Book Review--Roman Holiday: The Secret Life of Hollywood in Rome


Roman Holiday: The Secret Life of Hollywood in Rome
Caroline Young
The History Press, 2018

Much has been written about the vibrant cultural and social scene that exploded in Rome as the city emerged from the trauma of World War II. It was the place to be in the 1950s and 1960s as can be seen by the scandals, drama, and artistic output that continue to be a source of fascination decades later. 

In a new book, Caroline Young examines this time via the lives of several prominent actresses who worked, made their home, and battled with paparazzi during this time. They are a varied lot: Anna Magnani, Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor among them, but there are several commonalities among their lives as well. You get a taste of what they experienced during turbulent times in this addictive read.

Young has divide her book by actress, devoting chapters to them within which she also explores other personalities and events in the city. Taking a essentially chronological path, she’ll come back to these women, giving them a chapter for the early phases of their Rome experience and then coming back to them in another chapter which examines later years of their time in the capitol, as if she is checking in to see how things are progressing.

It can become a bit chaotic jumping between stories, which is jarring on one hand and an appropriate reflection of the times on the other. The profiles are an even balance of history and sensation, delving into the lives of each woman, but also giving plenty of space to the scandals that drew the press to them or were perhaps inspired by aggressive paparazzi in the first place. It can get juicy, but the actresses are also treated with respect.

It's an entertaining book, with a mix of well-known stories and less familiar tidbits. It’s perfect as a frothy beach read, but has substance as well. For a more deeply researched, comprehensive study of Rome in this vibrant time, I’d recommend Shawn Levy’s Dolce Vita Confidential, but as a tribute that provides a view of mid-century Rome from the perspective of these actresses, Roman Holiday is a satisfying history.

Many thanks to The History Press for providing a copy of the book for review.

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