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Holiday Reading 2003 : Entertainment
By David Pitt

If you know people who like movies 'n' music, you could give them concert tickets, or 'movie money,' in their stockings. Or, if you wanna be a little more original than that, you could give them a book.

Give them, to be precise, The Pythons: Autobiography by the Pythons (St. Martin's Press), a beautiful coffee-table book written by the Monty Python comedy troupe: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, and packaged by Bob McCabe. Drawn from interviews, previously published material, and -- this is really great -- unpublished diaries and so forth, the book charts the course of Python, from upstart television comedy troupe to international superstars and -- or so the legend goes -- creators of a whole new style comedy. I consider these men to be utter, absolute geniuses, and this book is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about them, in their own words. A lovely, lovely book.

Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (ReganBooks), by Patrick McGilligan, isn't the first biography of the filmmaker (he directed Psycho and Vertigo and North by Northwest, you might have heard of them), and it won't be the last. But McGilligan, who's also written biographies of George Cukor, Fritz Lang, Clint Eastwood, and James Cagney, has considerable experience in the Hollywood-biography genre, and his broad knowledge allows him (unlike some other Hitchcock biographers) to place the director's work in its historical and creative context. Filled with plenty of behind-the-scenes stories, and lots of anecdotes (some of which will be familiar to fans of Hitch's life and work), the book is your traditional Hollywood bio, but done with an intelligence and respect too often missing from this sort of book.

Connie Bruck hasn't done any other Hollywood books, but When Hollywood Had a King (Random House), a biography of movie mogul Lew Wasserman, reads like it was written by a veteran. It's finely detailed, vigorously researched, and smartly written. This isn't just the story of Wasserman, the man who went from movie-theater usher to president of MCA; it's the story of five decades of Hollywood history, and its troubled marriage of art and politics. Very well done.

You may not recognize Bruce Campbell's name, but you'd probably recognize his face. He was the star of the Evil Dead trilogy, playing the comic-tragic hero Ash. He's the guy at the very end of Darkman, who looks over his shoulder at us before fading into the crowd. If you saw Spider-Man (the movie, not the webslinger), you saw Campbell as the ringmaster in the wrestling scene. He was also the star of the television series The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which was cancelled long before its time. If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor (LA Weekly) is Campbell's autobiography, and, like most of the stuff he's appeared in, it's very entertaining. Campbell's never gonna be a movie star (face it: the vast majority of actors won't be, either), and he's okay with that. He's a working actor who's been lucky enough to snare a few memorable roles, work with a few top-line people (the Coen brothers, Sam Raimi), and have a heck of a lot of fun. Campbell doesn't take himself too seriously, which means the book's got plenty of laughs.

You'll also find plenty of laughs in Action! (Random House), a novel of Hollywood by Robert W. Cort, who's produced dozens of movies, including Jumanji, Three Men and a Baby, and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. Action! is an epic, of sorts, beginning in the late 1940s, when our hero, AJ Jastrow, is not quite thirteen years old. His dad is a Hollywood lawyer, his mom is a retired actress; it's inevitable that little AJ will find a place in the entertainment industry, and he does, rising through the ranks to become a hotshot producer. The book is full of real-life Hollywood players (Mike Todd, Ray Stark, Mike Ovitz) and the kind of you-are-there realism only a Hollywood veteran can provide. Light, fast paced, completely delightful.

From pictures to sound, here's Home Before Daylight: My Life on the Road with The Grateful Dead (St. Martin's Press), Steve Parish's memoir of his three decades with the popular rock band. It's your typical inside-rock story, devoting space to the performers' professional and private lives in roughly equal proportion. But, because the book is written by someone who knows and respects the Dead, it's free of the usual sleazy, slimy, slanderous garbage that too often litters this sort of book. That alone elevates it above most of its genre, but it's also very well written, and, in places, quite moving (the book ends with the death of Jerry Garcia).

Then we have Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane (Atria), by music journalist Jeff Tamarkin. Like Parish, he writes not merely as a fan, but as someone whose familiarity with the band, and his respect for them, is abundantly evident. Following the band from its inception in the mid-sixties to the present, the book chronicles nearly four decades of raucous creativity, bad blood, triumph, disaster, and music history. For fans of the band, and of the time in which they flourished, it's a must read.

So is David Leaf and Ken Sharp's KISS Behind the Mask: The Official Authorized Biography (Warner). It's the latest of several new books about the massively successful rock group, and it's a little unorthodox. It's really two books in one. The first, by Leaf, is a biography of KISS first written in 1979 (but never published). It leaves off just before the band underwent its first seismic event, as drummer Peter Criss left KISS, which might explain why the publication of Leaf's book was cancelled: events after the book's writing rendered it instantly out of date.

Anyway, the remainder of the book, written by Sharp, is taken up with articles bridging the gap between Criss's departure in ' 79 and the band's reunion in '96 (when the four original members played together again); a series of interviews conducted between '96 and 2000; and a lengthy section, 'Shout it Out Loud,' in which band members, and other interested parties, discuss each KISS album: its production, its successes, its failures. You'd think, considering the variety of material here, that the book would be choppy, and it is. Leaf's 1979 book is not very well written, and the interviews cover a wide range of topics without having any real depth. Still, the book works, if you look at it like a collage, a series of related images pasted together, and it's essential reading for the KISS army.

Finally, there's 2Stoned (Vintage), a history of the early years of the Rolling Stones, 1963-67, by their manager and producer, Andrew Loog Oldham. A sequel to Stoned, in which Oldham recounted his own early years as a record producer, and his initial meeting with the Stones, the book follows the band through international stardom, run-ins with the police, and their eventual split with Oldham. It's a story of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, a portrait of a small-time rhythm and blues band that made it to the big time so fast that they were almost entirely unprepared for success.

Editor's Note: This is one of a series on for holiday gifts and holiday reading. Find more suggestions in our Holiday Columns.
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