Altman (whose father was a former MGM East Coast talent scout) outlines the early careers of such film-industry founders as Adolph Zukor, Albert Warner, William Fox, Marcus Loew and others, making the point that the industry's true headquarters during its first five decades was not Hollywood but New York City. Her narrative spotlight is aimed mainly at Louis B. Mayer, the very emblem of the Hollywood movie mogul who, it turns out, was answerable to bosses at 1540 Broadway ("across the street from the Camel Cigarette sign blowing smoke"). Altman describes the cutthroat competition among industry pioneers, attempts by organized crime to muscle in--Mayer was one of the few movie moguls to fight back--and the changes wrought by WW II and the postwar advent of drive-in theaters and television. Finally, she relates the story of Mayer's dismissal in 1957 by the powers at corporate headquarters in Times Square and his brave comeback attempt, which failed when MGM stockholders voted against him.

– Publishers Weekly

Film historian Altman...writes from a bird's-eye view of the rise of American motion pictures with Mayer just one of the various personalities who had a part. Twentieth-century world history, cinema history, biography, news clippings, and anecdotes come together in a blunt style that somehow works beautifully and cleanly. This is sophisticated storytelling and admirable history that reads like historical fiction. It even includes a poem by Rudolph Valentino.

– Library Journal

Losing Face: Which Matters More, the Outside or the Inside

Yesterday, Diana Altman wrote a fascinating article about losing face in ForbesWoman. Link here.

Altman is writing about losing face in the most literal sense of the term: not just becoming unrecognizable, but becoming deformed.

During a visit to the dentist, Altman had a bad reaction to the anesthetic. Unaware of her altered appearance she went to buy some cosmetics. There, she discovered the truth: "... I leaned in close to the mirror. Wait a minute. My top lip was as big as my palm and hung down like a purple piece of liver."

In ensuing paragraphs Altman describes the reaction of people she encounters at random during the day. They were nothing you would wish for.

Note that Altman's problem has nothing to do with beauty, and everything to do with no longer being recognizable as a member of a human community.

In the end she assesses her experience and draws a startling conclusion: "Maybe how you look defines your entire being. Maybe there is no such thing as 'self' esteem or 'inner' resources. Maybe our idea of ourselves comes from the countless mirrors that reflect us in the eyes of others. Maybe it's not what's inside that counts."


Al Altman & Joan CrawfordSandy's list of Joan Crawford related books

"Hollywood East: Louis B. Mayer and the Origins of the Studio System" by Diana Altman. The title is somewhat misleading: this book is largely about the New York headquarters of Loew's, Inc., then owner of M-G-M. The author's father was Al Altman, M-G-M's New York talent scout. Al Altman participated in the discovery of many stars, among them Ava Gardner and Franchot Tone- but his first and biggest was Joan. The book offers a fascinating look at the relationship between M-G-M, its stars, and the company that owned both. A very rare picture of Joan is included. Birch Lane Press, 1992.





Diana Altman

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