Hollywood has always been one of Hollywood's favorite subjects. "Sunset Boulevard," "Singing in the Rain," "The Player" -- even the 1940 animated short "You Want to Be in Pictures" with Daffy Duck and Porky Pig -- tells the stories about the drama behind the drama. Weirdly, though these films rarely get as much as a nod from Oscar. Maybe the genre's way to the Academy's heart is the well-trod way -- the biopic. For more than a decade, at least one acting Oscar has gone to someone portraying a real-life someone else, and during Oscar's 84-year history, biographies have accounted for nearly a quarter of all best picture winners. "Lawrence of Arabia," "Gandhi," "Amadeus," "Patton," and "Schindler's List" each took home at least seven golden statues. Here are six Oscar-worthy, real-life Tinsel Town stories.
"Goldwyn: A Biography" by A. Scott Berg
Berg's shockingly funny book starts when Shmuel Gelbfisz walks 500 miles from Poland to Hamburg, then from London to Liverpool. He arrived in America at 19, renamed himself Sam Goldfish, and honed his gift for marketing as a glove salesman. At the age of 37, he formed a movie producing partnership with two brothers whose last name was Selwyn. The plan was to combine their surname with Goldfish's to create the name of their company, Goldwyn Pictures. But Goldfish quickly changed his name to Goldwyn, making the company appear to be just his. Though he produced some of the world's most celebrated films -- "Wuthering Heights," "The Little Foxes," "The Best Years of Our Lives" -- the book portrays Goldwyn as an erratic, oxymoronic titan, speaking in near constant malapropisms. Among the quotes attributed to Goldwyn are "Don't talk to me while I'm interrupting," and "When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you." Berg reveals that the world's allegedly shrewdest producer could also be quite naive. When told at the book "The Well of Loneliness" couldn't be filmed because it was about lesbians, he reported replied, "That's all right, we'll make them Hungarians."
"Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters" by Donald Bogle
Bogle's intense, comprehensive biography begins with Water's conception: her teenaged mother was raped by a mixed-race acquaintance. Waters herself married at age 13, but soon left her abusive husband. She supported herself as a maid, and on her 17th birthday she went to a nightclub where friends talked her into singing two songs. She was immediately hired. For six years, Waters worked the vaudeville and carnival circuit, often working from "nine until unconscious." Around 1919, Waters moved to New York City. Bogle vividly portrays often profane and volatile Waters as she rises to international stardom during the Harlem Renaissance. She was the fifth African-American woman to make a record. She starred in the film "Rufus Jones for President," which featured a very young Sammy Davis, Jr. By the early 1930s, she was headlining at the Cotton Club (where she sang "Stormy Weather") and appearing in Irving Berlin's otherwise all-white musical, "As Thousands Cheer." Waters became the highest paid woman on Broadway and the second African-American woman nominated for an Academy Award. Bogle details it all, including outstanding descriptions of Water's turbulent love life -- she was an out and proud bisexual almost a century ago. Nonetheless, Water's developed a close spiritual and professional relationship with the Evangelical preacher, Billy Graham -- an association Bogle explores with sensitivity and candor.
"The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons" by Samantha Barbas
In this, the first full-length biography of the famous celebrity journalist, Barbas examines the life of a reporter -- and single mother -- who relentlessly worked her beat for 45 years. At the height of Parson's own fame, 40 million readers couldn't wait to read the dirt she dug up on stars such as Orson Welles, Joan Crawford, Ingrid Bergman, Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan. Barbas deftly examines how Parson's small-town girl persona belied the fearless often terrorizing investigator she really was -- one not at all above blackmail or doing the dirty work of her boss, William Randolph Hearst.
"Clara Bow: Running Wild" by David Stenn
Bow's role as plucky shop-girl in the 1927 movie "It" earned her nickname, The It Girl. Stenn traces the actress's improbable rise to international stardom from a Brooklyn family plagued by alcoholism, psychosis, and wretched luck. The quintessential flapper, Bow portrayed sex as harmless fun on camera. But behind the scenes Stenn shows that Bow's fast living often drove her to misery and the edge of madness, and he vividly captures how studio fights, sex scandals, and outrageous behavior ended Bow's career before she was 30. Bow retired to a ranch in Nevada, marrying the cowboy actor Rex Bell, who became the state's lieutenant governor. In 1944, Bell announce he would run for Congress. Bow responded by trying to commit suicide. A note she wrote said that for her, death was preferable than a return to public life.
"Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood" by Todd McCarthy
With cunning, often cutting wit, McCarthy sorts fact from fiction in this first major biography of one of Hollywood's greatest directors. Hawks played Svengali to everyone from Lauren Bacall to Montgomery Clift, and he became known as much for inveterate lying as for his astonishingly expansive oeuvre. Hawks' films include the gangster classic "Scarface," the musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," the archetypal screwball comedy "Bringing up Baby," the Bogart-Bacall bang-up "The Big Sleep," and the western masterpiece "Rio Bravo." Hawks partied and played with A-listers -- drinking with Faulkner and Hemingway, then deal-making with Howard Hughes. Throughout the book, the author also delves deep to understand and explain all that enabled an utterly immoral man to come to epitomize morality in film-making.
"Montgomery Clift" by Patricia Boswell
After Clift's death, the iconic method actor's family and friends gave Hollywood insider and biographer Patricia Boswell complete, unfettered access. The result is an intensely intimate portrait of this introverted, deeply troubled actor best know for his victim-hero roles, such as George Eastman in "A Place in the Sun" and Robert E. Lee Prewitt in "From Here to Eternity." While filming "Raintree County" in 1956 with his lifelong friend Elizabeth Taylor, Clift smashed his car into a telephone pole after leaving a dinner party. He was left disfigured, in constant pain, and addicted to drugs and alcohol. In painstaking detail, Boswell documents Clift's ten-year post-accident career, which has been referred to as the "longest suicide in Hollywood history." Boswell suggests that months before her own death from an overdose, Marilyn Monroe was devastatingly accurate when she described Clift as, "The only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am."