THE BLOG
07/31/2014 08:17 am ET | Updated Sep 30, 2014

8 Books That Will Transport You To Old Hollywood

I spent one unforgettable afternoon in the home of Gene Kelly when I was thirteen. Ever since, I've loved Old Hollywood ferociously -- the glamour, the scandals, the movie stars, the movies themselves, the beauty and even the brutality of a city built too fast, too big, too grand for its own good. I long for a time machine to take me back to the Hollywood of the 1920s, 30s, or 40s. I want to meet those stars, watch those movies being filmed, press my own hands and feet into wet concrete outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre, feel the burn of the klieg lights on my skin, dance all night at Café Trocadero with Errol Flynn or Cary Grant.

In lieu of building an actual time machine (I was always terrible at science), I've collected some 200 titles on the golden days of this movie mecca, from coffee table books to anthologies of costume design to memoirs of directors/producers/writers, to biographies and autobiographies of stars and also the places they inhabited -- Ciro's, the Cocoanut Grove, Bullocks Wilshire Department Store, Hollywood itself. While I'd love to share all 200, here are eight of the best.

Harlow in Hollywood by Darrell Rooney and Mark A. Vieira Jean Harlow was the first big-screen sex symbol, the Platinum Blonde, adored by everyone she worked with--from Clark Gable to Louis B. Mayer. Her mother babied her, many say controlled her. Her second husband, director Paul Bern, died mysteriously, and there were rumors that she killed him. Harlow herself died tragically and too soon, but this pictorial biography brings her to life again in gorgeous black and white. Featuring hundreds of rare photographs, including studio portraits and never-before-seen candids, Harlow has never been more platinum or more lovely. The photos themselves would be enough, but as a nice bonus the book also features a compelling biography of the star's charmed yet turbulent life, making it that rare coffee table book you want to look at and read from cover to cover.

My Wicked, Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn Sexy. Wild. Epic. Tragic. Exciting. This is one of my desert island books because it's such terrific company. The swashbuckler Flynn played onscreen was nothing compared to the swashbuckler he was in real life. With humor and humility, swagger and sensitivity, he recounts his childhood in Tasmania, his soldier-of-fortune years in the South Seas, his stint as a Cuban newspaper correspondent alongside Fidel Castro's rebels, and the days he spent in glimmering, immoral Hollywood -- not to mention the ex-wives, love affairs, and that infamous rape trial of 1943. Flynn spills it all, and spins a few tales in the process, so that you never know whether what he's telling you is true or not. Either way, it's the best autobiography I've ever read, every bit as colorful and charismatic as Flynn himself.

Tinseltown by William J. Mann Silent film director William Desmond Taylor was murdered in 1922. Powder burns indicated he was shot at close range, but the circumstances surrounding his death -- including who might have pulled the trigger--remain fuzzy. Anyone might have done it: the three young actresses who both used him and loved him, his devoted valet, an overprotective stage mother, a gang of criminals... The crime shook Hollywood, even as Adolph Zukor, Taylor's boss at Paramount Pictures, scrambled to cover it up. The author claims to have solved the crime here, but I, for one, am reading for the Roaring Twenties, and the scandal, ambition, and intrigue of a dangerous and glamorous young city.

MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot by Steven Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester, and Michael Troyan Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, once the largest and most glamorous movie studio in the world, is now owned by Sony. The acres of famed backlots, left to decay and ruin in the 1970s, are gone. Spencer Tracy, who read the eulogy at studio chief Louis B. Mayer's funeral in 1957, said, "All the rest is history. The shining epoch of the industry passes with him." The only place now to see the glorious Metro of then is inside the pages of this book. MGM lives on in extraordinary photo after photo of the studio and its stars, as well as in the maps, engaging text -- including a forward by Debbie Reynolds -- and behind-the-scenes stories of some of your favorite motion pictures.