REBELS WITH A CAUSE
If she were still acting, we'd cast the feisty Olivia de Havilland in the title role of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Read. On the eve her 101st birthday, de Havilland gamely filed a suit against F/X for allegedly defaming her reputation with a gossipy depiction of her in Feud: Betty and Joan. It's just the sort of thing Evelyn Hugo would do. In the novel, the fictional aging star is a perfect composite of many female stars of the 1950s and 1960s. In the guise of confiding the true story of her life to a memoirist, she sets the record straight on how Hollywood manipulated her image in the last years before the old studio system died in the seismic cultural shift of the 1960s.

What it was really like to have one's personal life closely controlled by publicity fixers? Fake dates between rising stars to hide less acceptable companions, marriages of convenience to please fans…Hugo tells all about studio cover-ups and truth behind the fawning headlines from a time when sexuality, race and female ambition in the wrong combination could be controversial. If the anecdotes sound familiar, it's because they are all based on real scenarios: one, about a shattered relationship, sounds a lot like the real-life of story of how the head of Columbia broke up the romance between Kim Novak and Sammy Davis, Jr. Add to that the not-so-bygone sexism and morality policing of those in the public eye, and especially of women, and it feels as much like a historical dossier as an episode of TMZ.

Hugo's take on the politics of celebrity, red carpet expectations and female sexuality isn't alone on the shelf. Kate Alcott is the nom de plume of journalist Patricia O'Brien. Her latest is The Hollywood Daughter is set in 1950 and the cultural zeitgeist of Ingrid Bergman affair that rocked the nation. Her supposed immorality, when her affair with Roberto Rossellini so scandalized America, was denounced in Congress (as an "instrument of evil"—though a formal apology was entered into Congressional record in 1972) and by the Legion of Decency. Questioning everything is the daughter of Bergman's beleaguered publicist, told in retrospect as she remembers her coming of age while the idea of what's acceptable American womanhood are being debate in the media.

On that note, Canadian cultural professor Rebecca Sullivan's book Natalie Wood is a fitting non-fiction companion. Sullivan considers Wood the emblematic actress of post-studio Hollywood and depicting shifting perceptions of American womanhood. She considers how her roles are deeply entwined with the fading glory of Los Angeles, the end of the glamorous stardom industry, and a revolutionary, post-war sexual politics.

Next: Regrets, they've had a few...

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