Bullets and Blood: The Secret History of Hollywood

My focus for this blog is almost always film, actors/actresses with a little bit of Hollywood history thrown in for good measure. I have yet to post about a book or a podcast but all of that is about to change. I have always loved reading but I must admit that in the last 8 years or so, I have fallen in love with audiobooks. They are the absolute best thing for a long road trip, flight or even just a relaxing day soaking up some sun. My favorite time to listen to them is at night — it takes me back to when my mom, stepmom or even my sister would read to me in bed. For me, there is something very relaxing about it that helps my brain focus on something other than thoughts that might otherwise keep me awake all night.

So, naturally, with my love of audiobooks would come a membership with Audible. I joined Audible back in 2011 and currently have 620 titles in my library, although I haven’t listed to all of those just yet. Over the past 9 months, Audible has been doing some pretty cool stuff due, specifically, to the pandemic which has kept many of us on lockdown in our homes. Early on and still today, they offer a slew of childrens audiobooks covering a wide span of ages and in 8 different languages, to help both kids & parents stuck at home looking for new sources for entertainment, education and shared experiences.

Prior to offering Audible Stories, Audible started offering its members free titles each month. Generally, they had 6 or 7 titles available, of which you could select 3 each month to add to your library for free. It was another great way to add titles to one’s library that might otherwise have been overlooked in an effort to save the all-important monthly credit. Then, Audible did something I could have never even imagined. They created the Audible Plus Catalog which gives members access to thousands of audiobooks, Audible originals and podcasts for no extra charge.

For me, this was a dream come true. It’s like the public library of audiobooks and I dove right in! Never really having listened to many podcasts before now, I took this opportunity to browse their selections and immediately honed in on Bullets & Blood: The Secret History of Hollywood.

For me, the hook of this 30-episode podcast was its ability to tell a few stories all at once which, eventually, started to intertwine as the timeline progressed. It starts with the incredible story of Harry, Albert, Jack and Sam Warner who eventually went on to form the powerhouse studio, Warner Brothers in 1923. The history of their immigrant family who arrived penniless in America in October 1889 and went on to conquer the newest, most lucrative art form but not without suffering from personal tragedies that no screenwriter could ever possibly imagine.

Along with the story of the Warner’s, you follow the early life of screen legend, James Cagney, from his childhood growing up on the mean streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan through his career as an actor remembered for playing multifaceted bad guys in films such as The Public Enemy (1931), Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), The Roaring Twenties (1939), White Heat (1949), and a non-criminal role as song & dance man George M. Cohen in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). A few episodes into this remarkable podcast, which is more like listening to an old-time radio drama, and the paths of the Warner’s cross that of Cagney in some pretty spectacular ways which I won’t spoil for you here.

After listening to Episode 1: Miracle In Youngstown, I was all in with this podcast and making it through all 30 episodes was a cinch. The narration, the story and the production quality are all top-notch and if you are a Hollywood buff of any sort, I know that you will find this as informative, interesting, entertaining and, dare I say, educational to boot. I have never been a big James Cagney fan but, after having listened more in detail about his life and career, I will admit that I started looking to add some of his well-known titles to my personal iTunes movie library, although I was disappointed to discover that some are not available digitally. If you are already a James Cagney fan or have read much about him, you will still find this podcast equally thought-provoking and fascinating given the additional story of the Warner Brothers and how they played a role in Cagney’s Hollywood career.

In the end, I found that I was so gripped by the stories told in this podcast that I had to remove it from my bedtime rotation due to the fact that I would stay up for hours at night listening to multiple episodes. Eventually, this became a daytime listen while working around the house or in the car, which is a pretty rare occurrence in these days of the pandemic. In no time at all, I had finished the podcast and was on the lookout for something similar. Amongst a few others listed Audible Plus catalog, I discovered Heist with Michael Cain and, although it has absolutely nothing to do with films or Hollywood, it recounts amazing, real-life heists with actor Michael Cane as the intrepid narrator. Only 6-episodes in length (really 5 since the final episode is a discussion with series creator Alexis Conran), I was once again captivated by the storytelling and found Michael Cane’s voice to be the perfect fit for the unbelievable chronicle of these crazy crimes.

If you’re looking for more podcasts with a film or Hollywood history focus, there are quite a few out there — one I found on Apple Podcasts was The Black Dahlia Serial Killers which details the most infamous murders in Hollywood history. Each episode is self-contained and, again, much like listening to a radio drama which I happen to prefer to interview style podcasts. While listening to this series on Apple Podcasts, I, personally, found the all-to-often promo distruptions to be really distracting, immediately ripping me out of the adventure and drama I had so willingly entered and snuggled up to closely.

I discovered that The Black Dalia Serial Killers series is produced by Wondery, which launched in 2016 and are now among the largest podcast publishers. Via their website & app, Wondery offers ad-free versions of all of their podcasts through their Wondery+ subscription costing either $4.99 for a monthly subscription (including a 7 day free trial) or $34.99 for an annual subscription (including a 14 day trial). If you’re someone who enjoys listening to podcasts, including true crime, sports, comedy and news but without all of those pesky advertising interruptions, this is a subscription that is well worth the price of admission.

Another marvelous Wondery offering is Murder In Hollywoodland which, like its book counterpart Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann, tells the unbelievably true story of the murder of William Desmond Taylor, a producer and director in the very early days of Hollywood with a career spanning from 1914 until his death in 1922 and the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association. Found shot to death in his Hollywood bungalow in the early morning hours on February 2, 1922, this still unsolved murder was one of Hollywood’s first major scandals with a bevy of A-list suspects, a multitude of motives and some seriously dark Hollywood secrets that would be paraded about in the light of day for all to see. Seriously, a Dateline NBC producer would be foaming at the mouth over this juicy tale.

Long before discovering this podcast, I had purchased the audiobook format of Tinseltown and genuinely tried listening to it but found that it was a bit dry in its narration and storytelling, often find my thoughts wandering rather than focusing on the story. However, when I started the Murder in Hollywoodland podcast I was instantly ensconced in the reality and setting of the story, fascinated by the biographies of the different players in the narrative, the tragedy of unfolding events, and hanging on every word of the magnificent narration. Then, after listening to the 7-part podcast and understanding the players as well as having an improved sense of the story, I returned to the audiobook, Tinseltown, which provides a more comprehensive coverage of all of the historical particulars and, I have not been able to stop listening yet. It’s possible that you might have a similar experience to mine but be sure to find which listening path works best for you because these stories are as mesmerizing as watching a film you’ve not yet seen but have only heard magnificent things about from others.

So, if you’re like me and you really enjoy all things film & television or the captivating, true stories about anything Hollywood and want to broaden your horizons with some exciting entertainment formats, give these podcasts, or others like them, a chance. They may not all be a homerun for you but, I promise, once you find one you like the hunt will be on for your next great listen.

Films mentioned in this post:

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