Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


CROWNED HEADS. Thomas Tryon. 1976.

Crowned Heads is a collection of four novellas that all deal in one twisted way or another with Old Hollywood and its strange, often grotesque, secrets. "Fedora" deals with a writer who once met the famous movie star of the same name, who is now a recluse, and uncovers the startling truth about her true identity. In "Lorna," the fifty-something actress Lorna Doone, who never quite made it in "A" pictures and who is a pyromaniac, shop-lifter and nympho, tries to escape reality in a Mexican resort, but winds up awash in a sea of sex and booze that causes her more anguish than anything else. [One funny-sad scene has Lorna "paying a call" on a handsome flamenco dancer half her age despite the fact he's expressed no interest in her whatsoever.] "Bobbitt" is an interesting story about the fate of a child star who once owned the world and is now forgotten, but while it's suspenseful and well done it's also a trifle cloying at times, especially at the finale. "Willie" deals with the final hours of a former star who makes the mistake of allowing certain "fans" into his home. This story seems to be inspired by the life of Clifton Webb and the death of Ramon Novarro, which is hardly in the best of taste. "Fedora" was made into a movie, but I've always thought that "Lorna" would have made a fascinating picture as well; it is easily the best novella of the quartet. In the first story it seems to take forever for Tryon to get to the revelation, and similarly Willie's segment is stretched out to inordinate length. For my money, "Lorna" is decidedly the best read in the book. As an actor, Tryon appeared in such films as The Unholy Wife, The Cardinal, and I Married a Monster from Outer Space.

Verdict: Well-written plumbing of Hollywood scandal. ***.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill, love that you've included this odd book of Hollywood stories on your blog...though it's not Tryon's best (I think his horror stories The Other and Harvest Home are his best work), Tryon's passion for movies and movie history shines through and matches our own obsessive movie preoccupations! My favorites are the Fedora and Willy stories, but also enjoyed the Bobbitt and Lorna chapters...I have no idea who he based Lorna on any rate, loved how Tryon created his own fictional studio, A&B, and intertwined the characters a bit to create his own little world.

Thanks as always for your wonderful reviews!

William said...

Thank you for the excellent essays on your site as well!

In the "Willie" segment Tryon refers to a character which is the real name of a B movie actress -- can't recall who it was -- and I thought it must be an in-joke, but maybe that's who he based Lorna on. There were certainly plenty of women the character could be == a career of B movies, gets into an A picture for once, but it doesn't permanently elevate her status, winds up doing commercials like Ann Blythe for Hostess cupcakes [from "Mildred Pierce" to "Helen Morgan Story" -- starring with Paul Newman -- and then twinkies and snoballs -- could it be?

On second thought I don't think Blyth's life wound up like Lorna's, but there are plenty of candidates. Barbara Peyton, who had a good role in a Jimmy Cagney picture after doing numerous cheapies, had an even grimmer fate than Lorna.