History of the Sunset Strip in Hollywood's Golden Era
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Books

Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster, by Tere Tereba

After Ben Siegel was assassinated, in June 1947, the Syndicate’s East Coast bosses put Mickey Cohen, Bugsy’s one-time enforcer, in charge of their Southern California rackets. Late that year, Cohen moved his headquarters into a deluxe private office suite in a storefront building at Palm Avenue and Holloway Drive on the Sunset Strip. The next few years, as he ruling his multimillion-dollar underworld empire from the Strip, would prove to be the pinnacle of Mickey’s career. By 1951, after having survived two attacks by gun-wielding would-be assassins — including one who entered his offices and blew the head off one of his bodyguards — and a series of bombs set off at his home, Cohen would finally be run to ground by an IRS investigation that ended with a sentence to federal prison.

The Garden on Sunset, by Martin Turnbull

The Garden on Sunset by Martin Turnbull

In Woody Allen’s 1985 film, “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” one of the characters in the film within the film — a black-and-white drawing-room comedy-romance from Hollywood’s golden age — breaks through the fourth wall and emerges from the screen so he can experience the real world.

A new, ongoing series of novels written by Martin Turnbull and set at the Garden of Allah Hotel in Hollywood do just the opposite. They transport readers through the literary fourth wall back in time so they can experience life as it may have been in Hollywood’s golden era.

Bandido: The Life and Times of Tiburcio Vasquez, by John Boessenecker

University of Oklahoma Press, Sep 24, 2010 – 471 pages

Google Books:

Tiburcio Vasquez is, next to Joaquin Murrieta, America’s most infamous Hispanic bandit. After he was hanged as a murderer in 1875, the Chicago Tribune called him “the most noted desperado of modern times.” Yet questions about him still linger. Why did he become a bandido? Why did so many Hispanics protect him and his band? Was he a common thief and heartless killer who got what he deserved, or was he a Mexican American Robin Hood who suffered at the hands of a racist government? In this engrossing biography, John Boessenecker provides definitive answers.

Bandido pulls back the curtain on a life story shrouded in myth — a myth created by Vasquez himself and abetted by writers who saw a tale ripe for embellishment. Boessenecker traces his subject’s life from his childhood in the seaside adobe village of Monterey, to his years as a young outlaw engaged in horse rustling and robbery. Two terms in San Quentin failed to tame Vasquez, and he instigated four bloody prison breaks that left twenty convicts dead. After his final release from prison, he led bandit raids throughout Central and Southern California. His dalliances with women were legion, and the last one led to his capture in the Hollywood Hills and death on the gallows at age thirty-nine.

From dusty court records, forgotten memoirs, and moldering newspaper archives, Boessenecker draws a story of violence, banditry, and retribution on the early California frontier that is as accurate as it is colorful. Enhanced by numerous photographs — many published here for the first time — Bandido also addresses important issues of racism and social justice that remain relevant to this day.

Nazimova: A Biography, by Gavin Lambert

Alfred A. Knopf, Apr 7, 1997 – 420 pages

Google Books:

A major rediscovery – a full-scale biography – of the electrifying Russian-born actress who brought Stanislavksy and Chekhov to American theatre, who was applauded, lionized, adored – a legend of the stage and screen for forty years, and then strangely forgotten. Her shockingly natural approach to acting transformed the theatre of her day. She thrilled Laurette Taylor. The first time Tennessee Williams saw her he knew he wanted to be a playwright (“She was so shatteringly powerful that I couldn’t stay in my seat”). Eugene O’Neill said of her that she gave him his “first conception of a modern theatre.” She introduced the American stage and its audience to Ibsen’s New Woman, a woman hell-bent on independence. It was a role Nazimova embodied offstage as well. When she toured in a repertory of A Doll’s House, The Master Builder, and Hedda Gabler from 1907 to 1910, she earned the then unheard-of sum of five million dollars for theatre manager Lee Shubert. Eight years later she went to Hollywood and signed a contract with Metro Pictures (before it was MGM) and became the highest-paid actress in silent pictures, ultimately writing, directing, and producing her own movies (Revelation, Stronger than Death, Billions, Salome). Four years later she formed her own film company. She was the only actress, other than Mae West, to become a movie star at forty, and was the first to cultivate the image of the “foreign” sophisticate, soon to be followed by Pola Negri, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich. Gavin Lambert was given exclusive access to her unpublished memoirs, letters, and notes. And now fifty years after her death, eighty years after her ascendancy as a giant figure to the American public,Lambert has brilliantly re-created the life and work of this complex, dark, glamorous, and important figure.

The Garden of Allah, by Sheilah Graham

Sheilah Graham’s The Garden of Allah, a history of the famed hotel that anchored the eastern end of the Sunset Strip, is a must for any reading list on the history of Hollywood’s golden age in general and the Strip specifically. Graham unfolds the story of the hotel in roughly chronological order, but she was a gossip columnist, so the book reads like a series of columns, many of which focus on gossip and anecdotes (a number of which involve society people who are long forgotten) — rather than a comprehensive history of the hotel.

Hollywood Confidential: How the Studios Beat the Mob at Their Own Game, By Ted Schwarz

The subtitle says it all: “How the studios beat the mob at their own game.” The history of mob activities in early 20th century Los Angeles is among the slipperiest aspects of the city’s past to grapple with, and yet the corruption of the L.A.’s civic and commercial institutions is a fundamental aspect of the city’s development. Ted Schwarz’ Hollywood Confidential is a great source on the entwined and entangled history of the influence of the mob, both homegrown and the East Coast transplants, on the city and the studios.

A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.’s Scandalous Coming of Age, by Richard Rayner

In the 1920s and ’30s, the city of Los Angeles was controlled by a group of powerful racketeers known informally as the “City Hall gang.” They were so infiltrated into civic institutions of Los Angeles that they profited from just about every activity or endeavor the city undertook. The racketeering networks, which were complex and confusing at the time, have only becomes slightly easier to understand with the passage of time.

In A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.’s Scandalous Coming of Age, Richard Rayner leads us through these labyrinthine goings-on with the style and pace of a novel.

Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons

Before World War II, there were quite a few nightclubs on the Sunset Strip where gay people were welcomed and accepted — which is not to say these were gay bars as we know them today. There are quite a few references to the presence of gays and lesbians on the Strip back then in Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons — including performers Bruz Fletcher and Rae Bourbon and club owners Jane Jones and Tess Wheeler.

West Hollywood, by Ryan Gierach

Written by Ryan Gierach, the editor of WeHo News, an online weekly newspaper, this book from the “Images of America” series is an invaluable resource on the history of West Hollywood and the Sunset Strip.

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