THE BATTLE FOR BEVERLY HILLS, by Nancie Clare

St Martin’s Press ISBN-10: 1250121345

How did actors metamorphose from uncredited players in silent ‘flickers’ to become powerful movers and shakers in politics? Apparently, it all began in the 1920s with the very first celebrity movie stars.

Nancie Clare charts the development of Beverly Hills from marginal rancho land to glamorous enclave for Hollywood stars. It wasn’t a smooth ride: like the former owners of ‘Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas’, the movie settlers of the twentieth century would have to fight for their land, engaging in a bitter struggle with powerful and corrupt forces. The trouble, it seems, was water. Los Angeles had it in abundance, via the massive Los Angeles Aqueduct, which carried fresh water from the mountains to the rapidly growing city, while Beverly Hills, a city on the westerly edge of LA, had uncertain, and often meagre, supplies. The price of access to this precious resource was annexation – and high taxes to help pay for the aqueduct.

But after raising millions of public dollars in War Bonds for the US government during World War I, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks knew the power of celebrity, and the two (along with famous pals including Charlie Chaplin and Tom Mix), used their influence to remain independent. Clare argues that these stars of the silver screen laid the groundwork for celebrities of the future to go much further in politics – taking mayoral office (Clint Eastwood), seats in Congress (Sonny Bono), and even the Presidency of the United States (Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump).

As a former LA journalist, Nancie Clare’s research is impeccable, and the story she tells is crammed with fascinating, ‘I didn’t know that!’ moments; for example, did you know that the growth of the movie industry in LA was less about California’s sunny climate and more closely aligned to Thomas Edison’s jealous protection of his lighting patents? Enlightening and entertaining, this book will appeal to anyone who enjoys film, politics, history – or Hollywood insider gossip. Highly recommended.

SPLINTER IN THE BLOOD, by Ashley Dyer, is now out in the US, UK and Spain.