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Catalog Archive / Spring 2024

Peerless
Rouben Mamoulian, Hollywood, and Broadway

Wisconsin Film Studies
Patrick McGilligan, Series Editor

“Jensen’s fresh, sparkling prose allows Mamoulian to emerge as the type of suave, charming, larger-than-life character so often portrayed in his films. Jensen’s thoughtful use of Mamoulian’s own words in journals and interviews allows this work to serve as the intimate, lively memoir the great director never completed.”
—Cynthia Brideson, author of He’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Times of Gene Kelly

The definitive biography of an idiosyncratic genius

A proud Armenian who claimed a distant link to nobility, born in what was then part of czarist Russia, Rouben Mamoulian (1897–1987) was one of the most astonishing and confounding figures in American film and theater, directing the original stage productions of Porgy and Bess, Carousel, and Oklahoma!, as well as films including Love Me Tonight, Queen Christina, City Streets, and Silk Stockings. He was famously fired from the film version of Porgy and Bess in a dispute over publicity and quit Cleopatra after arguments over a single scene. Mamoulian’s mercurial confidence and autocratic tendencies were among the reasons he had a reputation for being uncompromising. This frustrating mix of genius and stubbornness, of critical successes and financial flops, has proven challenging for biographers. 

Kurt Jensen’s magisterial volume, extensively researched and filled with trenchant observations, brings to life this charming, flawed, and fascinating man—and demonstrates how the wellspring of his art contained the seeds of his own destruction. Drawing upon Mamoulian’s unfinished memoir and voluminous diaries, as well as interviews with the director’s surviving collaborators, Jensen delivers fresh and informative insider stories from seminal productions. Meanwhile, he explores Mamoulian’s aesthetic principles and strategies as manifested in lighting, choreography, and sound design. A tour de force, Peerless offers readers a multifaceted, in-depth look at an idiosyncratic genius.

 

Kurt Jensen. Photo credit, Bill Lawrence. Kurt Jensen has been a film reviewer and news writer for several Catholic publications, and his contributions have been published in Studies in Musical Theatre and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

 

 

Praise

“A biographical feat: a multidimensional portrait of a trailblazing director and his turbulent times. Jensen fills his book with resonant details that spark surprising revelations about Mamoulian’s life and career. He conjures such an intimate perspective on Mamoulian’s groundbreaking work, including soundstage marvels like Love Me Tonight and stage milestones like Porgy and Bess, that we feel present at its creation.”
—Michael Sragow, contributing writer, Air Mail and Film Comment, and author, Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master

“Jensen generously takes us to the heart of Mamoulian land: his genius, his arrogance—and his absolute refusal to budge on his opinions. Yes, warts and all live here. Where there was brilliance and controversy, there was Mamoulian. In this relentlessly detailed telling of Mamoulian’s life, there is no place for the peerless to hide!”
—Marilyn Ann Moss, author of Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director

“A scrupulously researched portrait. . . . Musical theater buffs will be riveted.”
Publishers Weekly

 

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Enjoy the Journey
1. Tiflis to New York
2. Catfish Row
3. From Eugene O’Neill to Burlesque
4. Finding Elissa
5. Those Darn Cats
6. Isn’t it Romantic?
7. Dietrich and Garbo
8. In Which Anna and Miriam Star
9. My Colored Brainchild
10. The Folks Who Live on the Hill
11. Golden Holden
12. Mon General Zanuck
13. A Bright Golden Haze
14. Otto and Ethel
15. A Real Nice Clambake
16. Come Rain or Come Shine
17. Found in the Stars
18. Mamoulian Marches On
19. Breathtaking Cinemascope
20. Perfidy and Bess
21. Dulce et Decorum est Cleopatra Mori
22. Leavin’ Time

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

 


Also in the Series


Cover

Somerset Maugham and the Cinema
Robert Calder

Jean-Luc Goddard: Cover depicts a photograph of an older white man with dark framed glasses looking expectantly at the camera. The title text appears in dark green towards the top of the cover.

Jean-Luc Godard
The Permanent Revolutionary
Bert Rebhandl

Peerless: cover depicting a photo of young Rouben Mamoulian, wearing circular, thick-rimmed spectacles, staring directly into the camera. The photo is tinted teal with contracting orange title text written across the middle of the page.

Larger images

May 2024
376 pp. 6 x 9
35 b/w photos

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Cloth $34.95
ISBN 9780299348205
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