Picks and Pans Review: People Will Talk

updated 03/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by John Kobal

This lavish, nostalgic oral history of moviemaking presents interviews with more than 40 Hollywood personalities of the '20s to the present. The Canadian-born Kobal is a star-struck fan, and his main interest is in the glamour of films. The female is an object of worship (Joel McCrea is the only male actor included), and Kobal's adoring approach encourages the women to tell him everything. He is an uninhibited writer who also does clever little introductions for his stars—Gloria Swanson is a "Napoleon in skirts." Joan Fontaine's voice "skips over pebbles and slides along silk." Kobal includes a suffocating amount of trivia (Dagmar Godowsky recalls that Garbo loved to eat okra), but there are splendid insights too. The late Louise Brooks says, "All of us write because we have suffered some terrible humiliation and we've got to set the record straight and get even somehow." Many of these women are, of course, practiced storytellers. Ann Sheridan is particularly good on describing director Cecil B. De Mille's dismay over her Texas accent. And Jean Louis, the dress designer, has fun remembering the flaws in the bodies of such sexpots as Lana Turner and Betty Grable. "If the girl doesn't have it," he concludes, "I can't give it to her in a dress." Some long-forgotten movie stars, such as Olga Baclanova and Evelyn Brent (whom the author found living in a trailer), provide the most evocative interviews, full of romantic echoes of a time in early filmmaking that exists only in documents such as this gushing treasure of a book. (Knopf, $25)

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