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

Book Review: “1907 Chicago Projecting Co.’s Entertainer’s Supplies Catalog No. 122”

Now this isn’t a book you get to review every day! Technically, the full title is: 1907 Chicago Projecting Co’s Entertainer’s Supplies Catalog No. 122: Deluxe Reprint Edition, since this is the catalog’s first reprinting in over 100 years. Yes, the last time film exhibitors set eyes on this book’s contents was seven years before WWI–back in the era of vaudeville and nickelodeons! Continue reading

Book Review: “Larry Semon, Daredevil Comedian of the Silent Screen”

I sometimes wonder: If comedian Larry Semon had been completely forgotten over the years–that is, if he hadn’t been discussed by Walter Kerr in The Silent Clowns, and hadn’t been mentioned by people like Buster Keaton, and hadn’t had public domain copies of his films passed around over the decades–in short, if he’d been relegated to the kind of obscurity once shared by Charley Bowers, Marcel Perez, and Musty Suffer, would we look at his films today and think, “Wow, this guy’s a great performer–why haven’t I heard of him before?” Continue reading

Book Review: “The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks”

http://www.amazon.com/The-First-King-Hollywood-Fairbanks/dp/1613734042

When you think of the figures in film history that are household names, several examples spring to mind: directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, and Orson Welles, and actors like James Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, and Marlon Brando. How about really early Hollywood names? Well, there’s Charlie Chaplin, you say. And also…well…err, yes, Chaplin.

But if there’s any name that (also) deserves a status in film history as large as the heads on Mount Rushmore, it’s DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS. Continue reading

Book Review: “The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd”

What a warm and wonderful gal Thelma Todd was. Smart, classy, and enviably beautiful, she livened up numerous comedies featuring Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Louise Fazenda, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Joe E. Brown, and many other famous laughmakers. Watching her performances reminds us how much was lost with her untimely death in 1936. Who could forget her “college widow” being serenaded by each of the four Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers (1932), or her Mrs. Plumtree genuinely cracking up at Stan Laurel in Another Fine Mess (1930)? Continue reading