The eternal writing and revising and formatting of THEY MAKE MOVIES have been completed. The marketing plans are in place. It’s time to play ball, and I’m feeling a little tense. So let’s throw out the first pitch and see what happens.
This fast-moving collection blends fiction with history to illuminate the lives and careers of noted actors, actresses, and directors. Talented but tormented Louise Brooks and Anna May Wong open the show, and major stars Marlene Dietrich, Vivien Leigh, and Bette Davis follow, revealing their experiences or yielding to characters who offer creative comments about them.
The parade continues with Joan Crawford, a gifted actress who’s difficult on and off the set. Olivia de Havilland becomes a star and then challenges a rigid studio system that locks her into inferior parts and bans her from movies while she fights the moguls in court. Marilyn Monroe is glamorous and gifted but seldom escapes emotional agony. Lupe Velez, The Mexican Spitfire, is similarly doomed.
Contemporary actresses Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchette, Halle Berry, and Kate Winslet usually have better creative choices and earn more money than their cinematic predecessors but must also deal with challenging screen roles and, on occasion, outrageous co-stars.
Leading men next step before the cameras. Humphrey Bogart battles his violent third wife while finally moving toward screen immortality. Errol Flynn, a compelling but unstable young man not long removed from sailing the seas around Tasmania and New Guinea, rapidly becomes a star and almost as quickly undermines himself with alcohol, narcotics, and bad decisions. Clark Gable marries two much older women, one teaching him to act and the other showing him how to behave in high society, before he combines polish and charisma to start getting what he wants.
Laurence Olivier and John Wayne differ stylistically but both dominate the screen and delight moviegoers. Kirk Douglas also proves he’s a star and so does his son Michael, and some creative scenes enliven their stories. Ernest Hemingway arrives, trying to help Burt Lancaster survive his debut in The Killers. In other roles the actor swims through backyard pools on estates in suburban Connecticut and studies birds not at Alcatraz but less scenic Leavenworth. Marlon Brando again fascinates in On the Waterfront, this time making alternative efforts to avoid becoming a bum. The youngest star is Chadwick Boseman, portrayer of Jackie Robinson. Character actors appear next and include Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Claude Rains, Edward G. Robinson, Ernest Borgnine and, more recently, Jesse Eisenberg.
The performers above are guided by directors such as John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, and Spike Lee. And where do they get their raw material? It emerges from numerous too-little-appreciated screenwriters like Ben Hecht, Budd Schulberg, and Aaron Sorkin as well as directors who write well. Huston, Allen, and Lee are among the finest.
And these talents coalesce to form fantasy teams about which we confidently state: They Make Movies.