Tag Archives: Silent Films

New Releases In Film History

In recognition of the 89th Academy Awards, we’re featuring our favorite new releases in the fields of film history. Which ones will you read?


UKY05 Showman of the Screen Selected.inddShowman of the Screen: Joseph E. Levine and His Revolution In Film Promotion

Short, immaculately dressed, and shockingly foul-mouthed, Joseph E. Levine (1905–1987) was larger than life. He rose from poverty in Boston’s West End to become one of postwar Hollywood’s most prolific independent promoters, distributors, and producers. Alternately respected and reviled, this master of movie promotion was responsible for bringing films as varied as Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956), Hercules (1958), The Graduate (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and A Bridge Too Far (1977) to American audiences.

In Showman of the Screen: Joseph E. Levine and His Revolution In Film Promotion, the first biography of this controversial pioneer, A. T. McKenna traces Levine’s rise as an influential packager of popular culture. Despite his significant accomplishments and prominent role in shaping film distribution and promotion in the post-studio era, Levine is largely overlooked today. McKenna’s in-depth biography corrects misunderstandings and misinformation about this colorful figure, and offers a sober assessment of his contributions to world cinema. It also illuminates Levine’s peculiar talent for movie- and self-promotion, as well as his extraordinary career in the motion picture business.

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Hollywood Divided

On October 22, 1950, the Screen Directors Guild (SDG) gathered for a meeting at the opulent Beverly Hills Hotel. Among the group’s leaders were some of the most powerful men in Hollywood—John Ford, Cecil B. DeMille, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, John Huston, Frank Capra, William Wyler, and Rouben Mamoulian—and the issue on the table was nothing less than a vote to dismiss Mankiewicz as the guild’s president after he opposed an anticommunist loyalty oath that could have expanded the blacklist. The dramatic events of that evening have become mythic, and the legend has overshadowed the more complex realities of this crucial moment in Hollywood history.brianton_cover

In Hollywood Divided, Kevin Brianton explores the myths associated with the famous meeting and the real events that they often obscure. He analyzes the lead-up to that fateful summit, examining the pressure exerted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Brianton reveals the internal politics of the SDG, its initial hostile response to the HUAC investigations, the conservative reprisal, and the influence of the oath on the guild and the film industry as a whole. Hollywood Divided also assesses the impact of the historical coverage of the meeting on the reputation of the three key players in the drama.

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Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story

They’ve traded punches in knockdown brawls, crashed biplanes through barns, and raced to the rescue in fast cars. They add suspense and drama to the story, portraying the swimmer stalked by the menacing shark, the heroine dangling twenty feet below a soaring hot air balloon, or the woman leaping nine feet over a wall to escape a dog attack. Only an expert can make such feats of daring look easy, and stuntwomen with the skills to perform—and survive—great moments of action in movies have been hitting their mark in Hollywood since the beginning of film.

Here, Mollie Gregory presents the first history of stuntwomen in the film industry from the silent era to the twenty-first century. For decades, stuntwomen have faced institutional discrimination, unequal pay, and sexual harassment even as they jumped from speeding trains and raced horse-drawn carriages away from burning buildings. Featuring sixty-five interviews, Stuntwomen showcases the absorbing stories and uncommon courage of women who make their living planning and performing action-packed sequences that keep viewers’ hearts racing.

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Harry Langdon: King Of Silent Comedy

Among silent film comedians, three names stand out—Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd—but Harry Langdon indisputably deserves to sit among them as the fourth “king.” In films such as The Strong Man (1926) and Long Pants (1927), Langdon parlayed his pantomime talents, expressive eyes, and childlike innocence into silent-era stardom. This in-depth biography, which features behind-the-scenes accounts and personal recollections compiled by Langdon’s late wife, provides a full and thoughtful picture of this multifaceted entertainer and his meteoric rise and fall.Harry Langdon.final.indd

In Harry Langdon: King Of Silent Comedy, authors Gabriella Oldham and Mabel Langdon explore how the actor developed and honed his comedic skills in amateur shows, medicine shows, and vaudeville. Together they survey his early work on the stage at the turn of the twentieth century as well as his iconic routines and characters. They also evaluate his failures from the early sound period, including his decision to part ways with director Frank Capra. Despite his dwindling popularity following the introduction of talkies, Langdon persevered and continued to perform in theater, radio, and film—literally until his dying day—leaving behind a unique and brilliant body of work.

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UKY06 He's Got Rhythm Selected.inddHe’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Career of Gene Kelly

He sang and danced in the rain, proclaimed New York to be a wonderful town, and convinced a group of Parisian children that they had rhythm. One of the most influential and respected entertainers of Hollywood’s golden age, Gene Kelly revolutionized film musicals with his innovative and timeless choreography. A would-be baseball player and one-time law student, Kelly captured the nation’s imagination in films such as Anchors Aweigh (1945), On the Town (1949), An American in Paris(1951), and Singin’ in the Rain (1952).

In He’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Career of Gene Kellythe first comprehensive biography written since the legendary star’s death, authors Cynthia Brideson and Sara Brideson disclose new details of Kelly’s complex life. Not only do they examine his contributions to the world of entertainment in depth, but they also consider his political activities—including his opposition to the Hollywood blacklist. The authors even confront Kelly’s darker side and explore his notorious competitive streak, his tendency to be a taskmaster on set, and his multiple marriages. Drawing on previously untapped articles and interviews with Kelly’s wives, friends, and colleagues, Brideson and Brideson illuminate new and unexpected aspects of the actor’s life and work. He’s Got Rhythm is a balanced and compelling view of one of the screen’s enduring legends.

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My Life in Focus

When Gianni Bozzacchi accepted an assignment as a photographer on the set of The Comedians (1967), he didn’t know that his life was about to change forever. His ability to capture the beauty of candid moments drew the attention of the film’s star, Elizabeth Taylor, and prompted her to hire him as her personal photographer. Not only did he go on to enjoy a jet-set life as her friend and confidant—preserving unguarded moments between the violet-eyed beauty and Richard Burton as they traveled the world—but Bozzacchi also became an internationally renowned photographer and shot some of the biggest celebrities of the 1960s and 1970s.9780813168746

In My Life in Focus, Bozzacchi traces his journey from humble beginnings to the sphere of the rich and famous. Beautifully illustrated with many of the photographer’s most iconic images, this lively memoir reveals private moments in the Taylor-Burton love story and provides an invaluable behind-the-scenes look at the business of filmmaking and the perils of celebrity.

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The Best of Eve Golden’s John Gilbert

Nothing cures the Monday blues like a great movie. . . .or several! And we love the classics.

Eve Golden, author of John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars, has put together some of her favorite clips of the classically handsome and endlessly talented actor.

“The best Greta Garbo and Gilbert film, to my taste is Love, the 1927 modern-dress Anna Karenina,” Golden says. “Their romance had already hit the rocks by then, but they worked together so beautifully, and this scene is indicative of their whole relationship: him impetuous, her standoffish and chilly.”

“I love this clip because it contains rare color footage of Jack with Norma Shearer and John Gilbert in a sketch from Hollywood Revue of 1929. The opening Shakespeare scene is not up to much, nor is the closing slang parody. What I love is the minute or two in between: as close as we will get to seeing a color, candid scene of Jack and his pal Norma kidding affectionately with each other.”

“An adorable home movie, taken in 1926 at San Simeon, of Cowboy Jack rescuing Irvina (Irving Tahlberg in highly unconvincing drag) from the clutches of director Anthony Asquith,” Golden says. “I wish Jack had been given more comedy to do!”

“Jack with the wonderful Bodil Rosing in his best talkie, Downstairs (1932), showing that not only was his voice fine, but that he was a terrific talkie actor, too. He could easily have had another 30 years of work as a character actor.”

Continue after the jump for more information about Golden’s book.

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When the Talkies Came to Town

mary-pickford-poor-little-rich-girl-19171929 was a year of transition for the Academy Awards. After the First Academy Awards ceremony honored The Jazz Singer, the film that revolutionized the previously silent-film-dominated industry, the Awards turned its attention to talkies in its second season. Silent film stars like Mary Pickford, confronted with these new films and the new women many of them featured, attempted to hold out, keeping their hair long for fear of alienating their fan bases. Yet Hollywood had already declared these old-fashioned girls passe and embraced bobbed actresses who epitomized the flapper, such as Colleen Moore, Clara Bow, and Joan Crawford.

excerpted from Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies by Christel Schmidt

“In Coquette (1929), Pickford’s onscreen persona–cultivated by the actress for two decades–was completely transformed. Gone were her trademark curls, and with them the illusion of youth they had helped create. Her stylish new bob revealed a mature woman, now in her late thirties, who suddenly seemed too old to play the modern girl. Gingham frocks and tattered dresses were replaced by strappy silk gowns that exposed her bare shoulders and knee-lencoquette-postergth skirts that revealed her shapely legs. She even adopted a flirtatious manner, batting her heavily made-up eyes.

The dramatic changes to Pickford’s image were a serious challenge for her fans, and the addition of sound complicated matters. Coquette, the actress’s first talking picture, introduced her voice, which was small and had a reprimanding tone, making the star seem even more unfamiliar. Still, the film had an immense curiosity factor and became her biggest box-office success. Pickford won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Coquestte–an honor that likely recognized her career achievements more than her work in the film itself.”

Don’t forget to enter our giveaway for Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies by 1 PM Friday, February 22!