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Hollywood's Dark History (Paperback)

Silver Screen Scandals

P&S History > By Century > 19th Century P&S History > By Century > 20th Century P&S History > Social History

By Matt MacNabb
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 160
Illustrations: 25
ISBN: 9781526740748
Published: 6th December 2019



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The dawning of the nineteenth century brought with it a new era for entertainment. Vaudeville was the preferred form of entertainment, until the popularization of the silent film. This new medium proved to be a draw for many of the stars of the Vaudevillian stage and soon they migrated to the exciting possibilities that the movies had to offer. Audiences were instantly enthralled and captivated by the stars of the silent screen. The early days of Hollywood were full of glamour and a newfound decadence. The stars in these films were instantly catapulted to fame and fortune and the spotlight of the public eye. The real people behind the glamour were far different than the characters that audiences grew to know and love and much like Hollywood today, the lives of the stars were often full of scandal and debauchery.

This book examines the forgotten scandals of yesterday, featuring silent and silver screen stars like Jean Harlow, Mae West, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Errol Flynn. Don't let the romanticized black and white world of yesterday fool you, their stories are rife with sex, drugs and murder.

Matt MacNabb has gathered a variety of silver screen origin stories, and scandals, and bound them together in "Hollywood's Dark History". McNabb also provides some insight into the transition from vaudeville to silent pictures, then the talkies. I found it an interesting read and learned about some people I'd never heard of until now. I also enjoyed the inclusion of photographs. In places, MacNabb highlights the immense pressure on women, and the abuse they had to endure in silence. For example, contracts often included a "potato clause", dictating a weight range that must be maintained by female stars. A fascinatingly scandalous read!

NetGalley, Sarah Faichney

This book examines the forgotten scandals of yesterday, featuring silent and silver screen stars like Jean Harlow, Mae West, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Errol Flynn. Don’t let the romanticized black and white world of yesterday fool you, their stories are rife with sex, drugs and murder.

This book is a dark and sad look at some of the stars of Hollywood in the first half of the 20th century, from Charlie Chaplin to Jean Harlow. What struck me from these chapters which each take a look at a star, is how sad all the photos look in the middle of the book. From that I mean the actual stars look sad behind the eyes as if problems and stardom have got to them and the reality of Hollywood is very different in reality. Although I only really recognised a handful of the stars, it was still an interesting read, certainly one for those that enjoy the celebrity side of life.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

It's interesting stuff, in part because it's from an era that has been glamourized so thoroughly in the century since -- and yet, the stars of the early 20th century aren't all that different from their counterparts in the 21st.

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This was an interesting collection following the lives of 13 Hollywood stars and the various scandals that plagued their careers and lives. It is definitely a jumping off point for those who want to go into more detail... it is a great place to start if you are interested in the Studio System and old Hollywood.

NetGalley, Laura Newsholme

This is a fun, light read focussing on 13 stars of the early days of Hollywood, from Jean Harlow to Charlie Chaplin, all of whom had some scandal or tragedy attached to their name... the book is well put together and written in an accessible and entertaining way, and I enjoyed it.

NetGalley, Mandy Jenkinson

This is a book I’d recommend to people who enjoy reading about Old Hollywood, scandals, and stars but haven’t read extensively on it, and also to people looking for a source of information about the era that is easy to read and entertaining but offers an interesting insight into what life was like for the big stars of the era (and what falling from grace was like). An engaging and easy read and a good entry-level for people looking for an introduction to the beginning of film star culture.

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Author Translator

This book was of interest to me as I love the film industry and learning about different things that have happened in the past. I also like to learn things about people that used to be in the public eye in an era that treated them differently to how they are treated today.

Each chapter is a different celebrity and what happened in their lives. The book explains about the person, their personal life, their career and then the ‘dark history’ that they are involved with. I found this helpful as it gives more context to the situation you are reading about and allows you to understand it more. The‘dark history stories chosen for the book were interesting and I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys true stories and old Hollywood.

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For the Love of Books

The book makes for an interesting read and is a must for fans of anything connected to Hollywood.

NetGalley, Karsta Rensch

An opportunity to rediscover these stories, "larger than life" characters and why not, the films that saw them as protagonists. The book, published by Pen & Sword History, is pleasant to read, and offers a remarkable bibliography to deepen the stories covered.

Read the full Italian review here

Old Barbed Wire Blog

Reading's Matt Macnabb lifts the lid on some of Hollywood's most notorious scandals, involving A list movie stars. Superb selection of photos in the middle of the book, and the text is absolutely riveting!

Books Monthly

A book about the scandals from the early days of Hollywood that was full of all the little details that make reading books like this so much fun.

NetGalley, Shelly Myers

The golden era of Hollywood when star had shiny, perfect reputations in the public but according to this book were some of the most tarnished individuals in private.

This book uncovers scandals that were kept secret at the time they occurred by studio executives, cops and the mob. While portraying people we dream about on-screen, some stars had larger than life personalities and felt invincible in reality.

Alcohol, sex, drugs and possibly even murder were swept under the rug for the sake of ratings by the stars and studios. At a time when entertainment was only what we were allowed to see by the famous people in Hollywood. They choose the image they wished the average person to believe and gave them only what they desired. This, during a time when our entertainment came only on the big or small screen from Hollywood. There were no computers or camera phones to catch a star behaving contrary to their gilded reputation. Even by today’s standards, behaviors common during this time are inexcusable.

NetGalley, Terrie Case

Do you enjoy movies? Do you read People or Entertainment Weekly or similar stories on the web? Do you enjoy learning the stories of the "real" people who appear larger than life on the silver screen? And the most important question - do you want to know secrets Hollywood would rather not acknowledge? If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, then this book may be for you!

Matt MacNabb in thirteen short chapters and an introduction provides a flashlight on the dark history of thirteen actors and actresses. In each chapter, the reader gets a brief synopsis of the actor/actress's early life and then NacNabb dives into the various scandals that marks their career, and then finishes with another brief synopsis of the rest of their life and if they have a star. The book opens with Evelyn Nesbit and closes with Clara Bow. The chapters in between cover Jean Harlow, Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn, Thelma Todd, Mae West, Lana Turner, William Desmond Taylor, Barbara LaMarr, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, and Mabel Normand.

Hollywood's Dark History is a scandal snack book. The book has a brief bibliography of sources and a few photos, but does not really dig into the scandals. So if you are looking for a quick read to bring you up to speed on some of the more famous scandals of early Hollywood history, this title would be a decent starting place.

NetGalley, Ron Titus

I found this to be a fascinating book which I almost inhaled in my enthusiasm to consume - what is it about scandals which can arose such interest??

NetGalley, Deborah Roden

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. I am a fan of these types of books and have read many. This is a book I have recommended to others. Quick read and holds your interest.

NetGalley, V Nunez

I am glad I read this book as it provided an accessible introduction before I delve deeper into this time in history.

NetGalley, Joana Carmo

I enjoyed this quick read into hollywoods forgotten past. I equate it almost to the old "E! mysteries and scandals" TV Show but I loved how the author updated the stories to tell what happened after the events that were so scandalous. It was a quick read and I highly recommend it for any old Hollywood fan or true crime junkie.

NetGalley, Dale Dewitt

What makes these stories so different from the stars of today is not only was there not an internet where any information is known almost immediately. The studio system also managed to hide some of the more salacious details back then even if some of the scandals could be torn right off the front pages today. Before the studio system, yellow journalism of the early 20th century in some cases tattered the reputations of stars who may or may not have deserved notoriety. There are some egregious cases where even when exonerated, there was no career left.
Many of them died young. Drugs, alcohol, sex and other perversions will take their toll. Most of them are likely not household names to the current generation. Clearly the celebrities of today have not learned history and are doomed to repeat it.
Overall, it is an entertaining read. Four purrs and one paw up.

NetGalley, Susan Johnston

The book takes the reader through some of Hollywood's big scandals involving some biggest names from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Among the names Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford and many others.

I enjoying reading stories from the Golden Age of Hollywood and this to be an interesting, enjoyable and well written book that kept interested till the end.

I would recommend this to anyone who has interest in the old scandals of Hollywood.

NetGalley, S Ballinger

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I love celebrity gossip, so this book was right up my ally! It was fun to read about old scandals and the stars who endured them. I highly recommend this to fellow celebrity gossip lovers!

NetGalley, Cristie Underwood

I have recently been obsessed with Old Hollywood so this book was brain candy for me!

Matt MacNabb highlights various actors and actresses in the early days of Hollywood. Each chapter is a short biographical snippet about the lives and deaths of the glamorous and decadent performers specifically focusing on the early twentieth century.

It is interesting how so little has changed in terms of the types of Hollywood scandals. If I was not aware that this was a work of history, you could have fooled me into thinking that some of the antics these performers got themselves into were happening in the present day.

NetGalley, Navi Sahota

This book is about old Hollywood stars and scandals that they were involved in.

This book really appealed to me because I really love very old films and find myself looking up the actors/actresses on Wikipedia and most of the time I find myself going down a rabbit hole. Because of this a few of these stories I have read before but there was still a few that shocked me. The story that shocked me most was the one about Clara Bow... I would highly recommend this book if you have any interest in old Hollywood and the scandals that some of the actors were involved in.

NetGalley, Christina Conn

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

What an interesting book! I am not normally one to stray from my normal genre but this one intrigued me simply because of my love of the golden age of Hollywood and the amazing actors and actresses. I can honestly say, I surprised myself by reading the entire book in one day! Very interesting backstories - some very familiar, some unexpected and heartbreaking. The only thing that I could give as a "negative" review would be to say that the book wasn't long enough! I want to read more!

NetGalley, Kristine Oman

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I'm familiar with many of these stories from old Hollwood, but it's fun to re-read them and have them collected all in one book! Fans of old movies will appreciate these stories of actors and actresses from way back in the day. Fun and fascinating read.

NetGalley, Catherine Hankins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The book has great stories from early Hollywood, Mae West, Charlie Chaplin, Lana Turner, Thelma Todd, etc. I really enjoyed re-visiting this time period in Hollywood. This book is not as sensationalized as Hollywood Babylon was, but as an adult I enjoy this book for it’s even telling of these old scandals, what a time to have lived. I highly recommend this book for anyone who likes early Hollywood history.

NetGalley, Ashley Cloninger

An interesting, enjoyable and well written book that kept me interested till the end.
I like to read about the old scandals and it was a lot of fun.

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

'Hollywood's Dark History' was a quick overview of some of Hollywood's most salacious scandals. There were even a couple of people (Taylor, Lemarr) of which I was unfamiliar with their story. It was an entertaining precursor for those that may wish to further explore the seedier side of Hollywood.

NetGalley, Olivia Landry

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, it was interesting and well-done. I always enjoyed Hollywood books and love reading about it. The author clearly has a passion about the topic and it shows in this book.

NetGalley, Kay McLeer

Talk about a fast and fun book about the early days of Hollywood. This book covers a dozen or so real life Hollywood stars and their scandalous lives, lives the studios tried to keep quiet. From Fatty Arbuckle to Clara Bow lots of good stuff. I was aware of most of these scandals, the only new one for me being Barbara Lamarr (not Hedy). Interesting stories, and so much scandal that was also contrived by the press.

NetGalley, Blaine DeSantis

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I wasn't sure what to expect when i requested this book but i was immediately hooked! I watch the old black and white movies so to know the scandals that happened during those times was just so interesting! Murder, booze, embezzlement - it was all there and i loved every word of it! A must read for everyone!

NetGalley, Cynthia Guerra

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This fascinating scrutiny of early legends in Hollywood pivots on the understanding that audience opinion is everything when it comes to making or breaking the career of a star, on or off the screen. While some figures, like the swashbuckling movie hero Errol Flynn, escaped overweening censure due to the murkiness of allegations and the lack of any documentation in Hollywood itself, others, like Fattie Arbuckle, forfeited all good opinion during his life and after his death even though he was acquitted of the hideous crime that came about in the wake of the kind of party that Hollywood public relations officers would have just as well audiences never heard about. The dangers of scandal and gossip, especially when blasted out by a jubilant media, could send the greatest stars into the land of mental breakdowns. Such was the case of one of the most feted and successful of all stars in her era, Clara Bow, the It girl. The reader will feel relief that she had a decent family life away from the camera after heinous gossip brought her career to a crashing halt. I loved the way in which MacNabb compares the personal Hollywood disasters of yesteryear with well-known cases still causes shock today.

NetGalley, Julia Simpson-Urrutia

It was well done, and if you are one who doesn't know the stories of these people, then it will be new and in some cases, astonishing.

NetGalley, Lisa Cleveland-Hull

I've been interested in the seamier side of Hollywood since seeing the documentary series Hollywood Babylon ,hosted by Tony Curtis and inspired by the Kenneth Anger book of the same name, way back in the 90's. More recently I've been reading a lot of James Ellroy's excellent books where Hollywood sleaze and vice is an ongoing background theme. Matt McNabb's "Hollywoods's Dark History " gives a potted history of the misbehaviour of 13 Hollywood icons including Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn, Fatty Arbuckle and Mae West. The sad conclusion is that far from the glamorous image Hollywood and the movie industry was, and possibly still is, a sleazy mass of degeneracy with some of the world's best known and loved characters pretty disgusting and immoral people.
The book is well-written and informative if a little brief. There are many more stories from "Tinseltown" still to be told so hopefully more to come from Matt McNabb.

NetGalley, Dave Blendell

Excellent summary of, standard 20th Hollywood scandals... fascinating stuff.

NetGalley, Andrew Eichner

This was really interesting.

NetGalley, Bethany Younge

I was really intrigued by the blurb for this book and I do love a bit of gossip and scandal so I started the book the same day that it landed on my Kindle!

The book was an easy read and I liked the layout that the author had used, the chapters were not too long and it was easy to dip in and out of the book without losing place and track of where I was as you could literally read about one of the Hollywood stars at a time... a great way to pass a few hours and it was fun to have the “scandals” in one volume – I am sure there are many more out there and would be keen to see a second book in the series too!

NetGalley, Donna Maguire

The real people behind the glamour were far different than the characters that audiences grew to know and love and much like Hollywood today, the lives of the stars were often full of scandal and debauchery. This book examines the forgotten scandals of yesterday, featuring silent and silver screen stars like Jean Harlow, Mae West, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Errol Flynn. Don't let the romanticized black and white world of yesterday fool you, their stories are rife with sex, drugs and murder.

NetGalley, Janet Pole Cousineau

Creepy yet entertaining. It was like watching a train wreck, you are shocked but can't turn your eyes away. A few if these scandals I knew a bit about; but many more were a complete surprise. It certainly have me a new perspective on the personal lives of some of my favorite stars of yesteryear.

NetGalley, Rachel Williams

About Matt MacNabb

Pop culture historian Matt McNabb has spent the better part of the past twenty years researching the history of comic books, toys, film and television and their effect on our culture. He regularly features in publications such as SFX Magazine, Variety, MacLeans Magazine, Brick Journal, on CNN and BBC Radio. Author of Batman's Arsenal: An Encyclopedic Chronicle and Ghostbusters Collectables, A Secret History of Brands is Matt's third book.

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