The best books about 1939 Hollywood

Thomas S. Hischak Author Of 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year
By Thomas S. Hischak

Who am I?

I have been writing books about film, theatre, and popular music since 1991 but my love of old movies goes back much further. Before VCRs, DVDs, and streaming, one could only catch these old films on television (often cut to allow for commercial time) or revival houses. Today even the more obscure movies from 1939 are attainable. Writing 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year gave me the opportunity to revisit dozens of old favorites and to see the many also-rans of that remarkable year.

I wrote...

1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year

By Thomas S. Hischak,

Book cover of 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year

What is my book about?

This book looks at all 510 Hollywood feature films that were released in 1939 in the context of what was happening in the U.S. and the world. The format is a day-by-day chronicle covering major news events (national and international) as well as the activities on Broadway, radio, the music business, literature, and other arts, and sporting events. This is followed by a full description and commentary on the Hollywood movies that were released on that day. Also included are many notable shorts, cartoons, and foreign releases.

While other books look at the movie highlights of this momentous year, I wanted to evaluate Hollywood’s entire screen output of 1939, including B pictures, serial installments, and memorable international releases.

The books I picked & why

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Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939

By Mark A. Vieira,

Book cover of Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939

Why this book?

It might seem presumptuous to call 50 films from 1939 "classics" but I agree with Vieira that these 50 movies deserve that distinction. This book is filled with all the pertinent information, fun facts, and great visuals. Movie stills, behind-the-scenes candid photos, portraits, and poster art make this a memorable volume to treasure. I particularly like the attention Vieira gives to the many outstanding movie directors working in 1939.

1939: The Making of Six Great Films from Hollywood's Greatest Year

By Charles F. Adams,

Book cover of 1939: The Making of Six Great Films from Hollywood's Greatest Year

Why this book?

Because this book concentrates on only six 1939 movies – Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Adams is able to go into much more detail about the making of each film and the critical reaction each received. I'd be hard-pressed to pick only six movies from that eventful year and movie fans will disagree with Vieira's choices somewhere down the line. But once you get past that, this book is filled with important information and plenty of trivial details that it is a great read.

Hollywood's Golden Year, 1939: A Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration

By Ted Sennett,

Book cover of Hollywood's Golden Year, 1939: A Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration

Why this book?

Ted Sennett is one of the most prolific and widely-read writers about Hollywood and this book on 1939 is one of his very best works. It is filled (one might even say, stuffed) with behind-the-scenes stories. The writing is sometimes critical and analytical rather than gushing as in some of Sennett's many coffee table books. He concentrates on only seventeen 1939 movies so one doesn't get a full picture of that amazing year of movies. It's good to see some lesser-known classics like Midnight and Angels Have Wings included in the seventeen.

The Making of Gone with the Wind

By Steve Wilson,

Book cover of The Making of Gone with the Wind

Why this book?

This book grew out of a 2014 exhibition to mark the 75th anniversary of Gone With the Wind. The exhibition included rarely-seen material from the archives of producer David O. Selznick and his business partner John Hay “Jock” Whitney. So even if you've read one of the handful of previous books about the making of this movie classic there is much here that is new. The behind-the-scenes deals, battles with the censors, and the controversies surrounding the film are all covered in this fascinating book.

The Making of the Wizard of Oz

By Aljean Harmetz,

Book cover of The Making of the Wizard of Oz

Why this book?

Released for the 75th anniversary of another 1939 classic, this book about the beloved favorite The Wizard of Oz is probably the best of the handful written over the years. All the familiar stories are here, a few myths are debunked, and some new information is brought to light. The story of the making of this classic is as engaging as fiction. In addition to interviews with surviving production crew personnel, the book also has some rarely seen photos. 

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