As Roger Ebert observes in his smart introduction to the collected memos of the legendary producer Selznick, this is no ordinary book. Buzzed on Benzedrine, Selznick dictated his every thought to secretaries from 1916-1965, 2,000 file boxes' worth of priceless, absolutely unique inside information. "What we're given is a seat in his office," Ebert says, "the Nixon tapes of Hollywood's golden age." It's a privilege to see Selznick tussle with Hitchcock (who evidently had a notion about a vaguely Psycho-like grandma in the first draft of Rebecca), Ingrid Bergman (to whom he dictated an amazing tantrum), and Tallulah Bankhead ("Would you care to brave the lioness' den?" he asks his secretary, suggesting that she contact Bankhead about a bit part after spurning her for the Scarlett part in Gone with the Wind). The gestation of Scarlett's flick is especially fascinating. At first, Selznick cautions director George Cukor about "not going overboard on size and expensive production scenes of the civil war," but with Selznick, things always tend to get bigger. To battle bigotry, he cuts the Ku Klux Klan from the film ("Of course we might have shown a couple of Catholic Klansmen, but it would be rather comic to have a Jewish Kleagle.") By the end, he's pulling out the stops--he urges the composer to "go mad with schmaltz in the last three reels." Selznick blows it sometimes: he nixes newcomers Gregory Peck and Burt Lancaster, and John Ford's Stagecoach, which created John Wayne. But by reading his memos, you can't fail to see what made him a true auteur.
All hail Martin Scorsese for editing the classic film-books series of which this is a part, Modern Library: The Movies. Even if he'd never directed, Scorsese would be God's gift to film history. --Tim Appelo