Silent-ology Recommends: “CHASE! A Tribute To The Keystone Cops”

Hold the candlestick phone! Another new book on silent comedy is available to brighten our bookshelves? And it’s the first-ever book on the Keystone Cops?!

26 Best keystone cops images | Keystone cops, Cops, Silent film

“It is? Seriously?

Why yes indeed! I’m happy to help spread the word that the fine new book CHASE! A Tribute to the Keystone Cops is now available from BearManor Media. It represents a dream team effort by a number of historians and writers, all compiled by editors Lon and Debra Davis. Many of the names you probably know already: Sam Gill, Joe Adamson, Michael J. Hayde, Rob King, Mark Pruett, Chris Seguin, Paul E. Gierucki, John Bengtson, Randy Skretvedt, Rob Farr, Brent E. Walker, Mark Wanamaker, Stanley W. Todd, Lon Davis himself, and Lea Stans.

Wait–Lea Stans? Why yes, that is me, and I’m very proud to announce that this is the first time my writing is appearing in a good ol’ turn-the-pages book! Continue reading

Interview With Steve Massa, Author of “Rediscovering Roscoe”

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!

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1887-1933) - Find A Grave Memorial

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

Book Review: “Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle” by Steve Massa

ReRoscoe_tweaked_wo_colon-FLAT

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.”

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, c. 1920.

So I was thrilled to hear that comedy historian Steve Massa, author of Slapstick Divas and Lame Brains and Lunatics, has a brand new book about this great comedian’s career: Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle. (Don’t you love that cover?) If there’s anything I enjoy as much as watching silent comedies, it’s reading about silent comedies–and studying the colorful, hardworking personalities behind them. Continue reading

Sayonara, 2019–The Silent Community Year In Review

Happy New Year, my friends! Now that the last hours of the 2010s are ticking away, you know what that means…..! 

Related image

THE ’20S ARE COMING BACK!!! (Exactly like this.)

I, for one, welcome the impending return of the Twenties. Let’s make ’em Roaring!

Before we start partying like a 1928 Joan Crawford movie, let’s look back on 2019’s various silent-related film discoveries, restorations, home video releases, and other noteworthy events. I try to keep a running list of film news throughout the year, which largely depends on what I randomly stumble across, so hopefully this “year in review” post is pretty thorough. But if I missed anything super obvious and important, please let me know! (And remember that it needs to be an event/discovery/release from 2019 specifically.) Continue reading

Adieu, 2018–The Silent Community Year In Review

Happy New Year’s, everyone! It’s a day to celebrate, preferably Lilian Harvey-style:

As you do.

And as usual, it’s time to look back on the various silent-related film discoveries, DVD and book releases, and other noteworthy events from the past twelve months. I keep a running list of film news all throughout the year, so hopefully this “year in review” post is pretty thorough. But if I managed to miss anything important, please let me know in the comments! (And remember that it needs to be an event/discovery/release from 2018 specifically.)

Without further ado, let’s get started: Continue reading

Book Review: “How To Film Moving Pictures in the 1910s” by Darren Nemeth

How_To_Film_1910s-Hard_Wrap-Cover-FINAL4.jpg

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

“Natalie Marries Buster Keaton”–An Interesting Book Excerpt

So lately I’ve been investigating two of the most overlooked stars of the silent era, Norma and Constance Talmadge, and their sister Natalie (Buster Keaton’s first wife). While Norma and Constance were once wildly popular, critically praised, and well-liked by their Hollywood co-stars, they’ve become surprisingly obscure. And unfortunately, a kind of bizarre mythology has grown up around all three sisters–a mythology that’s painted them as cold, snobby, and somewhat scheming (mainly in pretty much every Buster Keaton book ever, unfortunately).

Clearly coming up with evil schemes. (Image credit: Wisconsin Historical Society)

From what I can see, much of this is due to Anita Loos’s gossipy, jumbled book The Talmadge Girls, published in 1978, otherwise known as “several years after all the Talmadges were safely dead.” It’s been decades since the silent era, many books have been written about every silent star imaginable, and yet this–this–is still the only book available on the Talmadges.

 …Or is it? Ah, my friends, there was one other book, published in 1924, called The Talmadge Sisters: Norma, Constance, Natalie, written by their mother Margaret “Peg” Talmadge. It’s difficult to find but well worth a read (I recommend doing an interlibrary loan). Whether it was ghostwritten under the family’s watchful eye or whether Peg did sit down at her typewriter is hard to tell, but it’s quite fascinating, released as it was during the heights of the girls’ careers and giving us their detailed story decades before folks like Loos got their hands on it. The style can be sentimental and romanticized (as all the 1920s “life stories of the stars” books are), but not to the point where I felt the whole thing was complete hokum (unpleasant details, like Peg’s husband abandoning the family, are simply not mentioned).

Image result for talmadge sisters

The Talmadge ladies travelling.

I’ll have to review it in near future (a double review with the Loos book may be in order), but thought I’d copy down the chapter that fascinated me the most. For such a “cold and snobby” family, as Keaton bios will state, Peg included an entire chapter on her son-in-law Buster and ended it with some pretty thoughtful and generous complements. It also includes much of the old “how Buster got his nickname” kind of lore, and it’s interesting to see how consistent certain stories were throughout his life.

Here it is–hope you enjoy! Any unusual spellings are original to the 1924 book.

CHAPTER XI

NATALIE MARRIES BUSTER KEATON

After our return from Europe, Natalie’s letters and telegrams from Buster became more and more frequent, so that none of us was surprised when, while we were at Palm Beach, where Norma was taking some scenes for one of her pictures, Buster wired Natalie that he would meet her in New York and that she had better be prepared to give an answer to an important question! Continue reading

See Ya, 2017: The Silent Community Year In Review

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

Book Review: “The Silent Films of Marion Davies” By Edward Lorusso

Marion Davies lorusso cover

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 Citizen Kane. 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.)

Image result for marion davies Continue reading

Book Reviews: “Keaton” By Rudi Blesh And “Tempest In A Flat Hat” By Edward McPherson

Image result for bk100 buster keaton

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:

Image result for rudi blesh keaton

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