The best books on 1960s Hollywood

Jon Lewis Author Of Road Trip to Nowhere: Hollywood Encounters the Counterculture
By Jon Lewis

Who am I?

I have been teaching and writing about post-WWII American film for over thirty years now, with a particular passion for (behind the scenes) Hollywood history. Road Trip to Nowhere follows up on a new sort of movie industry history I introduced in my 2017 book on 1950s Los Angeles, Hard-Boiled Hollywood. Both books focus on actors, writers, producers, and directors who don’t quite make it—aspirants and would-be players kicked to the side of the road, so to speak, and others who for reasons we may or may not understand just walked away from the modern American dream life of stardom and celebrity. 


I wrote...

Road Trip to Nowhere: Hollywood Encounters the Counterculture

By Jon Lewis,

Book cover of Road Trip to Nowhere: Hollywood Encounters the Counterculture

What is my book about?

Road Trip to Nowhere elaborates a primary-sourced history of movie production culture, examining the lives of a number of talented actors who got wrapped up in the politics and lifestyles of the counterculture. Thoroughly put off by celebrity culture, actors like Dennis Hopper, Christopher Jones, and Jean Seberg rejected the aspirational backstory and inevitable material trappings of success, much to the chagrin of the studios and directors who backed them. In Road Trip to Nowhere, film historian Jon Lewis details dramatic encounters on movie sets and in corporate boardrooms, on the job and on the streets, and in doing so offers an entertaining and rigorous historical account of an out-of-touch Hollywood establishment and the counterculture workforce they would never come to understand.

The books I picked & why

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The White Album

By Joan Didion,

Book cover of The White Album

Why this book?

Didion’s 1979 collection of essays, including the essay highlighted in the book’s title, offers a candid, first-person, “I was there” account of counterculture Los Angeles, featuring a diverse cast of characters: industry players, Black Panthers, rock stars (she has a thing for Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison), and mass murderers (Charles Manson and one of his acolytes, Linda Kasabian, whom Didion befriended). Didion expertly mixes and matches personal experience and keen observation; The White Album is The New Journalism (embraced by Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson as well) par excellence, a style and form well suited for a new counterculture America.


Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood

By Mark Harris,

Book cover of Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood

Why this book?

Harris focuses on Oscar night 1968 as four of the five films nominated for Best Picture evinced Hollywood’s reluctant affirmation of the American counterculture. These “pictures at a revolution,” as he terms them—Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and the Oscar winner In the Heat of the Nightsignaled a necessary industry re-think, away from bloated old-Hollywood blockbusters (like Dr. Dolittle, the fifth nominee) and towards something more politically savvy and more hip. Harris does well to chronicle the backstage/behind-the-scenes histories of all five of these films.


Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman

By Patricia Bosworth,

Book cover of Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman

Why this book?

Unique among those in Hollywood who dove head first into the American counterculture, Jane Fonda proved too committed to dismiss as a dilettante, too persistent to just fade away, too formidable for the FBI to destroy. Bosworth, a veteran Hollywood biographer (she has written books on Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando as well) uniquely understands political celebrity; she’s never dismissive, but she’s not so easy on her subject either. Because she knows better: Bosworth’s father was the Hollywood 10 attorney Bart Crum. Bosworth surely understands the risks involved in Left-wing celebrity.


The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion

By Ed Sanders,

Book cover of The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion

Why this book?

There have been plenty of books on counterculture Hollywood’s most impactful and arguably most famous figure, Charles Manson—plenty of films, too. For my money, the best book is one of the first, written by the former rock musician and antiwar activist Ed Sanders. Without the benefit of hindsight, the book captures the moment—that fateful summer of 1969—perfectly and poetically.


When the Movies Mattered: The New Hollywood Revisited

By Jonathan Kirshner (editor), Jon Lewis (editor),

Book cover of When the Movies Mattered: The New Hollywood Revisited

Why this book?

A collection marking the fifty-year anniversary of the now famous Time magazine New Hollywood issue, published on December 8, 1967, featuring a gorgeous Robert Rauschenberg-designed, Bonnie and Clyde-inspired cover. The book, aptly subtitled, The New Hollywood Revisited, features essays by a who’s who of counterculture Hollywood’s most influential film reviewers, critics, and historians, including J. Hoberman, Molly Haskell, David Sterritt, and David Thomson.


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