the great James Ellroy, chances are you like water in your whiskey, too. . . . A must for Ellroy fans.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Dig it. A famous musician-cum-draft dodger is plotting the perfect celebrity snatch–his own. An ex-con raging on revenge in High Darktown becomes a cop’s worst nightmare. A strongarm for Howard Hughes and mobster Mickey Cohen finds himself playing both ends against the middle, all for a murderously magnificent moll. This is L.A., Ellroy style–corrupt cops, goons with guns, rattling roadsters–and all in the staccato rhythm of the streets. Hollywood Nocturnes shows us the seedy side of glamorous Hollywood, laid out like a corpse in the morgue.

The Castle on Sunset by Shawn Levy

“Fascinating, dishy, and glimmering with insight…. This is the definitive book about Hollywood’s most storied hotel.” –Cheryl Strayed, bestselling author of Wild

Since 1929, Hollywood’s brightest stars have flocked to the Chateau Marmont as if it were a second home. An apartment building-turned-hotel, the Chateau has been the backdrop for generations of gossip and folklore: where director Nicholas Ray slept with his sixteen-year-old Rebel Without a Cause star Natalie Wood; Jim Morrison swung from the balconies; John Belushi suffered a fatal overdose; and Lindsay Lohan got the boot after racking up nearly $50,000 in charges in less than two months.

But despite its mythic reputation, much of what has happened inside the Chateau’s walls has eluded the public eye–until now. With wit and insight, Shawn Levy recounts the wild revelries and scandalous liaisons, the creative breakthroughs and marital breakdowns, the births and deaths to which the hotel has been a party. Vivid, salacious, and richly informed, The Castle on Sunset is a glittering tribute to Hollywood as seen from inside the walls of its most hallowed hotel.

I Lost My Girlish Laughter by Jane Allen

“Old-movie buffs and lovers of Hollywood gossip will geek out on this fun, satirical read.” —Booklist

Madge Lawrence, fresh from New York City, lands a job as the personal secretary to the powerful Hollywood producer Sidney Brand (based on the legendary David O. Selznick). The action revolves around the production of Brand’s latest blockbuster, meant to be a star vehicle to introduce his new European bombshell (the real-life Marlene Dietrich). Nevermind that the actress can’t act, and Brands’s negotiations with MGM to get Clark Gable to play the male lead are getting nowhere. In this delicious satire of the film business, one is never very far from the truth of what makes Hollywood tick and why we all love it.