Summer must-reads include Frank Langella getting frisky, Superman and Sonny Corleone's early years and the truth about restaurants from a NYC eatery king
Yes, Virginia, there is something other than "Fifty Shades of Grey" to tote to the beach this summer. Here, 12 books about the entertainment industry worth loading onto your iPad, Nook or Kindle or actually carrying in paper version, from oral histories of MTV and NBC's must-see TV to biographies of Superman and "Super Bad" James Brown:
"THE ONE: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF JAMES BROWN"
By RJ Smith
Smith never lets you forget that the reason he's writing this authoritative biography of Brown in the first place is because of the soul legend's musical genius, but he also doesn't downplay Brown's often scandalous life, which began in poverty and included being raised by an aunt who ran a bordello.
Just as Brown reinvented himself again and again musically, so he did in his personal life, including earning and losing — several times — his fortune, and being estranged from most of his children, despite his own fractured family childhood.
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Smith interviewed more than 100 people who knew and worked with Brown to help shed light on how the "hardest working man in show business" never really got his personal life together, but he used that complicated existence to make classic soul music.
"I WANT MY MTV: THE UNCENSORED STORY OF THE MUSIC VIDEO REVOLUTION"
By Craig Marks & Rob Tannenbaum
Marks and Tannenbaum interviewed more than 400 people — artists, network and music industry execs and, of course, VJs — for this oral history of the cable network that, once upon a time, was one of the main drivers of every aspect of pop culture, not just music videos.
Dave Grohl, Janet Jackson, Conan O'Brien, Duran Duran bass player John Taylor, Lenny Kravitz, Pat Benatar, Lady Gaga, Chris Isaak and Weird Al Yankovic are among the eclectic lineup of famous types who offer up what MTV meant to them and how it influenced their careers in the book, which is divided up into chapters covering different aspects of the network's history.
And then there are the anecdotes and delicious little details, from how Mick Jagger was persuaded — and paid just $1 — to repeat the network's "I want my MTV!" catchphrase to how the network, during the music video heyday, was a steady employer of little people and Playboy models.
"TOP OF THE ROCK: INSIDE THE RISE AND FALL OF MUST SEE TV"
By Warren Littlefield (with T.R. Pearson)
Littlefield was the NBC head honcho during the era when the network was truly must-see TV, i.e. the "Seinfeld," "Friends," "ER" and "Frasier" era. Here he has assembled all his former friends and co-workers for this addictive oral history, full of show histories, casting "almost was" stories and the scoop on how the network's best comedies almost always had major drama going on behind the scenes.
Like how "Cheers" star John Ratzenberger became so fed up with the substance abuse-fueled unpreparedness of co-star Kelsey Grammer that the man who played know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin had to be held back from cleaning Grammer's clock. And how the "Seinfeld" gang wasn't exactly sorry to see George Costanza's fiancé, Susan, die after licking that poisonous envelope; the cast members weren't fans of Heidi Swedberg, who portrayed the doomed would-be Mrs. Costanza.
Littlefield also turns the book into a pithy, interesting tome on how networks operate behind the scenes, with money and ratings first and foremost, even when other execs are busily swilling vodka (yes, names are named) and the show that turns out to be one of the most successful in history started out as one of the most poorly testing pilots in the network's history (yes, "Seinfeld").
"THE FAMILY CORLEONE"
By Ed Falco (based on a screenplay by Mario Puzo)
Falco based this prequel on pages taken from author Mario Puzo's "Godfather" screenplays, lest you wonder how genuinely the book's story fits into the overall "Godfather" timeline.
Besides, once you hear the basic premise, you realize just how perfect it is and just how much more tragic it makes the Corleone family saga: in the book, Vito Corleone frets that his oldest child, Sonny, isn't going to follow the path to becoming a legitimate business, and is instead going to be lured into the much more violent "family business" Vito used to move his family ahead in America.
And, culminating with the toll booth plaza shootout, we know Vito was right to be concerned about his hothead son's future.
By David Hughes
This fun, thoroughly researched update on Hughes' "Tales" (the original was published in 2004) is like a trivia collection of "whatever happened to" movie projects.
Remember the Batman movie that was to star Clint Eastwood? The many, many (many) years and script incarnations that finally led — for better or much, much worse — to the fourth "Indiana Jones" movie? The odd, rumored connection between The Beatles and "The Lord of the Rings"?
Or what about the pre-Martin Scorsese Howard Hughes projects by Christopher Nolan, Milos Forman and, yes, the Hughes brothers? The "'Alien' on a train" movie, named "Isobar," that sounds like it could have become another "Ishtar"? How, surprisingly, even James Cameron couldn't get a "Fantastic Voyage" remake to the big screen?
All those stories are in the book, an ode to Douglas Adams' assertion that "trying to make a movie in Hollywood is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people come into the room and breathing on it."
By Joe Bastianich
The Queens native is referring to his restaurateur father with the title, but, as the partner of Mario Batali in some of New York City's most successful restaurants — Babbo, Del Posto, Lupa, Esca and the eating/food shopping destination Eataly, to name a few — Bastianich fits the bill himself.
The "MasterChef" star dishes frank dirt on every aspect of running a restaurant in this quick read, and in doing so, takes away any idea that running an eatery is a glamorous venture, from the narrow profit margins of every single item in a restaurant to his assertion that no bottle of wine should ever cost more than $5.
In the end, Bastianich says his father taught him, running a restaurant is an enigma: "You have to appear to be generous, but you have to be inherently a cheap f**k."
"MOST TALKATIVE: STORIES FROM THE FRONT LINES OF POP CULTURE"
By Andy Cohen
Bravo TV exec and "Real Housewives" daddy Cohen dishes on a lifetime of pop culture obsessions (including an endearing, lifelong devotion to Susan Lucci that has culminated in several meetings), his career path from network news (where his fellow intern was Julie Chen) to cable TV and, of course, the "Housewives," Bravo's signature reality franchise that he created.
Cohen gets specific on the most annoying "Housewives" habits (Jill Zarin, it should be no surprise, is the subject of one of the best examples), and dissects Bravo's thought process in deciding how to handle last year's suicide of "Real Housewives" husband Russell Armstrong on air.
But hands-down the best anecdote involves executive Cohen in a pitch meeting with Cybill Shepherd, who was trying to sell herself and her best friend as the stars of a Bravo reality series. The Los Angeles office they were in was hot, the AC was on the fritz and within minutes, Shepherd had removed her shirt, had convinced Cohen to remove his and wanted him to take off his pants. Which he admits he might have done. If he had been wearing underwear.
"THE KINGS OF COOL: A PREQUEL TO SAVAGES"
By Don Winslow
Oliver Stone's adaptation of Winslow's "Savages" — about a pair of weed growers (Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch) and their kidnapped hippie girlfriend (Blake Lively) — hits theaters on July 6, but those who've already read the first book can get the pre-"Savages" scoop on Winslow's characters on June 19, when the much-awaited sequel novel is released.
The sequel goes back to 1960s Southern California, when Ben, O and Chon become pals who form their own little family unit.
That suggests drama with their actual families, as readers learn that the sins of the mother and father are going to lead to fallout for their children in the forms of nasty drug dealers, dirty cops and a final showdown that's full of the wicked humor and terrific dialogue that marked "Savages," a book the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly cited as book of the year in 2010.
"DROPPED NAMES: FAMOUS MEN AND WOMEN AS I KNEW THEM"
By Frank Langella
This juicy, celeb-packed memoir delivers on the promise of its title: Actor Langella promises to drop names and anecdotes on the many fellow famous types he's wined, dined and wooed — and he does.
Examples (because with a book like this, isn't that all you're really looking for?): Langella has no love lost for Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Richard Burton, Elia Kazan or Anthony Quinn; had affairs with Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor (and her "search for the one thing she could never and would never have: Enough!"); and was hit on by Noel Coward in front of JFK and Jackie O.
More? While making a Zorro movie, "Munsters" star Yvonne De Carlo was his on-screen mother and his off-screen lover (Hayworth was also his lover while playing his mother); he was also on the receiving end of a romantic pass by Anthony Perkins; and he, Raul Julia and Jill Clayburgh once engaged in some backstage friskiness that he calls a "pulsating Oreo cookie," by which we think he means a threesome.
P.S. — If audio books are your thing, Langella reads the audio version of the book himself, and it just may be the perfect drive-to-the-beach read/listen.
"SUPERMAN: THE HIGH-FLYING HISTORY OF AMERICA'S MOST ENDURING HERO"
By Larry Tye
If Satchel Paige biographer Tye hasn't written the definitive biography of all things Superman, he's definitely written one of the most comprehensive and entertaining books on Superman, who sprung from the mind of a fatherless Cleveland teenager who wanted to create a great American hero.
Unlike many books on the Man of Steel, Tye's tome is not written by a Superman geek. That doesn't mean it's lacking in knowledge or perspective; actually, it results in an accessible history of Superman that's a fun, informative read not just for the most comic book devoted, but for the average comics, movie, TV and pop culture fan.
Tye examines every incarnation of Superman, from the character's creation and the original comics, of course, through the George Reeves TV series, the Christopher Reeve movies and the most recent WB/CW TV remake, while providing insight into the character's influence in each genre and era.
By Michael Goodridge
The latest entry in the "FilmCraft" series (other installments include cinematography, editing and an upcoming volume on costume design), "Directing" is a collection of discussions with 16 great Hollywood helmers, as well as sidebars with useful advice on filmmaking topics for fellow movie makers.
Among those interviewed by Goodridge (the new CEO of Protagonist Pictures and the former editor of Screen International): Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass, Terry Gilliam and Peter Weir, who delve into everything from development and writing their movies and working with actors to post-production and distribution.
A highlight of the beautifully designed, photo-packed book is also Goodridge's section on Clint Eastwood, who talks about being one of the rare directors who often writes his own film music, about the importance of being flexible with everything from location choices to the script and how "a lifetime in movies is the same as a lifetime in any profession: you are constantly a student."
"MY LIFE AS A MANKIEWICZ: AN INSIDER'S JOURNEY THROUGH HOLLYWOOD"
By Tom Mankiewicz and Robert Crane
Yes, he was one of those Mankiewiczes, son of Oscar-winning director and screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz ("All About Eve"), nephew of Oscar-winning "Citizen Kane" screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz and himself a writer of James Bond movies and a director of the TV series "Hart to Hart."
"Tom had been everywhere and had worked with, played with, or slept with everyone in Hollywood," writes co-author Crane, who worked on this autobio with Mankiewicz before the writer and director's death from pancreatic cancer in 2010.
That's just a hint at the Old Hollywood names that are dropped — Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Humphrey Bogart (Mankiewicz's company when he had his first drink), Liza Minnelli (who knew of her mother's affair with Mankiewicz's dad, he writes) and Marlon Brando among them — in the book, which serves as a history of Hollywood and Mankiewicz's family's place in it, as well as a nice primer on the industry from someone who experienced it up close and personal throughout his whole life.