Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow

guest post by Lexie R

I am only slightly embarrassed to admit that when I need a break from the serious news of the day, I turn to celebrity gossip. I love reading about the secret inner-workings of the entertainment industry, the behind-the-scenes machinations that make the celebrity machine look so effortless, and the blind items about who is misbehaving. So when journalists like Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, and Ronan Farrow broke the news about accusations of producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of abusing women, I thought to myself, “I’ve read about this on blind items sites a hundred times, how is it that none of these people knew about this?” Well, as is made clear in Ronan Farrow’s gripping new book Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, it sure seems like a whole lot of people did, in fact, know.

Catch and Kill takes the reader through the process of how Farrow investigated what was previously only whispered about: claims that mega-producer Harvey Weinstein routinely harassed and abused women for decades. If you were a “Friend of Harvey”, you made it in the entertainment industry; if you weren’t, you didn’t. For a non-fiction work that everyone knows the ending to, I found Farrow’s account to be breathless, fast-pasted, and engaging. Though I had read Farrow’s reporting of the accusations against Weinstein, there was a lot I didn’t know about how the story was investigated and all the hurdles Farrow faced in trying to report it. What was most startling was Farrow’s account of NBC executives who, after months of reporting and collecting firsthand accounts and even an audio recording of Weinstein admitting to an assault, suddenly wanted him to stop talking to sources and drop the story. This part of the story is still ongoing, with NBC disputing Farrow’s claims and alleging that he had no story until he went to The New Yorker and published it a month later.

One of the more thriller-esque parts of the book was the way he weaved in details about Weinstein apparently hiring an Israeli intelligence agency to follow Farrow and gather information on him in an effort to smear his reputation. Every few chapters or so we get a glimpse of two men sitting outside Farrow’s home in a silver Nissan or just so happening to be at the same restaurant as him, and later the precautions Farrow had to take when it because clear that he was in fact being followed and his phone was being targeted. But even in such serious parts of the book Farrow managed to include some levity; my favorite of these such moments was the revelation that the private investigators assigned to tail Farrow’s boyfriend Jon Lovett (of podcasts Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It) gave up because Lovett’s routine was too boring (to which Jon replied “I’m interesting!…I went to an escape room!”)

All throughout the book, Farrow makes it clear that though he received many acclaims for bringing this information to light, the real heroes of story are the women who risked everything to come forward and speak up about what had been done to them. Many of these women held onto their stories for years because they had seen others lose their careers after trying to speak up; for them to do so at this time was courageous and Farrow is quick to point that out at every turn.

This is a great read if you’re interested in the incredibly thorough process of reporting, real-life espionage, and demolishing institutions that empower and encourage abusers. Highly recommended.

Online Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

Hello Readers! How was your June reading about the movies? Did you find a hidden jewel (reading-wise)? Please let us know.

I read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and enjoyed it immensely. I was actually pretty skeptical about this one; the reviews were good, but it’s a subject (the glitz and glamour of Hollywood) that doesn’t really interest me. Boy am I glad I gave it a chance!

Starting during the last days of the Golden era of the Hollywood movie industry when the studios still controlled everything up to and including how each movie star would look and behave, Evelyn is determined to get out of New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen and make it big in the movies. She will – and does – do anything to make her dream come true. Blessed with good looks and grim determination, Evelyn schemes and manipulates her way to the top. She’s not always likable, but she is honest and forthright about what she wants and most of the people she uses know exactly what they’re getting (they often benefit too). Evelyn is also talented, a bombshell that can act, and she works very hard.

Of course, there is a price to be paid for this somewhat brutal approach to life. She has, at most, two or three friends, the public make assumptions about her based on scandal sheets and she is unable to be with the one person she does love. Despite the veneer of glamour and money, she does not escape pain or heartbreak – a husband that beats her, another that cheats on her, a difficult relationship with her daughter.

The book devotes a section to each husband. It’s fascinating to see her reasoning for marrying each – some she truly loves, some she marries to further her career, some she marries for convenience. Each marriage reflects a stage of her career, another step in the cultivation of her image. The writing is sharp and snappy and just a bit hard-edged, very fitting for a woman that won’t back down from her dreams despite the odds.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

I love The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum so much so that I wrote one of my final thesis papers comparing the book to the movie starring Judy Garland. This book and the subsequent series helped shape me to become the person I am today.  Knowing this, imagine my excitement when I saw a new book by Elizabeth Letts called Finding Dorothy on the  shelf at work.

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts is inspired by the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum’s wife, Maud, serves as the catalyst for this book by showing readers what is happening both in 1938 Hollywood and in her past both as a child and a newlywed. In Hollywood in 1938, Maud has learned that M-G-M is adapting Frank’s masterpiece for the screen. Without being asked her opinion on this development, seventy-seven-year-old Maud is convinced that she must make it on to the set in order to talk to the movie producers. Eventually making her way to the lot, Maud is eager to fulfill the promise that she made to Frank: the movie will stay true to the spirit of the book. Maud is the only one left who remembers the secrets of the book.

Maud is invited to the set where she witnesses Judy Garland rehearsing ‘Over the Rainbow’. As she closes her eyes, Maud finds herself transported back to the past. The yearning that Judy infuses into the song is reflective of the yearning that burned through Maud as she was growing up. Maud grew up in the shadow of her suffragette mother. When she decided to go to college, Maud made her way as one of the first women in the Ivy League. Meeting Frank one day drastically changed her life and Maud soon found herself growing fond of this young fellow. As their life grew together, Maud and Frank struggled. Desperate for a new beginning, they moved to the prairie where their life became even harder. The difficult times they experienced together on the prairie helped influence and inspire Frank as he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Watching Judy Garland bring Dorothy to life reminds Maud of the young girl that she helped to raise in South Dakota. Maud strives to help Judy more than she was able to help the other young girl. Seeing Judy under immense pressure from the studio and witnessing first-hand the advances the men made towards her serves to further strengthen Maud’s resolve to protect Judy.

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts works to tie together two storylines: the lives of the Baum family members beginning in the 1860s and the development of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1938 Hollywood. Even though Letts imagines the dialogue between the characters, this book is a reflection of her dedicated abilities as a conscientious researcher. Her in-depth research into the lives of Frank and Maud Baum allowed Letts to capture how one family persevered through a mess of love and loss to create a book that has inspired many generations of readers.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Challengers!

How’s is your June reading going?  Still looking for something related to the movies? You could always just watch a movie. You could watch a movie adapted from a book – even though the book is better 99% of the time, a well-done movie adaptation can add a lot of visual depth to a favorite story (I recommend watching one of the many Jane Austen adaptations) Or you could watch a movie about the movies. Here are a few suggestions.

Sunset Boulevard.  Pursued by creditors, Joe swerves into a driveway of a seemingly abandoned Sunset Boulevard mansion where he finds Norma Desmond, an ex-screen queen dreaming of a dramatic comeback.

The Artist. In 1927, George Valentin is a silent movie superstar. However, the advent of the talkies will kill his career and he will sink into oblivion. For young extra Peppy Miller, it seems the sky’s the limit as major movie stardom awaits. Though their careers are taking different paths their destinies will become entwined.

La La Land. A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. This original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing dreams.

Ed Wood.  A stranger-than-fiction true story of the early career of Edward D. Wood, Jr., the once voted worst movie director of all time.

The Aviator. Follows the life of Howard Hughes who comes to Hollywood with an interest in getting into the picture business. It doesn’t take long for Hughes to jump from producer to director of his first major film project, a World War I air epic.

Online Reading Challenge – June

Challengers! It’s a new month! That means it’s a new subject for our Reading Challenge and this month it’s: Movies!

In many ways, this will be the easiest Challenge month ever – technically, you can simply watch a movie or television show and BAM! you’ve completed the month of June. Remember, there are no Library Police – no one will come knocking on your door and drag you off to Library Jail if you fail to read something heavy and serious! Read/watch something that interests you and enjoy!

That said, if you’d like to explore the world of movies (I’m including television as well), here are a few suggestions for interesting books.

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict is a novel about Hedy Lamarr who, in addition to being a great actress and famous beauty, was a brilliant scientist. Another novelization of a famous actress is Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, about Marilyn Monroe.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter moves between 1960s Italy and present-day Hollywood and a romance lost and found again.

Black Dahlia by James Ellroy is a tense and atmospheric exploration of one of Hollywood’s most famous murders.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel follows a ragtag group of musicians and actors traveling through a not-too-distant dystopian future (I loved this book!)

As always, stop by any Davenport Library location for lots more suggestions on our displays!

I am planning on reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid in which an aging actress tells the story of her career (and all those husbands) It’s getting rave reviews and I have high hopes for a great read.

What about you? What are you planning to read this month?

 

 

 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The lives of classic movie actresses and actors have always piqued my interest. How they lived their lives, their scandalous affairs(if they actually had any), and what they did to become an icon are just a few of the things that I always want to know. Media coverage of both classic film stars and modern film stars seldom reveal the whole truth and as a result, fans usually have to wait until after the star’s death to learn the full truth, if that. Shelving a cart of new books one day, I stumbled upon The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The cover immediately captured my interest as the woman looked like she could have been a classic movie star. Reading the blurb proved that she was and I knew I needed to read this book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the gripping tale of Evelyn Hugo, an adored movie icon. Evelyn’s story is heart-wrenching and pure psychological romance fiction as readers are drawn into Evelyn’s stunningly glamorous world. With her popularity blossoming in the 1950s when she made her way to Los Angeles, Evelyn dominated the Hollywood scene in her relentless and ruthless rise to the top of the movie industry. Evelyn always knew what she wanted and was not afraid to use her body or the people around her to get it. Living in the public eye was a price she paid for being famous, but Evelyn still managed to keep secrets from the public and some of her closest friends that they never would have guessed.

After her decision to leave the Hollywood and show business in general in the late 80s, Evelyn became a recluse. She was never seen out, declined to sit down for interviews, and pictures of an aging Evelyn were almost non-existent. When she reaches out and contacts an unknown magazine reporter named Monique Grant to interview her, everyone in the journalism community is shocked. Why would Evelyn choose Monique to reveal her scandalous and glamorous life? What makes her so special? Why is Evelyn choosing to do this now? Monique has her own issues. She’s not exactly the number one journalist in the world, let alone her city or even her area of expertise. She’s not even 100% happy with where she is working as her career has stalled. Monique’s personal life is just as messy. Her husband left her just five weeks prior and Monique is still reeling.

Recognizing the Evelyn Hugo interview as the potential major career boost that she desperately needs, Monique decides she will do whatever it takes to make this a success and sits down with Evelyn. It becomes clear right off the bat that Evelyn has ulterior motives and it’s left to Monique to figure those out. Quickly Monique becomes wrapped up in the story of Evelyn’s life from her entrance to Los Angeles in the 1950s and the seven husbands she had before she retired in the late 80s. As Evelyn weaves her life’s story for Monique, she discovers that Evelyn’s ruthless ambition led her to some slightly questionable, but nevertheless sustaining, friendships and a major forbidden love that had the ability to potentially ruin Evelyn’s career. Evelyn’s professional and personal lives are forever linked together. As Monique formulates Evelyn’s story, she realizes Evelyn never does anything without having a reason. Monique begins worrying why Evelyn chose her to write her story and when Evelyn’s story finally reaches the present, Monique realizes that she and Evelyn are connected in a truly tragic and life-changing way.

I enjoyed this book more than I thought that I would. Multiple storylines were at play throughout the novel and I found myself thoroughly engrossed in each one. The vivid descriptions of Evelyn’s life as she navigated the rocky waters of fame and her personal life were so well depicted that I found myself believing for a bit that she was a real person. I wanted to learn even more about Evelyn Hugo and her seven husbands. She is fascinating. Highly recommended.

Five Came Back by Mark Harris

five came backFive Came Back gives us the untold story of how Hollywood changed World War II, and how World War II changed Hollywood through the prism of five film directors caught up in the war: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens.

It was the best of times and the worst of times for Hollywood before the war. The box office was booming, and the studios’ control of talent and distribution was as airtight as could be hoped. But the industry’s relationship with Washington was decidedly uneasy – hearings and investigations into allegations of corruption and racketeering were multiplying, and hanging in the air was the insinuation that the business was too foreign, too Jewish, too “un-American” in its values and causes. Could an industry this powerful in shaping America’s mind-set really be left in the hands of this crew? Following Pearl Harbor, Hollywood had the chance to prove its critics wrong and did so with vigor, turning its talents and its business over to the war effort to an unprecedented extent.

No industry professionals played a bigger role in the war than America’s most legendary directors: Ford, Wyler, Huston, Capra, and Stevens. Between them they were on the scene of almost every major moment of America’s war, and in every branch of service – army, navy, and air force; Atlantic and Pacific; from Midway to North Africa; from Normandy to the fall of Paris and the liberation of the Nazi death camps; to the shaping of the message out of Washington, D.C. As it did for so many others, World War II divided the lives of these men into before and after. Even less well understood, the war divided the history of Hollywood into before and after as well. Harris reckons with that transformation on a human level and on the level of the industry and the country as a whole. Like these five men, Hollywood too, and indeed all of America, came back from the war having grown up more than a little. (description from publisher)

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

As a big fan of Arrested Development and actress Portia de Rossi, I had to be first to check out her new book, Unbearable Lightness.  Though de Rossi is a very talented comedic actress, this book is a truly sad story:  it details the eating disorder she suffered from since the age of 12 when she began her modeling career.  Starting with a yo-yo diet that included binging and purging before photo shoots and acting jobs, de Rossi eventually became severely anorexic, eating less than 300 calories a day in order to lose weight and maintain her career.    Despite the protests of her family and the fact that she at one time weighed only 82 pounds, de Rossi only saw herself as a chubby girl with big thighs and rolls on her stomach.

This book was extremely shocking and really opens your eyes to what the mindset of an anorexic person is really like. De Rossi does a great job of letting the reader really get inside her head to understand why she treated her body the way she did.  The pressures of staying thin in order to get jobs and being a closeted lesbian in an industry that didn’t accept gay actors really exacerbated her condition and forced her into a downward spiral of self-loathing.  This book is also incredibly eye-opening into Hollywood life.  Knowing how common the pressures de Rossi faced are, I can’t say I ever want to look at another fashion magazine again.  Though she came out of this ordeal alive and has a very happy life with wife Ellen Degeneres, this isn’t the case for everyone who goes through anorexia and bulimia.  Not only is this book very informative, it’s also an emotional and inspirational story about overcoming your personal demons, and  I highly recommend it to anyone.

Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado

ConfectionsFed up with a Hollywood lifestyle of “doing lunch”, massive traffic jams and insincere relationships, Gesine Bullock-Prado abandoned all the things that are supposed to make you happy – money, designer clothes, access to famous stars – and escaped to the Green Mountains of Vermont. There she found peace and happiness by following her true passion – baking.

In 2004 Gesine and her husband Ray opened Gesine Confectionary in Montpelier, Vermont largely on the popularity of her macaroons. Expecting to start small and build by word-of-mouth, they were overwhelmed by the long lines that snaked out the door on opening day – maybe it was the fact that Gesine’s sister, movie star Sandra Bullock, was helping at the register?

Star gazing might have brought people to the shop at first but the sweet, luscious treats bring them back again and again. Pies, sticky buns, croissants, scones and cakes of all description guarantee a slew of return customers. Customers become regulars, who become friends and consultants and the empty existence of their former Hollywood life becomes a distant memory. Not everything is perfect – there are setbacks and frustrations, bad employees and unreasonable demands – but mostly it is a dream come true.

Each chapter of Confections of a Closet Master Baker – written in a wry, straightforward voice – finishes with a delectable recipe. Gesine’s stories of her beloved family and memories of her hated Hollywood job ring clear and true. For anyone who longs to drop out of the rat race and follow their passion – or for anyone that loves to eat – this is a must read!