Carolyn Steele Agosta
Movie Star Books
When I was growing up, I was greatly influenced by my older sister, Lori. She was my first playmate, the inventor of great games, and the source of much information (and some misinformation, too!).
When she was around 13 or 14, she began hanging out with a girlfriend, Marge. Marge’s mom was a big fan of movie musicals, an interest she passed down to Marge and to Lori and thus, inevitably, to me. Lori began buying LP soundtracks to the big musicals of the day – The King and I, South Pacific, West Side Story, The Music Man, The Sound of Music, Funny Girl, and so on. We learned all the lyrics, all the melodies, each and every inflection. It was perfectly normal for us to go about our Saturday chores, changing the sheets, dusting and vacuuming, while bellowing out Bless Your Beautiful Hide from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
It never occurred to me that this wasn’t how everyone lived.
Lori developed an interest in all kinds of movie trivia. She knew all the names of the actors and actresses, who was married to whom, their body of work, and even the great photographers of the famous and beautiful.
And, back then, (well, actually before our time, back in the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s) the photography was fabulous. Wonderful black-and-white photos of Carole Lombard or Hedy Lamarr, rich chiaroscuro images with leaping shadows, high-intensity closeups where you could count every mascara’d eyelash, great action shots from dance scenes. Lori collected a number of those big coffee-table books filled with the late and great, and eventually infected my parents with an appreciation as well.
Now that I look back on it, I realize how much her interest spread to all of us. I can remember many times that the family would be gathered at Mom and Dad’s house, and some of us would wander off and leaf through their vast collection of movie star books – pictorials, biographies, autobiographies. I’ve read about the making of The African Queen, Esther Williams’ strange marriage to Fernando Lamas, and behind-the-scenes details from Gone with the Wind. I’ve accumulated a surprising amount of knowledge about Buster Keaton, without ever having seen a single one of his movies.
I don’t, myself, own many movie star books. I have a set on Hollywood through the decades, that had belonged to my parents, and a terrific photo-filled book on Broadway musicals, featuring many actors and actresses who also starred in movies. But I still enjoy leafing through any movie star book that comes my way. And I really enjoy seeing some of those old musicals. I was very disappointed that today’s Hollywood went all gaga over LaLa Land a couple of years ago – compared to Kiss Me, Kate or Sweet Charity, the singing and dancing was very subpar. I like Emma Stone as an actress, but as a hoofer she leaves a lot to be desired. I think everyone was just excited that a movie musical had actually been made.
One last note – my sister had a HUGE fan-crush on Howard Keel, star of many musicals, including Showboat, Kiss Me Kate, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Annie Get Your Gun. We had the chance to see him perform live in a musical review, not long after we moved to North Carolina in the mid-70’s. He was still a hell of a singer even then, when he was in his late 50’s. And of course, his fame continued to grow when he starred in the TV show, Dallas.
If you’re feeling blue or bored, and getting tired of dark, twisty stories on HBO or Netflix, I suggest you find one of these musicals on TV and sing along. Can’t feel bad singing I Feel Pretty.