tI have always loved to read, but in the last fifteen years my scope of interest has narrowed greatly. Aside from really great fiction (a la Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels) and the monthly selection by my book group, these days the tower of books by my bed is made up almost exclusively of classic film star (and sometimes producers/directors/etc.) biographies. When knowing everything about everyone is the norm, thanks to the voyeuristic nature of social media, it’s refreshing to be able to learn something new about a public figure. The Old Hollywood studio system had a heavy hand in its star’s lives and how they were perceived. Their calculated suppression and alteration of anything factual that was also perceived as undesirable ultimately made their stars all the more intriguing. Who were they really? It’s hard to ask the same about an Angelina Jolie or a Jennifer Aniston, someone whose every word, lunch date, or possible baby bump (though if the tabloids were correct about that, Aniston would have about 16 kids by now) makes headlines. When you know everything already, where’s the fun?

My favorite era for these biographies tends to be between the birth of silent film and the late 1930s. The lawless, experimental, exploratory aspect of early silent film and the fearless pioneers behind it (fearless is not an exaggeration- both actors and actresses of this era often did their own stunts) are especially of interest. As someone who gets cranky when the temperature goes below 55 degrees, I find Lillian Gish in a flimsy dress, ice crystals on her face, trying to ignore her frostbitten fingers while literally freezing on an iceberg in the middle of a blizzard in her iconic scene from Way Down East pretty remarkable.

I love reading about stars or starlets who I have never heard of, know little of, or just heard about in passing. I have discovered several new favorites this way, often before even seeing any of their films. Barbara Payton, Madge Bellamy, Dorothy Lee, and Lynn Bari are a few of these.

I intend to write reviews of some of these books, share my favorites, and attempt to convey why I am so fascinated with Old Hollywood and the stars who illuminated the screen in some later posts.

But first, I think it’s necessary to note the inventory:

Angeli, Pier Pier Angeli: A Fragile Life Allen, Jane
Arthur, Jean Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew Oller, John
Astaire, Adele & Fred The Astaires: Fred and Adele Riley, Kathleen
Astor, Mary My Story: An Autobiography Astor, Mary
Astor, Mary The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s Egan, Joseph
Bacall, Lauren By Myself and Then Some Bacall, Lauren
Ball, Lucille Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball Kanfer, Stefan
Bankhead, Tallulah Tallulah Bankhead: A Scandalous Life Bret, David
Bara, Theda Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara Golden, Eve
Bari, Lynn Foxy Lady: The Authorized Biography of Lynn Bari Gordon, Jeff
Basquette, Lina Lina: DeMille’s Godless Girl Basquette, Lina
Bautzer, Greg The Man Who Seduced Hollywood: The Life and Loves of Greg Bautzer, Tinseltown’s Most Powerful Lawyer Gladstone, James B. and Wagner, Robert
Baxter, Anne Intermission: A True Tale Baxter, Anne
Bellamy, Madge A Darling of the Twenties: The Autobiography of Madge Bellamy Bellamy, Madge
Bennett, Barbara, Constance & Joan The Bennetts: An Acting Family Kellow, Brian
Blondell, Joan Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes Kennedy, Matthew
Bogart, Humphrey Bogie: A Life in Pictures Schlesinger, Judith
Bogart, Humphrey Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart Kanfer, Stefan
Borden, Olive Olive Borden: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s “Joy Girl” Vogel, Michelle
Bow, Clara Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild Stenn, David
Boyer, Charles Charles Boyer: The Reluctant Lover Swindel, Larry
Brooks, Louise Louise Brooks: A Biography Paris, Barry
Brooks, Louise Lulu in Hollywood Brooks, Louise
Burr, Raymond Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr Starr, Michael Seth
Caine, Michael The Elephant to Hollywood Caine, Michael
Calvet, Corinne Has Corinne Been a Good Girl? Calvet, Corinne
Caron, Leslie Thank Heaven: A Memoir Caron, Leslie
Chaplin, Charles Chaplin: His Life and Art Robinson, David
Clark, Marguerite Marguerite Clark: America’s Darling of Broadway and the Silent Screen Nunn, Curtis
Clooney, Rosemary Girl Singer: An Autobiography Clooney, Rosemary with Barthel, Joan
Colbert, Claudette Claudette Colbert: An Illustrated Biography Quirk, Lawrence J.
Compton, Joyce The Real Joyce Compton: Behind the Dumb Blonde Movie Image Compton, Joyce and Ankerich, Michael G.
Cooper, Gladys Gladys Cooper: A Biography Morley, Sheridan
Cooper, Miriam Dark Lady of the Silents: My Life in Early Hollywood Cooper, Miriam with Herndon, Bonnie
Darnell, Linda Hollywood Beauty: Linda Darnell and the American Dream Davis, Ronald L.
Davies, Marion Marion Davies: A Biography Guiles, Fred Lawrence
Davis, Bette Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis Sikov, Ed
Davis, Bette Fasten Your Seatbelts: The Passionate Life of Bette Davis Quirk, Lawrence J.
Day, Doris Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door Kaufman, David
Dean, James James Dean: The Mutant King Dalton, David
Dietrich, Marlene Marlene: The Life of Marlene Dietrich Higham, Charles
Dors, Diana Diana Dors: Hurricane in Mink Bret, David
Dvorak, Ann Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel Rice, Christina
Eaton Travis, Doris Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies Redniss, Lauren
Eaton Travis, Doris The Days We Danced: The Story of My Theatrical Family From Florenz Ziegfeld to Arthur Murray and Beyond Eaton Travis, Doris
Entwistle, Peg Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide Zeruk, James Jr.
Fairbanks, Douglas Douglas Fairbanks Vance, Jeffrey
Faye, Alice Alice Faye: A Life Beyond the Silver Screen Elder, Jane Lenz
Fleming, Victor Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master Sragow, Michael
Fonda, Henry The Man Who Saw a Ghost: The Life and Work of Henry Fonda McKinney, Devin
Fontaine, Joan No Bed of Roses: An Autobiography Fontaine, Joan
Francis, Kay Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career Kear, Lynn and Rossman, John
Gable, Clark Gable’s Women Wayne, Jane Ellen
Gabor, Eva, Magda & Zsa Zsa Those Glamorous Gabors: Bombshells from Budapest Porter, Darwin
Gahagan Douglas, Helen The Pink Lady: The Many Lives of Helen Gahagan Douglas Denton, Sally
Garbo, Greta Garbo Paris, Barry
Gardner, Ava Ava: My Story Gardner, Ava
Gardner, Ava Ava Gardner: “Love is Nothing” Server, Lee
Garland, Judy Judy Frank, Gerald
Garland, Judy Judy Garland: The Secret Life of an American Legend Shipman, David
Gish, Lillian Lillian Gish: Her Legend, Her Life Affron, Charles
Goddard, Paulette Paulette: The Adventurous Life of Paulette Goddard Morella, Joe and Epstein, Edward Z.
Goldwyn, Samuel Goldwyn: A Biography Berg, A. Scott
Grable, Betty Betty Grable: The Girl With the Million Dollar Legs McGee, Tom
Grant, Cary Cary Grant: A Biography Eliot, Marc
Grant, Cary Good Stuff:  A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant Grant, Jennifer
Harding, Ann Ann Harding: Cinema’s Gallant Lady O’Brien, Scott
Harlow, Jean Platinum Girl: The Life and Legends of Jean Harlow Golden, Eve
Havoc, June Early Havoc Havoc, June
Hayward, Susan Susan Hayward: Portrait of a Survivor Linet, Beverly
Hayworth, Rita Rita: The Life of Rita Hayworth Morella, Joe and Epstein, Edward Z.
Hearst, William Randolph The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst Nasaw, David
Held, Anna Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway Golden, Eve
Henie, Sonja Queen of Ice, Queen of Shadows: The Unsuspected Life of Sonja Henie Strait, Raymond
Hepburn, Audrey Audrey: The Life of Audrey Hepburn Higham, Charles
Hepburn, Audrey Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn Spoto, Donald
Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn: Her Life in Pictures Spada, James
Hepburn, Katharine Katharine Hepburn: A Life in Pictures Verlhac, Pierre-Henri
Hepburn, Katharine Life: Katharine Hepburn Commemorative Life Magazine
Hepburn, Katharine Me: Stories of My Life Hepburn, Katharine
Hepburn, Katharine The Private World of Katharine Hepburn Bryson, John
Hitchcock, Alfred The Alfred Hitchcock Story Mogg, Ken
Holman, Libby Dreams that Money Can Buy: The Tragic Life of Libby Holman Bradshaw, Jon
Hopkins Joyce, Peggy Gold Digger: The Outrageous Life and Times of Peggy Hopkins Joyce Rosenblum, Constance
Howell, Alice She Could be Chaplin! The Comedic Brilliance of Alice Howell Slide, Anthony
Hyer Wallis, Martha Finding My Way: A Hollywood Memoir Hyer Wallis, Martha
Johnson, Van Van Johnson: MGM’s Golden Boy Davis, Ronald L.
Jones, Jennifer Portrait of Jennifer: A Biography of Jennifer Jones Epstein, Edward Z.
Keel, Howard Only Make Believe: My Life in Show Business Keel, Howard
Kelly, Grace Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess Spada, James
Kendall, Kay The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall Golden, Eve
Keyes, Evelyn Scarlett O’Hara’s Younger Sister: My Lively Life in and Out of Hollywood Keyes, Evelyn
Ladd, Alan LADD: A Hollywood Tragedy- The Life, the Legend, the Legacy of Alan Ladd Linet, Beverly
Lamarr, Hedy Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr Shearer, Stephen Michael and Osborne, Robert
Lamour, Dorothy My Side of the Road Lamour, Dorothy and McInnes, Dick
Landis, Carole Carole Landis: A Tragic Life in Hollywood Fleming, E.J.
Lawrence, Florence Florence Lawrence, the Biograph Girl: America’s First Movie Star Brown, Kelly R.
Lee, Dorothy Dorothy Lee: The Life and Films of the Wheeler and Woolsey Girl Brotherton, Jamie and Okuda, Ted
Lee, Vivien Vivien Leigh: A Biography Edwards, Anne
Levant, Oscar A Talent for Genius: The Life and Times of Oscar Levant Kashner, Sam and Schoenberger, Nancy
Lombard, Carole The Films of Carole Lombard Ott, Frederick W.
Loren, Sophia Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life Loren, Sophia
Lupino, Ida Ida Lupino: A Biography Donati, William
Marx, Groucho Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx Kanfer, Stefan
McMein, Neysa Anything Goes: The Jazz Age Adventures of Neysa McMein and her Extravagant Circle of Friends Gallagher, Brian
Mineo, Sal Sal Mineo: A Biography Michaud, Michael Gregg
Moore, Colleen Colleen Moore’s DollHouse Moore, Colleen
Moran, Lois A Beautiful Fairy Tale: The Life of Actress Lois Moran Buller, Richard
Moreno, Rita Rita Moreno: A Memoir Moreno, Rita
Murray, Mae Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips Ankerich, Michael G.
Nazimova, Alla Nazimova: A Biography Lambert, Gavin
Negri, Pola Pola Negri: Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale Kotowski, Mariusz
Newman, Paul Paul Newman: A Life Levy, Shawn
Niven, David Bring on the Empty Horses Niven, David
Normand, Mabel Mabel: Hollywood’s First Don’t-Care Girl, the Life of Mabel Normand Fussell, Betty Harper
Novarro, Ramon Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro Soares, Andre
O’Neal, Tatum A Paper Life O’Neal, Tatum
Oberon, Merle Princess Merle: The Romantic Life of Merle Oberon Higham, Charles and Moseley, Roy
Olivier, Laurence Laurence Olivier: A Biography Spoto, Donald
Payton, Barbara Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story O’Dowd, John
Payton, Barbara I Am Not Ashamed Payton, Barbara
Phipps, Sally Sally Phipps: Silent Film Star Harned, Robert L.
Pickford, Mary Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood Whitfield, Eileen
Pinchot, Rosamond The Loveliest Woman in America: A Tragic Actress, Her Lost Diaries, and Her Granddaughter’s Search for Home Gaston, Bibi
Prevost, Marie Desperately Seeking Marie Prevost Kirby, Richard
Raft, George George Raft: The Man Who Would be Bogart Wallace, Stone
Rambova, Natacha Madam Valentino: The Many Lives of Natacha Rambova Morris, Michael
Ray, Nicholas Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director McGilligan, Patrick
Riefenstahl, Leni Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl Bach, Steven
Rin Tin Tin Rin Tin Tin Orlean, Susan
Rogers, Ginger Ginger: My Story Rogers, Ginger
Rooney, Mickey Life and Times of Mickey Rooney Lertzman, Richard A. and Birnes, William J.
Russell, Gail Fallen Star: A Biography of Gail Russell Ochoa, Steven Glenn
Russell, Jane Jane Russell: My Path & My Detours, an Autobiography Russell, Jane
Sanders, George A Dreadful Man: A Personal Intimate Book About George Sanders Aherne, Brian
Shaw, Artie Artie Shaw: King of the Clarinet Nolan, Tom
Shearer, Norma Norma Shearer Lambert, Gavin
Signoret, Simone Garden of Dreams: The Life of Simone Signoret DeMaio, Patricia A.
Sothern, Ann Cordially Yours, Ann Sothern Briggs, Colin
Stanwyck, Barbara A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True Volume One 1907-1940 Wilson, Victoria
Stewart, Jimmy Jimmy Stewart: A Biography Eliot
Swanson, Gloria Gloria Swanson Shearer, Stephen Michael
Swanson, Gloria Swanson on Swanson Swanson, Gloria
Taylor, Elizabeth Elizabeth Taraborrelli, J. Randy
Taylor, Elizabeth Elizabeth: The Life of Elizabeth Taylor Walker, Alexander
Taylor, Elizabeth How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood Mann, William J.
Taylor, Elizabeth Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor Heymann, C. David
Tierney, Gene Self-Portrait Tierney, Gene
Todd, Thelma The Life and Death of Thelma Todd Donati, William
Turner, Lana Detour: A Hollywood Story Crane, Cheryl and Jahr, Cliff
Twelvetrees, Helen Helen Twelvetrees, Perfect Ingenue Aliperti, Cliff
Valentino, Rudolph Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino Leider, Emily W.
Velez, Lupe Lupe Velez: The Life and Career of Hollywood’s “Mexican Spitfire” Vogel, Michelle
Vera-Ellen Vera-Ellen: The Magic and the Mystery Soren, David
The Warner Brothers The Brothers Warner Warner, Ms. Cass
The Warner Brothers Hollywood Be Thy Name: The Warner Brothers Story Warner Sperling, Cass and Milner, Cork
Wilding, Michael The Wilding Way: The Story of my Life Wilding, Michael
Williams, Esther The Million Dollar Mermaid Diehl, Digby and Williams, Esther
Winters, Shelley Shelley: Also Known as Shirley Winters, Shelley
Wong, Anna May Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend Hodges, Graham Russell Gao
Wood, Natalie Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood Finstad, Suzanne
Wray, Fay On the Other Hand Wray, Fay
Wyman, Jane Jane Wyman: The Actress and the Woman : An Illustrated Biography Quirk, Lawrence J.
Young, Gig Final Gig: The Man Behind the Murder Eels, George
Young, Loretta Hollywood Madonna: Loretta Young Dick, Bernard F.
Ziegfeld, Florenz Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business Mordden, Ethan


I did include some folk who are pretty loosely old Hollywood (Artie Shaw, Neysa McMein, Florenz Ziegfeld among a couple others), whose careers were predominantly outside of Hollywood’s sphere, but because of their ultimate associations with many of the major players, I included them in this list. I also have several books about Old Hollywood itself/specific films/events that I included in a separate list:

Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary: Her Private Letters from Inside the Studios of the 1920s Belletti, Valeria
All About “All About Eve” Staggs, Sam
A Cast of Killers Kirkpatrick, Sidney D.
A Deed of Death: The Story of the Unsolved Murder of Hollywood Director William Desmond Taylor Giroux, Robert
Fallen Angels Crivello, Kirk
Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film Graham, Don
Hollywood Babylon Anger, Kenneth
Hollywood in the Thirties Baxter, John
Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation Johnson, Mindy
The Mommie Dearest Diaries: Carol Ann Tells All Alda, Rutanya
Reels & Rivals: Sisters in Silent Film Redmond, Jennifer
The RKO Gals Parish, James Robert
Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal that Changed Hollywood Merritt, Greg
Silent Film Performers: An Annotated Bibliography of Published, Unpublished and Archival Sources for More Than 350 Actors and Actresses Liebman, Roy
The Wampas Baby Stars: A Biographical Dictionary, 1922-1934 Liebman, Roy

181 books in all, though I think my classic bio “wish list” is about twice this size. These lists are both comprised of the books I own, not the total of ones I have read. I’ll keep updating it as I add to the collection. If you have any questions about or would like any recommendations from this list, don’t hesitate to ask!