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 ISBN  9781629334615

After a little known suburb of Los Angeles named Hollywood became the center of the American film industry beginning in the 1910’s, huge numbers of people poured into the southern California area.  They came in all shapes and sizes, from every corner of the United States and the world, from every religious and ethnic background, and all economic groups.  No one’s reason for coming was identical, but the vast majority of the new Hollywood immigrants harbored a desire to find employment in the ever expanding industry of making movies.   Many were chasing a dream of cinematic stardom which for most, would soon end in disillusionment.

The twelve individuals profiled in this book:  Nancy Carroll, Gloria Dickson, Claire Dodd, Richard Greene, John Hodiak, Marian Marsh, Karen Morley, Edward Norris, Jean Parker, Paula Raymond, Zachary Scott, and Gloria Stuart were among the tiny, elite group of new immigrants who achieved their initial goal of becoming successful actors on the silver screen.   In fact, all twelve won major studio contracts, achieved fame, fortune, and acclaim.  Yet, despite their achievements, all twelve failed to ascend to the very top of the professional ladder, never attaining their ultimate goal: superstardom.  Given their abilities, ambition, and other significant assets, how could this be?   With the invaluable assistance of major studio and library archives, recollections of the actors themselves and/or those who knew them, this book traces the lives and careers of the twelve in an attempt to determine what went right and what went wrong.  The essays herein, (originally published in two acclaimed magazines, Classic Images and Films of The Golden Age), are also opportunities to offer a “tip of the hat” to twelve extremely gifted, hardworking, and unsung actors who coulda been contenders!

A Michigan native, author, biographer Dan Van Neste has been chronicling vintage entertainment history for over thirty years.   His work has appeared in innumerable newspapers, magazines, and film journals including Classic Images and Films of the Golden Age.  He is the author of two acclaimed books: The Whistler: Stepping Into the Shadows (2011), and The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez (2017).  The latter was named one of the “Best Film Books of 2017” by The Huffington Post, and was a nominee for the 2018 Richard Wall Memorial Award given by the Theater Library Association to honor "English language books of exceptional scholarship in the field of recorded or broadcast performance."

Once Upon a Screen review

“I love to read film bio compilations of supporting actors, minor actors, and rare unknown thespians of whom only a handful of us film buffs would know. Here in THEY COULDA BEEN CONTENDERS, well-versed author Dan Van Neste has compiled a fascinating book of articles he wrote over the years on 12 varied actors and actresses whose very names bring nostalgia to the ears of cinemagoers – such loved favorites as Gloria Stuart (TITANIC, 1997), Zachary Scott (MILDRED PEIRCE, 1945), and Karen Morley (DINNER AT EIGHT, 1933) for instance. From these articles originally published in the pages of Classic Images and Films of the Golden Age over the past 30 years, the author has selected some very intriguing subjects, complete with fascinating interviews of most.

“My favorite “almost” star is the subject of author Van Neste’s lead-off chapter - the neglected, beautiful but volatile Nancy Carroll. She was somewhat unique because she, along with Ms. Stuart (in 1997), once was awarded an Oscar nod, Carroll’s for her magnificent performance in THE DEVIL’S HOLIDAY (Paramount, 1930). What caused Carroll’s career to suffer is brought out in Van Neste’s telling story. Still the author states his cases, tells his stories, and with the aid of mostly interviews (with contemporary recapping of the subjects’ lives) he gives the reader a valuable resource volume, one to read over and over again.

“I have always liked the works of author Dan Van Neste. (His last year’s marvelous biography THE MAGNIFICENT HEEL: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF RICARDO CORTEZ, also published by BearManor Media, is a fascinating read.) With THEY COULDA BEEN CONTENDERS he has compiled a fascinating insight to the lives of 12 very much neglected “almost” stars. Thanks BearManor Media for giving us another Van Neste hit.”

- Michael Shearer