Peter Bogdanovich, one of America's most acclaimed film directors, has written a book that profiles some of the biggest stars of Hollywood's golden age. "Who The Hell's In It: Portraits and Conversations" is a compilation of profiles and interviews with many actors and actresses the director knew personally since his own Hollywood career began in the 1950s.
One of them was actor James Cagney. He was typically cast as a tough guy, a gangster, in most of the movies in which he starred. That's the biggest difference between movie stars of the past and those working today, says film director Peter Bogdanovich: today's actors want to be versatile, he says, and might appear one day as a romantic lead and the next as a deranged killer. He recalls that back in the days when movie studios ruled everything from actors' film roles to their social circles, the bosses made sure an actor delivered what the public expected to see.
"When they wrote for Cagney, they wrote about what he seemed to be, which was pugnacious, fast-talking, tough, Irish. And so the persona of the star was amplified, altered, changed, filtered through other people's viewpoints and that emerged on the other side. They'd say, 'Oh, Cagney wouldn't do that or Cagney would do that or this was a Cagney picture.' Because there was a certain quality that was based on what the person was really like, what the actor was like."
Peter Bogdanovich's Who the Hell's In It is filled with similar insights on the creation of such iconic Hollywood stars as James Cagney, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart. The book is a companion to his previous book, Who the Devil Made It transcripts of the author's interviews with Hollywood's early film directors. Peter Bogdanovich writes with an insider's view. Known primarily as the director of such award-winning films as The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, and What's Up Doc?, Peter Bogdanovich is also an actor, as well as a screenwriter, journalist and film historian. Many of the actors profiled in the book, including James Stewart, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and John Wayne, are people Mr. Bogdanovich worked with and befriended over five decades in the movie business. He calls the late Marlon Brando the most influential actor in movie history, in that he was the first of his peers who refused to be "typed."
"He didn't want to be the same from picture to picture -- he was avoiding a particular persona. He was the first big star that did that. And so now, everybody wanted to be versatile like Brando. The irony, of course, is that Brando, despite the multiplicity of his guises was still very recognizable. He was a star actor in spite of himself."
Peter Bogdanovich's new book the latest of many books and essays he has written, draws heavily on his lifetime of study and experience in filmmaking. He shows his considerable technical skills as he describes how evolving film technology has contributed to an actor's appearance onscreen. He says he believes movies filmed in black and white are, in some ways, superior to those made in color.
"Because it gives a sense of reality even though it is totally abstract, that far exceeds the ability of color to do the same. Color, as a filmmaker, I'm saying, color is difficult to control. And difficult for it to become evocative. Director Orson Welles used to say about black and white, 'It's the actor's friend.' 'Why do you say that, Orson?' 'Because every performance looks better in black and white. In fact, tell me of a great performance in color. I defy you!' He said, 'We've figured out how to shoot everything except the human face.'"
Mr. Bogdanovich says that whether he is directing, acting, writing or lecturing, it is all an attempt to popularize what he likes.
"Everybody says, 'old movies,' but nobody says, 'Did you ever hear that old symphony by Mozart' or 'Did you see that old play by Shakespeare? Did you read that old play by Dostoyevsky? But we all say, 'Did you see that old movie? It's a patronizing attitude toward a new medium (which isn't so new anymore.) The fact is, the impact of movies is extraordinary. If they're good, if they're still valid, they're not old. They're new if you haven't seen them."
Veteran American film director Peter Bogdanovich, talking about his new book, Who the Hell's In It: Portraits and Conversations: the experiences of a Hollywood insider with the innocence and enthusiasm of the ultimate movie fan.