Digging The Library
MovieMan0283 of The Dancing Image invited me to participate in a selection of movie books that made lasting impressions. To avoid burdening readers with hundreds of picks, I’m limiting myself to a bunch from formative years when the following got read a lot more than books my teachers issued in schoolrooms …
There were years when movies weren’t important enough for there to be much written about them. You’d go into stores during the mid-sixties and find next to nothing on the subject. There certainly wasn’t a shelf devoted to entertainment categories. Maybe that was symptomatic of living in North Carolina. Our closest bookstores were a couple in Winston-Salem where stationary and gifts commanded equal space and lady clerks all but sneered if you asked after film related stuff. There’d be one copy of whatever they did have and experience taught me it probably wouldn’t be there for our next trip down. Urgency thus attached to getting ones I wanted, being a now or never proposition with the never part referring to my always lack of funds (how often would you have six or eight dollars in your pocket at age 12?). Books cost real money as opposed to four bits you’d spend on Famous Monsters or less for comic books. What follows are some I managed and treasure most to this day. A few earned service stripes for being cut up and bent over years of supplying images at basement and campus shows. Despite acquiring cleaner copies later, I cling to these wrecked survivors and figure someday we’ll retreat together to whatever home for the aged awaits us.
THE MOVIES by Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer: This was my first, originally published in 1957, but remaindered and republished by others in near-perpetuity since. I’ve just now flipped open my copy and there’s an account of John Gilbert and His White Voice. There’s also a story in pictures from The Public Enemy along with many others I longed to see from looking at this book’s fabulous images. Sometimes The Movies went to school with me. Once we put on eighth grade assembly and used it to organize a skit about the silent era. Griffith and Mayer’s is still a great basic primer and there’s nothing since better illustrated.
CLASSICS OF THE SILENT SCREEN by Joe Franklin (but really Bill Everson): When I met Bill in 1976 (like meeting a star!), he revealed authorship of this book which I’d suspected was his based on unmistakably Eversonian wit and erudition throughout. I carried it down to Wake Forest the night they showed Sherlock Jr. with The Barber Shop and Double Whoopee in 1968 (Bill had chosen Sherlock as one of fifty great silents). Both the book and that evening spun me toward collecting 8mm other than Castle monsters.
AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE HORROR FILM by Carlos Clarens: This is most everybody’s choice that grew up when I did. That $6.95 tag was a killer though. I promised to mow grass into adulthood if only my mother would get it for me. Bless her heart, she did. It was hard to believe someone had written a serious book on horror movies. There was also a photo of Lionel Atwill unmasked in Mystery Of The Wax Museum that flipped me right out and Clarens’appreciation of Val Lewton would turn my ignition on whatever of his films I could locate around local TV.
RELATED WEIRD LITTLE MONSTER BOOKS:
SON OF FAMOUS MONSTERS Compiled by Forrest J Ackerman: Just reprints from old FM’s, but ones I’d missed, so it was all fresh, and what a novelty to have my favorite mag in pocket format. This came out when kids were really goofy over monsters and would buy anything Warren published. For some reason I tore the back cover off mine, but that’s OK because I doubt if it’s so much a collector’s item today.
MONSTERS, MAIDENS, AND MAYHEM by Brad Steiger: A probably cynical cashing in on the mid-sixties craze, but Merit Books got my sixty cents, and based on well-worn binding, I must have perused it plenty. Not bad text as it currently reads, and such an obscure book as to have turned up seldom since. I wonder how much distribution it had back in 1965.
THE PARADE’S GONE BY by Kevin Brownlow: A new generation of silent film enthusiasts was born when this was published in 1968. Sounds weird I know, but the smell of its pages intoxicates me still. Silent era imagery never looked so good as when published against these black backgrounded pages. Greenbriar’s own format was/is inspired by Brownlow’s magical layouts. So expensive (at $13.95) I had to wait till Christmas that year to get it.
THE REAL TINSEL by Bernard Rosenberg and Harry Silverstein: This was sort of a road company The Parade’s Gone By, with its authors profiling folks who’d seldom if ever been approached by historians and sitting for what were in many cases a final interview. Sol Lesser, Adolph Zukor, Gil Perkins, Douglas Shearer, Max Steiner and many more are here. A great collection I’ve gone back and enjoyed often.
THE FILMS OF LAUREL AND HARDY by William K. Everson: I could have done this list quicker including ten of Bill’s books, as all were growing up companions and remain all-time favorites, but this one I’ll single out for having accompanied my every Saturday morning of L&H watching on distant channels sometimes barely receivable. Everson was also my guide for Blackhawk 8mm purchases.
KEATON by Rudi Blesh: Buster’s career ups and downs as told to Blesh and endorsed by Keaton shortly before his death. I nearly got hit by a car at a Winston-Salem crosswalk in 1968 thanks to distraction reading this just acquired book from Hinkle’s (a store long since shuttered).
THE SILENT CLOWNS by Walter Kerr: The classic comedians volume that got it all together arrived in 1975. Mighty prestigious having a critic of Walter Kerr’s stature addressing himself to slapstick matters, and presentation was appropriately lavish. Kerr’s judgments have been questioned since, but this is still a mightily impressive work filled with wondrous insights.
THE COMPLETE WEDDING MARCH OF ERICH VON STROHEIM by Herman G. Weinberg: This author was brilliant and a hound for Von Stroheim besides. He reconstructed this and Greed in a couple of massive tomes that must have piled up unsold by scores in warehouses later. My Wedding March cost $2.99 at a Walden Books bargain table back in 1977. I should have grabbed all fifteen copies they’d tossed there. Chock full of photo leavings from yet another mutilated EvS epic, and entirely worthy of its subject.
THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE by Various Authors: The AFI published this in 1972 to show off projects they’d done since formation. I learned much from its panel of experts and was and am still dazzled by the variety of topics and titles covered. Still very much worth searching out.
REDISCOVERING THE AMERICAN CINEMA from Films, Inc.: The first rental catalogue I recall to lend major academic cache to Hollywood oldies. Contributors here made many a silk purse out of varied pig’s ears. Still fun to read and a valuable record of a turning point in recognition for studio output too long neglected. I sought rental catalogues during the seventies like bubble gum cards, and this was by far my favorite.
WHATEVER BECAME OF …? By Richard Lamparski: The author’s Brownie shot photos of long retired stars were often fuzzy and not a little creepy, but who else then was looking up these old-timers? There were scads of books in this series. I’m probably still missing several, but ones I have remain hypnotic. Lamparski should write a new (very thick) update about what these people were really like. Bet there’d be eye-opening stuff there.
KINGS OF THE "B’s" by Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn: So loaded with great stuff as to keep one reading for days. Filled with interviews I wish were twice as long. I’m liable to put aside this post and luxuriate in it the rest of tonight. Sam Arkoff, Steve Broidy, and Edgar Ulmer speak! This book is still as much a must as ever it was. Find one and be enraptured.
MOTHER GODDAMN by Whitney Stine with Bette Davis: Was this the first time a major star teamed with a historian to review an entire career in films? I ate this up in 1974. Davis lays everything on the line and suffers no fools who’d crossed her path. Seriously great history and amazing ongoing commentary here. Why couldn’t other legends have done this? (answer --- they didn’t have her nerve).
THEY WENT THATAWAY by James Horwitz: A sort of hipster front-row kid takes a sometimes-jaded walk down memory lane in search of past cowboy heroes. Then and now I found his attitude fresh and way off beaten paths of mindless nostalgia wallowing. Like a latter-day Lamparski, I’ve often wondered whatever happened to James Horwitz.
THE FILMING OF THE WEST by Jon Tuska: Boy, this Tuska spelled out truths and blew glamour dust off western legends, but this hard-hitter told it like it was, and I’d have my reading on this subject no other way. I used to subscribe to Tuska’s Views and Reviews magazine back in high school. Remember when he hosted that Educational Television series about classic cowboys? I hear all but one episode are lost now. The Filming Of The West is a bottomless well of great info.
DAYS OF THRILLS AND ADVENTURE by Alan Barbour: This author rhapsodized about his good old days the way we do online about ours, only Barbour’s were in the thirties and forties, and boy, do I envy him those. Really nice, straight-down-the-line nostalgia stuff, but he vividly painted what it was like camping out in theatres when Saturdays were another name for paradise.
VALLEY OF THE CLIFFHANGERS by Jack Mathis: I’d bring this one up the hall to review, but it’s too heavy. Way beyond belief cowhide-bound monster of a book about Republic serials. Copies list for a grand now (but does anyone actually pay that much?). I found mine at a cowboy show and the guy only wanted sixty bucks. They just about had to carry me out to my horse.
DAVID O. SELZNICK’S HOLLYWOOD by Ronald Haver: This is another one that leaves creases on my lap. Amazing still reproduction, many in color, and outstanding text. Haver wrote about how he knocked on Selznick’s front door once and asked for a job. I admire that kind of brass. One of the best movie books ever conceived.
THOSE LITTLE PYRAMID PAPERBACKS: I started coming across these for a quarter at funky gift shops in the mall (retail was $1.75). Some are better than others (different authors), but the best of them are still valuable accounts of great star careers. There were several dozen --- plus some I probably still don’t know about. Bill Everson wrote a great entry about Claudette Colbert.
TEX AVERY: KING OF CARTOONS by Joe Adamson: A pioneering 1975 account of Avery’s career with a lengthy interview. There’s also a ratings system for each cartoon that I used in making my selections of bootlegged prints back in the seventies. Great book and eternal thanks to writers like Adamson for getting to and celebrating these great animators while they were still with us.
Obviously I’ve gone on too long with this post, and the above is only a fraction of the books I wanted to recognize. The good thing is you can still get most of them on Amazon Marketplace and from used booksellers who list there. Most are actually cheaper than they used to be. I looked up several and was surprised to find almost all of them available at very reasonable prices. Online purchasing is a modern miracle!