There's an appropriate book for every coffee table on this year's Christmas list

December 06, 1992|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

"Sex" on the coffee table?

Not in most households, we dare say. Besides, "Sex" -- Madonna's metal-bound, Mylar-sealed, media-hyped foray into the world of gift books -- seems to either bore or offend most people, so unless your Christmas list is filled with people like Aunt Sado and Uncle Masochism, you'll probably want some alternatives.

Here are some of our picks from the scores of coffee-table books that come out this season. And most can be wrapped in holiday rather than plain brown paper.

Entertainment and sports

A Really Big Show: A Visual History of the Ed Sullivan Show (Viking Studio Books, 256 pages, $35) is an affectionate remembrance of show biz before Robert Goulet became dinner-theater schlock, before Woody Allen became tabloid fodder, before VCRs and cable splintered the TV-viewing audience. Hard to believe now, but from 1948 to 1971, seemingly all of America stopped at 8 p.m. on Sunday to see what Ed Sullivan had for us. And what a panoply of talent: From opera diva Maria Callas to the Beatles, from the cast of "My Fair Lady" to plate spinners and ventriloquists, they brought their act to our living rooms.

The aptly named Grace (Random House, 160 pages, $40) was a princess of Hollywood before she married into Monaco's royal family. In the collection of candid and posed photographs of Grace Kelly taken by Howell Conant over a 25-year span, most charming are the pictures of the elegant icon with her family, frolicking with daughter Caroline or even reprimanding the ever-mischievous Stephanie.

Hollywood Jewels (Harry N. Abrams, 200 pages, $49.50) is true glitz. It's a decadent yet intriguing look at all that glitters on the necks, fingers, wrists and beyond of actresses both on and off the screen. Elizabeth Taylor merits an entire chapter, of course. There are fabulous photos of such bejeweled movie divas as Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Vivien Leigh and, yes, even Snow White! (The seven dwarfs were miners, after all.) This book will tell you what Greta Garbo was wearing in "Conquest" (antique necklace and matching bracelets of rubies, emeralds, sapphires, amethyst, topaz and black and white enamel mounted in gold) and whether Marilyn Monroe, who sang "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," was wearing real ones (nope).

Moviemakers don't seem content today to merely make movies -- they also have to issue "the making of" books. Thus we have Bram Stoker's Dracula: The Film and the Legend (Newmarket Press, 172 pages, $29.95) and Aladdin: The Making of an Animated Film (Hyperion, 120 pages, $24.95). Each captures its movie's unique quality -- "Dracula's" darkly Gothic sensibility and "Aladdin's" giddy, color-saturated fantasy world.

The true celebrities today are likely to come from the world of Sports (Collins Publishers, 192 pages, $45). Featuring the work of Neil Leifer, whose photographs are familiar to readers of Sports Illustrated, Time and People, the book captures the grace of Michael Jordan, the grit of Nolan Ryan and, in one of those marvelous moments-in-time, the perfect juxtaposition of two Kenyan runners passing two oblivious giraffes.

Polo (Collins Publishers, 112 pages, $50), the sport of kings, gets an appropriately precious treatment in this pretty book of hand-tinted black-and-white photographs by Penina Meisels. The pastel tints give a dreamy, Gatsbyesque overtone to the book.

Photography

Chilly images of the famous and the anonymous, the profane and the prosaic, fill Mapplethorpe (Random House, 382 pages, $125), devoted to the photographer who posthumously triggered the debate over NEA funding. Many of his photographs are indeed disturbing -- bald and brutal depictions that can make you want to avert your eyes -- and others have a haughty sort of beauty. Robert Mapplethorpe also figures in The Homoerotic Photograph (Columbia University Press, 230 pages, $44.95), which shows that the subject is as old as the technology.

It wouldn't be Christmas without one of those A Day in the Life of . . . books; this year, Hollywood (Collins Publishers, 224 pages, $45). But while the previous subjects celebrated the beauty of the ordinary, this one celebrates the beauty of the celebrated -- the stars and starlets, the power agents and the pool-side deals. Many of the photos, befitting Hollywood, seem posed and produced to within an inch of their lives. Peter Stackpole: Life in Hollywood 1936-1952 (Clark City Press, 250 pages, $50) makes for an interesting contrast. One of the four original Life photographers, Mr. Stackpole's black-and-white images -- of the year-old Shirley Temple showing off her engagement ring and even a naked fan dancer in a nightclub -- have a sort of innocence rarely found in that city today. Whether shots of publicity stunts or scenes in movies, the images are silver-toned gems of Hollywood's golden era.

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