Silent-ology Recommends: “CHASE! A Tribute To The Keystone Cops”

Hold the candlestick phone! Another new book on silent comedy is available to brighten our bookshelves? And it’s the first-ever book on the Keystone Cops?!

26 Best keystone cops images | Keystone cops, Cops, Silent film

“It is? Seriously?

Why yes indeed! I’m happy to help spread the word that the fine new book CHASE! A Tribute to the Keystone Cops is now available from BearManor Media. It represents a dream team effort by a number of historians and writers, all compiled by editors Lon and Debra Davis. Many of the names you probably know already: Sam Gill, Joe Adamson, Michael J. Hayde, Rob King, Mark Pruett, Chris Seguin, Paul E. Gierucki, John Bengtson, Randy Skretvedt, Rob Farr, Brent E. Walker, Mark Wanamaker, Stanley W. Todd, Lon Davis himself, and Lea Stans.

Wait–Lea Stans? Why yes, that is me, and I’m very proud to announce that this is the first time my writing is appearing in a good ol’ turn-the-pages book! Continue reading

Book Review: “Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle” by Steve Massa

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Back when I first got into silent comedy, it wasn’t long before I became a fan of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. I’d heard his name all my life thanks to the infamous 1921 scandal (you’ve probably heard he was acquitted), but he always seemed like more of a shadowy figure than a real man, a sort of “character” from that misty, quasi-mythical era of “Classic Films.” Thanks mainly to the wonderful DVD set of Arbuckle comedies by CineMuseum–I plug them because I love them!–I discovered that this “Fatty” was not only a very real individual, but genuinely funny, very funny. And like all fans in the know, I only call him “Roscoe.”

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, c. 1920.

So I was thrilled to hear that comedy historian Steve Massa, author of Slapstick Divas and Lame Brains and Lunatics, has a brand new book about this great comedian’s career: Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle. (Don’t you love that cover?) If there’s anything I enjoy as much as watching silent comedies, it’s reading about silent comedies–and studying the colorful, hardworking personalities behind them. Continue reading

Book Review: “The Hal Roach Comedy Shorts Of Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts And Patsy Kelly” By James L. Neibaur

Nowadays there’s a lot of hubbub about actresses in modern comedies, with plenty of well-meaning people proclaiming that the existence of Melissa McCarthy or Kristen Wiig proves that, at last, folks are figuring out that ladies can be funny too! It only took 130 years, y’all! No one has ever, ever noticed this before, and no, I’ve never heard of Mabel Normand or seen I Love Lucy, why do you ask?

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“…Oh. But that was, like, in black and white.”

But, as the introduction to James L. Neibaur’s latest book The Hal Roach Shorts of Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts and Patsy Kelly points out, the funny ladies of film have been with us far longer than that–since the darn dawn of cinema, I would add. A few perfect examples from the Golden Age of Comedy are Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts, and Patsy Kelly, who starred together in a number of shorts in the 1930s (Todd and Pitts were a comedy team for a few years; when Pitts left the Roach studio in 1933 Patsy Kelly took over her half of the team). While there are a couple biographies of ZaSu available and several about Thelma (due to her tragic death in 1935), Neibaur’s book is the first to examine the short comedies of these frequently overlooked comediennes. Continue reading

Book Review: “‘Bare Knees’ Flapper: The Life And Films Of Virginia Lee Corbin”

If I tell you to picture a child star from the silent era, two that will come to mind are likely Jackie Coogan or Baby Peggy. Likewise, if I tell you to picture an actress famous for portraying flappers, you’ll probably think of Clara Bow or (I hope) Colleen Moore. But one actress who probably won’t occur to you is Virginia Lee Corbin, a former child star who also managed to transition to flapper roles as she matured. But happily, writer and researcher Tim Lussier is determined to get you acquainted with this overlooked actress with his fine biography “Bare Knees” Flapper: The Life and Films of Virginia Lee Corbin. Continue reading

Book Review: “How To Film Moving Pictures in the 1910s” by Darren Nemeth

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I’m happy to say that the author of 1907 Chicago Projecting Co’s Entertainer’s Supplies Catalog No. 122: Deluxe Reprint Edition has done it again! (Have you not read 1907 Chicago Projecting Co’s Entertainer’s Supplies Catalog No. 122: Deluxe Reprint Edition? You should!) This time, as part of his newly-dubbed “Moving Picture Reprint Series,” Darren Nemeth is offering How To Film Moving Pictures in the 1910s. Much like his first book, it already promises to be an important part of my film history library. Continue reading

Book Review: “The Silent Films of Marion Davies” By Edward Lorusso

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For decades, silent star Marion Davies was known mainly for two things: for being the mistress of uber-powerful newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, and for supposedly being the inspiration for the untalented Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane. Well, the latter isn’t true–Susan was based on the wife of a different uber-powerful magnate (as Orson Welles himself finally revealed). And as for the former, while Marion was certainly part of a faithful “arrangement” with Hearst right up until his death, it didn’t define her. A look at her films proves that she was a warm, hardworking, immensely talented woman who likely had the charisma to make a name for herself in Hollywood without Hearst’s help. (I’d say she was mighty lucky to have him on her team, but she was already working on her acting career before he swooped in with 5-gallon buckets of money.)

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Book Review: “Slapstick Divas: The Women Of Silent Comedy” By Steve Massa

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Fans of film history–rejoice! For in the Year of our Lord two thousand and seventeen, the library of essential early film books like The Parade’s Gone By and Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory has been expanded by Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy by film historian Steve Massa. It’s been my most anticipated book of the year, and as you can already tell, I was not disappointed.

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Book Reviews: “Keaton” By Rudi Blesh And “Tempest In A Flat Hat” By Edward McPherson

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As part of the ongoing, year-long celebration of his 1917 entry into films, I will periodically review the prominent books on Buster Keaton. Here’s my take on two of the more widely read biographies out there:

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One of the great classic film biographies, Keaton–along with Buster’s own autobiography–is an absolute must for anyone looking to learn more about our favorite straight-faced comedian in a porkpie hat.  Continue reading

Book Review: “Bebe Daniels: Hollywood’s Good Little Bad Girl”

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Classic film fans who are curious enough about early Hollywood history to look beyond familiar stars like Clara Bow or Louise Brooks and seek more obscure personalities might be amazed by how many there were. Dozens of actors and actresses are forgotten today, but were once familiar sights in theaters across the nation. They were beloved by fans and left their own unique marks on pop culture–sometimes in careers that spanned decades. Take Bebe Daniels, for instance. Continue reading

Book Review: “Mabel Normand: The Life and Career of a Hollywood Madcap”

Decades before the likes of Lucille Ball, there was another comedienne who was every bit as well known and influential–the “madcap” Mabel Normand. She was one of the earliest screen comediennes, and for a time was the biggest. She coached Roscoe Arbuckle and directed Charlie Chaplin when they first arrived at Keystone. She was loved by moviegoers the world over. And yet, strangely, almost no books have been written about her. One “major” biography came out over 20 years ago, and…left a lot to be desired. (References and bibliographies are useful things.)

But cue the trumpets, for at long last a new biography is coming out, the result of seven years’ worth of research by author and enthusiastic fan Timothy Dean Lefler. It’s detailed, it’s sourced, it even has appendices. It gives Mabel the kind of thorough appreciation that’s been needed for decades. Is it, perhaps, definitive? Well, let’s take a look. Continue reading