Book Review: “Of All The Gin Joints” By Mark Bailey

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One of the biggest Old Hollywood misconceptions that I’ve heard is that it was a tame, old-timey, grandma-friendly place to be. Just because the Hays Code was in full swing doesn’t mean Hollywood wasn’t a place of excess and decadence. In fact, the antics of Old Hollywood stars puts those of contemporary Hollywood stars to shame. Amy Schumer tripping in front of Kim and Kanye? That’s nothing. What if I told you that when John Barrymore’s poor, unfortunate wife decided to pour every bottle of liquor in the Barrymore household down the drain, he retaliated by drinking all of her perfume?

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John Barrymore, the Great Profile…and the Great Perfume Drinker

Barrymore’s seemingly cast-iron stomach (and even tougher liver) were also apparently impartial to the exotic tastes of engine coolant and boric acid. True stories? Who knows. But these are some of the outrageous tidbits of gossip you will find in “Of All The Gin Joints,” a chronicle of crazy shenanigans our favorite stars did while under the influence.

The stories are all vastly entertaining without a doubt, but they read like the wet dreams of a Hollywood gossip columnist dying to dig up a hamper of dirty laundry. The sources of each tale aren’t cited, and they are written in an eyewitness account style which automatically makes me wary of writers tampering around with the original facts.

“Of All The Gin Joints” also includes short sections on famous Hollywood watering holes such as the Chateau Marmont, Musso and Frank’s, the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Formosa, etc. In addition to this, there are 40 classic cocktail recipes sprinkled throughout the book. This was all well and good and I truly did appreciate each and every section included in the book, but there was a visible disconnect. The sections do not jive with each other. There’s no flow, which is absolutely necessary in something like this. You feel like you’re reading three different books that were mish-mashed in the dark.

However, there was one really, really, really huge pink elephant in this book that unsettled me deeply…and that is the fact that the writer makes light of these stars’ clearly unhealthy, and sometimes deadly, dependence on alcohol and hard drugs. There were notes of biting sarcasm and even maliciousness towards some of the stars and their misfortunes. By the end, I was just sad. There was nothing funny in a drunk, rude Richard Burton calling Elizabeth Taylor a “fat little tart.” There was nothing funny in Judy Garland or Errol Flynn’s destructive habits because look where it got them. Although, I wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t say that some of the anecdotes did make me laugh (like the John Barrymore one above). Some other anecdotes that I found funny:

  • Charlie Chaplin dyed his man parts bright, flaming red with iodine because he believed it would fend off venereal disease.
  • Liz Taylor and Rock Hudson would engage in fart and burp contests…and Liz would always win.
  • Louise Brooks literally never stopped sleeping. She would be carted from her bed to the studio to the makeup chair to the soundstage…all while sound asleep.
  • Ava Gardner would water-ski to the set of Night of the Iguana every single day–with the towline in one hand and a martini in the other.

There were also many, many, many stories of drunken stars hurling their televisions against a wall or flinging a flaming mattress out a window.

All in all, if you like your cocktails with a touch of schadenfreude, then this book is for you. But from me, this gets 3 out of 5 stars.

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