Thursday, April 8, 2021

Review: S. Sylvan Simon, Moviemaker - David C. Tucker's new book

It’s my pleasure today to post on a new book on the director/producer S. Sylvan Simon by David C. Tucker.  S. Sylvan Simon, Moviemaker – Adventures with Lucy, Red Skelton and Harry Cohn in the Golden Age of Hollywood is a look at the achievements of an over-achiever who accomplished much in his young life and whose early death was a blow to several who were grateful for his unique contributions to their careers, including Lucille Ball.  Next week I'll follow up with an interview with author David Tucker.

A few years ago, I posted a review and interview with Mr. Tucker on his book about actress Gale Storm.  I admired his thoroughness in researching the “nuts and bolts” of her career and what some entertainment biographers might consider to be minor and unimportant details to which they invariably give short shrift.  His newest book on S. Sylvan Simon is similarly blessed with a wealth of details on Simon’s path from humble and hardworking beginnings in Pittsburgh, a stage-struck young man (whose cousin was Aline MacMahon, already making a name for herself on Broadway) who cut his teeth on camp and amateur shows, theatre in high school and college.  He eventually heeded the call to Hollywood as a talent scout and casting director, gradually taking over the reins and directing films and producing them.  By the end of his career, he was being groomed for studio head Harry Cohn’s job at Columbia.  It was an astonishing climb, and cut short by his death at 41 years old.

The first section of the book “Early Stages” recounts his biography up until the time he left for Hollywood, corrects several errors that have been published over the years.  The second section “Go West, Young Director” and third section, “Mr. Simon Takes Columbia” explore his Hollywood career utilizing valuable resources provided by Mr. Simon’s children, including notated shooting scripts. Interviews with Jane Powell, Arlene Dall, and Margaret O’Brien, among others, provide insights and entertaining memories of their experiences being directed by Simon. 

The extensive filmography section of the book is especially useful to fans and students of Hollywood’s heyday and would be, no doubt, of special interest to classic film bloggers for its completeness and fascinating detail, including anecdotes on several of the movies, and contemporary reviews by syndicated columnists of the day.

I knew very little about S. Sylvan Simon before I read this book, and I enjoyed the book very much.  David Tucker did a masterful job tying in all the threads of the life and career of this individual who, had he lived longer and taken the helm at Columbia, might have left an even greater legacy.

S. Sylvan Simon, Moviemaker – Adventures with Lucy, Red Skelton and Harry Cohn in the Golden Age of Hollywood is available at the publisher’s website, McFarland, here.  It is also available here at Amazon, as well as a variety of other online shops.

Have a look here for links to some of David C. Tucker’s previous books on movie and television notables:

Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record

Martha Raye: Film and Television Clown

Eve Arden: A Chronicle of All Film, Television, Radio and Stage, Performances

Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record

Joan Davis: America’s Queen of Film, Radio and Television Comedy

Lost Laughs of ‘50s and ‘60s Television

Pine-Thomas Productions: A History and Filmography

Have a look here at David C. Tucker’s blog.


The author provided a review copy for the purpose of this review blog post.

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