Lights, camera...reading! 11 perfect last-minute gifts for the Hollywood obsessives on your list

·7-min read

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Three holiday book gift ideas by or about celebrities.
Be a star...or just give gifts like one. (Photo: Amazon)

Everybody’s got one — that friend, sibling, in-law, parent, child — who’s movie-mad, who can regularly be found at the local repertory house and whose cable box is set by default at Turner Classic Movies. Come holiday time, we love them, because cinephiles are the easiest people to buy gifts for, even last-minute ones.

We're talking books, people. Books about Tinseltown. The folks and institutions who made it what it is, who've enthralled us up on that big screen and who've been bringing dreams alive for well over a century. And, let's face it, if ever there was a time for some escapism, it's now.

Hollywood history is studded not just with the brilliant and the beautiful, but the tragic, fascinating and just plain weird. To honor that, we're bringing you an eclectic roundup of recommendations. To maximize your options, we've cast a wide net among the interests of your potential gift recipients. There are biographies and history, fiction and non-, new releases and old chestnuts and titles that are serious, sassy and simply salacious. You're welcome.

At this stage of the gift-shopping game, you'll be wanting to get your bounty quick-shipped in time for Xmas. Enter Amazon Prime, which will give you that and more — from access to new movies and TV shows to discounts at Whole Foods, exclusive sales and two-day shipping on many, many items. Not yet a member? No problem. You can sign up for your free 30-day trial here

So, snag some of these babies, then get ready for your close-up as the star of your upcoming Christmas shebang!

Mike Nichols: A Life, by Mark Harris

Mike Nochols: A Life, by Mark Harris.
Know what we love? When a towering talent meets a genius biographer. That's this. (Photo: Amazon)

Icon and legend are labels thrown around all too carelessly these days, but Mike Nichols warrants them both. A giant of the stage and screens small and large, he, along with his comedy soulmate, Elaine May, revolutionized the art of improv. He'd go on to win back-to-back Tony Awards. And he was just getting started! Most of us know him from his inimitable work as a director, with triumphs including The Graduate, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Silkwood and The Birdcage. In Harris, he's got a keen, masterful biographer, making this a perfect marriage of scintillating subject and riveting storyteller. 

$24 at Amazon

You Got Anything Stronger? Stories, by Gabrielle Union

Gabrielle Union on cover of her book
The State of the Union, part deux. (Photo: Amazon)

After the release of her smash 2017 memoir, We're Going to Need More Wine, The New York Times ran a headline proclaiming "We're Going to Need More Gabrielle Union." And, well, here it is. In this sequel of sorts, the actor-activist relates her experiences as a two-time mom, regales us with the story of a memorable girls' night at the Chateau Marmont and brings her insight and righteous anger to the fight for racial equality in Hollywood and beyond. 

$20 at Amazon

The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont, by Shawn Levy

Castle on Sunset
From the Golden Age to the Obama Epoch, the Chateau has been Hollywood's HQ for hiding away, acting up and going to seed. (Photo: Amazon)

Speaking of the Chateau Marmont (how's that for a segue?), Shawn Levy has wrought a riveting "if these walls could talk" chronicle of one of the most iconic, important and notorious locations in Hollywood. (And oh yeah: 92 years later It's still going strong.) Ostensibly a hotel, the Chateau is more a beacon for habitues, heavyweights and hell-raisers of the entertainment world. Deal-making, partygoing, decadence and death are all part of the Chateau's checkered past. A treat for the history buffs and gossip hounds in your life. 

$18 at Amazon

Walking with Ghosts, by Gabriel Byrne

Walking with Ghosts.
Give the gift of Gabriel blowing his autobiographical horn, relating heartfelt observation and hard-won success. (Photo: Amazon)

You'll learn in this soulful, erudite memoir that as a child on the Emerald Isle, Byrne had plans to become a priest. Surprising...and yet not, right? He did, in fact, join a seminary, only to be kicked out; a bummer for him, perhaps, but great news for lovers of masterful stage and screen acting. You likely know him from his unforgettable work in Miller's Crossing, The Usual Suspects and on HBO's In Treatment, but there's so, so much more, and Byrne's generous personal revelations make for a compelling story all their own.

$17 at Amazon

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, by Peter Biskind

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (Photo: Amazon)
A wild, insightful ride through the most transformative, and formally transgressive epoch in Hollywood history. (Photo: Amazon)

If you've got a Baby Boomer in your life or know and love a student of Hollywood history, Peter Biskind's dazzling chronicle of the maverick filmmakers of Tinseltown's "other" golden age, America circa 1967-1980, belongs in your cart. Altman, DePalma, Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese — they're all here, reveling in the end of the studio era and ushering in the era of the antihero (with help from the likes of Nicholson, Beatty, Pacino and Hackman). Simply put: It's a seminal work.

$19 at Amazon

Brat: An ‘80s Story, by Andrew McCarthy

Brat: An '80's Story.
Maybe you loved the Brat Pack, maybe you loathed it; either way, McCarthy's got some eye-opening stories to tell. (Photo: Amazon)

But maybe your gift list is lousy with Xers whose cultural touchstones were in the '80s. Here's something for them, from Bratpacker (hence the title) Andrew McCarthy. Sure, it's a chronicle of his heady starmaking days with Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Emilio Esteves and Molly Ringwald, to name a few, but it's first and foremost a coming-of-age story, both on the personal and professional sides. Come for St. Elmo's Fire, Pretty in Pink and Weekend at Bernies; stay for the personal growth and second career as an veteran TV director.

$16 at Amazon

What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg

Book title
A timeless parable of the wages of success and sin in treacherous Tinseltown. Also, a stone classic. (Photo Amazon)

We'd be remiss not to include a classic fictional take on the Hollywood of yore, and, well, it just doesn't get more resonant and monumental than this. In Sammy Glick, author Budd Schulberg (who also penned the Oscar-winning screenplay for 1947's On the Waterfront) created an — the — indelible portrait of showbiz ambition run amok while also managing to imbue his bildungsroman with a whole lotta heart and well-earned tragedy. A book your lucky holiday recipients will never forget.

$16 at Amazon

The Beauty of Living Twice, by Sharon Stone

The Beauty of Living Twice.
Basically, your instinct should be to click "Add to shopping cart." (Photo: Amazon)

That title? It refers to the "second life" Stone embarked on after suffering a subarachnoid hemorrhage (i.e., in her telling, a stroke) in 2001. Now, as before, Stone's is a singular voice. Though making her name as a sex symbol, most unforgettably (and scarily) in Basic Instinct, she went on to blaze a more serious trail in Casino, Diabolique, The Quick and the Dead and many, many others. Is she more movie star than iconic actress? Probably. But she's never less than interesting and never more so than here. 

$13 at Amazon

Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood, by Mark Viera

Sin in Soft Focus
They didn't call Clara Bow the "It Girl," and the times she lived in the Roaring Twenties, for nothing. (Photo: Amazon)

Long before Stone's notorious "peek-a-boo" leg crossing in Basic Instinct, directors and actors were pushing the sex, drugs and scandal envelope. For fans of the salacious, the "pre-Code" era (i.e., the freewheeling years before the institution of the "Hays Code" in 1934 that strictly, high-handedly regulated what could and couldn't be said — or, more to the point, shown — in motion pictures) offers a bounty of sex, sin and sass that's hardly been duplicated, even to this day. Veteran Hollywood historian Mark Viera takes us inside.

$37 at Amazon

Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood, by Danny Trejo

Trejo book cover.
That face is a monument to real-life drama and big-screen badassery. (Photo: Amazon)

You know that face...but did you know his name? More important: Do you know his story? Trejo has played a dizzying array of criminals, antiheroes and all-around badasses, along the way suffering a slew of nasty on-screen demises. But that look, and those scars, were well-earned in his real life. Here (with the help of the ever-insightful and articulate fellow actor Donal Logue), Trejo relates that tale, complete with the drug addiction, violence and incarceration that preceded his becoming one of the most awesome, and beloved, tough guys in movie history.

$16 at Amazon

Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Live of the Stars, by Scotty Bowers

Full Service book cover.
Fill 'er up...indeed. (Photo: Amazon)

We've saved the most outrageous for last. You want a stocking stuffer that's also a jaw-dropper? Meet Scotty Bowers. In Full Service, he tells how he turned a stint as a gas-station attendant in 1940s Hollywood into a procurer and hustler to the A-list (hence that double-entendre title). A veritable who's-who of Golden Age holiday swung by to gas up, hook up and mess up, often to schocking, appalling, even disgusting effect. How many of his tales are apocryphal and how many true? Dunno...but they're all spectacular.

$14 at Amazon

The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.

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