Horrid little flappers
January 9, 2017 9:11 AM   Subscribe

After reading the excellent Clara Bow: Running Wild, I want to read more about 20s Hollywood, flappers, or both. I don't know a huge amount about that time period so don't be afraid to suggest the obvious. Biographies or novels, I'm open to either. Recommend some books to me!
posted by mippy to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Tallulah Bankhead's autobiography. It's aces.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:26 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I loved "The Girls at the Kingfisher Club" by Genevieve Valentine, a retelling of the fairy tale of the 12 dancing princesses, set in the 20s. Lots of flappers and dancing and speakeasys.
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:37 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just started the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries. She's a 20's era detective in Melbourne Australia in the 1920s. The settings and the fashion are really fun to look at though it's not Hollywood. You can read the books or just watch the series.
posted by jessamyn at 9:38 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

I read a memoir by one of Charlie Chaplin's wives when I was about 14 that scarred me for life. Not necessarily in a bad way, but I can never see him as charming or harmless. This was the wife who had a big axe to grind and her portrayal of him is just fabulously horrifying. Pretty sure My Life With Chaplin was the book.
posted by janey47 at 9:49 AM on January 9, 2017

Check out Lulu in Hollywood by Louise Brooks.
posted by gudrun at 9:53 AM on January 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

My all time favorite autobiography is Harpo Speaks - I don't think they made it to Hollywood before the end of the 20's, but they mixed with just about everyone you think of when you think of the 20's (Harpo was the only "member" of both the Algonquin and Hollywood writers round tables).

I also got a lot of joy out of Gracie, A Love Story - George Burns's biography of Gracie Allen
posted by Mchelly at 10:18 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

I can highly recommend Judith Mackrell's Flappers - it's a terrific read!
posted by HandfulOfDust at 10:53 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a comic 1920s novel, and The Great Gatsby shows us the melancholy side of the era in America. Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies capture the atmosphere in Britain. If you can find Anthony Powell's Afternoon Men it's also good.
posted by zadcat at 10:55 AM on January 9, 2017 [6 favorites]

In 1920 F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, This Side of Paradise, was a huge youth-culture flashpoint at the start of what he was credited with calling the jazz age—romantic and dramatic high school and college kids ("flappers and philosophers", as his first story collection was called, with some of each in each gender) taking an ironic view of their parents and themselves and combining it with an unwavering sense of their own importance and novelty. Received kind of the same incisive/controversial/funny/frivolous reception that we associate with Girls, only it's pointed at a younger audience—the people going into/already in the 18-21 age group of its characters, rather than the people on their way out of it.

It's a very immature novel in a bunch of ways but a huge, exuberant pleasure in spite/because of that.
posted by Polycarp at 11:23 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Anita Loos also wrote memoirs. Check out A Girl Like I, Kiss Hollywood Goodbye, and Cast of Thousands. Also entertaining is The Legendary Mizners, all about her dreadful friends Wilson and Addison Mizner
posted by BWA at 12:02 PM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Seconding Lulu in Hollywood. It's erudite, witty, and engaging. Terrific book by a terrific writer.

If you'd like a more scholarly take on the subject, an old friend of mine specializes in the history and analysis of flapper films; her publications are listed on her bio page.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:05 PM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Thirding Lulu in Hollywood but also include Barry Paris' Louise Brooks: A Biography
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:33 PM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Seconding Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which is achingly funny and wise.
posted by Scram at 1:16 PM on January 9, 2017

All of the Fitzgerald is great, and don't overlook the short stories.

There are also some great biographies about Zelda Fitzgerald, and I am away from my library right now to tell you the name of the one that I have, but find a good one on Zelda.
posted by littlewater at 2:38 PM on January 9, 2017

I'm probably biased because the author is a friend from high school, but you might enjoy Therese Anne Fowler's biographical novel based on the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, Z, which is also coming to Amazon video as a series at the end of this month.
posted by drlith at 5:08 PM on January 9, 2017

Anna Godbersen's "Bright Young Things" trilogy ("Beautiful Days," "The Lucky Ones") is about flappers and socialites and the mob in NYC beginning in 1929. YA, very enjoyable. (Her "The Luxe" series in the Gilded Age is better-plotted but BYT is great for atmosphere and flappers and details.) Soapy but great fun and reads fast.

In a more literary direction, you might like "The Chaperone," which is about 15-year-old Louise Brooks and her 36-year-old chaperone Cora Carlisle who go from Witchita to NYC in the summer of 1922 for Louise to attend a prestigious dancing school, on her way to becoming a silent film star, and what happens to them both during their five weeks in NYC, and the repercussions throughout their lives. Cora (a "lady driver" and a suffragette!) is the main character and not herself a flapper, but her experience and observation of the 20s is fascinating, and the contrast between Wichita and NYC interesting. The story also reaches into the past (Cora's roots) and the future (both Cora and Louise's futures) to place the 20s in context for the people who lived it. I really liked it a lot.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:18 PM on January 9, 2017

It's neither biography nor novel, but The Parade's Gone By by Kevin Brownlow is a wonderfully readable big book on silent cinema, full of firsthand accounts of '20s Hollywood.
posted by thetortoise at 10:29 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

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