Hollywood. It is its own special kind of crazy, full of egotists and dreamers, where the idea of “failure” is unacceptable.
Hollywood Digs: An Archaeology of Shadows (Kelly’s Cove Press, 2014) by Ken LaZebnik is a collection of short essays about the golden age of Hollywood and the stars and lost creative souls who lived there. LaZebnik, who is no stranger to the industry, loves Hollywood, loves L.A., but there’s a sadness, a longing that echoes through every essay. He spends a majority of the collection searching the estate sales, combing through the possessions of entertainers from the past: actors, writers, photographers, occasionally picking up a memento – an unfinished script, or a faded headshot, as a kind of salute to an artist whose life will be remembered for that one moment captured on film.
There’s a philosophical edge to each essay, pondering the existence of a career in Hollywood or even entertainment in general. Screenwriters must live in torment, knowing their TV characters will be remembered forever but their novel never got off the ground. Actors don’t always have control over the roles that define them – Academy Award winner Shirley Jones’s career was never the same after her Partridge Family stint. Sometimes it’s the other way around – Gidget was based on a real girl, a girl who had to live the rest of her life known as a character, not necessarily a true human being.
The most interesting essays are when the author focuses more on the subjects than himself. The most fascinating essay was about Leigh Weiner, a photographer who had a knack for catching celebrities at their most honest, such as the infamous shot from 1960 of the audience moments before announcing the Oscar winner for Best Actress, and the winner, Simone Signoret, can be seen grabbing her chest in anticipation. The author takes us through a few old, rarely seen photographs of big time stars like Judy Garland, Groucho Marx, and Paul Newman.
Hollywood Digs is a fascinating look at an era of celebrity, of business transition, and it makes you wonder what future critics and historians will write about today’s entertainment changes – from network to cable to streaming – Netflix pulled in Emmy nominations for their original programming. Pretty sure the network heads back in 1970 didn’t see that coming, much like the studio heads didn’t see television in the 1930s.
For anyone with the slightest interest in Hollywood, celebrity culture, or the anonymous plight of a screenwriter, this is the collection for you. To take on this read though, one must have some knowledge of Hollywood inner-workings. Personally, I thought I was well-educated in industry history, but there were several actors, films, even television shows I had not heard of. So if you decide to read, it might be a good idea to keep imdb* up nearby for reference.
Ultimately, the writer, who has an extensive background in the industry himself, seems to indirectly question his legacy. Who will stumble upon the unfinished work we leave behind?
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
*Internet Movie Database, imbd.com[boxer set=”pugh”]