STAR STRUCK, MY UNLIKELY ROAD TO HOLLYWOOD (Goodnight Books, 2021) is a wonderful memoir by film historian Leonard Maltin who was born in 1950 in New York before his family moved to New Jersey.
So many great stories as he reminisces how his life has unwound.
……As a youngster he loved silent comedy. His parents had a Bell & Howell projector and he would buy 8mm prints of Chaplin, Keaton and Laurel & Hardy
………In 1969 he learned that director George Stevens was coming to New York. The 18 year old Leonard called round leading Manhattan hotels and found out where the directors was staying – he subsequently got an interview with him.
…….At the age of 13, he submitted articles to “Film Fan Monthly” which was then published in Canada. Two years later, he took over the film magazine at the request of Daryl Davy, the magazine’s originator. His first issue as editor/publisher came out in May 1966 and was numbered #59. Quoting Leonard, “I was 15 and about to finish tenth grade. I continued to edit and publish FFM for the next nine years, winding up with issue #168.”
It wasn’t easy to see certain old movies in the 60s. “If they didn’t turn up on local television or on the revival circuit, you were out of luck unless you were plugged in to the underground network of collectors. Some were sharers, some were hoarders….”
Whilst a senior at High School, Leonard was approached by a publisher and asked if he’d like to produce a rival to a book called “Movies on TV” by Steven H. Scheuer. And thus began a long association with the publication which became “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide” which sold millions of copies.
“Come to think of it, the history of my Guide parallels the advances in technology and communication over five decades. I never dreamt of a day when computers would replace typewriters, and a hand-held device could hold an encyclopedia’s worth of information.
I lived through the era of fax machines, the malling of America and arrival of bookstore chains, the debut of video cassettes, laserdiscs and dvds, and streaming. I witnessed the decline of bookstores and the coming of Amazon.”
By 1982, Leonard was hired by “Entertainment Tonight” on television, and worked there for 30 years.
On his trips to Los Angeles – “I pursued mostly character actors and unsung heroes during these early trips, and had wonderful conversations with Joan Blondell, Grady Sutton,Edgar Buchanan, Una Merkel, and unappreciated directors Mitchel Leisen and Gordon Douglas.”
His favourite interviewee? “I have no hesitation in answering: Katharine Hepburn.”
On their first of four meetings in 1988, as part of an E.T.crew, Leonard found himself invited into Miss Hepburn’s brownstone on east 49th Street – and was offered homemade soup!
Katharine even spoke about herself and Spencer Tracy:
“I was very careful and Spencer was very careful. Mrs.Tracy lived in Los Angeles, and I never went out with Spencer, all those 28 years in California,ever. We didn’t make a spectacle out of the relationship.”
( They met only at her house or the home of friends like George Cukor).
Leonard became a fan of old-time radio – “I still listen to old-time radio on a regular basis and never tire of it. I may be living in the past when I cue up a ‘Kraft Music Hall’ with Al Jolson and Oscar Levant, but I don’t care. It brings me joy.”
Leonard has interviewed so many stars over the years, from Shirley Temple, Roy Rogers, Lena Horne, Bette Davis , James Stewart . I love his quote from Fred MacMurray –
“I would have enjoyed westerns a lot more if horses hadn’t entered into it. I never felt at one with the horse.”
Having taken part in many film festivals, Leonard finally started one of his own – the MaltinFest in 2019. His wife, Alice and daughter,Jessie are very much a part of the enterprise. In fact Alice and Jessie greeted movie fans at the check-in desk for the three day festival at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre.
The Maltin family have had their share of medical problems and I was dismayed to read that Leonard was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease seven years ago.
But he continues to do the work he loves whether it’s teaching a class at USC School of Cinematic Arts , interviewing stars at the TCM festivals or podcasting with his daughter,Jessie. He really is a legendary film historian and if you ever catch any of his talks or interviews on You Tube, you’ll understand why he is so well liked by everyone. His knowledge of Classic film is unmatched and his love for it and enthusiasm is undimmed.
This book is quite simply a must-read. His story is the stuff that dreams are made of for any classic film fan.
Leonard meeting Ginger Rogers in 1967.
And his all time favourite movie? CASABLANCA.