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‘I Loved Her in the Movies: Memories of Hollywood’s Legendary Actresses’

By Robert J. Wagner with Scott Eyman

(Viking)

A love letter to actresses he admired on and off the screen, Robert J. Wagner’s engaging memoir offers a warm embrace for the many women who helped him establish a successful career as a leading man or inspired him professionally and personally in their unforgiving business.

Take Claudette Colbert, an Oscar winner for “It Happened One Night.” Wagner was a 20-year-old newbie when they made 1951’s “Let’s Make It Legal.” He flubbed his way through 49 takes of one scene.

“She could easily have had me replaced by uttering a single sentence,” Wagner recalls. “Not only did she not have me replaced, not once did she roll her eyes, not once did she sigh, not once did she betray any impatience or anger at my incompetence. It was an object lesson in the discipline necessary to be an actor, not to mention a star.”

“I Loved Her in the Movies” is a delight in large part because Wagner can also see Colbert and other great female stars from a fan’s perspective. They were his colleagues and friends — some were his lovers — but he never lost his admiration for the women who could move an audience to cheers and tears, among them:

Marilyn Monroe: “I thought she was a terrific woman and I liked her very much. When I knew her, she was a warm, fun girl. … I never saw the Marilyn of the nightmare anecdotes — the terribly insecure woman who needed pills and champagne to anesthetize her from life, and who reached a place where she couldn’t get out more than a couple of consecutive sentences in front of a camera.”

Joan Crawford: “Joan had drive. She also had a quality of directness I’ve always liked. She was never a particularly nuanced actress, but she was open to the camera in a very touching way.”

What might be most surprising in the pages of Wagner’s third book with Scott Eyman, is the streak of feminism that runs through his reflections on stardom, the nature of talent and the demands of a Hollywood career.

Looking back after 60-plus years, Wagner finds a characteristic common to the female stars that still shine.

— Douglass K. Daniel

‘Perfume: A Century of Scents’

By Lizzie Ostrom

(Pegasus Books)

Fragrance has always been wrapped in social and economic issues, controversy, memories and history as Lizzie Ostrom so persuasively shows in the lively “Perfume: A Century of Scents.”

The 10 chapters — each devoted to a single decade — examine 10 different perfumes that influenced that decade. A sharply focused introduction to each chapter further puts the decade — and its fragrance fashion — in perspective.

While “Perfume” is by no means an encyclopedia about scents, it is a solid pop culture guide that incorporates fragrance fashion into the shifting tides of society. Many of the perfumes mentioned through the decades have disappeared — a mere whiff of a memory — no matter how popular at the time. This is true not just of those from the 1920s but also those manufactured in the 1990s.

Advertising fragrances isn’t a new idea. In 1908, the British firm Gosnell’s launched a hot air balloon shaped like the bottle of its Cherry Blossom to fling out flyers over crowds — an idea that seems modest next to perfume fountains that threw fragrance into the air during the Victorian Era in England. What has changed is the rise of the internet and certain sites that curate myriad scents in one-stop shopping, making exotic perfumes even more accessible.

Celebrities’ influence on fragrance also goes back decades. Compare the Gibson Girls of the 1900s mentioning the “utterly obscure” Poinsettia with the avalanche of current pop stars hawking their scents.

Technology and chemistry gave companies new ways to produce scents, taking it away from the rich and elite of society and making it available to the masses. Ostrom shows that each decade had certain scents that define it. During the global depression of the 1930s, Joy by Jean Patou, “the most expensive scent ever released,” was introduced and is still available today. World War II brought a new challenge as many perfumeries urged their customers to “treasure your last pinch” of fragrance as advertisers urged against buying until after the war. As a result, France ceased being the epicenter of fragrance production as more began to be manufactured in America.

— Oline H. Cogdill

‘The History of Rock & Roll, Vol. One, 1920-1963’

By Ed Ward

(Flatiron Books)

Ed Ward, an early contributor to Rolling Stone, and to Detroit’s Creem Magazine, takes on the immense task of telling the story of rock ‘n’ roll in narrative form. It’s a story we think we know, but we’ve gotten it in bits and pieces; from biographies and autobiographies of stars and music men and served up in snippets in pop encyclopedias.

But Ward succeeds in avoiding the trappings of stardom and telling the story as it happened, prodded along by studio owners including Cosimo Matassa in New Orleans, regional label owners such as Art Rupe and Berry Gordy Jr., as well as gangsters and disc jockeys. How did skiffle come about in Britain? What was the link to New Orleans? Who turned Elvis down in his first attempt to record, and who was Gordy’s biggest musical rival?

There is a breathless quality to the storytelling, as it’s a complex tale with many disparate names and places, but Ward, the longtime music historian for NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” is more than up for the job. Reading this history is like sitting in front of a fire with a stimulating (or not so) beverage, while he unspools anecdotes revealing how popular music resolved itself into such a powerful force in the 1950s.

It’s a dense, but rewarding read, and a must for anyone who wants a sense of what happened, with the history and sociological underpinnings explained by a pro.

— Susan Whitall

Best-sellers

For the week ending Dec. 18, 2016.

Hardcover Fiction

1. “The Whistler” by John Grisham (Doubleday)

2. “Cross the Line” by James Patterson (Little, Brown)

3. “Two by Two” by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central Publishing)

4. “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

5. “No Man’s Land” by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing)

6. “Tom Clancy: True Faith and Allegiance” by Mark Greaney (Putnam)

7. “Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult (Ballantine)

8. “Night School” by Lee Child (Delacorte)

9. “Turbo Twenty-Three” by Janet Evanovich (Bantam)

10. “The Seventh Plague” by James Rollins (Morrow)

Hardcover Nonfiction

1. “Killing the Rising Sun” by O’Reilly/Dugard (Henry Holt & Company)

2. “The Magnolia Story” by Chip Gaines and Joanna Gaines (Thomas Nelson)

3. “Jesus Always” by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson)

4. “The Undoing Project” by Michael Lewis (Norton)

5. “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster)

6. “Guinness World Records 2017” (Guinness World Records)

7. “Settle for More” by Megyn Kelly (Harper)

8. “Cooking for Jeffrey” by Ina Garten (Clarson Potter)

9. “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance (Harper)

10. “Tools of Titans” by Timothy Ferriss (HMH)

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