The best books about movie stars

20 authors have picked their favorite books about movie stars and why they recommend each book.

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Hollywood Babylon

By Kenneth Anger,

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

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…


Who am I?

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.

Instant Mom

By Nia Vardalos,

Book cover of Instant Mom

First of all, Nia Vardalos is just hilarious. She could write an Ikea assembly brochure and it would probably be side-splitting. But in the book, she tells about being a rising star (a great story on its own) who had it all – except a baby. After a grueling battle with infertility, she eventually came around to the idea of adoption, and started to learn more about the fost-adopt process of taking an older child who is unlikely to reunite with their original family. With great heart, she tells the roller-coaster story of bringing a 3-year-old with attachment challenges into her life—and the inevitable universality of motherhood. “Nothing prepared me for the life I would feel for my child. Nothing prepared me for how quickly it happened for me. And here’s what I just figure out now: no one is ever prepared. In a way, we’re all instant moms.” She’s…


Who am I?

I don’t just write stories, I study them. I’ve noticed that nearly every major hero/ine’s journey and epic tale has an adoption component. From Bible stories and Greek myths (adoption worked out well for Moses, not so much for Oedipus) to Star Wars through This Is Us, we humans are obsessed with origin stories. And it’s no wonder: “Where do I come from?” and “Where do I belong?” are questions that confound and comfort us from the time we are tiny until we take our final breath. As an adoptive mother and advocate for continuing contact with birth families, I love stories about adoption, because no two are alike. They give us light and insight into how families are created and what it means to be a family—by blood, by love, and sometimes, the combination of the two.


I wrote...

Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption

By Vanessa McGrady,

Book cover of Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption

What is my book about?

Every family is complicated. None of us has a perfectly linear story. But if we are lucky, our stories are laced with love and compassion and humor. This was most surely the case in Vanessa McGrady’s life. In Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption, her deft and moving love letter to her daughter, Grace.

After two years of waiting to adopt—years spent slogging through paperwork and bouncing between hope and despair—a miracle finally happened for Vanessa McGrady. Her sweet baby, Grace, was a dream come true. Then she made a highly uncommon decision: when Grace’s biological parents became homeless, Vanessa invited them to stay. Without a blueprint for navigating the practical basics of an open adoption or any discussion of expectations or boundaries, the unusual living arrangement became a bottomless well of conflicting emotions and increasingly difficult decisions complicated by missed opportunities, regret, social chaos, and broken hearts.

Indecent Exposure

By David McClintick,

Book cover of Indecent Exposure: A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street

McClintick makes the Hollywood boardroom scandal that began with David Begelman’s forgery of Cliff Robertson’s name on a $10,000 check, into a compulsively readable account of power run amok amongst  Hollywood-Wall Street executives. An expose of theft, cover-up, and blackmail, it is also a beautifully written, incisive portrait of men and women seduced by the glamor and power of Hollywood fame.


Who am I?

Tom Santopietro is the author of eight books, including the New York Times Editor’s Choice Considering Doris Day, The Importance of Being Barbra, Sinatra in Hollywood, Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters, and The Godfather Effect. A frequent media commentator and interviewer, he lectures on classic films and over the past thirty years has managed more than two dozen Broadway shows.


I wrote...

The Sound of Music Story

By Tom Santopietro,

Book cover of The Sound of Music Story

What is my book about?

Very few films transcend enormous initial popularity to become both legend and a permanent part of American cultural life, but The Sound of Music has done just that. Great Hollywood filmmaking at the tail end of the golden era, casting debates, location set-tos, and critical controversy- The Sound of Music had it all. When I read that then President Ronald Reagan did not read a specially prepared G-7 Summit Briefing because he wanted to watch The Sound of Music on television instead, I knew I wanted to write about the extraordinary hold this film classic continues to exercise upon audiences around the world.

Greenlights

By Matthew McConaughey,

Book cover of Greenlights

This is the best book I have read on how to live your life without regrets. It’s all about making mistakes and moving on, which are two things that inventors must embrace. Along your journey to commercializing your invention, making mistakes is inevitable, so getting comfortable with moving on quickly is key. That said, you don’t have to make every mistake yourself. You can and should learn from experts.

Who am I?

The traditional way of commercializing an invention — patenting, prototyping, then marketing it — doesn’t work very well and never has. When I found an easier way to share my creativity with the world, it changed my life, because the feeling you get when you hold something in your hand that you first imagined in your head is second to none. My 10-step process breaks down barriers so that everyone who has an idea — young or old, rich or poor — can get in the game of bringing it to market. I’ve published 5 books, 1,000 articles, and more than 700 videos to help others take advantage of the power of open innovation.


I wrote...

One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams Into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work

By Stephen Key,

Book cover of One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams Into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work

What is my book about?

Do you have ideas for new products? Do you enjoy designing solutions to problems? Are you motivated to make improvements? Whether you’ve invented a must-have kitchen tool, pet toy, or automotive product, this book will teach you how to transform your creativity into recurring passive income. The beauty of the licensing business model is that you don’t need to write a business plan, raise money, or quit your day job to launch your product ideas onto the market.

Instead, One Simple Idea teaches you how to minimize risk and maximize your likelihood of success as you learn the right way of protecting, designing, marketing, and pitching your invention ideas quickly. This book is beloved by the inventing community because it’s enjoyable to read and offers detailed, practical strategies that work. It is based on the real-life successes of author Stephen Key, the inventor and IP strategist, and his many clients.

Memoirs and Misinformation

By Jim Carrey, Dana Vachon,

Book cover of Memoirs and Misinformation

Anything to do with Jim Carrey, I’m in. In fact, when teachers would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d reply “Be Jim Carrey.” As a longtime fan, I was excited to learn that he would finally be charting his life in an autobiography. As it turns out, the book was mostly wild fiction. What’s so engaging about this book is how he blends real-life occurrences like his body of film work and relationship with Renee Zellweger with completely off-the-wall fantasy like mentor Rodney Dangerfield returning as a Rhino, Kelsey Grammar leading a cult, and Carrey struggling with his career as his entire essence goes virtual. It’s extremely experimental, but the inclusion of celebrities will leave you grinning.     


Who am I?

I’m a classic Hollywood fanatic. I can name you every Best Picture Oscar Winner on command. I’ve written screenplays and seen the industry firsthand, but if I had my choice, I’d go live through the Hollywood Golden Age. I've published numerous non-fiction film history books and have a whole lot more classic-film-inspired novels coming. And I do it all simply for the single reason that writing a book is the closest thing to time travel that I can find. Immersing myself in this world with actors that have lived, and even a few that I’ve made up, is pure heaven that transports me back to the days of the silver screen. 


I wrote...

He's No Angel

By Ryan Uytdewilligen,

Book cover of He's No Angel

What is my book about?

In this new humorous take on Hollywood, Charlie Fritz is a talent agent hanging onto his career by a thread. After embarrassing himself at a movie screening, he's in need of a comeback and a superstar client. Luckily, success comes his way in the form of his presumed-to-be dead father.

When Bernie Fritz mysteriously arrives, it's evident he doesn't remember anything about his prior life. All he has is a cryptic message from the afterlife to share with anyone who will listen. After Bernie's message goes viral and creates a social media sensation, Charlie seizes the opportunity to become his dad's agent. It's the perfect opportunity for them to finally connect and find a little meaning in their lives—even if for one of them, life is technically over.

Harpo Speaks!

By Harpo Marx, Rowland Barber,

Book cover of Harpo Speaks!

Okay, I am totally cheating here. Harpo Speaks! is not specifically a kid’s book at all (although it would be wonderful to read with and to upper primary and older), but it is my favourite book of all time, and I couldn’t not include it here. Harpo Speaks! is the autobiography of Harpo Marx. I have read it at least ten times, and every time I learn something new. 

The Marx Brothers show how life can and should be fun, but that the fun comes after and while you are working incredibly hard towards a dream. And of all of them, Harpo’s attitude to and joy of life is a lesson to us all. I can’t recommend this highly enough.


Who am I?

I am obsessed with personal development, having attended seminars to walk across hot coals and jump from crazy heights to test my limits, and I have read hundreds of books and watched hundreds of videos on self-improvement. But sometimes the best lessons come in fiction, and kid’s books do this so wonderfully. And they are a lot quicker to read and absorb! They also teach with humour, rhythm, and joy, and can change a child’s life simply by letting them escape into a world of laughter and joy, expanding their imaginations, and letting them absorb the lessons, sometimes without even realising it.


I wrote...

How to Catch a Leprechaun

By Adam Wallace, Andy Elkerton (illustrator),

Book cover of How to Catch a Leprechaun

What is my book about?

How to Catch a Leprechaun is a crazy, chaotic St. Patrick’s Day Eve rhyming romp through the houses of kids trying to catch a Leprechaun. With a mixture of slapstick, STEM, and escalation, How to Catch a Leprechaun has hit the New York Times Bestseller List four years in a row leading up to St Patrick’s Day.

Edie

By Jean Stein,

Book cover of Edie: American Girl

I read this biography of Edie Sedgwick, the late model, actress, and Warhol Superstar, when I was starting work on my own book and was just dazzled by how revealing and well-structured it is. Edie captures the ’60s It Girl’s life in stark detail from her aristocratic but incredibly dysfunctional childhood all the way to her 1971 death, of a drug overdose, at the age of 28. It’s gripping, often sordid stuff, and the true masterpiece of the oral history form.


Who am I?

I am currently the features editor at Input, a website about tech and culture. Earlier in my career, I worked at the now-defunct music magazine Blender, for which I wrote an oral history of Sub Pop, the Seattle label that put out early records by the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney. That article was the basis of my book for Everybody Loves Our Town. I’m also a widely published freelancer, with pieces in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Wired, WSJ. Magazine, Rolling Stone, and many other outlets.


I wrote...

Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge

By Mark Yarm,

Book cover of Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge

What is my book about?

Everybody Loves Our Town tells the whole story of grunge music: from the founding of the Seattle scene’s seminal bands to the worldwide success of grunge’s big four (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains); from the rise of the cash-poor, hype-rich indie label Sub Pop to the major-label feeding frenzy that overtook the Pacific Northwest; from the simple joys of making noise at basement parties and tiny rock clubs to the tragic, lonely deaths of superstars Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley.

Drawn from more than 250 new interviews, Everybody Loves Our Town is at once a moving, funny, lurid, and hugely insightful portrait of an extraordinary musical era. Time magazine named it one of the best books of the year.

Welcome to Temptation

By Jennifer Crusie,

Book cover of Welcome to Temptation

This is an older book, but Jennifer’s sizzle is unsurpassed. A movie assignment brings Sophie Dempsey to Temptation, Ohio. From the moment she drives into town, she has a bad feeling: Everything is a little too right. And when she has a run-in with the town's unnervingly sexy mayor, Phineas Tucker, making her little movie morphs into something downright dangerous.

Choosing the hottest scene out of several scorchers in this book was hard. There’s the sex scene on the table in the kitchen, but the scene where Phin decides that Sophie is turned on by discovery fantasies—so when her friend arrives at her house he makes increasingly louder noises until they are discovered—mmm hmm, that’s a masterpiece.

Who am I?

What makes a good sex scene for you? Long and drawn out, fast and furious or an unusual location? Perhaps the interesting use of accessories is your jam. And that’s before we get to angry sex, makeup sex, unexpected sex, or sex with the fear of discovery. I’ve loved steamy romance novels for as long as I can remember, and when I look for books with sex scenes, I have high expectations. I’m a fan of something unusual. Not tacky or totally unrealistic, just something surprising and interesting. But have all the best ideas been written? No way. I’m a firm believer that the best is yet to come.


I wrote...

The Refusal

By Eve M. Riley,

Book cover of The Refusal

What is my book about?

Quiet boyfriends. An organised life. It’s all about to be upended. When playboy sleazebag Janus Phillips meets feisty wrong-side-of-the-tracks Jo Williams, sparks fly. But when she’s forced into helping him sort a hack into his company to save her own struggling business, she realizes that Janus is not quite what he seems.

The Refusal is a seventeen-time romance book award winner. Global Book Award Gold. Overall winner of the 16th National Indie Excellence Awards, winner of the Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards and the Los Angeles Book Festival. The Refusal was also an Independent Press Award Distinguished Favorite, a finalist in the International Book Awards, the Wishing Shelf Book Awards, and the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Awards for best first book.

Hedy Lamarr's Double Life

By Laurie Wallmark, Katy Wu (illustrator),

Book cover of Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life appealed to me because it speaks to a world in which girls and women are still judged by their appearance, regardless of what they’re actually doing. “People seem to think because I have a pretty face I’m stupid,” Hedy Lamarr commented. “I have to work twice as hard as anyone else to convince people I have something resembling a brain.” In fact, she was a brilliant inventor in addition to a glamorous Hollywood star. Her many inventions included frequency hopping, a technology essential to cell phones and other devices used today. (And no, she wasn’t credited or paid.) This book is a great reminder to examine our assumptions about who people are and what they might be good at—including ourselves.


Who am I?

I am a children’s author best known for digging up fascinating, often funny stories about famous people—and forgotten people who deserve to be famous again. After a trip to Israel with the PJ Library program, which sends free books each month to hundreds of thousands of Jewish children and their families, I was spurred to find out more about the many brilliant, bold, creative, persistent, and too often unsung Jewish women who have made a difference in our world.


I wrote...

Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat

By Mara Rockliff, Giselle Potter (illustrator),

Book cover of Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat

What is my book about?

Try It! is the true story of the produce pioneer who introduced Americans to kiwi fruit—and filled our supermarkets with fresh fruits and vegetables, from seedless watermelon to sugar snap peas. Whether she was tasting smelly-but-delicious durian, or breaking into an all-male industry and totally transforming it, Frieda Caplan never hesitated to try something new.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

By Taylor Jenkins Reid,

Book cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Another book I read while writing my book, by another Swiftie author: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This novel chronicles the story of an up-and-coming journalist who interviews an elderly former Hollywood starlet about fame, scandals, and love. Insightful and evocative, and a look underneath the layers of a celebrity’s public persona, I devoured this book in one sitting. When a fan of the book tweeted the author, asking if the story could be inspired by the life and times of Taylor Swift, TJR replied “oh most certainly.” 


Who am I?

Kristina Parro is a long-time Taylor Swift fan who dove deep into the stories and lyrics of folklore to help her overcome the tumultuous period she spent as a front-line healthcare worker during the pandemic. She discovered layers of deep meaning and surprising connections in the album, as well as throughout Taylor’s entire collection, that led her down a rabbit hole of her own. A quest that brought her to a more enlightened state of being. Lucky is Parro’s first novel. She's currently working on another adult-fiction manuscript. You can also find her hosting a live, weekly show on Instagram, during which she has insightful conversations with authors, artists, thinkers, creatives, and Taylor Swift fans! 


I wrote...

Lucky: A Novel

By Kristina Parro,

Book cover of Lucky: A Novel

What is my book about?

Calling all Swifties, we found a must-add to your TBR! folklore is a collection of songs and stories from singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. In the album’s primer, Taylor urges fans, “now it’s up to you to pass them down.” Kristina Parro did just that in her novel, Lucky, which was inspired by folklore and the incredible true story of Standard Oil heiress Rebekah Harkness. In Lucky, readers join Rhea Harmonía, America’s favorite pop star, as she learns the story of Rebekah Harkness and tumbles down the rabbit-hole, on a journey through history, philosophy, math, music, mythology, and time. Keep your eyes peeled for “Easter Eggs” and allusions to Swift’s entire discography hidden throughout the novel!

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