Bert Williams: Vaudeville Superstar

If you have even a passing interest in learning about vaudeville–that hugely influential form of entertainment that today’s pop culture wouldn’t be the same without–and indeed want to acquaint yourself with early stage shows in general, there’s one name in particular that you should know: Bert Williams.

Bert_Williams_blackface

Oh yes, I can sense you raising your eyebrows right now–Williams (who himself was black) is in that cringeworthy blackface makeup, white gloves and all. This was how he appeared on the stage, and how audiences recognized him. But this man was much more than a dated makeup–this was a performer who transcended a stock character appearance by his sheer talent and charisma, and became one of the most successful performers of his time. A performer so beloved, that after his sudden death in 1922 from pneumonia over 5,000 fans filed past his casket.  Continue reading

“The Biograph Girl”–The Career Of Early Star Florence Lawrence

For a long time the world knew her as “The Biograph Girl.” Family and friends knew her as “Flo.” And in time, fans would know her by her full, rhyming name, “Florence Lawrence.” And today we also tend to add this phrase–“The First Movie Star.”

Image result for florence lawrence

Contrary to popular lore she wasn’t technically the first movie star, but she certainly was one of the earliest. Continue reading

Thoughts On: “The Birth of a Nation”

Since this article turned out to be longer than I expected, I’ve organized it with a handy-dandy table of contents:

Intro
Modern Critiques of the Film
History and, Yes, Context
Epic Filmmaking
1915 Audiences and The Birth
Final Thoughts

Birth of a Nation famous charge pose

Slowly but surely, 2015 is beginning to draw to a close. It’s certainly been a year of ups and downs, and for people interested in film history, it’s been a year with a certain significance. And no, I’m not talking about the new Star Wars movie (not this time, that is). Continue reading

Mack Sennett, King of Comedy

Today, August 3, is the 103rd anniversary of when Keystone was officially incorporated on paper. Let’s celebrate by examining the life of the laugh company’s founder, Mack Sennett!

[Edit: I’m proud to say that this is also my 100th post!  Woo-hoo!!]

Of all the bona fide legends of the silent film era–which include Eric von Stroheim, D.W. Griffith, George Méliès, Abel Gance, et al.–one of the most important  is comedy pioneer Mack Sennett. Most people recognize his name, but the man himself is a bit elusive. What’s the story behind this person whose studio produced over a 1,000 films back in the early days of Hollywood?

Continue reading

The Extraordinary Talent of Robert “Bobby” Harron

I am pleased to present this article on the life and career of the very underappreciated Bobby Harron, an actor of rare talent who left his mark on some of the greatest films of the silent era–and the film industry in general. It’s a long one, so I’ve added a list of contents for your convenience! 

Robert Harron haunting

Early Life
The Beginnings of a Career
Developing as an Actor
Major Roles
An Established Leading Man
The Close of a Promising Career
“The Boy Whom Everyone Liked”

Introduction

One of the earliest and most overlooked film stars is Robert “Bobby” Harron. The slender, unassuming young man acted in dozens of films, including the largest milestones of all time: The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916).

Bobby Harron full smiling

And yet, perhaps because of the attention given to Griffith’s actresses, Bobby is constantly, and consistently, overlooked. It’s common to see articles merely mention him as a costar to Mae Marsh or Lillian Gish before delving into the details of the women’s performances. Gish and Marsh were some of the finest actresses of the silent era, to say nothing of other talented Griffith players like Miriam Cooper or Blanche Sweet. But Bobby was a massively talented actor in his own right. Take a moment to turn your concentration from Gish or Marsh to the dark-haired Irish lad just to their side, and you’ll realize what you’ve been missing. Continue reading