Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A mystery

I spent a good part of the day at the San Francisco Public Library. I was tracking down what turned out to be a false lead on a screening and personal appearance by Louise Brooks in 1965!

It all started with a clipping I came across - an October 1, 1965 column by Hedda Hopper in which the famous columnist noted a special tribute to director William Wellman which included a screening and appearance by Louise Brooks. Hopper wrote, "Director Bill Wellman had his day at the San Francisco Film Festival. They ran A Star is Born. Both Frederic March and Janet Gaynor appeared with the picture. Louise Brooks was on hand with Beggars of Life. 'I told them they could run any of my pictures except for my stinkers,' said Bill. 'I made a few - but not on purpose'."

Hopper's use of the past tense made me think that the Wellman tribute had already happened. And so, I searched the September issues of the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle (and even the old San Francisco Progress). I found nothing. Then I searched the October issues, and found a handful of articles about the Festival and Wellman's appearance. However, instead of Beggars of Life, the Festival screened Wings.

Hopper's column confuses me. Why did she write in the past tense, like the event had already taken place? And why have done so three weeks in advance? Had it been the plan to screen Beggars of Life - but then plans changed?

While scrolling through newspaper microfilm for October 1965, I noticed Clara Bow passed away just a few days after Hopper's column first appeared. I wonder if her death led Festival programmers to choose another film - like Wings, in which she stars? Or perhaps Wellman suggested Beggars of Life, but it wasn't available - and another film was screened in it's place.

I also noticed an anecdote in one of the local papers about Festival programming. Local writer, Festival programmer and man-about-town Barnaby Conrad stated that he had visited the George Eastman House, where he found one of the then few remaining copies of Wings. Did he go there in 1965 looking for Beggars of Life? Did he meet Louise Brooks?

It remains a mystery.

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