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From before Fritz Lang's Fury (1936) through Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage (1936), William Wyler’s Dead End (1937), and Tim Burton's Beetlejuice (1988) and Mars Attacks! (1996), Sylvia Sydney walked a difficult path to stardom.


Abandoned by her father as a child, and a high school dropout, she emerged from her shell at age sixteen to a lead role on Broadway, and by age twenty, to a Paramount contract and the amorous attentions of producer B.P. Schulberg. Her appearance with Gary Cooper in City Streets (1931) prompted other studios to clamor for her services. Moviegoers wept watching Josef von Sternberg’s An American Tragedy (1931) and King Vidor’s Street Scene (1931), establishing her as the screen's foremost Depression heroine. Hollywood "paid me by the tear," she often lamented.


Sylvia acquired an impressive list of Hollywood leading men: Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, and James Cagney. In the 1950s, she pioneered in early television. She later appeared on stage as Auntie Mame in a cross-country tour. As a character actress, she finally earned an Academy Award nomination for Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973). Her appearance in Damien: Omen II (1978) and her surprise turns in Tim Burton films attracted a whole new generation of fans. She also received an Emmy Nomination and Golden Globe for her work in An Early Frost (1985).


Scott O’Brien’s exhaustive research work reveals a fascinating insider's look into Sylvia’s salty, opinionated, and funny personal life. Illustrated with a treasure trove of 134 photos from Sylvia’s personal life and career. 488 pages.


About the author: Scott O’Brien’s biographies on Kay Francis (2006) and Virginia Bruce (2008) made the “Best of Year” category in Classic Images. He appeared in the documentaries Queer Icon: the Cult of Bette Davis (2009) and Reabhloidithe Hollywood (2013). His Ruth Chatterton - Actress, Aviator, Author (2013), and George Brent- Ireland’s Gift to Hollywood & Its Leading Ladies (2014), were listed among The Huffington Post’s “Best Film Books of the Year.”

Review by Critic Mick LaSalle on blog