by Otto Friedrich

This is a pastiche of Hollywood history. Set in the 1940s it bubbles with insights and vignettes about the stars, moguls and European émigrés who swirled together, often unhappily, in this glamorous but bizarre melting pot. Friedrich, a TIME senior writer, focuses on the European artists and intellectuals who fled Hitler and found themselves in an absurdly inappropriate new home. The clash of cultures reverberates throughout the book. An amusing 1935 meeting between Arnold Schönberg, the distinguished Austrian composer, and Irving Thalberg, chief of production at MGM, is re-created. When he was invited to write a score for The Good Earth Schonberg demanded that the actors speak in the same pitch and key as his compositions. Friedrich also examines Hollywood's unwillingness to confront anti-Semitism. Not until 1947 did the industry's top executives, many of them Jewish, feel that America was at last ready to deal with the subject, in the form of Laura Z. Hobson's Gentleman's Agreement, about a man, pretending to be Jewish, who encounters stereotypical slights. Friedrich lapses occasionally into textbook prose but redeems himself with intriguing details. He is trendy enough to recount the disappointing acting career of Ronald Reagan (Nancy asked him out on their first date) and the varied travails of Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Ingrid Bergman, Bogie and Bacall. One way or another, it is easy to get caught up in City of Nets. (Harper & Row, $25)

  • Contributors:
  • Michelle Green,
  • V.R. Peterson,
  • Campbell Geeslin,
  • Mary Vespa.