Joseph P. Kennedy Presents - His Hollywood Years - On the Bedside Table

I am more than a little behind in my "to be read" list of books.  Cari Beauchamp's Joseph P. Kennedy Presents His Hollywood Years falls under this category.  Originally published in 2009, this book has been on my shelf far too long.  In fact, the book remained on the shelf and I purchased and read the kindle edition.  Schlepping a kindle is much easier than a book these days.  (I still love my brick and mortar books, simply not schlepping on the bus.)

After I read Without Lying Down Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood, I made a point keep an eye out for whatever project bears Cari Beauchamp's name.  She truly is one of my favorite authors.  If you have not read Without Lying Down, get thee to amazon (HB, used and now kindled) or wherever you buy books and read it.  It's a fabulous book about a fascinating woman whose story still inspires today.  Frances Marion was a force of nature and this book could not be a better advocate for her life and work. 
Also well worth reading is the delightful Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary: Her Private Letters from Inside the Studios of the 1920's, which Cari Beauchamp edited.  I need to reread it; it's a primer in the lost art of newsy and fun letter writing.  An art that is sadly now lost in the wake of email/texting being the standard form of e-communication.  Since I am plugging all things Cari, here is the amazon page with her books

The story of Joseph P. Kennedy and his affair with Gloria Swanson is well known in film history circles.  It's been a salacious tale since before Swanson penned her own version of it in Swanson on Swanson.  Surprisingly, this tale was not a chapter in Kenneth Anger's ode to Hollywood Gossip Hollywood Babylon, a work of amazing fiction.  (An interesting note that Swanson DID sue Anger and the backstory and his response is chronicled here.) 
Back to the book at hand, Cari Beauchamp goes well beyond what might have been a starting point of research, and unveils a truly remarkable story, one the average film reader (like me) had never heard. 

Kennedy was a fairly well known businessman and successful banker on the East Coast when he first set out to conquer Hollywood.  He was, in parlance of today, a real player.  Contrary to many sources, and innuendo, Kennedy did not make his fortune as a bootlegger.  Did he have his hand in booze distribution, yes.  He had the smarts and connections to know when Prohibition was about to be repealed.  He went to the U.K., secured licenses and became an importer of the finest whiskey and liquor and set up a company for distribution.  The minute repeal came, bingo, he was ready with warehouses full of what people wanted and made a fortune from a thirsty nation.  In business he did have the Midas touch, for himself.

Unlike other biographies of Kennedy this focuses on his years in Hollywood.  That said, we do get a thorough rundown of his life and career leading up to the main period covered.  This is all preparation for an incredibly impressive amount of research, bean counting that reveals a man with all sorts of lusts, especially one for power and a powerful image.  Kennedy bought and sold companies with little personal financial investment, juggling the books and selling at the right time, he became a force in Hollywood in two short years without a bit of experience in producing films.  Honestly, in the end, all I can say is not a man I would have wanted to cross paths with.

I may sound like a broken record, this was a completely wonderful read.  Cari Beauchamp's prose just falls off the page urging you to read more and more; the definition of a real page turner.  Even with all of the business details and financial disclosure, the book is never boring or dull.  It made me better understand this side of the studio business and hierarchy.  Kennedy was a many of many passions, always looking out for Number 1 and adding Gloria Swanson to his trophy case of sexual scalps. He was not the great advocate for her he initially promised.  Swanson, like Valentino, was not so much a great businesswoman, Kennedy took her to the cleaners, as well.
Do not miss this book if you have any interest in the Kennedy family, Gloria Swanson, the Hollywood studios and the making of films.  It was an entirely engrossing read.  If I had more than two thumbs, they'd likewise be pointed up!
If you care to read the NY Times review, you can find it here.

Now to queue up Cari's book on Anita Loos!


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