Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling Through Hollywood History by Mark Bailey

The film industry came of age during the Roaring '20s and Prohibition so it makes sense that Hollywood, especially Golden Age Hollywood, always had more than its' share of drunks. To read the sodden stories Mark Bailey has assembled in the delightful Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling Through Hollywood History is to learn that damn near everyone in Tinseltown was a drunk and often of epic proportions. 

Having has bellied up to the bar before with Hemingway & Bailey's Bartending Guide to Great American WritersBailey brings artist Hemingway along for plenty of oddly twisted caricatures of all the inebriates. They also offer up forty cocktail recipes and short histories of some of the great restaurants, bars, and nightclubs of days gone by like Chasen's, Ciro's, and The Brown Derby. 

Starting with the Silent Era and ending at the end of the '70s, Bailey regales us with drunken exploits of the writers, actors, and directors who managed to have successful careers while nursing enough bad habits to outfit a softball team of fallen nuns. While all the tales are told with a light touch, the author doesn't shy away from showing us the sad side of the stars, as well. The Miley's and Lindsays of today might be amazed to learn they didn't invent trampy, bad behavior. Some of the silent films actresses of the '20s were quite the drunken, self- and sex-obsessed airheads we know so well today. 

WhiIe I had heard a few of these before like Sinatra and Ava Gardner drunkenly shooting out streetlights and the massive binges of Faulkner and Raymond Chandler, Errol Flynn and Spencer Tracy, most were new to me and highly entertaining. The excesses of Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, the tag team power drinking of Richard Harris and Peter O'Toole, and the wagering by Jackie Gleason and saloon keeper Toots Shor were among my favorites. 

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