A Brief History Of Hollywood Before It Was Hollywood

A version of this post was originally written for my Classic Movie Hub column Silents are Golden. Hope you find it an interesting weekend read!

Today Hollywood, California is one of the most famous places in the world. The thriving axis of moviemaking, for decades it’s drawn countless dreamers hoping to make it in “the industry.” Real estate up in its hills is bought and sold for millions. And, of course, it attracts perpetual hordes of tourists strolling its Walk of Fame or hoping for glimpses of celebrities in Beverly Hills.

But there was a time when this same bustling neighborhood of Los Angeles was a sleepy little stretch of hilly farmland ten miles east from the city, accessible only by a gravel road and populated by a few hundred people. Little did the residents of this quiet community know what vast changes were in store–especially once those “movies” came to town (as they would nickname early filmmakers, not knowing “movies” referred to films).

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The Wonder Of Léon Beaulieu’s “Pocket Cinematographs”

may have mentioned my great love for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which I try my darnest to attend every year (I also try my darnest to see every single showing–last year I finally succeeded!). Probably mentioned it once or twice…or fifty times. (They deserve frequent shoutouts!)

One of the many bonuses of this grand festival is their annual “Amazing Tales From the Archives” presentation, which is always free to attend and always full of interesting info on the exciting projects archivists are working on. The 2019 festival had one presentation that charmed my socks off: about Léon Beaulieu’s teeny tiny cinema flipbooks he manufactured for his unique 1890s “pocket cinematograph.”

Image credit: silentfilm.org

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Elinor Glyn And Her (Infamous) “Three Weeks”

Happy weekend everyone! Since I’ve been pretty busy with a new (silent film-related!) project this week I decided to reshare one of my personal favorite “Personalities” articles. Because heaven knows one dose of Elinor Glyn is never enough! Hope you enjoy.

Silent-ology

Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin?
Or would you prefer
To err with her
On some other fur?

Disciples of early Hollywood have all run across this ditty at one time or another. Penned by an anonymous joker, it poked fun at a famous scene from writer Elinor Glyn’s infamous novel Three Weeks, the steamy romance that swiftly became a sensation when it was published in 1907 and remained a big seller well into the 1920s. It was the Twilight of–no, scratch that–the Fifty Shades of Gray of its day. Predictably, the phenomenon wouldn’t go unnoticed by Hollywoodland…and Hollywoodland wouldn’t go unnoticed by Elinor Glyn.

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“The Altar Of Alcohol”–A Savvy Elinor Glyn Interview

Here’s something a little different–a magazine interview with that famed authoress of Three Weeks, that chooser of “It” girls, that grand dame of romance herself–Elinor Glyn! I wrote a piece on Glyn and her famed novel awhile back, and it’s been one of my favorite “Personalities” articles ever since.

Photo of Lady Elinor Glyn | Dating agencies, London friend

There was a time when Glyn was considered the expert in the “moonlight and magnolias” type of love–and happily marketed herself as such. She had hair dyed “Titian red,” was rumored to travel with a tiger skin rug, and apparently coached Valentino in his romantic scenes. If you aren’t too familiar with this romance novelist-turned-screenwriter, Gloria Swanson’s fantastic description pretty much says it all:

She took over Hollywood. She went everywhere and passed her fearsome verdicts on everything. “This is glamorous,” she would say. “This is hideous,” she would say, as she baby-stepped through this or that dining room or garden party. People moved aside for her as if she were a sorceress on fire or a giant sting ray.

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CMBA Blogathon: My Top 5 Classic Comfort Movies!

Since springtime has finally sprung, it’s time for one of the Classic Movie Blog Association‘s famed seasonal blogathons! (I’m a member, dontcha know.) This time, the theme is “Classics for Comfort,” wherein bloggers are sharing their top 5 lists of classic movies that are guaranteed mood-lifters.

Classics for Comfort Singing in the Rain Banner 1

For me, it’s really hard to pick just 5 movies. There’s lots of classics I can watch over and over, like Sunset Boulevard or All About Eve. But are those really comfort movies? Not quite. No, these have to be the kind of movies you like to relax to after a long, exhausting day, films you know will always perk up your mood. And thus I present my top 5 list (by the way, my perpetual Favorite Movie Ever is Singin’ in the Rain, but that always gets its own pedestal, so I’ll keep it there this time):

5. Monkey Business (1931)

Monkey Business (1931)

Any Marx Brothers film will do when I’m feeling down, but Monkey Business is a go-to favorite. Some of the best comedies are beautfully simple, and there are times when my heart desires nothing more complicated than letting these four brothers loose to wreak havoc. In this case, on a ship. And classic sequences like the passport scene are darn cathartic (let’s just say I’ve worked in the customer service industry).

4. Why Change Your Wife? (1920)

Gloria Swanson в Twitter: "“I'll take this and six more! Make them ...

What better goofy escapism can there be than Cecil B. DeMille’s delightfully over-the-top society comedies? Starring Gloria Swanson (as many of his society pictures were), this is a “husband vs. wife” sort of tale with the usual misunderstandings. The husband wishes his frumpy wife would nag him less and be more of a “sweetheart” again, while the wife is scandalized by his suggestion that she wear something hot. The costumes, especially the elaborate women’s lingerie and a certain men’s bathing suit (or whatever that is), are gloriously of their time. In fact, that men’s bathing suit…ensemble…cape thingie is a mood lifter all by itself. (Oh, Theodore Kosloff.)

3. Sons of the Desert (1933)

Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase, and Stan Laurel in Sons of the Desert (1933)

Virtually anything the boys appeared in is a comfort film, but if I had to pick one of their features? Sons of the Desert never fails to crack me up.  Not only is the premise of Stan and Ollie sneaking away from their wives to attend a riotous convention funny, but I love studying how these characters interact. Particularly the early scene where Ollie’s battleax wife yells at him in front of Stan. Stan feels awkward, but not too awkwardclearly this isn’t the first fight he’s witnessed between the two! Just brilliant comedy all around.

2. The Freshman (1925)

Before the Super Bowl, stream one of the all-time great football ...

Picking just one Harold Lloyd film for this kind of post is darn difficult, because his entire career can be filed under “comfort movies.” Just the image of his glasses probably brought comfort to a lot of people back in the day. But my decision is usually The Freshman, one of those wonderful underdog tales Lloyd excelled at. How could you not laugh at that scene with the kitten? Or feel warm fuzzies when Speedy and Peggy laugh delightedly after their first kiss? Or feel a jot of happy energy when Speedy, bearing the brunt of tackle training, picks himself up and enthusiastically keeps going? Or…

1. Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Sherlock Jr. (1924) | BFI

The moment you say “Pick a comfort movie” to me, I’m going to say “But how am I supposed to pick just one Buster film?!” But after much thought and many complicated math equations on huge chalk boards, I’ve finally come up with a result: Sherlock Jr., a 45 minute masterpiece of clever hilarity. The gags of some of silent comedy’s very best, and Buster shows a perceptiveness about the nature of film and its impact on viewers that is simply ahead of its time.

If I was going making a bigger list and throw in some classic shorts, I’d add the Comique series, Keystone shorts like The Knockout (1914), Mabel’s Trysting Place (1914) or Fatty’s Plucky Pup, Harry Langdon’s Saturday Afternoon (1925), and at least one Charley Bowers short–probably Egged On (1926). As far as more recent comfort films, they would be: Hook (a fave since I was a kid), The Devil Wears Prada (I never get tired of this chick flick), Marie Antoinette (2006) (the costumes! The settings! The history! So gorgeous and fascinating!), and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (I seriously think it’s one of the best films of the 21st century).

Care to share your own list of comfort movies? Please do! The more suggestions there are, the more comfort we’ll have to go around.

(Supposedly) Lost Films: “In The Clutches Of A Gang” (1914)

It’s one of the most famous photos from silent comedy. Or from the silent era itself. Or, heck, from cinema itself. It’s the image that probably leaps to mind when you say “Keystone Kops.”

Keystone Kops | Description, Movies, & Facts | Britannica

This one!

It’s also key to what I think is the ultimate championship trivia question: “This famous still comes from which lost film?” The winning answer–major props if you know it–is “In the Clutches of a Gang!” *Cue lots of applause and money showering from the ceiling*

For being such a wildly famous image, it’s surprising that In the Clutches of a Gang (1914) isn’t better known–as a title, at any rate. After all, the film itself has been lost for many decades, yet another casualty of delicate nitrate paired with the relentless march of time. What a pity that such a tantalizing piece of slapstick history should have been so thoroughly, and regrettably, lost.

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Rudolph Valentino–The Man Behind The Image

Today is the 125 birthday of none other than Rudy Valentino! Here is my piece on his life and career, originally written for last year’s Sheik Month. Please check it out if you haven’t already–I’m proud of how this piece turned out!

Thanks to my friend Donna Hill (Rudy expert extraordinaire) for reminding me of this significant birthday!

Silent-ology

“The woman from fourteen to ninety loved him, because he made romance come riding home to her dreams. He was not the individual she craved, he was the symbol of what she craved.” —From a letter to Photoplay, January 1927

Image result for rudolph valentino portrait

What does it mean to be an icon? In the case of film actors, we assume this means their image has instant recognition. Across the world, people belonging to every culture and race will recognize Marilyn Monroe or Charlie Chaplin. Their very names have symbolism–“Chaplin” calls to mind laughter and old-time slapstick, while “Marilyn Monroe” stands for glamour and sensuality with a touch of vulnerability. (Interestingly, many people I’ve encountered who mention admiring Marilyn have never seen one of her films.)

So let us consider “Rudolph Valentino.” Of all the screen icons, his legacy is perhaps the most obscured by mythology, fantasy and cult status. The mere mention…

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Fan Magazine Fun: “Cut-Out Caricatures” And Other Century-Old Art

Haven’t done one of these posts in awhile! It’s time to poke through the ol’ antique fan magazines and see what they’ve been hiding for 90-100 years. Today, let’s focus on those artsy illustrations!

These charmers are from a two-page spread in the November 1923 issue of Motion Picture Magazine, called “Cut-Out Caricatures.” Well whaddaya know, this minimalist style just happens to be all the rage today:

So that’s Nita Naldi, Buster, Richard Barthelmess, Norma Talmadge, Mary, and Doug, respectively. Let’s not forget Bull Montana, because I almost did:

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Before Valentino: 6 Heartthrobs Of The 1910s

A version of this post was originally written for my Classic Movie Hub column Silents are Golden. Hope you enjoy!! 

When Rudolph Valentino became a 1920s superstar thanks to the megahits The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and The Sheik (1921), he basically changed the definition of “matinee idol” forever. Unlike many popular actors at the time, who tended to be steady, “regular guy” types, the young Italian often played characters with a dangerous edge and definite air of sensuality. Even today, it’s not hard to see why women became obsessed with him.

The Sheik's Physique | Timeless Hollywood

“Yuck”–said no woman ever.

Which might make you wonder: before Valentino, which leading actors were considered major heartthrobs? After all, when we list handsome silent film actors today, 1920s personalities like John Gilbert or Ramon Novarro will spring to mind–but who were the “hotties” of the Edwardian era?

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DVD Review: “The Douglas MacLean Collection”

Image result for douglas maclean

Looking for something new to watch (for obvious reasons)? Maybe you want to supplement your fabulous at-home silent film festival? I’m happy to announce that the inimitable Undercrank Productions has delivered yet again with their new release–The Douglas MacLean Collection, funded by fans on Kickstarter (like me!). Continue reading