WiG Gift Guide: Unwrapping gift books

Gregg Shapiro, Contributing writer

Some books are for a quick, entertaining read. Others are the kind you want to keep around on your coffee table to share with guests or keep handy for reference from time to time. The following list contains some of both, while leaning toward titles with special interest for LGBT readers.

‘Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience’

Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience (Midway, $35) by Ron Faiola is a great resource for planning a road trip. It features more than 50 “distinctly Wisconsin-style dining establishments” around the state, running the gamut from “decades old” to modern versions of the classic. The book version of writer/filmmaker Faiola’s documentary of the same name, Wisconsin Supper Clubs contains a multitude of color photos for armchair travelers.

‘Legendary: Inside the House Ballroom Scene’

With “radiant color and black-and-white” photographs by Gerard H. Gaskin, an introduction by Deborah Willis and an essay by Frank Roberts, Legendary: Inside the House Ballroom Scene (Duke University Press, $45) captures the culture of house balls — light-night pageants in which black and Latino drag queens compete for trophies. Armed with his camera, Gaskin infiltrated balls in NYC, Washington, D.C., and other East Coast locales to record the habitués in all their celebratory revelry.

Hollywood in Kodachrome’

Hollywood in Kodachrome (!t Books, $40) by David Wills with Stephen Schmidt opens with a foreword by actress Rhonda Fleming and an introduction by Wills. The tome contains “rare and classic images,” previously unseen publicity photos and production stills, “posed candids,” print ad campaigns and more. Separated into six themed sections (including “When Goddesses Roamed the Earth” and “Technicolor Tessie”), the book includes such icons as Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Carmen Miranda and Lana Turner, as well as queer stars including Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn, to name a few. Hollywood, wouldn’t you?

‘Gloria Swanson: The Ultimate Star’

Stephen Michael Shearer, who previously put pen to the lives of Patricia Neal and Hedy Lamarr, turns his attention to “Hollywood’s first successful glamour queen” in Gloria Swanson: The Ultimate Star (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $29.99). Following Swanson’s 60-year career from her early days in Chicago (at the legendary Essanay movie studio) to her breathtaking comeback in Sunset Boulevard and her final film role (playing herself!) in Airport 1975, Shearer reveals fascinating details about Swanson’s personal life.

‘Inventing Elsa Maxwell’

Midwestern-born, like Swanson, Elsa Maxwell was also famous in Hollywood — but for different reasons, according to Inventing Elsa Maxwell (St. Martin’s Griffin, $17.99) by Sam Staggs. Subtitled How an Irrepressible Nobody Conquered High Society, Hollywood, the Press and the World, Staggs’ book tells the intriguing story of out lesbian Maxwell’s rise to become one of the most feared and revered bon vivants in Hollywood while never being “of Hollywood.” This one’s perfect for the hostess with the “mostest” on your gift list.

‘Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind’

Gone too soon at 23 in 1993, Oscar-nominated actor River Phoenix is the subject of Gavin Edwards’ book Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind (!t Books, $24.99). A talented member of the young Hollywood lions of the mid-1980s (including Johnny Depp, Ethan Hawke and Corey Feldman), Phoenix overcame many difficulties, beginning with his family life, to become a celebrated star. Phoenix’s performance as a gay hustler in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (along with Keane Reeves), earned him a sizable following in the queer community.

‘The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time’

Good and bad movies are subjective, subject to the eye of the beholder. Phil Hall, a contributing editor for Film Threat and the author of a number of books on film, tackles 100 of the worst (in his opinion) in The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time (BearManor Media, $19.76). For the most part, it’s easy to agree with Hall’s choices. The “S” section alone contains the Madonna muddle Shanghai Surprise, Pia Zadora in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and the homophobic Staircase, starring Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as a gay couple. There are a couple of questionable titles included, such as Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and Mystic River, but for the most part Hall is spot on. This is an ideal gift for the (bad) movie buff on your list.

‘My Brother My Sister: Story of a Transformation’

A highly regarded feminist film critic whose reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Vogue, Esquire and other publications, Molly Haskell becomes one of the subjects in her memoir My Brother My Sister: Story of a Transformation (Viking, $26.95). Haskell’s younger sister Ellen, who was known as John before her gender reassignment surgery, isn’t the only one transformed by the experience. Haskell writes about her own transformative journey alongside her new sister.

‘Hollywood Strip’

“Dishing the dirt on the secret world of Hollywood’s nasty side,” Shamron Moore’s debut novel Hollywood Strip (Forge, $24.99) follows new L.A. arrival Callie Lambert on her quest for fame and fortune and a career in film. An ideal beach read for your winter getaway to a warmer clime.