Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema (Aurora Metro Press)
edited by Cheryl Robson Melody Bridges
With chapters on the writers, directors, producers, stars, film editors, designers and camera women of the silent era this book acknowledges and celebrates the many talented women who were significantly involved in the rise of the industry and explains why the coming of the talkies and big business led to the inequality which exists today."
I was drawn to this book because it includes Kevin Brownlow's never before published interview with Dorothy Arzner, which is highly recommended. There is also a piece by Shelley Stamp, an academic film historian who I find interesting. Sadly, the short passage on Louise Brooks in "Female Legends of the Silver Screen" contains four factual errors.
Girls Will Be Boys: Cross-Dressed Women, Lesbians, and American Cinema, 1908-1934 (Rutgers University Press)
by Laura Horak
Laura Horak spent a decade scouring film archives worldwide, looking at American films made between 1908 and 1934, and what she discovered could revolutionize our understanding of gender roles in the early twentieth century. Questioning the assumption that cross-dressing women were automatically viewed as transgressive, she finds that these figures were popularly regarded as wholesome and regularly appeared onscreen in the 1910s, thus lending greater respectability to the fledgling film industry. Horak also explores how and why this perception of cross-dressed women began to change in the 1920s and early 1930s, examining how cinema played a pivotal part in the representation of lesbian identity.
Girls Will Be Boys excavates a rich history of gender-bending film roles, enabling readers to appreciate the wide array of masculinities that these actresses performed—from sentimental boyhood to rugged virility to gentlemanly refinement. Taking us on a guided tour through a treasure-trove of vintage images, Girls Will Be Boys helps us view the histories of gender, sexuality, and film through fresh eyes."
I've written about this book elsewhere. Suffice to say, it is a revelation. It's thoroughly researched, well argued, insightful and readable. Anyone interested in LGBT history, film studies, or the early 20th century will appreciate this recommended book.
REELS & RIVALS: Sisters in Silent Films (BearManor Media)
by Jennifer Ann Redmond
Sister stars in Reels and Rivals that are profiled include: Norma and Constance Talmadge; Lillian and Dorothy Gish; Edna Flugrath and sisters Shirley Mason and Viola Dana; Helene and Dolores Costello; Poly Ann and Loretta Young with sister Sally Blane; Constance and Faire Binney; Priscilla and Marjorie Bonner; Grace and Mina Cunard; Alice and Marceline Day; Marion and Madeline Fairbanks; Laura and Violet La Plante; Mae and Marguerite Marsh; Ella, Ida Mae, and Fay McKenzie; Beatriz and Vera Michelena; Mary and Florence Nash; Sally O’Neil and sister Molly O’Day; Mabel and Edith Taliaferro; Olive and Alma Tell; and famous Vaudevillians The Duncan Sisters and The Dolly Sisters. Illustrated with 94 studio portraits, film stills, and candid photos that capture the glamour and excitement of Hollywood’s Golden Era. Indexed"
I found this book to be a lot of fun. It is illustrated, well researched, and full of fun facts about silent era personalities both famous and not so famous (though deserving of greater recognition). Heck, there is a whole chapter on Voilet and Laura La Plante.
Theda Bara, My Mentor: Under the Wing of Hollywood's First Femme Fatale (McFarland)
by Joan Craig with Beverly F Stout
In 1946, at age five, the author met Bara--then 61--at her Beverly Hills home and the actress became her mentor. This memoir is the story of their friendship."
There have been a few biographies of Theda Bara published in the past, each of which I enjoyed. That's why I was drawn to this new title. This book is something different. I found the first half to be an assemblage of memories and anecdotes which together shed a light on the later years of one of the great stars of the early silent era. The second half looks at Bara's films, including A Fool There Was (1914) and Cleopatra (1917). [The latter is the subject of just announced reconstruction.] There is also a chapter on Charles Bradin, the British-born American film director who Bara married in 1921.
Mabel Normand: The Life and Career of a Hollywood Madcap (McFarland)
by Timothy Dean Lefler
As with Theda Bara, this new book is predated by an earlier biography from 1982 by Betty Fussell as well as the blog by Marilyn Slater. Nevertheless, this book proves its worth by bringing together these sources and others in what is, at this point, the best biography a silent film superstar.