What drew you to the 1930's?
After my two books on gangsters in Chicago during the Prohibition and on Jazz in New York during the roaring twenties, I talked to my publisher about the next book project. The golden age of Hollywood seemed to be the obvious choice. I love films and really felt like doing some research. I bought a video projector and spent two years watching films. In addition to that I also love wearing clothes from that era.
What aspects do you miss in this era that you'd wish could still live on in the present?
I actually do not miss anything today. If at all, then the great divas like Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn or Marlene Dietrich, who one could admire unreservedly. In this day and age we can no longer have these untouchable, mysterious beauties of the silver screen due to all the paparazzi, gossip magazines and the Internet. In the era of the big studios there were no pictures destroying the magic, for everything which was to appear in the magazines or journals first had to be approved by the star. And the stars maintained their star cult. As Joan Crawford put it so wonderfully: "If you want to see the girl next door, go next door".
How much of a factor was the Depression in fueling the demand for films?
The worse off the population, the bigger their desire to escape into a dream world. And what better place than the Hollywood dream factory with its light-hearted comedies or romantic dramas? But the Great Depression left its mark on the cinema industry, too. While there were record takings at the box office at the beginning of the 1930s, the number of cinema goers decreased by a third in 1933. In order to even be able to attract viewers, two films were shown one after the other or there were even prize draws. One slightly too honest cinema owner named Roy Hanson put a sign in the display case: "Come watch a bad film and win 80$".
Towards the end of the decade, attendance figures were up again and peaked in 1939 with "Gone with the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz" in arguably one of the most successful years in the history of film.
Do you agree that this was the Golden Age of Hollywood? Or was the title rightfully taken by another decade?
In the 1930s Hollywood was at its height; with their films, the big studios left their mark on cinemas everywhere.
On the other hand, stars were also kept on a tight leash like dogs. Not only were the bosses of the big studios the ones who dictated which films the stars appeared in and which looks they sported, they also had a say in their private lives including their romantic relationships. The image of their crowd pullers had to be spotless. When Clark Gable ran over a man in the studio lot while under the influence of alcohol, MGM covered up the affair and sent one of its employees to prison.