Before Twitter wars and mopey Twilight pretty boys, Hollywoodâs male âItâ generation was a study in cool. From the electric James Dean and consummate Method actor Marlon Brando, to playboys like Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, the older heartthrobs of Hollywood shared a common sense of charisma lost on the lads of today. With the release of Tom Folsomâs âHopper,â steeped in the language and bizarre fervor of Dennis Hopperâs legacy, we celebrate an era when movie scripts flew out of Winnebagos and bad boys were exactly that: bad.
âHopperâ by Tom Folsom
Folsom, a writer drawn to historical anti-heroes living on the fringe, is a perfect candidate for exploring Hopperâs singularly chaotic story.Â Interspersed with psychedelia-speak and onomatopoeia (the âcraaaassshhhh!â of a television resounds as it's being hurled across a hotel room), the authorâs an appropriately oddball acolyte.
Hopperâs an addictive subject: At one moment youâre by his side lamenting the lack of scripts heâs being offered compared to one Anthony Hopkins (who, to be fair, didnât subside on a half gallon of rum and three grams of cocaine per day), the next youâre careening through New Orleans in a motor home/conference room during Easy Rider. Itâs refreshing to read a celebrity biography with an authentically maverick voice. On the whole, the best material comes from Hopper's industry peers, his longtime quarrel with Peter Fonda and his funeralâs motley cast of characters.
âSteve McQueen: A Biographyâ by Marc Eliot
Right away, readers will be surprised that Bullitt, McQueenâs most iconic (though not especially deep) creation, was âabout acting, not money.â McQueenâs was a volatile, physically intimidating and emotionally fraught personality, and the author pushes an understanding of how a man abandoned by both parents and essentially self-raised in Greenwich Village could become the King of Cool so effortlessly. Intense, gorgeous and a devoted Meisner student, he became a man after Brando's own heart. Unfortunately, McQueenâs star powerÂ hasn'tÂ endured in the same way his contemporariesâ have (consider his later "Method-gone-mad disastersâ like Enemy of the People, where McQueenâs jarring physical transformationÂ couldn'tÂ convert audiences or executives), and the bookÂ sympatheticallyÂ explores why.
âStar: How Warren Beatty Seduced Americaâ by Peter Biskind
Biskind is an authority on â60s and â70s pop culture, as equally comfortable discussing cinema as he is leftist politics. Beattyâs a terrific subject for this type of rose-tinted focus. He is the embodiment of âMr. Naturalâ and an indefinable charm. Nevertheless, âStarâ gives a broad view of the actor, director, early political progressive (did you know he rallied for gun control in â68?) and of course, ladies man. Equal time is devoted to Shampoo, Splendor in the Grass and Bonnie and Clyde, as well as to intense press coverage on his relationships with Leslie Caron, Julie Christie and other starlets. While Biskind sometimes becomes too much a character in his own biographies, it works here, as Beatty is a charismatic personification of the authorâs preoccupation with the intersection between politics and pop culture.
âBrando: Songs My Mother Taught Meâ by Marlon BrandoÂ and Robert Lindsey
A monologue, in the hands of the right actor, can be the most changing moment of a film or performance. No wonder most audiences surrender in the face of arguably the greatest monologuist and Method actor in history. Itâs fitting to include an autobiography in this list, because Brandoâs own words (with the help of coauthor Robert Lindsey) can be transporting. Thereâs much to soak up about acting, politics and his relationship with the Hollywood machine. But more evocative are his memories of a contentious childhood and family. Heâs irreplaceable, and âSongsâ is a noteworthy reminder.
âSurviving James Deanâ by William Bast
From his first encounter with the young James Dean at a UCLA rehearsal for Macbeth, where Deanâs role as Malcolm was admittedly attractive but suffered from âbad postureâ and âdreadful diction,â it becomes clear William Bast has a good memory and a tender perspective on the icon. In âSurviving James Dean,â Bast takes the requisite looks at Deanâs death, relationships and cinematic achievements. But thereâs also the revelation of an intimate friendship, in which Bast alludes to a frustrated, closeted life that may have contributed to Deanâs turmoil.Â Rather than sensationalizing Deanâs private life, Bast reveals the inner world of a man whose career was brief, but whose impact was perennial.