Garson Kanin Joel Sayre - Essay

Joel Sayre

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Hollywood," to my mind, has a couple of flaws: one minor, the other major. Kanin introduces a great number of characters in his memoirs. The reflective reader, wanting to refer to some of them who have stuck in his mind, is bound to find the lack of an index a nuisance. Second, a much more serious flaw, I think, is Kanin's apparent compulsion neurosis to write on and on and on about Samuel Goldwyn, who brought him, aged 24, to California to learn the business; i.e., to become, after proper training, an associate producer. But Kanin kept pestering Goldwyn to let him direct a picture, a screen test, anything; Goldwyn kept telling him not to be silly. These controversies sparked a series of shouting matches that went on for about a year. Kanin finally obtained a release from his seven-year contract, got a directing assignment from R.K.O. and proceeded to make good there fast. He never worked for Goldwyn again and went on to triumphs at other studios. So far so good, but in the book he just can't let Goldwyn alone and keeps hauling him back for more interminable conversation. If it would have brought out anything new about Goldwyn, that would be different; what he presents, however, is little more than the usual catalogue of malapropisms and eccentricities. Alva Johnston wrapped this sort of stuff up for the ages back in 1937.

On the other hand, when Kanin writes about the pictures he did direct and how the actors involved in them behaved, and about what tricks and dodges he used to get the effects he wanted, he is utterly fascinating. Alone worth the price of admission is his account of the shooting of "They Knew What They Wanted," starring Charles Laughton and Carole Lombard…. These chapters on directing are prime reading. So are Kanin's accounts of Harry Cohn, the freebooter head of Columbia Pictures; Garbo; Chaplin; old John Barrymore; and Carole Lombard…. (p. 23)

Joel Sayre, "General: 'Hollywood'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by the New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 15, 1974, pp. 22-3.