Summer Reading Challenge 2019: Of All the Gin Joints - Mark Bailey, Edward Hemingway



Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History (2014)

Written by Mark Bailey, illustrated by Edward Hemingway

Algonquin Books

Hardcover, 324 pages

(includes list of sources, index)

ISBN 9781565125933


All classic movie lovers have experienced rejection from those we attempt to enlighten. When we recommend a classic film to family and friends (and they actually watch it), we’re often told, “It’s in black-and-white!” or “The acting is bad” or “It’s soooooooo boring!” Perhaps what we should do is hand them a copy of Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History by Mark Bailey and Edward Hemingway. It may be in black-and-white (with some occasional red to spice things up), but it’s certainly not boring.



Of all the Gin Joints is divided into four parts: The Silent Era (1895-1929), The Studio Era (1930-1945), Postwar Era (1946-1959), and 1960s & New Hollywood, 1960-1979. Within each of these sections, you’ll encounter some of Hollywood’s most famous actors, directors, writers, and producers, following their drinking shenanigans, many of which could legitimately be included in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.


Within each of the four sections, readers are treated to brief career profiles (including some wonderful caricatures by Edward Hemingway) of each Hollywood personality, followed by at least one of their drunken adventures. These accounts frequently lead to a description of some of the famous places and landmarks where these escapades occurred, such as the Hollywood Hotel, the Brown Derby, Romanoff’s, the Formosa Cafe, and many more.


Several films are given their own spotlight, describing the many ways drinking (among other activities) contributed to (i.e., wrecked) various productions, including The Gold Rush (1925), The Wedding March (1928), The Lost Weekend (1945), From Here to Eternity (1953), Beat the Devil (1953), Apocalypse Now (1979), and others. Outrageous is far too mild a word to describe what went on during those shoots. You begin to wonder how the films got made at all.


Finally, the book gives the reader a number of recipes for creating your own concoctions, everything from a mimosa (the beverage of choice for such leading ladies as Marion Davies, Ginger Rogers, and Elizabeth Taylor) to Robert Mitchum’s Eye-Opener (the actor’s hangover cure, consisting of bourbon, orange juice, honey, and a raw egg) to director John Ford’s Torpedo Juice (not for the faint of heart).


But we’re really here for the stories, tales of drunken actors, writers, directors, and producers, all behaving badly. If you think older films are too quaint, innocent, or boring, the people who made them certainly were none of those things. How about the time Frank Sinatra and Eva Gardner were so sloshed they took two Smith & Wesson .38s and shot out the the streetlights in Indio, California? Or consider the amount of liquor Joan Crawford required when she traveled, which included two fifths of Smirnoff 100-proof vodka, one fifth Old Forester Bourbon, one fifth Chivas Regal scotch, one fifth Beefeater gin, and two bottles Moët & Chandon champagne. (And this was in addition to what she brought along personally!)


You’ll read about the many battle royal epics between the soused Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the unbelievable drinking endurance of Errol Flynn, and even how W.C. Fields - who estimated he drank at least two quarts of gin a day - began a workout regimen late in life. (“It is imperative that the right elbow be kept in perfect condition at all times,” said Fields.) Just like the booze, the stories in the book just keep flowing.


So if you know anyone who thinks classic Hollywood movies are stuffy and boring, hand them a copy of this book. And then have a few classic films (and maybe a few martinis) on hand as well.



This review is part of the 2019 Summer Reading Challenge, which I hope you’ll check out (and also participate in) at Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog.

© 2019 by Andy Wolverton

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