Friday, November 6, 2015

Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays - On the Bedside Table

November 7, 2015 is the "official book launch" day for Mary Mallory and Karie Bible's lovely photobook Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays.  They are kicking things off with a book signing at Larry Edmunds Bookstore on Hollywood Blvd (see flyer below for more info).  If you are local, please do yourself a favor and go visit and get a copy autographed by the authors.  If you are not local, you can order a copy of amazon.

The book is chockablock filled with an array of rare images, each targeting a specific holiday.  From the very beginning, in Hollywood, everything newsworthy about the films and the stars was about promotion.  Ultimately to get the public into the theater to see the product, promote the stars and/or buy the magazines.

Janet Gaynor graces a 1928 Photoplay magazine holiday cover

 The book is laid out in chronological order, by holiday (New Years Eve, Valentine's Day, etc.) and the period covered begins in the 1910's up through the early 1970s.  A mix of black and white and color, the book is a delight to the eye.  

One of my favorite images (I googled this one, so the quality is crappy) is of nearly forgotten star Mary Miles Minter in costume for Halloween.  This photo does not do justice to the image quality you will see in the book.

Mary Miles Minter in a great Halloween costume circa 1920

This gives me the change to tell you the artistry of Mark Vieira is present because he did all of the image work, photoshop correcting and the like.  This means the images look as good as they possible can.  He also contributed lovely Hurrell-style portraits of the co-authors for the book.  

Hollywood celebrated the holidays, primarily, with women stars.  It's hard to find too many of the great male stars of the various eras.  Then as now, it's the ladies cheesecake that sell the product.  Might seem kind of sexist, but, the photographs are so endearing and charming, you can't really come up with an argument against them!

Many of the top photgraphers in Hollywood  are represented here, Witzel, Hoover, Hartsook and Evans in the early silent days, Eugene Robert Richee, Otto Dyar, Freulich, Hurrell, Ted Allan in the 20's 30s and 40's.

This is a very comprehensive look at the marketing of holidays and, sometimes, the tie in with merchandise for the season.  There is not much text (each photo is fully captioned), it's a pleasureable compact coffee table book.  If you love classic Hollywood and enjoy beautiful and some just plain fun photographs, this book is for you.  The art of classic Hollywood portrature has been well represented by books on Ruth Harriet Louise, Hurrell as well as and in genres such as pre-code and horror, this book fills a niche not examined elsewhere.  It also makes, yes, an ideal gift for Xmas!  

It's quite lavish, image wrap hardback and had a nice feel and look to it.  I'm happy to add this to the home library and I will bet you will too!  Plush!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Farewell Maureen O'Hara - 1920-2015

O'Hara and her mentor Charles Laughton during filming of Jamaica Inn.
 Today we say farewell to one of the very last of the great Hollywood stars of the golden era, Maureen O'Hara at the ripe age of 95.  Her long career and life are to be celebrated, not mourned.

The Queen of Technicolor in Sinbad the Sailor.
 O'Hara was known as The Queen of Technicolor, you have to admit, it looked good on her.  She shone as the often fiery wench against the likes of a handsome rogue's gallery as Tyrone Power, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Errol Flynn and most often paired and sparred with John Wayne.

O'Hara with Tyrone Power in The Black Swan
 She matched her wits and fists in many of these films.  She could wield a sabre with the best of them in the cheesiest of swashbucklers.

with Walter Pidgeon in John Ford's How Green was My Valley.
 She also showed incredible depth and grace in what is probably my favorite, John Ford's sentimental and wonderful How Green Was My Valley.
As Esmeralda in 1939's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
After much politicking, she was awarded an honorary Academy Award in November 2014 and appeared (to riotous applause and acclaim) at the TCM film festival.  I am sure these events made her happy, though the accolades arrived almost too late.

She still has many many fans and her legacy of films will win new fans for generations to come.  Rest well Irish lass, I'm sure many friends are there to meet you.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Wings (1927) - Planes Trains and Automobiles Blogathon


Today's post is directed to the planes part of the blogathon.
What can you say about William Wellman's 1927 epic Wings that has not already been said?  The first thing I can say is that if you have not yet seen the film, do your level best to make a way to see it.  Happily, a gorgeous restored print is available on DVD and blu-ray and, happier still, televisions are now large enough to do the film real justice for home viewing.  I would not hesitate to encourage and urge you to purchase the DVD or blu-ray and see the film for yourself on your 70" television.  It's a terrific film in so many ways and is absolutely part of what one would call the "canon."

Clara Bow, while she has really limited screen time in comparison to Richard Arlen and Charles "Buddy" Rogers, her billing and prominence in the publicity for the film make it very clear who was considered the STAR and selling point for the movie.  Which leads me to my take on Wings for this blogathon and my question as to what has not already been said?  In answer to that question, I'm going to tackle the lobby art and associated promotional materials for the film.

Other than the press and production announcements made in the trade magazines (which the general public would not have seen) the exhibitors would see announcements in the annuals issued by the studio up to a year in advance with (typically) a single page announcing cast, director and illustrated with mock-up art.  More often than not, many of the films announced in the campaign books would end up cast with a completely different set of actors, a different title, or sometimes the film announced was never made for whatever reason.

Two page spread from the campaign book for upcoming Paramount releases

The next thing the exhibitors would see would be the Press Book which gave them a chance to pull out pre-scripted press blurbs and choose the art (posters, lobby cards, window cards, heralds) to promote the film at the theater.  Here are a few pages from the pressbook for Wings.

Cover of the press book

Examples of the posters that the theater owner could order.  

The posters came in various sizes, 1-sheets, 6-sheets (center top and center 3rd row), 3-sheets and 24-sheet (or billboard size, bottom).  The 1-sheet in the upper right hand corner cost the theater owner .15 (cents), a rare surviving copy of this c-style 1-sheet auctioned in July 2005 for $63,250.00!  

$63,250.00!  Got one of these in your attic?

Wings, like Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 epic The Ten Commandments or Jame Cruze's The Covered Wagon, were considered "deluxe" or "super-productions." This meant more posters, more art and more tie-in material to publicize the film (and hopefully earn back and profit for the studio investment).  An average film would have two 1-sheet posters, a window card, one insert, one 3-sheet, one 6-sheet, a set of 8 lobby cards, 8-10 black and white stills, glass advertising slides and a herald (which were given away as freebies in the theaters to generate interest or "buzz" for an upcoming film).  Wings, as you can see, had multiple versions of a 1-sheet, 6-sheet and 24-sheet posters.  Of course, even this huge promotion was nothing compared to the materials made available for Lon Chaney's 1925 The Phantom of the Opera, the exhibitors had a choice from ten (!!) different 1-sheets and at least three 6-sheets.

Not one, but three choices for a billboard!
Other than buzz generated from blurbs in movie magazines such as Photoplay or Motion Picture, the first tangible evidence of the film your average movie goer would find, would be a herald.  Most heralds in the 1920s were simply gorgeous lithographed little works of art.  Multi-colored and very bright, they were designed to be attractive and enticing.  Once opened you would find the taglines and some photos to pique interest.  The rear side of the herald was usually entirely plain or with some decorative artwork in the corners, the purpose of which so the theater owner could stamp the date the film would be showing.  That way you would not forget to show up again next week!

Glass advertising slide, the blank portion was where the theater owner
would use a marker to indicate the days the film would be showing. 

Herald cover art

Herald center fold-out
What is really fascinating about the cover of the herald is seeing that Gary Cooper is billed on this art (and billed above Jobyna Ralston, who had more screen time than Cooper, and far less than Bow).  Cooper, now famously remembered for many films in his long career as a screen icon, at this time was just on the cusp of his big career and has mere moment of screen time.  Of course, those few moments are incredibly memorable.  This billing on the herald is a surprise!

Of course, in the silent era you would also see a trailer.  I have not been found that the original trailer from 1927 exists.  So here is the trailer that was created a few years back when Wings was released on DVD.  In 1927 there was no sound narration, naturally.

Once outside at the theater the movie goer, then as now, would see posters on display for the current film and for future releases.  Additionally, there was plenty of display area devoted to stills and lobby cards (often on sandwich board arrangements).  Lobby cards (11x14) were mostly in a set of eight cards (a "title card" and seven "scene cards").  Though, for prestige pictures like Orphans of the Storm or The Phantom of the Opera, larger sets were issued (10 and 12 cards). Quite often, the art on the "title card" was duplicated by the "half sheet" (22x28) poster.  Wings was not unique in having two sets of lobby cards.  This was more common in the Paramount films in the second half of the 1920s.  In addition to the regular set of 11x14 cards, there was also a second set known as "jumbo lobby cards." 

Title Card
Jumbo Lobby Cards

Jumbo Lobby Cards

Stills were also used to lured the patrons in.  Certainly not colorful like the lobby cards, the beautifully posed stills attracted fans of the stars.  These are but two examples.  These kind of portraits were also used liberally in the fan magazines.

A moody and pensive portrait of Richard Arlen (left) and
Buddy Rogers and Clara Bow which helped promote the film.

Once inside the theater, one could buy a program.  This was not typical of every film made in the silent era.  Much more common for the big prestige productions, like The Birth of a Nation (1915), Orphans of the Storm (1922), The Ten Commandments (1923), Ben-Hur (1926), The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), The Big Parade (1925) and The Thief of Bagdad (1924) to cite a few.  For .25 (cents) you could buy a deluxe program between 15-20 pages, with full color inserts, photos and the cast list and symopsis of the film.

Program Cover

Cast List

The text here can only be described as hoopla!

The movie goer could also find tie-in merchandise such as a novelization of the film, "photoplay editions" with stills sprinkled throughout.  The Wings edition has a deluxe binding with artwork on the endwraps as well as a dust jacket that mimics the film program.

Photoplay edition book

As we all know, silent films were never really silent.  Music was played in the theater, be it a piano, a small ensemble, a Wurlitzer pipe organ in the large movie palaces or, at a premiere a full orchestra playing a complete score.  For the average film, there was a guide for the musician(s) in the form of cue sheets with suggested themes for scenes and sequences in the film.  For many a film there was also a special theme song composed.  Naturally, if it was not recorded (and oftimes they were), you could purchase the sheet music at your local music shop.  The sheet music, in most cases, was published by houses that were also owned by the movie studios.  They had their fingers in every little financial pie!

Sheet Music
In the silent era, and on into the 1930's and 40's, the life of a film in the theater was fairly short.  Big pictures like Wings, had a much longer shelf life than the usual two to four days.  If the film was a monster hit, much like Douglas Fairbanks' 1922 film Robin Hood, the film played not only for weeks, but could run for months.  In the case of Fairbanks, Robin Hood played so long at Sid Grauman's Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, the streetcar conductors announced "all out for Robin Hood" at the scheduled stop instead of the street name.  The average films were released in the theaters for only a few days and then, forgotten.

With the coming of sound, most studios felt that the silent output was essentially worthless.  This mindset, along with accidents, fires and plain old lack of care led to the dearth of good prints of silent films to this day.  A huge percentage of the thousands of silent films made are lost with nary a frame surviving.  Almost none were considered worthy or of interest to movie goers now accustomed to sound films for a reissue.  There were, of course, exceptions.  Some silent films such as Ben-Hur, The Big Parade and Wings were reissued with recorded musical soundtracks.  In many cases, there were lines around he block to see these great films again.

1930's era window card for a sound reissue.

Paramount seemed to think the film was not exciting enough
to merely see it, you had to HEAR it, too.  Still, this is a fabulous poster!

The silent era is commonly regarded as the era where film was the universal language.  This is where you can get the idea of the popularity of a film or star like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Valentino, and Clara Bow.  Pickford and Fairbanks were famously mobbed wherever they went while on their 1920 honeymoon.  The stars were known the world over and the studios had offices in practically every country from India (Paramount did have an office in Bombay), China, as well as our neighbors in Europe and South America.  Some of the artwork for the foreign issue posters were graphically amazing and more interesting than the U.S. issues.

Here is a beautiful full panel poster from France.
A 1930s era reissue from Japan

In foreign markets like China and Japan, for instance, silent films were still being produced well into the late 1930s.  Therefore, the market for American silent films was still very much in demand.  Many sound films did not see a release or re-release in Japan until long after the end of WWII.

Wings did have a much longer shelf life due to the fact it was awarded the first "Best Picture" Academy Award.  There were reissues even in the 1970s.

Mod poster for a 1970s era reissue

Now the film has come full circle and been treated to a really fantastic restoration and release for home viewing.

I love poster art, and hope that this has helped whet your appetite to seek out the film that inspired so much colorful art.  It's a classic and gives you the proper idea of what it was to sit in the theater and see a well made silent film.  Wings has hardly dated, except, perhaps patriotism is not what it used to be.  The themes of love, loyalty and heroism are all in there.  So is the horror of war and its toll.  Great cinematography combined with thrilling aerial footage and, of course, the delightful Clara Bow.  It's a great film.

This post is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association's Planes Trains and Automobiles Fall blogathon.  Please DO visit here for the lineup of fantastic blog posts!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Monty Banks in Play Safe - Planes Trains and Automobiles Blogathon


This post is directed to the "trains" portion of the blogathon.

Monty Banks name might be generally unfamiliar to many, I first "met him" by way of Robert Youngson's 1961 compilation film entitled Days of Thrills and Laughter that was a staple on television when I was growing up.  In this film, features like Douglas Fairbanks' Wild and Woolly were trimmed down to essentials and narration was provided to explain the action.  I guess you might say these films by Youngson were my introduction to silent films.  As much as I loved Fairbanks (and I still do), I was really struck by the Monty Banks film, originally entitled Play Safe, later shortened and rerelased as  Chasing Choo Choos.  In fact, I've never forgotten him.

Two-page spread from Film Daily

Monty Banks was, in reality born, Mario Bianchi in Cesena, Italy. He emigrated to the United States. in 1914 and, like his fellow Italian compatriot Rudolph Valentino, started out as a taxi dancer in New York.   He made his way to Hollywood about 1918 and worked with comedians like Roscoe Arbuckle and Lloyd Hamilton before starting to make short films in which he was the leading player.  Reportedly he was also a stunt man.  To be totally honest, the Silent Comedy Mafia would probably take me for a ride, I know so little about Banks and here I am attempting writing about him.

Trade-Advert for Play Safe

Play Safe falls on the later end of Banks' career, released in 1927.  It was, in short, something of a flop.  Photoplay Magazine was pretty succinct, if not more than a little cruel, "If you want to Play Safe, stay away from this one.  A Monty Banks comedy that has a few funny moments.  Pretty poor."  Reportedly, some modern viewers who have seen the entire original film claim it's just fine.  Back to 1927-28, Pathe decided to trim the film and reissue it under the title in which it is more commonly known, Chasing Choo Choos.  I've not found any subsequent reviews of the shortened version of the film. 

Monty Banks and Virginia Lee Corbin give
you the idea of the action in the film.

In the film Monty plays a factory worker in love with the boss lady who runs the show (Virginia Lee Corbin).  There is a plot to kidnap her, they make their escape on a train, along with the villains in hot pursuit.  The train car they are in is uncoupled and that's where the real incredible action begins. Directed by journeyman Joseph Henabery, the cut-down version moves swiftly from almost the first frame.  Precious little is on youtube from the Play Safe, which is a shame. 

The film is one of those of a genre that came to be known and made famous by Harold Lloyd as "thrill comedies."   You have to give it up for the stars of these films, and the stuntmen and women who supported them.  They did the craziest things!  Play Safe is no exception!  This is one of the most thrilling of all thrill comedies.  That final reel is something else!

You can see for yourself, in a spoiler because you really miss all the setup for the action in this timestamped footage starting about 1:10 in on this clip.  This gives you a good idea of the beating both Monty Banks (and legendary stuntman Harvey Parry took during filming).  Parry was an unsung hero of many a silent thrill comedy, especially in which car crashes were needed.  Parry was an expert at those and is in the car running parallel with the runaway train.  For the record, Parry had a long career in Hollywood and you can catch him once in a while on TCM in a Warner Brothers short Spills for Thrills about stunting in Hollywood.    There is a clip here, too

Banks' contract with Pathe was cancelled shortly after this and his screen career petered out.  He went on to direct many short films and appear in character parts up through the late 1940s.   Never quite the star of magnitude of the big three (Chaplin, Lloyd, and Keaton), this little film still brings pleasure and thrills.  Photoplay was very grouchy the day they watched this film.

You can see the cut down version Chasing Choo Choos on the DVD Slapstick Masters and I understand complete elements in 35 mm exist at the Library of Congress.  I still find the Days of Thrills and Laughter entertaining, and nostalgic.  You can also find Days of Thrills and Laughter released on DVD.

This post is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association's Planes Trains and Automobiles Fall blogathon.  Please DO visit here for the lineup of fantastic blog posts!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Sheik's Physique - Planes Trains and Automobiles Blogathon


Rudolph Valentino working on a car in 1925
Today's post is directed to the automobiles portion of the blogathon.  Naturally, I had to sneak in a short post which featured Rudolph Valentino.  He loved cars!  He had a beat up Fiat, early on in Italy.  When he arrived in Hollywood he went into some debt buying a 1915 Cadillac which he proudly took apart, repaired drove around Hollywood for several years.  After Valentino became a star and returned to Europe in the summer of 1923, while in Paris, he purchased an Avions Voisin (now housed at the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, CA).  During that summer trip he test drove and rented a Voisin which he drove through France and Italy.  I can only imagine from his description of the roads, his wife Natacha's recollections and his need for speed, that rental returned to Paris more than a little worse for wear. 

Natacha Rambova in the hard top, Valentino in the open Voisin in Paris summer 1923.  Note the bored chauffeur in the back!
While in in Italy his visited and ordered Isotta Fraschini touring car (which he took delivery in 1925).  Valentino also had a 1925 Franklin Coupe and a Ford truck (for working around Falcon Lair).  He employed a chauffeur reluctantly after he had a car accident.  He had a need for speed and had terrible eyesight, too.  Not a good match when driving a car.

Federico Beltran Masses admiring Valentino's new car a spectacular custom Isotta-Fraschini.
In 1925 during filming of The Eagle, Valentino and some pals got together, drove out to Santa Monica and the Pacific Coast Highway and shot a short movie that ended up being entitled The Sheik's Physique.  Lost to history is the how and, more importantly, the why this little film was made.  I will surmise the presmise was something a simple as the fact that Valentino took delivery of this automobile and was excited about it.  After all, it cost him something over $20,000 in 1925 (adjusted for inflation in 2015, that's $271,458.95) he wanted to show it off.  Valentino also had plenty of camera gear, shot many photos and lots of home movies. 

The plot is a simple one, Valentino take his car out for a spin to the beach.  He climbs out of the driver's cab, stretches, eyes the waves and climbs into the passenger cab.  He begins to undress, noticing us peeping at him, he breaks the 4th wall and staring right into the eyes of the viewer (the camera eye, or you) he pulls down the privacy shade with a wink.  A quick dissolve and and we see him exiting the car in his bathing suit and beach robe.  He strides out to the beach and lies down on his robe for a nap in the sun with the waves lulling him to sleep.  While he sleeps we see a car drive up and as a man eyes this posh automobile, he gives the high sign and steps in the driver's cab and steals the car.  Another iris to dissolve and we see Valentino wake up, rub the sleep from his eyes and check his watch, realizing he is late for something.  His car has been stolen!  He starts to walk up the Pacific Coast Highway, it's warm as he wipes his brow, and, in a moment of hilarity, jumps up and down to attract the attention of an oncoming car.  The driver stops, picks Valentino up as a hitchhiker and they drive away in a much humbler set of wheels.  Fade out!

This curious little film is entertaining, for what it is. Unfortunately, it ends abruptly and one does wonder what exactly the ultimate purpose was.  Sadly, this is all lost to history and we'll never know.  The closeup of Valentino pulling down the privacy shade makes this little film quite worth it.  His sense of humor is fully on display, a little self-deprecating, too.

This post is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association's Planes Trains and Automobiles Fall blogathon.  Please DO visit here for the lineup of fantastic blog posts!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Douglas Fairbanks The First King of Hollywood - On the Bedside Table

Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. could be described in many terms, "buoyant, breezy, daring, agile, enthusiastic, intensely earnest, peppery, live and wide-awake." In fact, I stole this quote directly from Tracey Goessel's new, and dare I say, landmark biography of Fairbanks entitled The First King of Hollywood The Life of Douglas Fairbanks published this month by Chicago Review Press.  The quote fits.

Douglas Fairbanks was many things besides as swashbuckler, he was also a pioneer, astute businessman, ardent lover and husband, mostly absent father and indubitably, a star. Goessel has been researching her subject for over a decade as well as collecting artifacts related to the star.  This shows in the depth of detail uncovered in this volume and also in the rarity of the images used in the book. (You know me, a photo maven, it's a terrific selection).

Fairbanks happy-go-lucky and famous million watt smile on display.

One of the great strengths in this biography is Goessel's style of writing.  Her prose is exuberant, buoyant and filled with humor, much like Fairbanks himself.  It is rare in today's market for biographies to find one that is so scrupulously researched, so level-headed and crammed with details (especially in the footnotes, many of which made me laugh out loud).  There is a lot of meat in this book, but, it does not feel like a heavy meal on your stomach.  You (me) devour it with the relish of James Beard and are left hungry for more! 

We are not weighed down with psycho-babble analyzing Fairbanks' thoughts and feelings, nor is there any imaginary dialogue.  Quotes are are sourced directly either from the horse's mouth or the person in question.  Goessel does not shirk from calling shenanigans if the memories do not line up with the facts.  Fairbanks had his flaws, and Goessel is also not shy in discussing them.  It's clear as mud she loves her subject (who can blame her for that), but, nothing descends to fangirl blathering.  Again, at the risk of sounding like a fangirl myself, this book is a pure pleasure to read.

Happily, we are also not subjected to page after page of reciting of lengthy plots from Fairbanks' equally long film career.  This is a great blessing since the recitation of plotlines, today, often takes up a good portion of any biography.   Now, this is not to say plotlines are not discussed, they are in brief.  We are talking paragraph summaries, not page after page. (HOORAY).  The various production details concerning the films, stunts and behind the scenes are fascinating to read.

The true gold in this book are the quotations from some of Fairbanks letters to Mary Pickford, which she kept in a box until the day she died.  It's rare to have something so personal not only survive but to end up being curated in such good hands, it's a miracle.  90 years on, it's still a great love story to read.  I confess, I got to the last page of the book and I did shed a tear or two.

It is a pity that Fairbanks is often relgated to a footnote, or only referred to as a swashbuckler from the silent era.  Hopefully Goessel's fine book will do much to bring Fairbanks back to the forefront as a true pioneer (as his wife Mary Pickford is almost universally acclaimed to be) and remembered for his good works, as well as the incredible entertainment enjoyment his films still bring to the viewers 90-100 years later.

In short (or not), I give this book a healthy and solid ***** stars!

You can buy it at bookstores, film festivals and I suggest you check out the Facebook page for the book to keep up with book signings by the author.  I know she will be in San Francisco during the San Francisco Silent Film Festival winter event on December 5th.  She's also going to be in Chicago, New York and Culpeper, Virginia at the Packard Campus.

As an aside, please take a look at the evolution of the cover art for this book from the Chicago Review Press.  I wonder if I might have chosen differently?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Way Down East - A Worthy Cause

I was alerted to a very worthy cause this week, that of the restoration of what could well be the sole existing copy of the American 6-sheet poster for D.W. Griffith's 1920 film Way Down East.   This wonderful poster shows the iconic image of the rescue of Lillian Gish prone on an ice floe with Richard Barthelmess about the pluck her off the ice and to safety. 

This poster is owned by the George Eastman House in Rochester which was acquired by the legendary James Card in the 1950s.  The poster is sorely in need of conservation and restoration.  The total funds needed is a modest $2800 (balance on a total cost of $4600 to restore this huge poster).  Every penny helps to preserve something I consider to be a real work of art. 

To read all about the poster, see more photos of it in the present condition and learn what is needed for restoration and to (I hope) kick in $5 (or more) for the cause, please visit the donation page here.  Every penny counts and I know they will appreciate any donation you can give.