Marilyn in Hollywood: The ‘Confidential’ Years

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Samantha Barbas is a professor of law at the University of Buffalo, specialising in the history of America’s mass media. Her previous publications include Movie Crazy: Fans, Stars, and the Cult of Celebrity (2001), and The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons (2005.) In her latest book, Confidential Confidential: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Notorious Scandal Magazine, she explores the lurid history and aftermath of a 1950s publishing phenomenon. Continue reading

The Muse Above My Desk

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Not long ago I acquired a very special painting by my artist friend, Fionn Wilson. Christine at 72 is based on one of the last formal photographs of Christine Keeler, captured by Pal Hansen just a few years before her sad passing in December 2017. I’ve decided to place it above my desk: Christine was (of course) the inspiration for my first book, Wicked Baby. And I was born in ’72, so it seems lucky in many ways. For me, this image represents a proud, independent woman looking back on her past and ahead to the future, always with unflinching courage and honesty. I also find it reassuring to contemplate this model of a mature woman, embracing wisdom and experience alongside her beauty and sensuality.  Continue reading

Turning a New Page With Jeanne

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I’m glad to tell you all that Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed (Revised and Updated) is now available in hardcover and paperback. A full 90 pages longer than the first edition, and with new photos, it will be our last word on Jeanne’s remarkable life and career. So if you’re looking for a meaty biography to read this Christmas, make sure to buy this new edition as the older version will soon be unavailable. I’ve updated all the links to order from Amazon and other stores here.

 

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up

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In her lifetime, Frida Kahlo was little-known outside Mexico. Her reputation abroad could be summarised by this derisive headline from a newspaper article, published during her first trip to the USA in 1933: ‘Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art.’ Neither was she commercially successful, though her work was feted by prominent European aesthetes like André Breton. In her home country, however, she was a cultural icon, leading the charge for a modern, independent Mexico.

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For Jeanne, An End … And a Beginning

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As autumn leaves began to fall in the New York of 1929, Jeanne Eagels was recovering at home after eye surgery and seeking treatment from her physician at his Park Avenue hospital for a ‘nervous disorder’. After seeing him on October 3, she decided that an evening out might lift her spirits. She slipped into an evening gown complemented by several strands of pearls, and finally put on a fur coat to warm herself in the chilly night air.

However, her condition quickly worsened. A little before 7 pm, she left with her maid, and was driven some 60 blocks to Park Avenue, where her doctor was called from his downstairs residence, and she was escorted into a 5th floor examination room by a nurse. Jeanne removed her coat and was sitting on the bed when she suddenly went into convulsions. The nurse ran into the hall calling for the doctor’s assistant, but by the time they returned, it was too late.

Jeanne Eagels was dead at thirty-nine.

Exactly 89 years later, I am proud to announce that a revised and updated edition of Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed, the 2015 biography co-authored by myself and Eric M. Woodard, will shortly be published by Bearmanor Media. We retrace the life and career of the woman who rose from the streets of Kansas City to become a Broadway sensation, and lit up the silver screen: with new material on her loving, if troubled family background; her acting triumphs, including Rain and The Letter; her ill-starred marriage to athlete Ted Coy, and much more.

Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed offers a startling look at the actress and her times … packed with detail and drama, and does bring Jeanne Eagels into 21st century focus as an ambitious, driven woman who often fought the system, but could not defeat her own demons.” – Liz Smith, New York Social Diary

“Their research, to this reader, sparkles and shines . . . the kind of meat one likes with this rich meal of a book.” – Stephen Michael Shearer, author of Gloria Swanson: The Ultimate Star 

“What you are about to read is nothing short of remarkable.” Michelle Morgan, author of The Ice Cream Blonde and Carole Lombard: Twentieth Century Star

Murder Orthodoxies: Sex, Lies and Marilyn

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This article can also be read at Immortal Marilyn.

Murder Orthodoxies: Sex, Lies and Marilyn

Among the thousand or more books about Marilyn Monroe, there are certain strands – from coffee-table monographs to cultural criticism. One theme is so persistent, however, that it has become a sub-genre in its own right. Armed with dubious confessions and conspiracy theories, their authors argue that Marilyn’s untimely death was the result of foul play in high (and low) places, and these allegations have been seized upon by readers, as well as journalists and documentarians. Continue reading

‘You May Be My Lucky Star…’

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From the age of eleven, my Saturdays would often include a trip to the record department at Boots to buy a 7-inch single. One of these was ‘Lucky Star’ by Madonna. Along with ‘Holiday’, it was one of her earliest songs played on the radio. Each weekend I stopped to gaze at her gorgeous album cover, but my savings rarely stretched to LPs. When I finally bought it, it had a different cover and my best friend (who wasn’t a fan) borrowed and never returned it.  Continue reading

Emily Brontë at 200

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'To Walk Invisible' (2016)

Last weekend, the historian and literary biographer Kathryn Hughes wrote for The Guardian about ‘The Strange Cult of Emily Brontë and the “Hot Mess” of Wuthering Heights,’ arguing that the middle Brontë sister was “no romantic child of nature but a pragmatic, self-interested Tory,” and that her only novel (which Hughes read as a teenager and struggled to finish) was a “screeching melodrama.” Published on the eve of Emily’s bicentenary, this clickbait sensation was only the latest in a long line of outraged and baffled responses to the writer and her work. Whereas her sisters Charlotte and Anne have been embraced by feminists, Emily – about whom little is known – remains something of an outcast.  Continue reading

Happy Birthday, ‘Lust for Life’

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A year after its release, here’s my in-depth review of Lana Del Rey’s Lust For Life…  Continue reading

There’s No Business Like Show Business

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On June 1st – exactly ninety-two years after Norma Jeane Mortenson was born in the charity ward of Los Angeles General Hospital – her 1954 movie, There’s No Business Like Show Business, was screened at the Duke of York’s Cinema in Brighton, and will be shown at selected Picturehouse venues throughout June. The first musical made in CinemaScope (a pioneering widescreen technology developed by Twentieth Century Fox to combat the threat of television), it was also one of the last Technicolour musicals made under the studio system model of Hollywood’s golden age.  Continue reading