In my recent review of The Alice Howell Collection I mentioned that the 101-year-old actress Fay McKenzie, who appeared as a baby in Distilled Love (1920), got to enjoy a special screening of the short thanks to historian Stan Taffel and relative Bryan Cooper. Isn’t that just the best? Well, the news broke recently that Fay passed away peacefully in her sleep on April 16, just two weeks after I posted my review. Amazingly, she had been in films on and off throughout her whole life, starting with infant/child roles in silent films starring such luminaries as Colleen Moore, and eventually becoming known as Gene Autry’s leading lady in the 1940s.
On Sunday, February 3rd, the family of film historian Ron Hutchinson shared the sad news that he had passed away from cancer on Saturday. He was 67. The classic film community has been reeling ever since, both shocked by the suddenness of the event and deeply saddened by the loss of a true giant in film preservation.
Hutchinson was the co-founder of The Vitaphone Project, a group of passionate historians and collectors which aimed to rediscover and restore Vitaphone films. This early sound process (spanning the years 1926-1931) recorded dialogue and sound effects on discs which were then synchronized with the projected films. If you’ve ever taken in an early talkie or one of those late silents with sound effects–say, the magnificent King of Jazz (1930) or Colleen Moore’s Why Be Good? (1929)–chances are you’re quite literally hearing some of Hutchinson’s hard work.
Hutchinson had both discovered and assisted in the restoration of literally hundreds of early talkies, both shorts and features (especially “Vitaphone shorts,” which served as pre-feature entertainment in theaters). And as so many have attested in the past couple days, he was an enthusiastic and helpful supporter of countless preservation projects. He leaves behind a loving family and too many friends in the classic film community to count.
A memorial service for Hutchinson will be held on Saturday, February 9th from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Piscataway Funeral Home in Piscataway, New Jersey. There is also talk of a special memorial event to be held later this year, possibly as a benefit for his beloved Vitaphone project.
My friend Annette at Hometowns to Hollywood wrote a detailed article about Vitaphone and The Vitaphone Project here–it’s highly recommended!
Yesterday evening, January 31st, brought some sad news–the great historian and film preservationist David Shepard had passed away.
This is a huge loss to anyone who loves silents and supports film preservation. Shepard is responsible for the restorations of Intolerance, The Navigator, Man With a Movie Camera, The Gold Rush, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Cheat, and countless others. To say that we owe him one is an understatement.
Shepard worked at Blackhawk Films in the 1960s (and bought the company in 1987), became a preservationist at the American Film Institute, and eventually started his own company, Film Preservation Associates. He’s worked with Kino, Flicker Alley, many film festivals, and has won awards for his tireless work. He has been both a huge help and huge inspiration to countless historians. In some of their own words:
“David was an extraordinary individual. I do not think it hyperbole to state that he significantly inspired most of our current film historians and archivists, and his countless works have been viewed and loved by nearly every serious classic film fan.”
“A Giant in the Film Preservation world has taken his leave from us this evening. A friend to so many of us, his legacy is large and immeasurable.”
“There was no better advocate for restoring classic films and making them available to modern audiences. I pray that David is chatting with many of the film greats in heaven today.”
“He leaves behind one heck of a legacy, as well as an influence on all of us who follow in his footsteps.”
Shepard had been suffering from an inoperable cancer, and passed away with his family, friends, and beloved dog at his side. He will be greatly missed.
In these first weeks of September 2015, silent Hollywood lost two more of its own. On September 4th Jean Darling, one of the child actors in “Our Gang” shorts during the late ’20s, passed away at the age of 93. Not long after this news sunk in (and before I had time to post an appropriate piece on Jean), another Our Gang alumni passed away on September 10: 89-year-old Dickie Moore, who debuted in silent films as a baby and starred in the famous series during the Depression era.
We usually assume, not unreasonably, that everyone directly connected with the silent era is long gone. The only exception might be a few child actors/actresses who worked in the late ’20s. After all, it’s the 2010s. You can do the math.
But every once in awhile you hear of an early star’s passing, and you wish you had been aware of them earlier. Continue reading