I discovered Anne Helen Petersen and her brand of celebrity history over on The Hairpin. I was never a religious reader of her articles; there just isn’t enough time to read all the things, all the time. But, when I found out that she was putting together a book based on classic scandals I added it to my list and kept an eye out.
Here’s the Goodreads summary, in case you are unfamiliar:
Believe it or not, America’s fascination with celebrity culture was thriving well before the days of TMZ, Perez Hilton, Charlie Sheen’s breakdown, and allegations against Woody Allen. And the stars of yesteryear? They weren t always the saints that we make them out to be. Part biography, part cultural history, the stories contained in this book cover the stuff that films are made of: love, sex, drugs, illegitimate children, illicit affairs, and botched cover-ups. Based on Anne Helen Petersen’s popular column on the Hairpin, “Scandals of Classic Hollywood” is sensationalism made smart.”
I ended up listening to Scandals of Classic Hollywood on my commute to and from work, and as far as timing went this was fantastic. The chapters each lasted approximately one leg of my journey (about 45 minutes door to door) so I was able to eat up the various stories in usually one sitting, maybe two. This was good, since each chapter is based around the scandal of a single star of the classic Hollywood era, or a couple, depending on the scandal. The problem I had though was that while the blurb above promises sensationalism made smart, we lost some of the fun along the way. Part of what kept me enthralled on the long reads over at The Hairpin was the nitty gritty detail over the history with the combination of the sarcastic. Much of the sarcasm is missing from the book, unfortunately.
Petersen’s book is made of new chapters, but the scandals she covers are largely familiar, and some of them Petersen has covered before. The other problem I ran into in listening to this as opposed to reading it, and I can’t say if its coverage is satisfactory in the print edition, is that I had to go look up pictures of the various stars in question as many physical traits or objects are described as being linchpins to various scandals and I just couldn’t picture it in my mind’s eye. Also, some of the chapters are a bit light on’ scandal’ itself and were more about the Hollywood machine. Which in and of itself is fascinating, and I wish slightly that Petersen had set her book up with that as the skeleton, and not relied so heavily on time period and type of scandal to group her sections.
This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.