Silent-ology is pleased to present this exclusive interview with the prolific silent comedy historian Steve Massa, author of the new book Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle. We talk about why a book on Roscoe’s films was overdue, about his considerable directorial skills, about his wonderful friendship with Buster and Al St. John, and just how many hours he would put into filming a single difficult gag…and more!
I must say, after the impressively hefty Slapstick Divas volume I was surprised (and delighted) to see another sizable book from you so soon! How long has Rediscovering Roscoe been in the works?
I have to say that I was a bit surprised too at how hefty Rediscovering Roscoe turned out to be. It was originally planned to be a smaller format book, like Lame Brains and Lunatics and Divas, but it grew too large. I got very lucky finding material and I wanted each film entry to be as thorough as possible. Every one would have credits, cast, working title, contemporary reviews, and archive sources, in addition to a commentary on surviving films and as much as I could find on missing ones. I have to admit that I “borrowed” the format of the book from Rob Stone’s excellent Laurel or Hardy, one of my favorite film books.Continue reading →
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.”
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?
“…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 →
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 →
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 →
Happy 2018, everyone! Now that 2017 is officially behind us, once again it’s time to recap the various silent film-related discoveries, restorations, events, DVD/Blu-ray/book releases, etc. from the past 12 months.
Now, I normally keep a running file of these kinds of stories which I update whenever they catch my eye. A couple months ago, however, my 9-year-old laptop breathed its last (or maybe it drowned–I kind of spilled water all over its keyboard). I had copies of nearly every file I owned backed up online–EXCEPT for, you know, a couple irreplaceable things like my 2017 film news file. Yes, about 15 dumb memes were safely tucked away but NOT THAT FILE. So forgive me if I missed anything absurdly obvious–I tried my best to get caught up again! Continue reading →
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 CitizenKane. 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.)
New research on silent comedy has been on the rise in the past decade, and quite a bit of this is thanks to the tireless efforts of renowned historian Steve Massa. Silent-ology is very pleased to present this exclusive interview with Massa, where we discuss his very well-received new book Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy.
Sybil Seely and Charles Dorety in one of the many rare images from Massa’s book.
For those readers who might not be familiar with your work, can you introduce yourself and talk a bit about your career?
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.
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:
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 →