I have nothing but praise for the amazing amount of research in Debra Pawlak’s book, Bringing Up Oscar. She has a wonderful ability to bring the stories of Hollywood legends to life. Her accounts from her blog of early silent stars like Mary Pickford and Fatty Arbuckle were detailed and fascinating portrayals that humanized the stilted celluloid figures we had come to know.
Having read Ms. Pawlak’s blogs on early Hollywood, the book strikes a similar tone, yet lacks the concise bite and flavor that a shortened blog piece conveys. Somehow the flow is not as cohesive or immediate as the blog accounts, but the information imparted is still fascinating to read.
The book begins with an interesting account of the meeting and concept behind the establishment of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The first ceremony and the events leading up to it are all part of a fascinating narrative thread which underscores the theme of Oscar and the events surrounding its creation.
But the scope of the larger story often bites off more than it can chew. It almost calls for a two or three book series. The book runs 348 pages and is filled with the background and life stories of all 36 founding Academy members.
As a side note, it’s telling that the original group of founders was made up of 34 white males and just 2 women. (Mary Pickford being one of them). Debra Pawlak’s great strength as a writer lies in her ability to take these stories of long-gone executives and lifeless names on a plaque and to bring them back to life with accounts of their exploits and very human foibles.
Her storytelling abilities make the characters come alive. But my wish is that the book would have narrowed the scope and told the accounts in perhaps more manageable chunks of text. There are so many gems and tidbits buried in paragraphs full of exposition about the circumstances leading up to the meat of the matter, whether it be Irving Thalberg’s weak heart or Mary Pickford’s fatal attraction to Douglas Fairbanks, all of these tales are told within the longer expansive story of the formation of Hollywood itself.
Some editing with sub-heads may have been needed, but one suggestions to readers which was helpful to me was to read the story as it was intended. That is, to read the Preface, which lists all 36 founding members, and then to read through the book and simply find the material surrounding each member which is featured within the chapter listings.
Bringing Up Oscar is a valuable treasure trove of material, but like any good treasure hunt, you must find the treasure buried within. Ms. Pawlak is one of the best of the best researchers who writes about early Hollywood history. For those who love film, and those who love a challenge, take up the book and find the treasures buried inside.