Thursday, March 31, 2016

C.B. DeMille pastoral silent film with Louise Brooks

In November, 1927 a person named T.J.G. sent a note to Motion Picture Arts and Sciences magazine (their very first issue, it turns out) humorously suggesting that a film be made by C.B. Demille based on the names of film stars whose names evoke something pastoral. Among them is Louise Brooks.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"King of Jazz" kickstarter campaign

There is a new Kickstarter campaign I would encourage everyone to check out. It's for a new book about the production, release and restoration of the 1930 musical film King of Jazz starring Paul Whiteman.

King of Jazz: Paul Whiteman’s Technicolor Revue tells the untold story of the making, release and restoration of Universal’s 1930 Technicolor musical extravaganza King of Jazz. This special limited edition hardcover book needs your help to get published!

King of Jazz was one of the most ambitious films ever to emerge from Hollywood. Just as movie musicals were being invented in 1929, Universal Pictures brought together Paul Whiteman, leader of the country’s top dance orchestra; John Murray Anderson, director of spectacular Broadway revues; a top ensemble of dancers and singers; early Technicolor; and a near unlimited budget.

The film’s highlights include a dazzling interpretation of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which Whiteman had introduced to the public in 1924; Walter Lantz’s “A Fable in Jazz,” the first cartoon in Technicolor; and Anderson’s grand finale “The Melting Pot of Music,” a visualization of popular music’s many influences and styles.

The film is not only a unique document of Anderson’s theatrical vision and Whiteman’s band at its peak, but also of many of America’s leading performers of the late 1920s, including Bing Crosby in his first screen appearance, and the Russell Markert Dancers, who would soon become Radio City Music Hall’s famous Rockettes.

And that's not all. The film also includes the first screen appearance by the one and only Bing Crosby!

Authors James Layton and David Pierce have uncovered original artwork, studio production files, behind-the-scenes photographs, personal papers, unpublished interviews, and a host of other previously unseen documentation. The book will offer a richly illustrated narrative of the film’s origins, production and release, with broader context on its diverse musical and theatrical influences. The story will conclude with an in-depth look at the challenges Universal has faced in restoring the film in 2016, as told by the experts doing the work.

The 256-page book will be illustrated with over 200 color and black & white images, many of which will showcase the never-before-published Academy Award winning designs of Herman Rosse. Intricate behind-the-scenes stills will give insight into the scale of the film’s ambitions, while other full-color reproductions of original music arrangements, storyboards, posters, magazine ads, programs and frame enlargements will appear throughout.

The future of film history is in your hands. Find out more, watch the video below and visit the Kickstarter campaign page for this worthy project.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mae Murray Speaks on Heart Throbs of Yesterday, 1950

In one of her last screen appearances in 1950, silent film star Mae Murray discusses the famous "heart throbs" of yesterday, interviewed by Ralph Staub.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Silent Film episode of Petticoat Junction (1968)

Back on November 9, 1968 the cornball American sitcom Petticoat Junction aired an episode that was something of a love letter to the silent era. The season 6, episode 6 program, titled "Wings," starred early Hollywood actors Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen. Here is that episode.

Along with the appearance of Rogers and Arlen and a story that centers around a screening of Wings (1927), there are a handful of "shout-outs" to other films and actors of the silent era. There are also mentions of silent era stars Ken Maynard, Charlie Chase, Chester Conklin, Monte Blue, Clive Brook, Rin Tin Tin, and Rex the Wonder Horse. Three early films mentioned in the show are Tess of the Storm Country (1922), Cardboard Lover (1928), Nanook of the North (1922), and The Green Archer (1940.

The story revolves around an effort to save the local theater, the Pixley Bijou, from closing. One of the residents of Hooterville contacts Richard Arlen and Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, who were supposed to come to the Bijou 40 years earlier for a showing of Wings, but decided instead to attend a premiere at the Roxy in New York City.

Curiously, even though the story centers on a screening of Wings, one of the big stars of that film, Clara Bow, is never mentioned. There is only mention of the local "It Girl," who looks like a flapper and sports bobbed hair. Near the end of the episode, during the showing of Wings, a few brief passages from the film are shown including the scene where a young Gary Cooper enters the flier's tent. "Hey, there's Coop, Gary Cooper" character Sam Drucker says. "Shut up, I can't hear anything," Uncle Joe Carson responds. "It's a silent movie you blockhead," Drucker says.

Interestingly, the owner of the Pixley Bijou is played by Benny Rubin, who got his start in films in 1928 in a short titled Daisies Won't Yell.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Would you believe, Louise Brooks seat covers

I thought I had seen everything until I saw these Louise Brooks seat covers for sale on eBay France. Who-da thunk?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

When Knighthood Was In Flower - Marion Davies Kickstarter Campaign

You can help bring Marion Davies' breakout blockbuster hit movie WHEN KNIGHTHOOD WAS IN FLOWER (1922) to DVD/Blu-Ray!

Be part of the 'somebody' in 'why doesn't somebody put that out on DVD?' and make a pledge to Ben Model's 5th silent film Kickstarter project. Pledge at

"When Knighthood Was in Flower" (1922) on DVD/Blu-Ray

This Kickstarter will fund a project that brings Marion Davies’ breakthrough feature film “When Knighthood Was In Flower” (1922) to home-video. The release will be made using a new transfer off the sole surviving 35mm nitrate print, with a brand new theatre organ score buy Ben Model. The 2K digital scan will be made for the project by video lab at the Library of Congress, the archive where the print is stored and has been preserved. The disc release will be a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. The DVDs will be professionally authored, the box art will be created by professional graphic designer and silent era aficionado Marlene Weisman, and will be available for sale on The Kickstarter covers all production costs for DVD release; BluRay disc portion of the project is made possible through Greenbriar Picture Shows.

The Louise Brooks Society has made a pledge. How about you? Pledge at

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Masculine Women! Feminine Men!

As the other video I had planned to blog about was just recently removed, I am instead posting this one instead, as a follow-up to the previous LBS blog. Thanks to Tor Lier for pointing it out.

Six Jumping Jacks (Harry Reser's Band) voc. Tom Stacks - - Masculine Women! Feminine Men! (Edgar Leslie - James V. Monaco) Brunswick 1926

Monday, March 21, 2016

Girls Will Be Boys: Cross-Dressed Women, Lesbians, and American Cinema, 1908-1934

There is a fascinating new book from Rutgers University Press titled Girls Will Be Boys: Cross-Dressed Women, Lesbians, and American Cinema, 1908-1934, by Laura Horak.

It is a book which should appeal not only to fans of Louise Brooks, but as well the context of Brooks' career, namely the silent and early sound era. Readable and scholarly, Girls Will Be Boys is also revelatory; the appendix of early films featuring cross-dressed women is a veritable checklist of films to track down and watch. Happily, Horak provides information on where to find many of them.

In 2007, Horak, who is now an assistant professor of film studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, wrote a fine essay on Beggars of Life for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. That film is noted in the appendix. In her new book, Horak considers Pandora's Box, the 1929 Brooks film and its prominent lesbian character, Countess Geschwitz. In doing so, she cites the 2012 essay I wrote for the Silent Film Festival on the G.W. Pabst film which discusses the film's turbulent reception in the United States.

Horak's anthology, Silent Cinema and the Politics of Space (Indiana University Press, 2014), co-edited with Jennifer Bean and Anupama Kapse, won the Society of Cinema and Media Studies’ Award for Best Edited Collection of 2014.

Horak's new book has received good reviews. Publishers Weekly said "Horak has produced a meticulously researched, astutely argued, and highly readable text … her use of archival materials is impeccable and her filmic and historical analyses clearly display a nuanced understanding of her topic." I agree.

Girls Will Be Boys considers "Cowboy Girls, Girl Spies, and the Homoerotic Frontier," "Cosmopolitanism, Trousers, and Lesbians in the 1920s," and "The Lesbian Vogue and Backlash against Cross-Dressed Women in the 1930s" and other topics.

Publicity still from lost film The Amazons (1917)

The publisher's description of Girls Will Be Boys: "Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Katharine Hepburn all made lasting impressions with the cinematic cross-dressing they performed onscreen. What few modern viewers realize, however, is that these seemingly daring performances of the 1930s actually came at the tail end of a long wave of gender-bending films that included more than 400 movies featuring women dressed as men.

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."

Marlene Dietrich in Morocco (1930)
Here are a few more blurbs from early reviews:

"Drawing on the early archives of American cinema, Horak questions the assumption that cross-dressing actresses were inherently transgressive ... and provides a new lens through which to view gender, sexuality and film." (Autostraddle 15 Queer/Feminist Books To Read In Early 2016)

"Who knew how important were those girls who would be boys? Not only as signs of 'deviancy' but as ideals of red-blooded boyhood itself? This engaging, well-researched book tells more than we ever knew about the many and various reasons 'girls will be boys.'" (Linda Williams University of California, Berkeley)

"Laura Horak's Girls Will Be Boys is without peer as a historical contribution to queer scholarship on early film. It is a revisionist work that draws upon a wealth of historical research to completely overturn previous accounts." (Robert J. King, author of The Fun Factory: The Keystone Film Company and the Emergence of Mass Culture).

Here are a few related images of Brooks not discussed in Horak's book which further support its thesis. These images not only range across gender, but also class.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Lulu in New York: Pandora's Box at Film Forum

Today, Pandora's Box is considered a classic, a masterpiece of the silent era and a landmark work in the history of world cinema. Its reputation is due largely to the riveting, red hot performance given by its star, Louise Brooks, in the role of Lulu.

Few can match Brooks' intensity and erotic allure. Pauline Kael called her Lulu "The archetype of the voracious destructive women." Brooks is that, and more. In fact, she's stunning--and those who see the film for the first time often say they can't take their eyes off the actress.

Pandora's Box and its star, however, have not always enjoyed the reputation they do today. When the film first showed in New York--back in December of 1929--it received mostly negative reviews. Just about everyone, including its star, thought it stunk.

On March 19th, New Yorkers will have a chance to judge for themselves when Film Forum screens a 35mm print of Pandora's Box as part of "It Girls, Flappers, Jazz Babies & Vamps." The series showcases some of the silver screen's provocative early sex symbols.

Pandora's Box, a German-made film directed by the highly regarded G.W. Pabst, premiered in Berlin in February of 1929; reviews were mixed, even dismissive. Some months later, when Pandora's Box opened at a single theater, the 55th Street Playhouse in New York, American newspaper and magazine critics were similarly ambivalent, and sometimes hostile.

Photoplay, one of the leading fan magazines of the time, wrote "When the censors got through with this German-made picture featuring Louise Brooks, there was little left but a faint, musty odor." Billboard had a similar take, "This feature spent several weeks in the censor board's cutting room: and the result of its stay is a badly contorted drama that from beginning to end reeks with sex and vice that have been so crudely handled as not even to be spicily entertaining. Louise Brooks and Fritz Kortner are starred, with Miss Brooks supposed to be a vampire who causes the ruin of everyone she meets. How anyone could fall for la belle Brooks with the clothes she wears in this vehicle is beyond imagination."

The New York Times went further, "Miss Brooks is attractive and she moves her head and eyes at the proper moment, but whether she is endeavoring to express joy, woe, anger or satisfaction it is often difficult to decide." The critic for the New York World echoed the Times, "It does occur to me that Miss Brooks, while one of the handsomest of all the screen girls I have seen, is still one of the most eloquently terrible actresses who ever looked a camera in the eye."

The critics, it seemed, were ganging up. The New Yorker dismissed the film. As did the New York Post, who described it as "a rather dull underworld offering which makes very little sense." Film Daily thought the film "too sophisticated for any but art theater audiences." And the New York Herald Tribune said "Louise Brooks acts vivaciously but with a seeming blindness as to what it is all about."
Variety put the nail in the coffin when its opined "Better for Louise Brooks had she contented exhibiting that supple form in two-reel comedies or Paramount features. Pandora's Box, a rambling thing that doesn't help her, nevertheless proves that Miss Brooks is not a dramatic lead."

Despite such poor reviews, the film managed to draw an audience, albeit a modest art-house crowd. After the New York Sun reported Pandora's Box "has smashed the Fifty-fifth Street Playhouse's box office records," the film was held over for another two weeks.

With its New York run ended, Pandora's Box fell into an obscurity from which it would take decades to overcome. By then, sound had come in and poorly reviewed silent films from abroad were little in demand. Though exhibition records are fragmentary, the film was seldom if ever shown in the United States.

In fact, in the decades that followed, only one other screening is known to have taken place--in 1931 in New Jersey at a second-run house not above showing sensational or exploitative fare. Newspaper ads for the Little Theater in Newark warned "Adults Only," and Pandora's Box, synchronized with "thrilling" sound effects and English titles, was promoted as "The German sensation that actually reveals most of the evils of the world" offering "Raw reality! A bitter exposé of things you know but never discuss."

With its reputation in ruins, the film was little seen and little regarded, even by film curators. In 1943, Iris Barry, head of the Museum of Modern Art's film department, met with Brooks, who was then living in New York. Barry's opinion carried considerable weight (and did so for decades to come) in the film world; she told Brooks the museum would not acquire a copy of Pandora's Box for its collection, because "it had no lasting value."

Times change, and so do reputations. In the mid-1950s, Pandora's Box was rediscovered by a handful of European archivists and historians. Their enthusiasm would cross the Atlantic, and in the United States, the film was almost single-handedly championed by James Card, the founding film curator at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester. Year by year, screening by screening, a new and positive critical consensus grew around the once much maligned film.

Cut to 2006, the year which marked the Brooks' centenary. New York's Film Forum marked the occasion by screening a 35mm print of the film; remarkably, during its short run, Pandora's Box was reported to be the second highest grossing independent film in the United States.

In his acclaimed 1989 biography of Brooks, Barry Paris wrote: "A case can be made that Pandora's Box was the last of the silent films--not literally, but aesthetically. On the threshold of its premature death, the medium in Pandora achieved near perfection in form and content."

It's that "near perfection"--dark and riveting, that draws audiences time and again. Pandora's Box will be shown at Film Forum in New York (209 West Houston St. west of 6th Ave.) on Saturday, March 19 at 7:20 p.m. Steve Sterneron will accompany the film on piano.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Pandora's Box screens at Film Forum in NYC on March 19th

On Saturday, March 19th the Film Forum in New York City will screen Pandora's Box (1929), starring Louise Brooks in the role of Lulu. This screening is part of the two week series, "It Girls: Flappers, Jazz Babies and Vamps," running through March 24. It is a screening not to be missed. And what's more, it features live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner.

For more about this silent film masterpiece, visit the Louise Brooks Society filmography page devoted to Pandora's Box.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair

I recently acquired a copy of Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair, edited by Graydon Carter. What a stylish treasure chest.

First published by Penguin Press in 2014, this outstanding anthology gathers pieces from the golden age of the famous periodical--the predecessor to the magazine we find on newsstands today. (The American edition of Vanity Fair was launched by publisher Condé Nast in 1913. Under the stewardship of editor Frank Crowninshield, who assigned most of the pieces in this volume, the magazine was a literary and visual treasure of the Jazz Age and featured an incomparable slate of writers through 1936, when it was folded into Vogue as a casualty of the Great Depression. Vanity Fair was revived in 1983.)

Though there is no Louise Brooks material collected here (she was featured in the magazine back in the 1920's), there is much to recommend for anyone interested in the Roaring Twenties.

From the publisher: "In honor of the 100th anniversary of Vanity Fair magazine, Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells celebrates the publication’s astonishing early catalogue of writers, with works by Dorothy Parker, Noël Coward, P. G. Wodehouse, Jean Cocteau, Colette, Gertrude Stein, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sherwood Anderson, Robert Benchley, Langston Hughes—and many others. Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter introduces these fabulous pieces written between 1913 and 1936, when the magazine published a murderers’ row of the world’s leading literary lights.

Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells features great writers on great topics, including F. Scott Fitzgerald on what a magazine should be, Clarence Darrow on equality, D. H. Lawrence on women, e.e. cummings on Calvin Coolidge, John Maynard Keynes on the collapse in money value, Thomas Mann on how films move the human heart, Alexander Woollcott on Harpo Marx, Carl Sandburg on Charlie Chaplin, Djuna Barnes on James Joyce, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., on Joan Crawford, and Dorothy Parker on a host of topics ranging from why she hates actresses to why she hasn’t married.

These essays reflect the rich period of their creation while simultaneously addressing topics that would be recognizable in the magazine today, such as how women should navigate work and home life; our destructive fascination with the entertainment industry and with professional sports; the collapse of public faith in the financial industry; and, as Aldous Huxley asks herein, “What, Exactly, Is Modern?”

Offering readers an inebriating swig from that great cocktail shaker of the Roaring Twenties, the Jazz Age, the age of Gatsby, Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells showcases unforgettable writers in search of how to live well in a changing era."

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Let's Dance: Louise Brooks and the popular dances of her time

It is well known that Louise Brooks was a gifted dancer: she was trained in aesthetic dances, like those performed by Denishawn, and talented as well as in the popular dances of her time, like the Charleston and Black Bottom. In fact, she is thought to be the first person to dance the Charleston in London, at the popular Cafe de Paris nightclub. She did so in late 1924.

Later, in the mid-1930's, Brooks even made a living touring as a Ballroom dancer in nightclubs on the East Coast, Midwest, and South. And, in 1939, she self-published a booklet called The Fundamentals of Good Ballroom Dancing. Brooks could cut a rug.

What did the popular dances of the 1920's look like? Here are a few video clips, one vintage, the other contemporary, which give an idea of what Brooks was up to on the dance floor.

And here is a clip from Love Em and Leave Em (1926) which shows Brooks making moves on the dance floor.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

I Like New Books on Una Merkel, Helen Twelvetrees, and Sally Phipps

Recently, the New Yorker ran a long, glowing piece on My Hollywood, When Both of Us Were Young. It is a little known memoir by a largely forgotten film star, Patsy Ruth Miller (1904 - 1995). Today, she is best known as the actress who played Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), opposite Lon Chaney.

The occasion for Richard Brody's New Yorker piece was "It Girls, Flappers, Jazz Babies & Vamps," a two week, three dozen plus film series at the Film Forum in New York City. (The series continues through March 28.) Among the films being shown is Ernst Lubitsch's delightful 1926 comedy So This Is Paris, which stars Miller as the wife of a husband on the prowl.

Curious, Brody read up on the actress and came across her memoir, issued by a small publisher in 1988, more than a half-century after the actress' career came to an end. Brody was impressed. He compared the book to Louise Brooks' classic Lulu in Hollywood, adding "If Brooks writes like Fitzgerald, documenting tragedy beneath the glamour that both charmed and repelled her, Miller is more like a Dreiser of anecdotes, endowed as she was with a seeming total recall, a photographic and phonographic memory that vigorously and artlessly conjures an era and its conflicts through the accretion of surprising details and precise, incisive observations." As praise goes, that's pretty good.

Miller's My Hollywood is still in print, and today is available through BearManor Media. If you are not familiar with BearManor, they are a small press publisher specializing in popular culture and books on film, radio and television. Film International has called them an "independent maverick publishing house," while Leonard Maltin has noted their "impressive series of books for film, radio and TV aficionados." Since 2001, BearManor has done a commendable job issuing books on all manner of subjects. They, along with other specialty houses like McFarland and a handful of university presses, are helping fill-out the shelves of film history.

One newly released BearManor title worth checking out is Una Merkel: The Actress with Sassy Wit and Southern Charm, by Larry Sean Kinder. It's the first full-length biography of this quirky character actress who often played wisecracking best friends, harebrained ingénues, and cantankerous matrons.

Once hailed by D. W. Griffith as "the greatest natural actress now in pictures," Merkel (1903 - 1986) was something rare in Hollywood. According to her biographer, she was humble, self-effacing, and almost egoless, confessing not only to insecurities, but an inferiority complex as well. Never aspiring to stardom, Merkel was more interested in good parts, which meant supporting roles to some of the biggest names of her day. Memorably, Merkel got into a cat-fight with Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again (1939), and over the years supported such major stars as W.C. Fields, Harold Lloyd, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy and others.

Merkel's film career went into decline in the 1940s, but she would make a comeback as a middle-aged woman playing mothers and maiden aunts. She was Debbie Reynolds's mother in The Mating Game (1959), and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Summer and Smoke (1961), based on the Tennessee Williams play. Her final film role was opposite Elvis Presley in Spinout (1966).
Merkal was able to parlay supporting roles.into a noteworthy career that lasted more than forty years; she garnered acclaim not only in film, but also in theater, television, and radio. On stage, one early success came in 1927 in Coquette, which starred Helen Hayes. Later, Merkal won a Tony Award in 1956 for her role on Broadway in The Ponder Heart.

Una Merkel: The Actress with Sassy Wit and Southern Charm is a detailed look at the career of a memorable performer, an actress with the special distinction of having played Sam Spade's secretary in the original 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon. For these and many other reasons, Kinder's book is a fun read.

Along with indie presses like BearManor, self-published authors are also making noteworthy contributions to film history. Admittedly, some of their books are crap, but some have merit.

One of the better titles is another first-ever book on a significant early Hollywood actress, Helen Twelvetrees, Perfect Ingenue, by Cliff Aliperti. This Long Island writer and classic film buff runs a few different nostalgia websites about old Hollywood and vintage collectibles, including Immortal Ephemera, a site about unheralded films and film stars of the 1930s. (Aliperti also runs a swell sight on that likeable pre-Code cad, Warren William.)

In her heyday, Helen Twelvetrees (1908 - 1958) was a leading lady to male stars like John Barrymore, Spencer Tracy, and Maurice Chevalier. Her other early co-stars included Clark Gable, Joan Blondell, and John Wayne. Twelvetrees rose to fame in Her Man (1930). This film set the course of her screen career, and she was subsequently cast in a series of roles portraying suffering women fighting for the wrong men. Twelvetrees' ten-years in Hollywood were highlighted by starring roles in a string of pre-Code melodramas.

According to Aliperti, Twelvetrees was an "unexpectedly modern woman." Her independent attitude led to whispers of temperament, and that along with typecasting, studio realignment and a changing industry led to a loss in momentum in the actress' career. Twelvetrees made a film in Australia in 1936 before closing out her career in Hollywood in 1939. The faded star then left films for the stage.

Helen Twelvetrees, Perfect Ingenue is one-half biography, one-half critical study of Twelvetrees' thirty-two motion picture, some of them good, some bad, a few lost. Aliperti's book is recommended.
Another self-published book deserving mention is Sally Phipps: Silent Film Star by Robert L. Harned. The author is a professional research librarian based in New York City, and the son of his subject.

Before you roll your eyes, know that this scrapbook style work is more than just a vanity project or book by a child about their parent. It's a labor of love, to be sure. But it's also the first book on its subject, and an enjoyable read ripe with appealing anecdotes and images.

Sally Phipps (1911 - 1978) was a dish, one of the cutest stars of the silent era. More than just putting his mother on display, Harned sketches her fascinating story-of her upbringing in the San Francisco Bay Area (her parents knew Jack London) and start in films as the toddler in Broncho Billy and The Baby (1914). That film was shot at the Essanay Studio in nearby Niles, California, where this three-year old veteran of beautiful baby contests once sat on Charlie Chaplin's lap.

Discovered by director Frank Borzage and signed to a contract by Sol Wurtzel, Phipps worked for Fox Studios, appearing in some 20 short and feature films. There was Bertha, the Sewing Machine Girl (1926), Love Makes 'Em Wild (1927), and The Cradle Snatchers (1927), as well as a uncredited bit in F.W. Murnau's Academy Award winning Sunrise (1927). Also that year, Phipps was selected as one of 13 Wampas Baby Stars, starlets considered destined for future success. A few more films followed, including Why Sailors Go Wrong (1928).

After a contract with Howard Hughes failed to materialize, Phipps headed to New York. Her named popped up in the gossip columns, she appeared in a Broadway show, made a Vitaphone comedy short, and married and divorced one of the Gimbel department store moguls. Ever restless, she eventually left for India. Back in the United States, there was another marriage, two children (one of whom is the author), a stay in Hawaii, and ever changing fortunes. In 1938, during the depths of the Depression, columnist Earl Wilson wrote that Phipps was working for the Federal Theatre Project: he headlined his article "Wampas Ex-Baby Lives On WPA $23 - And Likes It."

About old film stars, someone once said "they had faces then." As it turns out, they also had stories to be told.

A variant of this story originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

It Girls, Flappers, Jazz Babies & Vamps

File this under not to be missed: Film Forum in New York City is about to launch "It Girls, Flappers, Jazz Babies & Vamps," a two week, thirty-one film series featuring sex symbols of the Twenties and early Thirties. Along with a 35mm presentation of Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box (with live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterneron on March 19th), the series features Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Colleen Moore, Miriam Hopkins, Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Stanwyck and others. "It Girls, Flappers, Jazz Babies & Vamps" runs Friday, March 11 through Thursday, March 24.

The festival was programmed by Bruce Goldstein, the hea dof Film Forum, and is presented in association with the Library of Congress. Here is the line-up of films.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932, Ernst Lubitsch) 35mm
Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Herbert Marshall
2:15, 5:45, 9:30

GIRLS ABOUT TOWN (1931, George Cukor) 35mm
Kay Frances, Joel McCrea, Lilyan Tashman
12:30, 4:00

MANTRAP (1926, Victor Fleming) Restored 35mm print courtesy UCLA Film & Television Archive
Clara Bow, Ernest Torrence, Percy Marmont
7:30 ONLY*
*Introduced by Clara Bow biographer David Stenn, Live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner

TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932, Ernst Lubitsch) 35mm
Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Herbert Marshall
12:30, 4:00, 9:30

GIRLS ABOUT TOWN (1931, George Cukor) 35mm
Kay Frances, Lilyan Tashman, Joel McCrea

SO THIS IS PARIS (1926, Ernst Lubitsch) 35mm print courtesy Library of Congress
Patsy Ruth Miller, Lilyan Tashman, Monte Blue, André Beranger
5:50 ONLY*
*Live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner

CALL HER SAVAGE (1932, John Francis Dillon) Restored 35mm print courtesy Museum of Modern Art
Clara Bow, Thelma Todd, Gilbert Roland
*Introduced by Bow biographer David Stenn

THE BLUE ANGEL (1929, Josef von Sternberg) 35mm. In German with English subtitles
Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings
3:10, 7:20

A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS (1928, Clarence Brown) 35mm. Silent, with original synchronized musical score
Greta Garbo, John Gilbert
1:00, 5:20

"GET INTO OUR SHORTS" co-presented by The Vitaphone Project
2:20, 6:00
Introduced by Ron Hutchinson

FOLLOW THRU (1930, Laurence Schwab & Lloyd Corrigan) 35mm print, preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive
Nancy Carroll, Zelma O'Neal, Jack Haley, Charles "Buddy" Rogers
12:30, 4:10

THE PATSY (1928, King Vidor) 35mm print courtesy Library of Congress
Marion Davies, Marie Dressler, Lawrence Gray
8:10 ONLY*
*Live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner

THE BARKER (1928, George Fitzmaurice) 35mm print courtesy UCLA Film & Television Archive
Dorothy Mackaill, Betty Compson, Milton Sills
12:30, 3:35, 6:40

SAFE IN HELL (1931, William Wellman) 35mm print courtesy Library of Congress
Dorothy Mackaill, Donald Cook
2:10, 5:15, 8:20*
*Introduced by David Noh

OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS (1928, Harry Beaumont) 35mm. Silent, with original musical soundtrack
Joan Crawford, Dorothy Sebastian, Anita Page, Johnny Mack Brown
2:45, 6:45

MADAM SATAN (1930, Cecil B. DeMille) 35mm
Kay Johnson, Lillian Roth, Reginald Denny
12:30, 4:30, 9:00

6:45 (precedes Our Dancing Daughters)
Introduced by Casey LaLonde

POSSESSED (1931, Clarence Brown) 35mm
Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Wallace Ford
12:30, 3:45, 7:00

OUR MODERN MAIDENS (1929, Jack Conway) 35mm. Silent, with music score
Joan Crawford, Rod La Rocque, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
2:10, 5:20, 9:15

7:00 (precedes Possessed)
Introduced by Casey LaLonde

BLONDE VENUS (1932, Josef von Sternberg) 35mm
Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Herbert Marshall
12:30, 4:10, 9:30

SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932, Josef von Sternberg) 35mm
Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, Clive Brook
2:30, 7:50

IT (1927, Clarence Badger) 35mm
Clara Bow, Antonio Moreno, Gary Cooper
6:10 ONLY*
*Live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner

BABY FACE (1933, Alfred E. Green) 35mm print courtesy Library of Congress
Barbara Stanwyck, Theresa Harris, George Brent
2:20*, 5:45*, 9:50
*Introduced by Bruce Goldstein

RED-HEADED WOMAN (1932, Jack Conway) 35mm
Jean Harlow, Chester Morris, Lewis Stone
12:30, 4:00

PANDORA'S BOX (1929, G.W. Pabst) 35mm
Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Francs Lederer
7:20 ONLY*
*Live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933, Mervyn LeRoy) 35mm print courtesy Library of Congress
Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, Warren William, Ruby Keller, Dick Powell
3:20, 7:30

DAMES (1934, Ray Enright) 35mm print courtesy Library of Congress
Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick, Powell
1:30, 9:30

PICCADILLY (1929, E.A. Dupont) 35mm
Anna May Wong, Gilda Gray, Cyril Ritchard
5:20 ONLY*
*Live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner

CHICAGO (1927, Frank Urson & Cecil B. DeMille) DCP
Phyllis Haver, Victor Varconi
2:20, 6:30*
*Live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner at 6:30 show (Soundtrack at 2:20)

WHY BE GOOD? (1929, William A. Seiter) DCP.
Silent with original musical score.
Colleen Moore, Neil Hamilton
12:30, 4:40, 8:50

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933, Mervyn LeRoy) 35mm print courtesy Library of Congress
Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, Warren William, Ruby Keller, Dick Powell

DAMES (1934, Ray Enright) 35mm print courtesy Library of Congress
Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell
12:30, 4:20

SYNTHETIC SIN (1929, William A. Seiter) DCP
Colleen Moore, Antonio Moreno
6:15 ONLY*
*Live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner - with original Vitaphone soundtrack for final reel only. Introduced by Joseph Yranski.

CHICAGO (1927, Frank Urson & Cecil B. DeMille) DCP
Phyllis Haver, Victor Varconi

WHY BE GOOD? (1929, William A. Seiter) DCP.
Silent with original musical score
Colleen Moore, Neil Hamilton
12:30, 4:40

SADIE THOMPSON (1928, Raoul Walsh) 35mm
Gloria Swanson, Lionel Barrymore
6:30 ONLY*
*Live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner

CALL HER SAVAGE (1932, John Francis Dillon) Restored 35mm print courtesy Museum of Modern Art
Clara Bow, Glibert Roland

LOOSE ANKLES (1930, Ted Wilde) 35mm print courtesy Library of Congress
Loretta Young, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
12:30, 3:20, 7:40*
*Introduced by Mike Mashon of the Library of Congress

EMPLOYEE'S ENTRANCE (1933, Roy Del Ruth) 35mm print courtesy Library of Congress
Loretta Young, Warren William, Alice White, Wallace Ford
1:50*, 4:40, 9:00*
*Introduced by Bruce Goldstein

GET YOUR MAN & Silk Lingerie (1927, Dorothy Arzner) 35mm prints courtesy Library of Congress
Clara Bow, Charles "Buddy" Rogers
6:10 ONLY*
*Live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner. Introduced by Mike Mashon of the Library of Congress

Monday, March 7, 2016

Beggars of Life - Three recordings of the popular theme song to the 1928 Louise Brooks film

And here is what that recording sounded like..... Yesterday's post, depicting an early UK newspaper advertisement for "Beggars of Life" by the Troubadours, promoted only the most popular recording of the song. There exists at least three others, and perhaps more. One other was by Scrappy Lambert, a popular vocalist of the time. And another was by Seger Ellis. And yet another was by the Bar Harbor Society Orchestra, which featured the great Ben Selvin.

"Beggars of Life," by The Troubadours.

"Beggars of Life," by Scrappy Lambert.

"Beggars of Life," by the Bar Harbor Society Orchestra (featuring Ben Selvin) with vocal by Irving Kaufman.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

In honor of the Dodge Brothers live musical accompaniment to Beggars of Life

In honor of the Dodge Brothers live musical accompaniment to the William Wellman film, Beggars of Life (1928, starring Louise Brooks) at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England on March 7. . . . here is a few related clipping from the English press dating from the late 1920s.  This particular advertisement for a recording of the Beggars of Life theme song, as performed by The Troubadours, appeared in the Yorkshire newspaper in January, 1929.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Louise Brooks and Gary Cooper, what might have been

Here is an uncommon publicity picture of some of Paramount's junior stars. I would guess it dates from later 1927, or early 1928. A smiling Louise Brooks sits in the middle of the picture, on the far left of the bench. And to her left is none other than Gary Cooper, who early on was considered for a role in Beggars of Life (which would co-star Brooks). I would guess Cooper was considered for the role that eventually went to Richard Arlen.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Beggars of Life screens in the UK on March 7

The sensational 1928 William Wellman film, Beggars of Life, starring Louise Brooks, will be shown at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England on March 7. The Dodge Brothers will provide live musical accompaniment. More info and a link to tickets HERE.

"Experience classic silent films with world class live music accompaniment in the Royal Albert Hall’s intimate Elgar Room. The Elgar Room’s silent films live music series continues with a special screening of the Louise Brooks classic Beggars of Life with live music accompaniment from The Dodge Brothers. The Dodge Brothers are an Americana-drenched quartet comprising:

Aly ‘‘Dodge’ Hirji (acoustic guitar, mandolin)

Mike ‘Dodge’ Hammond (lead guitar, lead vocals, banjo, dobro)

Mark ‘Dodge’ Kermode (double bass, harmonica, ukulele, accordion, vocals)

Alex ‘Dodge’ Hammond (washboard, snare drum, percussion)

and featuring special guest Neil Brand (piano).

"Their motto, ‘death and trains a speciality’, has never been more appropriate than to William Wellman’s legendary 1928 film Beggars of Life, a tale of depression-era, rail-riding hobos played by the iconic Louise Brooks, Richard Arlen and the great Wallace Beery." Bryony Dixon, curator of silent film at the British Film Institute, said "Never has a film and a band been more perfectly matched than Beggars of Life and the Dodge Brothers – deep dish Americana, rail-riding hoboes and Louise Brooks – they were made for each other."

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Tone poem: "Louise Brooks et l'amour" by Roland Jaccard

Tone poem: from 2013, "Louise Brooks et l'amour" by Roland Jaccard, a French author responsible for the first ever book about the actress, Louise Brooks: Portrait of an Anti-Star.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Louise Brooks and New Confessions, by William Boyd

Another novel which features the iconic image of a dreaming Louise Brooks sitting in a chair with books scattered on the floor about her is William Boyd's The New Confessions. First published in 1987, the edition pictured here was issued by Penguin in the UK in 2010.

According to the publisher, "In this extraordinary novel, William Boyd presents the autobiography of John James Todd, whose uncanny and exhilarating life as one of the most unappreciated geniuses of the twentieth century is equal parts Laurence Stern, Charles Dickens, Robertson Davies, and Saul Bellow, and a hundred percent William Boyd.

From his birth in 1899, Todd was doomed. Emerging from his angst-filled childhood, he rushes into the throes of the twentieth century on the Western Front during the Great War, and quickly changes his role on the battlefield from cannon fodder to cameraman. When he becomes a prisoner of war, he discovers Rousseau's Confessions, and dedicates his life to bringing the memoir to the silver screen. Plagued by bad luck and blind ambition, Todd becomes a celebrated London upstart, a Weimar luminary, and finally a disgruntled director of cowboy movies and the eleventh member of the Hollywood Ten. Ambitious and entertaining, Boyd has invented a most irresistible hero."

I haven't yet read this book, but according to a friend as well as various reviewers, a Louise Brooks-like character also figures in the story. Have you read this book?

William Boyd is the author of ten novels, including A Good Man in Africa, winner of the Whitbread Award and the Somerset Maugham Award; An Ice-Cream War, winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Brazzaville Beach, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; Any Human Heart, winner of the Prix Jean Monnet; and Restless, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year.
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