Just about anyone who pays attention to movies and their makers know who he is. Generally speaking he is viewed as a quite good director, an okay actor and a wonderful raconteur. But the area I value him most is in his role as an anthropologist of old Hollywood (a period ranging approximately from the 1920s through the 50s) because for anyone who is interested in the creative state of its “Golden era” his two books on the subject are invaluable. The first is Who the Devil Made It (Conversations with legendary directors – 1997), the other is Who the Hell’s in it (Conversations with Hollywood’s legendary actors – 2004). Both books have great introductions that give us carefully detailed accounts of what the various individuals were like and how Bogdanovich got to know them.
Bogdanovich in his 20s going into his 30s worked as a stage and film critic, a journalist, a stage director and an aspiring filmmaker. But he was also a fan and aficionado of the films coming out of the Studio System from the silents right up to the mid to late fifties. And when he finally got to Hollywood first as a reporter and later as a wunderkind director it seems that he made it his business to meet and befriend nearly everyone who had been around and working during those creatively halcyon times. Luckily for us he recorded many of his conversations with them and through these conversations we get to know George Cukor, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Lumet up close and personal. And it’s the same with actors and personalities like Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Sidney Poitier, Jerry Lewis, Anthony Perkins, Marilyn Monroe and others. Through their conversations and his reminisces we get a full and lively portrait of a time gone by when Hollywood wasn’t just a place where movies were made but dreams were manufactured. Dreams that have shaped and influenced our lives in ways we couldn’t even begin to itemize or collate.
His other book that bears recommending is This Is Orson Welles (1992). It is to my mind the best and most intimate portrait of cinema’s great enfant terrible that I have come across in print. He was a long time friend of Welles and the book was a collaboration between them. The intent was for Welles to record his perspective on the various aspects of his life and career that he felt had been misrepresented in too many other places. For a variety of reasons the book was never completed and the tapes were put aside for more than a decade. Then in 1987, two years after Welles’ death Bogdanovich and Oja Kodar (Welles’ companion) enlisted the aid of Jonathan Rosenbaum to edit the tapes and put then in publishable form. The result is this wonderful book that brings us as close to Welles as we will probably ever get.
There is a rumor that another close friend of Orson Welles, filmmaker Henry Jaglom has several hours of taped conversations with the great man. If this is true hopefully he will one day share this treasure he possesses and publish them. But till then we have Bogdanovich’s book to read, savor and re-read over and over again.
Peter Bogdanovich has been praised and pilloried in the pages of the popular press for a variety of reasons. But I don’t believe he has ever been properly appreciated and thanked for wonderful service he has done for the millions of fans and scholars of old Hollywood and the wonderful films, memories and dreams it has produced. Hungrily we look forward for more books from him. But for what he has given us thus far mere words on paper can’t communicate how grateful we are. THANK YOU PETER. THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS.