Chances are pretty good that if you’ve watched any TV comedy shows over the past 30 years, you’ve laughed at a line written by Nell Scovell. In Just the Funny Parts, Scovell recounts how she came to Hollywood as a bookish, Harvard-educated New Englander and worked her way up from low-level comedy writer to major contributor on some prominent shows, taking on additional roles along the way as creator, producer, and director. While she generally stayed behind the scenes, she stepped forward nine years ago, at the time of the David Letterman scandal, and spoke out about gender bias on late-night TV writing staffs. A couple of years later, she collaborated with Sheryl Sandberg on Lean In, helping to further public debate about diversity in male-dominated work environments. She continues that discussion in her candid, engaging, instructive, and very funny memoir. Nell has compared her book to Unbroken, only “funnier and with slightly less torture.”
Cinemaps: An Atlas of 35 Great Movies (Quirk, $29.99) is a unique and illuminating document of some of film history’s greatest movies, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to George Miller’s Fury Road. Andrew DeGraff has painted maps of thirty-five iconic films, including the routes taken by major characters, so one can now follow the path taken by Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest or visualize the hallways of the Overlook Hotel that Jack Torrance navigates in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. One of the most important aspects in a movie is its sense of place and geography which is why Cinemaps is a compelling and fun read: it makes the reader aware of the intricate mapping that goes into the main characters’ journeys within the films. The book also includes essays from film critic A.D. Jameson that examine the cultural importance of each film and explores why all of the thirty-five featured movies here, in their own ways, have solidly imprinted themselves in the collective imagination of everyone who has seen them.
It’s been more than half a century since The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance—the last time John Ford put John Wayne in a cowboy hat on-screen. By now, that screen moment has become part of a strain of nearly legendary American iconography: at one time, this is what it meant to be a prime American man, for better or worse. Nancy Schoenberger’s book, a brilliant double portrait of Wayne and Ford (Nan A. Talese, $27.95) and the movies they made together, wipes the grease off that image to reveal values more nuanced than generally assumed. She illuminates how men with such performative love for the mid-century patriotism as these two could create movies as conflicted about blinkered American militarism as Fort Apache. How they maintained personas that place male prowess so consistently front-and-center and could also give us loving portraits of camaraderie among “feminized” men, whose collective bluster naturally complements delicate underlying virtues. It’s telling that Schoenberger highlights the history of female writers who find what sets Wayne and Ford apart, from Joan Didion to Molly Haskell to the author herself. With a gentle force that matches her subjects’, she separates them from ossified tradition and demonstrates a new way of writing them into an ever-changing American story.