Saturday, December 3, 2016

Best Film Books of 2016 part 1

It’s been a surprisingly good year for film books. Whether you are into biographies, film history, pictorials, “making of” books, or critical studies, there was something for just about everyone. This year’s list may top last year’s, which was also bountiful. As a matter of fact, there were so many worthwhile books in 2016 that I was forced to split this article into two pieces. In the coming days, I will post another article with just as many recommendations, if not more.

A House Divided

With Newt Gingrich’s call for a new House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), there may be no relevant book than Hollywood Divided: The 1950 Screen Directors Guild Meeting and the Impact of the Blacklist (University Press of Kentucky) by Kevin Brianton.

This new title centers on a now legendary meeting held by the Screen Directors Guild in 1950 (at the height of the anti-communist “Red Scare”) to consider the adoption of an industry loyalty oath. Among those present at the meeting were some of the biggest names in Hollywood―Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford, John Huston, Frank Capra, William Wyler, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, George Stevens, Fritz Lang, and Rouben Mamoulian, among others. The background to that meeting, its effect on the film industry, who was conservative, who was liberal, and the way the meeting had been depicted in the press is at the heart of this fascinating and provocative new book.

Film is Dead, Long Live the Movies

A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies (University Press of Mississippi) by Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph is a candid exploration of a now vanishing subculture. Drawn largely from interviews with their subjects, this intriguing work tells the stories of little known and famous collectors alike. There’s a young Leonard Maltin attending private screenings of rare films in NYC—alongside Susan Sontag, TCM host Robert Osborne discussing Rock Hudson’s secret film vault, and Academy Award–honoree Kevin Brownlow recounting his decades-long quest to restore the 1927 Napoleon. At the center of many of the stories found in A Thousand Cuts was the FBI’s and Justice Department’s campaign to harass, intimidate, and arrest film dealers and collectors in the early 1970s. Among the victims was Planet of the Apes star Roddy McDowall, who was arrested in 1974 and was forced to name names of other collectors. Highly recommended.

Also released this year are two not unrelated books, A Light Affliction: a History of Film Preservation and Restoration ( by Michael Binder, and In Search of Lost Films (BearManor Media) by Phil Hall. The latter work looks at the surprising number of important films believed to be lost, dating from the silent era to the 1970s, by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Vincente Minnelli, Stanley Kubrick, and others. Read ‘em and weep. Read ‘em and weep.


Just recently, and at last, Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927) has been released on DVD and Blu-ray. Digitally restored by the BFI National Archive and Academy Award-winning film historian Kevin Brownlow, this multi-disc set features a complete 2K restoration of a five-and-a-half-hour version of the film, Carl Davis’ electrifying, monumental score, a feature-length commentary, documentaries, an illustrated 60-page book, and more. It’s dizzying, and brilliant.

The story behind this legendary epic film—and oh what a story it is—is told in A Revolution for the Screen: Abel Gance's Napoleon (Amsterdam University Press) by Paul Cuff, one of the contributors to the above mentioned BFI release.

The Purple Diaries

Mary Astor was one of the biggest film stars of the 1930s and 1940s. Her career peaked in 1941, the year she co-starred alongside Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Great Lie. That was five years after a scandal nearly ruined her.

In 1936, Astor’s second husband began a custody battle over their four-year-old daughter. He threatened to introduce the actress’ diary in the proceedings, which detailed her affairs with celebrities, including the celebrated playwright, theater director and producer George S. Kaufman. The diary was never formally offered as evidence, but Astor’s ex-husband and his lawyers constantly referred to it, and its notoriety grew. Everyone wondered who and what was in it? With the support of the Astor family, including access to the photographs and memorabilia of Astor’s estate, The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s (Diversion Publishing) by Joseph Egan gives a detailed account of the custody battle that, for a time, pushed the Spanish Civil War and Hitler’s Olympic Games off the front pages of America.

A different, after the fact, but no less entertaining take on these events can be found in Mary Astor's Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936 (Liveright) by Edward Sorel. Here, the famed illustrator and cartoonist recounts his own lifelong obsession with the sensational trial, which for Sorel began in 1965 when he began pulling up the linoleum of his kitchen floor apartment and discovered a hidden treasure—issues of the New York Daily News and Daily Mirror from 1936 reporting on scandalous events taking place in Hollywood. Sorel’s book features more than sixty original illustrations.

Everything Orson Welles

Few directors or actors are truly worthy of more than one well done biography, let alone a multi-volume work. Orson Welles is one of those exceptions. In Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band (Viking), the third volume in his epic four-volume survey of Welles’s life and work, the celebrated British actor and writer Simon Callow details one of the most complex artists of the twentieth century, whose glorious triumphs and occasional spectacular failures in film, radio, theater, and television were each marked an individual and wholly original voice. This third volume begins with Welles’ self-exile from America, and his realization that he could function only to his own satisfaction as an independent film maker, a so-called “one-man band.”

Also out this year is Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker's Journey (Thomas Dunne Books) by Harlan Lebo, a study of a singular film masterpiece―of how it was created and how it was almost destroyed.

Everything Alfred Hitchcock

Decades after his last motion picture, Alfred Hitchcock is still regarded by both critics and fans as one of the great filmmakers. His long career ran from the silent era through 1976, the year of his final feature. The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia (Rowman & Littlefield) by Stephen Whitty covers it all―the influences, the early British silent films, the later thrillers, the American television shows, the actors, screenwriters, collaborators, themes, and even the cameos. At 548 pages, it is an impressive work, something one can dip into time and again.

Also out, from the acclaimed literary biographer Peter Ackroyd, comes the curiously titled Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life (Nan A. Talese). At nearly 300 pages, this biography is anything but a gloss on one of the more convoluted directors in film history; but then, Hitch deserves at least three times that number of pages,  so perhaps this is a brief biography after all. Just as the director did in his own films, a handful of iconic film stars make cameo appearances in this book: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, and James Stewart despair of Hitchcock’s detached directing style and, most famously of all, Tippi Hedren endures the cuts and bruises of a real-life flock of birds.

Speaking of Tippi Hedren, the actress has penned Tippi: A Memoir (William Morrow), which looks back at her film career and work as an animal rights activist. There are cameo appearances here as well, including Hedren’s daughter, actress Melanie Griffith, and granddaughter, actress Dakota Johnson.

Everything Laurel & Hardy

Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies (Bonaventure Press) by Randy Skretvedt is a detailed account of how the beloved comedy team made their many classic films. At 632 pages (and with 1,000 photographs, many of them rare), this 8.5” by 11” hardcover work stands as one of the most comprehensive books ever issued on any actor or team of actors.

Also out this year is Laurel and Hardy: The Lobby Cards: A Color Collection (CreateSpace) by I. Joseph Hyatt.

King of Jazz

King of Jazz: Paul Whiteman's Technicolor Revue (Media History Press) by James Layton and David Pierce, with a foreword by Michael Feinstein, tells the story of the making, release, and restoration of Universal's 1930 Technicolor musical extravaganza. Arguably, 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 unleashed its purse strings to bring together Paul Whiteman, leader of the country's top dance orchestra, John Murray Anderson, director of spectacular Broadway revues, and an elite ensemble of dancers and singers including Bing Crosby in his first screen appearance. And what’s more, it was done  in glorious new Technicolor. King of Jazz is an impressive film—especially seen on the big screen, and so is this sumptuous book, a kind of coda to the author’s remarkable 2015 title, The Dawn of Technicolor: 1915–1935.

For those who want to delve deeper into the genre, also out this year is Unsung Hollywood Musicals of the Golden Era: 50 Overlooked Films and Their Stars, 1929-1939 (McFarland) by Edwin M Bradley.

The Marx Brothers

One of the finest books of the year is Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage (Northwestern University Press) by Robert S. Bader, a recognized authority on the famed band of brothers. Thoroughly researched and highly readable, this 500+ page book tells the story of the foursome’s hardscrabble early years honing their act in front of live audiences. Beginning with Groucho’s debut in 1905, Bader traces the origins of the characters and situations that would later come to be beloved by film goers around the world. In doing so, Bader vividly sketches the world of 1920’s vaudeville as the comedy act was on the brink of fame.

There have been many books on the Marx Brothers. Bader’s book is one of the best. As Dick Cavett said, “Who would have dreamed that there could be much, much more to learn in still another book about the Marx Brothers? Not I. And yet, Robert Bader—focusing on the under-researched vaudeville days of the hilarious siblings—has gone where no man went before, discovering a treasure trove of Marxiana to delight the hearts and minds of those of us who can never get enough.”

Also recently released are two related titles, Gimme a Thrill: The Story of I'll Say She Is, The Lost Marx Brothers Musical, and How It Was Found (BearManor Media) by Noah Diamond, and That's Me, Groucho! The Solo Career of Groucho Marx (McFarland) by Matthew Coniam. Each are worth checking out.

Two from Academia

These two titles, both published by university presses, are each groundbreaking works which impress not only with the amount of research that has gone into them, but also for their rich detail and readability.

Girls Will Be Boys: Cross-Dressed Women, Lesbians, and American Cinema, 1908-1934 (Rutgers University Press) by Laura Horak examines the history of gender-bending female characters in films from the early 20th century. What’s surprising is that there were hundreds of such films, and that some of them included stars we know today, like Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, and Katharine Hepburn.

Menus for Movieland: Newspapers and the Emergence of American Film Culture, 1913–1916 (University of California Press) by Richard Abel explores the way one traditional medium aided another then new medium. Abel offers a richly textured view of early film stardom, early film criticism, advertising campaigns, and even fan activities on both the local and national level. Published late last year, this fascinating book is a fascinating read.

In Memoriam
Though it came out late last year and went largely unnoticed, Monty Banks 1920-1924 Filmography (CreateSpace) by Robert S. Birchard with Rob Farr, Robert James Kiss, Steve Massa, Karl Thiede and the great Sam Gill well is worth noting. This slim, self-published volume surveys the career of an underappreciated early comedian and film director. It is also the last book by Birchard, a much admired film historian, film editor, and Cinecon president who passed away earlier this year. Robert Birchard is dead. Long live his many works.

There are many more titles that could have been included in this piece. So many in fact that another piece will follow in a few days. So, don’t touch that dial. And stay tuned for “More Best Films Books of 2016.”

a variant of this piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Today / tomorrow save 25% off Louise Brooks edition of DIARY OF A LOST GIRL

Attention Louise Brooks fans everywhere! The Louise Brooks Society and are having a sale. Through December 2 save 25% off the cover price of the Louise Brooks edition of DIARY OF A LOST GIRL using the promo code 1STDAY25 

Visit to take advantage of this special offer.

The 1929 Louise Brooks film, DIARY OF A LOST GIRL, is based on a controversial book first published in Germany in 1905. Though little known today, it was a sensation at the beginning of the 20th Century. Was it – as many believed – the real-life diary of a young woman forced by circumstance into a life of prostitution? Or a sensational and clever fake, one of the first novels of its kind? This bestselling work inspired a sequel, a parody, a play, a score of imitators, and two silent films. It was also translated into 14 languages, and sold more than 1,200,000 copies – a remarkable number then and now.

This new edition of the original English language translation brings this important work back into print in the United States after more than 100 years. It includes an introduction by Thomas Gladysz, Director of the Louise Brooks Society, detailing the book's remarkable history and relationship to the 1929 silent film. This special "Louise Brooks Edition" also includes three dozen vintage illustrations. More at


"Most certainly a book for all you Louise Brooks fans out there! And silent cinema fans as well." – Bristol Silents (UK)

"In today’s parlance this would be called a 'movie tie-in edition,' but that seems a rather glib way to describe yet another privately published work that reveals an enormous amount of research — and passion." – Leonard Maltin, Movie Crazy

"You've done a beautiful thing." – Barry Paris, author of Louise Brooks

"Read today, it's a fascinating time-trip back to another age, and yet remains compelling." – Jack Garner, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

"It was such a pleasure to come upon your well documented and beautifully presented edition." – Elizabeth Boa, University of Nottingham (UK)

"Long relegated to the shadows, Margarete Böhme's 1905 novel, The Diary of a Lost Girl has at last made a triumphant return. In reissuing the rare 1907 English translation of Böhme's German text, Thomas Gladysz makes an important contribution to film history, literature, and, in as much as Böhme told her tale with much detail and background contemporary to the day, sociology and history. This reissue is long overdue, and in all ways it is a volume of uncommon merit." – Richard Buller, author of A Beautiful Fairy Tale: The Life of Actress Lois Moran

"An amazing forward that chronicles the history of Margarete Bohme's book ... a must for any silent film fan." --

"Historian Thomas Gladysz has done the silent film community an interesting service: He has made available the original English translation of Margaret Bohme's novel, The Diary of a Lost Girl. To fans of the beautiful actress Louise Brooks, this is a significant contribution indeed. What makes this new book so appealing is the way in which Mr. Gladysz has presented the vintage material. Featuring a scholarly introduction and numerous, wonderfully reproduced stills and rare advertisements, it is a pleasure to behold. It is also obviously a labor of love." – Lon Davis, author of Silent Lives


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Beggars of Life & Locomotive 102

Philip Vorwald's guest blog concerns the 1928 Louise Brooks film Beggars of Life and it's unlikely star Locomotive 102.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A new song tribute to Louise Brooks

Here is a new song tribute to Louise Brooks, by Champ Clark, as performed by Warren Davis. To my untrained ears, this has a bit of Leonard Cohen and a bit of Tom Waits about it, though more tenderly tender. I like it.

This track is one of a number from the Picture Show: The Dustbowl Carnival Songs of Champ Clark as Reimagined by His Friends album (link to iTunes). Among the other tracks is "Buster Keaton's Blues," "The Crooner," and "The Boyish Bob and the Drugstore Cowboy."

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Marion Davies Kickstarter for Beauty's Worth

I adore Marion Davies. Don't you? I must admit, Show People is one of my favorite silent films (along with each of Louise Brooks' silent films, of course).

Here is another worthwhile Kickstarter project: to buy, edit, and score the 1922 Marion Davies' film, Beauty's Worth, and get it back into circulation. I have contributed to past campaigns for reviving rare Davies films, and would like to encourage everyone to do so. And, knowing how much Brooks loved watching old films and appreciated knowing Davies ever so long ago, I think she would have donated to this project. Don't you?

This project is to fund the purchase of a 35MM print of Beauty's Worth (1922) from the Library of Congress, edit the film, and add a professional music score. The film is in the public domain and is one of hundreds of silent films preserved in archives or in private collections, unseen by the vast majority of film buffs and historians. More information HERE.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies

Did you know that Laurel & Hardy are pictured on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, and that Paul McCartney gave Oliver Hardy a shout-out on his hit single, “Junior’s Farm.”  What’s more, actor Mark Hamill (of Star Wars fame) is a passionate and knowledgeable Laurel & Hardy buff, and so is John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, who wrote about the comedians in his autobiography. And so was the singer / songwriter Harry Nilsson, whose lyrics referenced the duo. Famed critic Kenneth Tynan thought they influenced Samuel Beckett.

Among other prominent fans were Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy. The late President once sent Stan Laurel an autographed photograph; Laurel hadn't asked for it, it "just came in the mail one day." Other devotees include Dick Cavett, Marcel Marceau, Peter Sellers, and Johnny Carson—each of whom visited Laurel late in his life. Add to this roster the singer and pianist Michael Feinstein, comedians Jerry Lewis and Ricky Gervais, and the legendary Dick Van Dyke. There are others. In fact, famous or not, Laurel and Hardy fans are legion.

There is an international Laurel & Hardy society called the Sons of the Desert (the name is taken from one of their films) which is devoted to keeping Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy before the public, and to have a good time doing it. At last count, there are some 100 chapters of the Sons of the Desert all around the world, with many members in each chapter.

One of Laurel & Hardy’s most devoted fans / buff / scholar is entertainment historian Randy Skretvedt, author of the recently published Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies (Bonaventure Press). This detailed account of how the beloved comedy team made their many classic films is also an impressive 632 page, 8.5” by 11” hardcover work which stands as one of the most comprehensive books ever issued on any actor or team. And by the way, it’s about 1.5” thick and weighs nearly six pounds.

When Skretvedt’s book was first published in 1987, it was hailed by Kirkus Reviews as the “best book on Laurel and Hardy ever assembled,” and by the New York Times as “exhaustively researched.” But as someone once said, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Over the last 20-plus years, Skretvedt has worked hard to compile an “ultimate edition” of this labor of love, with twice the text and four times as many photos. With this new edition, he has succeeded, brilliantly.

The text of this new edition is based on interviews done in the 1970s and early 1980s with 65 of Laurel & Hardy's associates (including legendary producer Hal Roach), as well as scripts, studio files, and vintage newspaper and magazine clippings. The amount of detail is impressive. There is full cast and credit information for each film, details about the locations where the team filmed many of their most famous scenes, along with detailed accounts of unused scenes culled from original scripts.

There is also a who’s who of regular supporting players such as Mae Busch, Edgar Kennedy, and Thelma Todd, collaborators like Harry Langdon, and directors such as Clyde Bruckman, Leo McCarey, Malcolm St. Clair (The Show-Off and The Canary Murder Case), and George Stevens. And, there is information on the Laurel & Hardy films which are still missing, as well as a section about the short subjects created for TV (where many of us, no doubt, first encountered this unlikely pair).

Most impressively, there are now 1,000 photographs in this wholly revised and greatly expanded new edition of Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies. Close to 800 of the images are new, among them many never-before-published, including one-of-a-kind pictures from Oliver Hardy’s personal collection.

The joy in reading this book is found in the often surprising detail. Like the fact that sultry Jean Harlow had a small role in the Laurel & Hardy short Double Whoopee (1929) as well as two other films early in her career. And so did Peter Cushing, who had a role in A Chump at Oxford (1939) well before becoming a star in the Hammer horror films. Others who appeared in the comedy team’s 107 films (that’s 32 short silent films, 40 short sound films, 23 full-length feature films, and 12 guest or cameo appearances) include everyone from cross-eyed actor Ben Turpin to the Mexican spitfire Lupe Vélez.

And did you know that Fay Lanphier, the 1925 Miss America who was named the 1926 Queen of the Tournament of Roses Parade (the only person to hold both titles simultaneously) appeared in only one other film besides The American Venus (1926), the Laurel & Hardy short, Flying Elephants (1927)? The delight is in the details.

Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies also pays special attention to the music behind the movies, with comprehensive information on the musical scores of each film, including the titles of all cues and names of composers. For example, the duo's famous signature tune, known variously as “The Cuckoo Song” or "The Dance of the Cuckoos," was composed by Hal Roach musical director Marvin Hatley as the on-the-hour chime for the Roach studio radio station. As noted in Skretvedt’s book, Laurel heard the tune, and asked if they could use it as their theme song. And the rest, as they say, is musical history. Until… a compilation of music from their films, titled Trail of the Lonesome Pine, was released in 1975. It's title track was released as a single in the UK and reached #2 in the charts.

This edition, Skretvedt thinks, is the third and last. Aside from some minor corrections in a future soft cover edition, Skretvedt feels he has done as much as he can on the subject. As Oliver Hardy once said in a film, "A task slowly done is surely done." Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies, which blends fandom with scholarship, is a surely done, monumental achievement. If you love Stan and Ollie, this is it.

A variant of this piece first appeared in the Huffington Post

Friday, November 25, 2016

Louise Brooks Society wishlist

In case you are wondering, or even worried, what you might give the Louise Brooks Society this holiday season, wonder or worry no more.

The Louise Brooks Society has created a wish list on which can be found HERE. It contains a handful of books, compact discs, and DVDs of interest to the LBS.

And what's more, RadioLulu also has a wish list made up of CDs and digital music which the LBS is interested in obtaining for possible inclusion on it's streaming music station. The RadioLulu wish list can be found HERE.