Hollywood at Home

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Sid Avery has assembled photographs he took for such magazines as SATURDAY EVENING POST, LOOK, and COLLIERS between 1950 and 1965. The 111 black-and-white pictures are introduced with an essay by film critic and historian Richard Schikel, placing them in the context of both the conformist banality of the American social milieu of the time and the changes in the movie industry brought about by the threat of television. Despite the book’s title, only about half the photographs display the stars at home. Others show actors, comedians, and singers on the sets of movies and television programs, in nightclubs, at parties and premieres.

Avery’s goal in shooting most of these pictures was obviously to convince the public that these performers were ordinary folks just like their fans. The results are sometimes laughable, since the stars are uncomfortably straining to be ordinary, especially in the 1952 shots of the young Rock Hudson entertaining starlets at his home. The only stars who look at ease in their natural setting are Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who came from a rebellious background that allowed them to smirk at Hollywood pieties.

HOLLYWOOD AT HOME can be faulted for including such people as Tennessee Ernie Ford and Dwight David Eisenhower, who are not remotely associated with Hollywood, but its striking photographs outnumber the bad ones. Avery shows Debbie Reynolds entranced by Fred Astaire’s ability to look graceful even while sitting in an uncomfortable chair in his dressing room; Tuesday Weld enthralled by a book of paper dolls of herself; Kim Novak with freckles; and Audrey Hepburn, perhaps the most photogenic star of all time, stunning on a bicycle with her dog in the basket. Such pictures define a glitter more substantial than any candid views of home life.