6 Favorite Classic Movie Books

I’ve been rediscovering some of my favorite classic film books while trying to downsize my library. Here are the books I’ve recently been enamored by all over again. All of these books I’ve purchased over the years with my own money and are available on Amazon at affordable prices, as well as used bookstores where many of these came from. Since film is a visual art, the amount/quality of photos are a must in my opinion, so all of these books are not the usual style of exhaustive writing with photos in the middle of the book. Instead these are photo books balanced with informative stories, which I hope may offer ideas for additions in or for starting your own film library.

Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and Triumph of Film Culture by Peter Kobel was the very first film history book I ever owned. I bought it at list price, which at the time the book jacket said was $50! That’s a lot of money to spend a book now, but especially to the middle schooler I was at that time. I adore this book because it traces the early days of film with a vast amount of photos including posters, lobby cards, film stills and sets in between informative text covering early filmmaking. There’s commentary on key people in film including those behind the camera in the various departments. This book traces why film culture has become what it is and the source of the passion to restore old films today. There’s also a chapter about film making it’s way into other countries. I find that so rare because in many books they focus solely on Hollywood. Highly recommend it for those interested in the early days of filmmaking, silent movies and even world cinema.

James Dean by Timothy Jacobs is a tall but thin book about the actor deemed a legend and icon. Jacobs delves into why James Dean left such an impression in film earning those titles. There are a few columns of text on the side accompanying the high quality photos as Jacobs gives a brief commentary on Dean’s childhood and early years that explain how he became interested in art and acting. Jacobs then goes into depth about each of the three films Dean made before his untimely death.While there’s discussion about Dean’s performance, each chapter on the film also talks about behind the scenes and what was going on in Dean’s life at that time as well. It’s a great book for those who love James Dean as much as I do or for those who are curious in learning about Dean’s life and significance in film.

 Lucy at the Movies by Cindy De la Hoz focuses on Lucille Ball’s fascinating career in film before and after portraying Lucy Ricardo. Every film Ball made is featured-including shorts-with promo/candid photos, quotes from critics, and behind the scenes stories. Studios had a difficult time trying to typecast Ball and because of this she was able to play a variety of characters before finding her path into comedy so it’s interesting to see that. de la Hoz had the assistance of Ball’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, while compiling this book. I’ve enjoyed watching Lucille Ball’s films and then going to this book to learn more about them. Perfect for fans of Lucille Ball and a must for any fan of classic film–this is a truly beautifully designed book that could be on your coffee table, but has too much content on the brilliantly talented actress/businesswoman to not be picked up and read cover to cover.

Lana: The Memories, the Myths and the Movies by Cheryl Crane and the assistance of Cindy de la Hoz, is all about the life and career of Lana Turner. Similar to the Lucille Ball book, all of the films Turner made are discussed with the same quality of photos and commentary. Crane’s prose is honest,  loving and conversational as though you’re sitting down with Crane listening to memories of her mother. With plenty of candid/behind the scenes photos, every decade of Lana Turner’s life is covered with fun facts as well as the hardships that Turner faced. I enjoyed learning about Lana Turner the movie star and everyday person, as this book includes her hobbies/interests, her longtime friendships with cast/crew and favorite places to travel. For that reason it’s one of my favorites because after reading this book you’re left with an understanding of Lana Turner that only Crane could provide.

Newman by Eric Lax follows a similar style by using lots of photos with biographical text but it’s not as thick (which could be a plus if you don’t like to read books at a desk/table because you can lay this book on your lap or hold in your hands unlike the previous 2 books.) Lax traces Paul Newman’s life both on and off screen with informative writing featuring quotes from interviews throughout Newman’s career as well as from those who knew Paul Newman personally. Some of the interviews Lax conducted himself. I like the stories of Newman’s early life because I never knew about Paul Newman before his attendance at The Actor’s Studio prior to first reading this book. Lax also talks about Paul Newman’s philanthropy with Newman’s Own and love for racing in his later years. I revisited this book recently after reading an interview Newman and Joanne Woodward’s daughter, Clea, gave at the very end of last year.

The Shirley Temple Scrapbook by Loraine Burdick is the ideal book for Shirley fans because it’s filled with many  photos and facts/details throughout Temple’s life. The first part of the book is a biography arranged in columns similar to a magazine. I appreciate how Burdick gave plenty of info on Temple’s life as an adult, allowing the reader to see Shirley Temple’s fulfillment and challenges after the child star era. The rest of the book focuses on all of the films in her career-including the shorts-with photos to informative captions and cast list for each one. There’s also photos of Shirley Temple attending special events, publicity shots and her marriages as well as backstory on important people in her life including the dancer, Bill Robinson.

What are your favorite books on an actor/actress or genre of classic film? (Especially on actors because I’d love to have more types of these photo books on them.)

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