“Hollywood at Home provides a unique behind-the-scenes look at the crossroads between the last real glamour years and the TV decade. It is a remarkable portrait of mid-century America.”
So reads the back cover of Hollywood at Home: A Family Album (1950 – 1965), a slight yet strong volume from Sid Avery’s lens and Richard Schickel’s pen.
And it’s quite true.
As film historian and cinema omnivore Richard Schickel writes in the book’s introduction:
“In Sid Avery’s portraits of Hollywood in the 1950s, its citizens mime normalcy. They diaper a baby, fry an egg, play charades, wash their cars. Beloved screen veterans… the serenity and seemliness with which all of them face the camera in this, the entertainment industry’s most chaotic moment since the advent of sound, strikes the social historian– not to mention the movie critic– with a strange and occasionally poignant force.
Some variant on this question keeps recurring as one turns these pages: Why are these people smiling?”
For me, I was initially skeptical of Schickel’s introductory comments. After all, at a cursory glance of legendary Sid Avery’s candid shots, they felt nothing if not organic and truthful; glimpses of the Hollywood Elite acting and behaving exactly as you or I. Chopping up a salad. Talking on the phone. Playing with their children. Unposed, fluid, perfectly natural. Why shouldn’t the likes of Paul Newman or Debbie Reynolds or Dean Martin be able to behave like the ordinary people that, underneath all the fame, they truly were?
“Like these favored show folk, the rest of us ordinary citizens of the American 1950s were busy miming normalcy too. It was expected of us. A depression had been survived, a war had been fought, and now everything was supposed to be all right. … Get married. Have 2.3 children. Buy a house in the suburbs. Go to church. Send the kids to college. Die quietly. … But there was something abnormal about fifties normalcy. …
“As with all fictions, one was free not to by it. But the mass media did buy it and sell it. And we, the great audience, bought it from the movies and the magazines and the broadcasters. We also did our best to resell it, to our sometimes dubious selves, and then to each other.
The pictures in this book were made as part of that process. They represented Hollywood as it wanted to see itself and to be seen by outsiders: securely functioning and apparently conducting business as usual.”
Far be it from me to expound upon Schickel’s words, so I leave you with them… and Avery’s striking, subliminal shots.
What do you think about these shots of classic Hollywood at home? Share them in the comments below!