The best Hollywood memoirs that tell the truth

Why am I passionate about this?

I worked for 27 years at The Washington Post, where I won a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. But when I returned home in 2006, I wanted to write about my own country, and what could be more American than the movies? They’re a wonderful looking glass into the past, and my books explore the making of an iconic movie and the historical era in which it was created. My recent ones have recounted the making of The Searchers, starring John Wayne, and High Noon, the Gary Cooper classic and its connection to the Hollywood blacklist, a time of vicious conflict eerily similar to our own troubled era.


I wrote...

Book cover of Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic

What is my book about?

More than 50 years after its release, Midnight Cowboy remains one of the most groundbreaking and memorable movies of the modern era. My book traces the origins of this bleak masterpiece and the gifted writers, actors, and filmmakers who made it. Set in a New York besieged by economic collapse and cultural ferment, the movie tells the story of two homeless loners—a male hustler from Texas and a tubercular petty con man from the Bronx, brilliantly played by Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman—who forge a wary friendship out of desperate circumstances. The movie was a surprise box office hit and the only X-rated movie ever to win the Best Picture Oscar.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Private View

Glenn Frankel Why did I love this book?

The dutiful daughter of one studio mogul and devoted wife of another, Irene Selznick was Hollywood royalty throughout the 1920s to 40s, the Golden Age of American cinema. Her father, the tyrannical Louis B. Mayer, steered MGM, Hollywood’s most successful studio, discovered Greta Garbo and victimized Judy Garland. Her husband, David O. Selznick made the first A Star Is Born and Gone with the Wind before self-destructing from drugs and megalomania. Irene escaped the shadow of overpowering men to become the respected Broadway producer of A Streetcar Named Desire, a woman to be reckoned with and—in this powerful memoir—a first-class storyteller.

By Irene Mayer Selznick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Private View as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Irene Mayer came to Hollywood when she was ten. Her childhood was populated with legendary names as her father, Louis B., practically created the movie industry. But life at the Mayers' was not lived in the typical Hollywood style. They believed in family, in strict hours, tiny allowances, no boys, no going away to college, and no socializing with actors. She didn't marry an actor. She married David O. Selznick, a wildly energized, and ambitious man who would go on to make some of the greatest movies Hollywood would ever see. Irene eventually left him, and Hollywood, for New York…


Book cover of A Life

Glenn Frankel Why did I love this book?

Okay, it’s more of an autobiography than a memoir, but Kazan’s 826-page volcano is the most explosive and mesmerizing show-business book I’ve ever plunged into. From his salad days as a struggling actor with New York’s Group Theatre to his conquest of Broadway as the hottest, most pugnacious stage director of the mid-20th century (Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), to his Oscar-winning films (Streetcar, Gentleman’s Agreement, On the Waterfront), Kazan vividly recounts his triumphs, missteps and misdeeds, his mistreatment of his wife and many lovers, and his betrayal of former friends and comrades, in a voice overflowing with self-laceration and self-justification. With a supporting cast that includes Tennessee Williams, Vivien Leigh, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, and James Dean.

By Elia Kazan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Elia Kazan's varied life and career is related here in his autobiography. He reveals his working relationships with his many collabourators, including Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg, Clifford Odets, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, James Dean, John Steinbeck and Darryl Zanuck, and describes his directing "style" as he sees it, in terms of position, movement, pace, rhythm and his own limitations. Kazan also retraces his own decision to inform for the House Un-American Activities Committee, illuminating much of what may be obscured in McCarthy literature.


Book cover of Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company

Glenn Frankel Why did I love this book?

The author, son of a silent screen star and a respected actress, acted in nine movies made by the man he called “Uncle Jack”—John Ford, winner of four Oscars and arguably the greatest director in Hollywood history. Carey could ride, shoot, and wear a convincing toupee—all of which were requirements for actors in Ford’s classic Westerns, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, and The Searchers. His memoir is affectionate, intimate, and critical, not just of the hard-drinking, physically and emotionally abusive Ford—“the man I loved and, at times, tried very hard to hate”—but also of John Wayne, the great man’s favorite actor and regular whipping boy, and other members of the cast and crew whom Ford mercilessly bullied and inspired in film after film, many of them shot in breathtakingly picturesque Monument Valley.          

By Harry Carey Jr.,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Harry Carey, Sr., died in 1947, director John Ford cast Carey's twenty-six-year-old son, Harry, Jr., in the role of The Abilene Kid in 3 Godfathers. Ford and the elder Carey had filmed an earlier version of the story, and Ford dedicated the Technicolor remake to his memory.

Company of Heroes is the story of the making of that film, as well as the eight subsequent Ford classics. In it, Harry Carey, Jr., casts a remarkably observant eye on the process of filming Westerns by one of the true masters of the form. From She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and…


Book cover of Musts, Maybes, and Nevers: A Book About The Movies

Glenn Frankel Why did I love this book?

As Hollywood’s Golden Age sputtered to a close and the old studio behemoths collapsed, United Artists became the Little Studio That Still Could, thanks largely to the discerning eye and risk-taking appetite of David Picker, its young head of marketing and production. Under his leadership, UA made deals that snagged the James Bond series, the Beatles’ two feature films, and Woody Allen’s best movies. Picker’s formula was simple—sign the most intriguing filmmakers in America and Europe to low-budget, one-movie contracts and then leave them alone to do their finest work. Picker praises his pals and lacerates his foes, including Robert Altman, Otto Preminger, and most especially Bill Cosby, whom he despised long before the sexual assault allegations. Anyone recall Cosby’s woeful Leonard Part 6?

Book cover of Monster: Living Off the Big Screen

Glenn Frankel Why did I love this book?

Besides being superb novelists and essayists, Dunne and his famous wife, Joan Didion, were screenwriters who banked sizable incomes and endless frustrations doctoring scripts for nearly two dozen movies. Still, no matter what their glittering reputations, most writers are viewed as hors-d’oeuvres at the bottom of the Hollywood food chain, and Dunne spares no one, including himself, in this wickedly witty account of developing a screenplay about the life of TV news anchor Jessica Savitch. What started out as a gritty, cautionary story of a talented young woman who succumbed to drugs and alcohol was transformed into a feel-good fairy tale of love and redemption after Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer got attached to the project. Dunne captures every wrong turn with a writer’s sharp eye and ear for Hollywood hypocrisy.

By John Gregory Dunne,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Monster is John Gregory Dunne's mordant account of the eight years it took to get the 1996 Robert Redford/Michelle Pfeiffer film Up Close & Personal made. A bestselling novelist, Dunne has a cold eye, perfect pitch for the absurdities of Hollywood, and sharp elbows for the film industry's savage infighting. 192 pp. Author tour & national ads. 25,000 print.


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A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

By Victoria Golden, William Walters,

Book cover of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

Victoria Golden Author Of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Story teller Book fav swapper Movie buff A writer’s daughter Escapee from Beverly Hills

Victoria's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Four years old and homeless, William Walters boarded one of the last American Orphan Trains in 1930 and embarked on an astonishing quest through nine decades of U.S. and world history.

For 75 years, the Orphan Trains had transported 250,000 children from the streets and orphanages of the East Coast into homes in the emerging West, sometimes providing loving new families, other times delivering kids into nightmares. Taken by a cruel New Mexico couple, William faced a terrible trial, but his strength and resilience carried him forward into unforgettable adventures.

Whether escaping his abusers, jumping freights as a preteen during the Great Depression, or infiltrating Japanese-held islands as a teenage Marine during WWII, William’s unique path paralleled the tumult of the twentieth century—and personified the American dream.

A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

By Victoria Golden, William Walters,

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED, NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BOOK AWARDS

WINNER, DA VINCI EYE AWARD FOR COVER DESIGN, ERIC HOFFER BOOK AWARDS

HONORABLE MENTION, ERIC HOFFER BOOK AWARDS, E-BOOK NONFICTION

FINALIST, NEXT GENERATION INDIE BOOK AWARDS, E-BOOK NONFICTION

FINALIST, NEXT GENERATION INDIE BOOK AWARDS, MEMOIRS (Overcoming Adversity)

HONORABLE MENTION, READERS' FAVORITE BOOK AWARDS, GENERAL NONFICTION

From 1854 to the early 1930s, the American Orphan Trains transported 250,000 children from the streets and orphanages of the East Coast into homes in the emerging West. Unfortunately, families waiting for the trains weren’t always dreams come true—many times they were nightmares.

William Walters was little more than a…


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