My favorite books on Hollywood glamour and sleaze

Why am I passionate about this?

Shawn Levy is the author of 11 books of biography and pop culture history, including The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont, Paul Newman: A Life, Rat Pack Confidential, and Ready, Steady, Go! The Smashing Rise and Giddy Fall of Swinging London. He was the longtime film critic of The Oregonian newspaper and KGW-TV in his beloved home city of Portland. He has written a history of the women pioneers of standup comedy which will be published by Doubleday in 2022 and at work on a podcast about the dark connections of politics and show business.


I wrote...

The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont

By Shawn Levy,

Book cover of The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont

What is my book about?

Since 1929, Hollywood's brightest stars have flocked to the Chateau Marmont as if it were a second home. An apartment building-turned-hotel, the Chateau has been the backdrop for generations of gossip and folklore: where director Nicholas Ray slept with his sixteen-year-old Rebel Without a Cause star Natalie Wood; Jim Morrison swung from the balconies; John Belushi suffered a fatal overdose; and Lindsay Lohan got the boot after racking up nearly $50,000 in charges in less than two months. But despite its mythic reputation, much of what has happened inside the Chateau's walls has eluded the public eye--until now. With wit and insight, Shawn Levy recounts the wild revelries and scandalous liaisons, the creative breakthroughs and marital breakdowns, the births and deaths to which the hotel has been a party. Vivid, salacious, and richly informed, The Castle on Sunset is a glittering tribute to Hollywood as seen from inside the walls of its most hallowed hotel.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Out With the Stars: Hollywood Nightlife in the Golden Era

Shawn Levy Why did I love this book?

It doesn't matter that it was patently phony: The glamour that was Tinseltown in Hollywood's golden age was impossibly romantic and utterly irresistible. Much of it had to do with the social lives of movie stars, and in particular the shenanigans they got up to in swanky nightclubs where they danced, courted, and made merry. Jim Heimann is a superb chronicler of Los Angeles's architectural and cultural past, and this beautifully illustrated book is crammed with images of the likes of Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall patronizing such swell spots as Mocambo, the Trocadero, Ciro's, the Coconut Grove, the Player's Club, and many others. They're all gone now, but this collection of hundreds of photos of the clubs, inside and out, and the patrons, dressed as if for a royal wedding, brings them back to vibrant life.

By Jim Heimann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Out With the Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Describes the Hollywood bars, restaurants, and nightclubs frequented by celebrities and movie stars from the 1920s to the 1940s.


Book cover of The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper

Shawn Levy Why did I love this book?

Before he became a writer of potboiler novels and true-crime journalism, Dominick Dunne was a film and television producer and a social butterfly who also happened also to be an avid amateur photographer. This memoir of his Hollywood days, which resulted in a crash-and-burn from which he emerged as a writer, is filled with intimate, candid images of such friends (not all faithful) as Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, Paul Newman, and Frank Sinatra, as well, of course, as Dunne and his family. There are dreamy and even eye-popping tales throughout, and if you're at all familiar with Dunne's books or magazine writing, you'll marvel at how so much of it so neatly dovetails with the life he actually lived and, thankfully, captured on film and in these frank and candid pages.

By Dominick Dunne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Way We Lived Then as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mesmerizing, revelatory text combines with more than two hundred photographs -- most of them taken by the author -- in a startling illustrated memoir that will both astonish and move you.

When Dominick Dunne lived and worked in Hollywood, he had it all: a beautiful family, a glamorous career, and the friendship of the talented and powerful. He also had a camera and loved to take pictures. These photographs, which Dunne carefully preserved in more than a dozen leatherbound scrapbooks -- along with invitations, telegrams, personal notes, and other memorabilia -- record the parties, the glittering receptions, the society weddings,…


Book cover of Masters of Starlight: Photographers in Hollywood

Shawn Levy Why did I love this book?

We call them 'movies' as a nickname for 'moving pictures,' and the immense importance of the 'pictures' part of that phrase is underscored by this lavish and gorgeous book celebrating the work of Hollywood's classic glamour photographers. In brief lives and portfolios of the likes of George Hurrell, Peter Stackpole, Phil Stern, Sid Avery, and Ruth Orkin, we see hundreds of photos of such icons as Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, James Dean, Judy Garland, Marlon Brando, and Shirley MacLaine on the set and off, posed for sumptuous portraits or grabbing coffee and a smoke between takes, in iconic images and remarkable candids. David Fahey and Linda Rich, important photographers themselves, are ideal guides to this gallery, pointing out aspects of the photographers' technique and craft without losing sight of the remarkable subjects of these memorable shots.

By David Fahey, Linda Rich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Masters of Starlight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Brings together the work of 44 Hollywood photographers.


Book cover of Easy Riders Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock 'n Roll Generation Saved Hollywood

Shawn Levy Why did I love this book?

The Hollywood dream factory has always been composed of varying parts art, business, glamour, and sleaze, and very few of the thousands of books written about it have captured that recipe so vividly and well as Peter Biskind's definitive history of the filmmaking generation that gave us such movies as Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Jaws, and Star Wars. In telling the stories of the life and times of such rebels as Warren Beatty, Dennis Hopper, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and the actors, executives, and women in their lives, Biskind reveals a wild world of creative energy, cultural revolution, and lurid lifestyle choices. It's a book teeming with gossip and news, insight and scandal, Olympian glories and dashed hopes, capturing a time when Hollywood seemingly set aside artifice and glamour to make, almost despite itself, genuinely groundbreaking art at a high level.

By Peter Biskind,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Easy Riders Raging Bulls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the low-budget biker movie Easy Rider shocked Hollywood with its success in 1969, a new Hollywood era was born. This was an age when talented young filmmakers such as Scorsese, Coppola, and Spielberg, along with a new breed of actors, including De Niro, Pacino, and Nicholson, became the powerful figures who would make such modern classics as The Godfather, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, and Jaws. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls follows the wild ride that was Hollywood in the '70s -- an unabashed celebration of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll (both onscreen and off) and a climate where innovation and…


Book cover of Hollywood Babylon: The Legendary Underground Classic of Hollywood's Darkest and Best Kept Secrets

Shawn Levy Why did I love this book?

It must be said out loud and straightaway that much of this classic, influential book is, as the kids say, bullshit. But it is iconic bullshit, hair-raising bullshit, bullshit that you simply cannot ignore or pretend away. Anger, an avant-garde filmmaker whose work teems with sexual and occult content, published this book in 1965 when many of the stars of classic Hollywood whose hidden proclivities he discusses were still either alive or part of a revered pantheon: Marilyn Monroe, Errol Flynn, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Charlie Chaplin, and so on. And his claims about their sex lives, criminal activities, and their, shall we say, 'flexible' morals were groundbreaking. It doesn't matter that much of it isn't true: the urban legends it inspired still walk the earth. And the lurid photographs of death scenes and stars at their most vulnerable, though often nightmarish, have also become iconic. As a journalist, I don't trust a word of it on faith. As a devotee of dish, I find it completely addictive. (Consumer alert: DO NOT MISTAKE IT FOR THE SEQUEL, Hollywood Babylon II (1984), an inferior work in every way, even in veracity, which is really saying something!)

By Kenneth Anger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hollywood Babylon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Kenneth Anger has fashioned a delicious . . . box of poisoned bonbons. Picking through the slag heap of the Hollywood dream factory, [he] has put together a truly prodigious anthology of star-studded scandal.”—The New York Times

Kenneth Anger is a former child movie actor who grew up to become one of America’s leading underground filmmakers. Hollywood Babylon was originally published in Paris, and quickly became an underground legend. Not a word has been changed. Not a story omitted. Here is the hot, luscious plum of sizzling scandal that continues to shock the world.


You might also like...

Rewriting Illness

By Elizabeth Benedict,

Book cover of Rewriting Illness

Elizabeth Benedict

New book alert!

What is my book about?

What happens when a novelist with a “razor-sharp wit” (Newsday), a “singular sensibility” (Huff Post), and a lifetime of fear about getting sick finds a lump where no lump should be? Months of medical mishaps, coded language, and Doctors who don't get it.

With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling artistry of an acclaimed novelist, Elizabeth Benedict recollects her cancer diagnosis after discovering multiplying lumps in her armpit. In compact, explosive chapters, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity, she chronicles her illness from muddled diagnosis to “natural remedies,” to debilitating treatments, as she gathers sustenance from family, an assortment of urbane friends, and a fearless “cancer guru.”

Rewriting Illness is suffused with suspense, secrets, and the unexpected solace of silence.

Rewriting Illness

By Elizabeth Benedict,

What is this book about?

By turns somber and funny but above all provocative, Elizabeth Benedict's Rewriting Illness: A View of My Own is a most unconventional memoir. With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling skills of a seasoned novelist, she brings to life her cancer diagnosis and committed hypochondria. As she discovers multiplying lumps in her armpit, she describes her initial terror, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity as she indulges in "natural remedies," among them chanting Tibetan mantras, drinking shots of wheat grass, and finding medicinal properties in chocolate babka. She tracks the progression of her illness from muddled diagnosis to debilitating treatment…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in making movies, Hollywood, and movie stars?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about making movies, Hollywood, and movie stars.

Making Movies Explore 34 books about making movies
Hollywood Explore 118 books about Hollywood
Movie Stars Explore 43 books about movie stars