Arty gift books on Stephen Sondheim, Apollo Theater, 'Mad Men' and more
Gift books for the arts lovers on your list include "Leo Fuchs: Special Photographer From the Golden Age of Hollywood"; "Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America" and "Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter."
Seattle Times arts critic
Even for those friends and relations who don't even read books anymore, unless they're displayed on a handheld screen, a holiday gift of words and images on the paper page can still be a very welcome present.
We can steer you to a sampling of arts books that may just delight that certain special film, TV, music or drama aficionado on your checked-twice holiday list this season:
"Leo Fuchs: Special Photographer From the Golden Age of Hollywood" (powerHouse Books; $65, 240 pp.): Doris Day and Rock Hudson breaking each other up on the set of one of their romantic film comedies. Gregory Peck, pensively preparing for a scene in "To Kill a Mockingbird." Audrey Hepburn, playing with a monkey while shooting "The Nun's Story" in the Belgian Congo. And Paul Newman, at his bare-chested hunkiest, exploring Israel during the filming of "Exodus."
This beautifully produced coffee-table volume shares these and other vivid, candid portraits by Leo Fuchs, a "special photographer" (and later a producer) who gained the trust of, and won extraordinary access to, some of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1950s and early '60s.
Assembled by his son, Alexandre Fuchs, the deluxe black-and-white photography book also contains Fuchs' own insightful and amusing notes about his career and the stars he worked with, and some artful, saucy shots of scantily garbed dancers and showgirls from his early gig as the so-called "King of Cheesecake."
"Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes" (Knopf; $39.95, 480 pp.): Ever wonder how Stephen Sondheim came up with "Send in the Clowns"? You can find out about that, and about the scores of other numbers in the classic Broadway musicals penned by lionized composer-lyricist Sondheim, in his revealing, detailed and extremely opinionated collection of lyrics and commentary — a must-have for fans of his shows.
Starting with his first job as lyricist (on a little thing called "West Side Story"), and on through "Gypsy," "Company" and "Sweeney Todd," the book is both a polemical lesson on the art and craft of successfully mating words and melody, and a chronicle of one restless innovator's matchless theatrical career.
"Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America" (Collins Design; $16.99, 258 pp.): Successful TV series usually spin off a few books. I still own a copy of "The Sopranos Family Cookbook," would you believe? This little, smartly designed volume, by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, is another keeper.
The author sets her sights on and beyond the characters inhabiting the sphere of Madison Avenue advertising exec Don Draper, the anti-hero of the hit "Mad Men," to the actual time, cultural milieu and people that inspired the addictive drama series.
In short, pungent and slickly illustrated chapters, we learn about some of the real "men in gray flannel suits" who wrote the jingles and created the TV commercials of the day, as well as the advent of the birth-control pill, the cult worship of the airline stewardess and the drugs, drinks, novels and artwork of choice among '60s New York ad types.
All this connects cleverly to the fictional lives of Don, his glamorous ex-wife, Betty, his girlfriends and colleagues. And it's a great book to dip in and dip out of, when you're tired of this decade and want to roam around in another.
"Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter" (Nan A. Talese; $20.99, 336 pp.): The love affair between the great British playwright Harold Pinter and his second wife, author and historian Lady Antonia Fraser, began as a scandalous act of adultery in 1975, and ended, 33 years later, with Pinter's death from cancer.
Written with a very English, very literate brand of grace and restraint, Fraser's account of their life together (culled from her diaries) is fond and touching. But it's also a crisp, clear-eyed portrait of a shared life of creative work, political activism, wide-ranging travels, family — not always smooth going, sometimes rocky and controversial, but remarkable and fascinating nonetheless.
In short, theirs was a fine romance, and Fraser shares that with us.
"Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment" (Smithsonian Books; $35, 264 pp.): Though this handsome, lavishly illustrated book from the Smithsonian Institution centers on the "world famous Apollo Theater," it also reflects the vibrant panorama of 20th-century life in Harlem.
And it charts the development of African-American entertainment, a multifaceted gift to the world which the Apollo has showcased with heavenly gospel singing, raucous comedy, jazz, sweet soul, Lindy-hopping and hip-hopping.
Many writers contributed essays to the book (including soul maestro Smokey Robinson). But the multitude of photos of the now-76-year old Apollo venue, especially of those gleaming talents who were "discovered" there in raucous talent shows, is worth a million words.
Misha Berson: email@example.com