As I've written here many times before
, Oscars night was always sacred in our house when I was growing up. My memories of watching the show go back to the late 1960s. As a pre-teen, I was allowed to stay up late ON A SCHOOL NIGHT to watch with my mother. (I haven't missed an Oscars ceremony yet -- although I did miss an hour of one when I was at my part-time in job in the late 1970s, and we had to set the VCR in 1989 when I bought tickets to "Phantom of the Opera" for the same night).
Then -- as I described in this post from 2011 -- around 1972-73, when I was 11 or 12 years old, I found a paperback book at my grandmother's local drugstore (in smalltown Minnesota) that had pictures and profiles of ALL the major Oscar winners (plus lists of all the nominees & other winners), dating back to the very beginning of the awards. I read and re-read and referenced it so much that my copy eventually fell apart and had to be held together with rubber bands (it may still be lurking somewhere in my parents' basement). For a long time, if you asked me "Who won Best Supporting Actress in1943?" I probably could have told you, and even today, 50+ (gulp) years later, I could probably hazard a good guess (although, curiously, I'm a lot hazier on who won the more recent awards).
I've bought and read many books about the Oscars and their history in the years since then, and while some got sent to the thrift shop when we downsized to our condo, I still have a few. (My favourite: "Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards" by Mason Wiley & Damien Bona. Unfortunately, the last edition was published in 1996, and one of the authors is now dead, so I'm not sure if/when there will ever be a newer edition.) When I heard about "Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears" by Michael Schulman, I knew I had to add it to my collection, and I downloaded an e-copy the day it became available, with the goal of getting through it before this year's Oscars show next Sunday (March 12th).
It's a long book (the hardcover edition is 608 pages), and it took longer to get through than I thought it would -- but it's also well written and highly entertaining. "Oscar Wars" is not an exhaustive year-by-year history of the awards (try Wiley & Bona's book for that). It does, however, cover the 95+ years of their existence in 11 chapters, each one focused on a particularly theme or contest or year/period through a few, well-chosen, representative stories -- some I'd never heard before, or had, at least, forgotten -- that tell a larger story about the Oscars, about Hollywood and the movie industry, and about America. We learn about (among many other things) how the awards were created and the early struggle between the studio moguls and the unions and guilds to control them; the McCarthy era and the blacklist; how Hollywood -- and the Oscars -- were forced to adapt to the social changes of the 1960s and 70s; how the 1989 "Snow White" fiasco unfolded (and how that particular show nevertheless led to some lasting changes); the painfully slow progress toward diversity, as personified by the stories of Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier and Halle Berry, as well as the #oscarssowhite years; and the rise and fall of Harvey Weinstein.
If you enjoy movies and the Oscars as much as I do, you will enjoy this book. And if you don't know a lot about the history of the Oscars, this might be a good volume to whet your appetite for more.
4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 on Goodreads.
This was Book #11 read to date in 2023 (and Book #1 finished in March), bringing me to 24% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule. :) You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2023 tagged as "2023 books."