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Book Review: Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies! by Stephen Schochet

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What he said:

“Promise you’ll never repeat what you just said to another living soul,” was Orson Welles’ reply when a fan pointed out an inconsistency in Citizen Kane. Stephen Shochet has filled 13 chapters with over 150 stories similar to the one referenced here. This Orson Welles story is about a paragraph long and takes up about a third of one page. Three stories fit on some pages and some take a bit more than one page. Schochet offers a nice assortment in length and easy-to-read prose, much of which is conversational or filled with quotations.

WellesEach chapter begins with a movie ticket over two quotes by actors, directors, comedians, and other celebrities. Chapters are organized by subject matter such as movie genre, Oscar stories, drinking, television, and the ever popular “miscellaneous.”

Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies! is a treasure trove for the casual reader looking for a few quick reads as well as the serious fan looking for information. I particularly appreciated the thorough bibliography and index. In less than 20 minutes (I read slowly) I learned several interesting facts about two of my favorite movies, Patton and Dr. Strangelove.

At work, movies are often the subject of conversation and I’m looking forward to telling my associates General Omar Bradley’s inspiring story about the significance of the extra star on his helmet. Whether you’re looking for a few quick smiles, stories from the other side of the camera, or researching violence in the movies, this book will become a welcome companion in your library.

What she said:

Stephen Schochet could have compiled a book of scripts from his syndicated, one-minute radio feature, Hollywood Stories, and published a book that would have satisfied tremendously with short stories about big names. Instead, he supplemented his collection of stories with “extras” — additional stories about the personalities or events described in his original story. Some of the originals may merit one more tale; many get three or four. With so much information, Hollywood Stories is a veritable encyclopedia of celebrity lore, gossip, and history.

Actors, actresses, writers, directors, studio heads — they all appear in nearly 300 tightly packed pages. Readers will appreciate the included bibliography which allows a quick look-up of a favorite (or incredibly despised) celebrity. Stories cover a span of history that includes Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks as well as Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, and such diverse films as Birth of a Nation and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Author Stephen Schochet got his start collecting stories for his job as a Hollywood tour guide. He used his research to entertain his customers, and parlayed that success into his radio minutes-of-fame.

Some of the stories reveal aspects of personalities that were not well known, and while some of these tidbits may be unfavorable, Schochet tells the stories so guilelessly that there’s not a hint of judgment or censure. There is an entire chapter of “Drinking Tales,” and — surprise! — one of the imbibers included is Ward Bond. More famous and prodigious drinkers, like W.C. Fields, get more coverage, of course.

Tabloids may thrive on any appearance of moral weakness in media idols, but Hollywood Stories is more the stuff of positive attributes and everyday life. There are anecdotes about generosity¸ hospitality, and friendship, as well as a few about strained friendships, inhospitable neighbors, and penny-pinching. (Perhaps the best penny-pinching story relates to notorious miser Jack Benny who was blackmailed into picking up a breakfast tab by George Burns.)

At the Friars Club

   
More than anything, Hollywood Stories reveals the human side of media stars. From the casualties that were the result of the introduction of talkies to Paris Hilton’s preference in burgers, the reader gets a look into very private lives. Many of the stories are familiar, but they are well told and benefit from the appended material.

Several stories credit actions or quotations to a particular celeb that have been reported elsewhere and attributed to someone else. It’s not surprising, since it’s not just celebrities who love to repeat a good line (and take credit for it). Reading a different version of events does not detract from the overall enjoyment of Hollywood Stories, although it may prompt a little research.

Along with the personal stories, there are accounts of unusual happenings during filmmaking, such as Jim Cavaziel being struck by lightning during a crucifixion scene in The Passion of the Christ (he looked up to the sky and asked “What, you didn’t like that take?”), Steve McQueen performing as an extra for $120 long after he’d become a success, and an on-set accident that sent a Scarface visitor to the hospital because Howard Hughes had insisted on using real machine guns.

Bottom Line: Would I buy Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies!? Yes, it’s a fun trip back into Hollywood history.

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