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Thursday, June 18, 2009




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!

23 Comments:

Anonymous Jim Lane said...

A first-rate starter library there, John, as I might have expected. I was particularly gratified to see David O. Selznick's Hollywood, which I would nominate as just about the greatest movie book of all time. The title says it: It's not just about Selznick, but about Selznick's Hollywood; this is the book I refer people to for a sense of what the town was like before the smog hit the fans.

Griffith and Mayer's The Movies, though, is the granddaddy of them all. Anyone born after 1960 or so can have no concept of how awe-inspiring, how utterly magical, a book that size, and that lavish, on any subject, let alone movies, looked to us in 1957. Years ago, visiting my uncle in Indiana, I was perusing one of his bookcases groaning under the weight of movie books -- going back to Deems Taylor's A Pictorial History of the Movies (1943) -- when my eyes fell on his Griffith and Mayer. "This is the book," I said. "It has more than its share of shortcomings, but without it there probably wouldn't have been any of these others." That was nearly 30 years ago, and it's as true today as it was then.

1:18 AM  
Blogger Booksteve said...

Kerr's THE SILENT CLOWNS is a real favorite with me. I picked it up when it had just come out in paperback (a really thick trade!)and the next day my family went on vacation so I took it with me. I have no recollection today as to where we went. I just remember that wherever it was, I spent most of my time devouring that book!

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Griff said...

A superb list, John, and you were welcome to go on much longer. I echo the applause here for THE MOVIES and THE SILENT CLOWNS

I would add one thing about THE REAL TINSEL: it features a superb, lengthy career interview with Edward Everett Horton which so utterly captures his voice and unique style of speaking, you can hear every word in your head as you read. [It's really the highlight of the book.]

Any list of this sort is necessarily subjective -- and I already contributed one list elsewhere -- but here are a few other film books which proved both invaluable and of immeasurable personal importance to me:

TALKING PICTURES By Richard Corliss.

PAINTING WITH LIGHT By John Alton.

THE ART OF W.C. FIELDS By William K. Everson

THE WORLD OF ENTERTAINMENT: Hollywood's Greatest Musicals By Hugh Fordin

FILM FANTASY SCRAPBOOK By Ray Harryhausen

THE FRED ASTAIRE & GINGER ROGERS BOOK By Arlene Croce

DON SIEGEL: DIRECTOR By Stuart M. Kaminsky

CULT MOVIES By Danny Peary [Also CULT MOVIES 2 and CULT MOVIES 3.]

[I would have included Everson's L&H book and KINGS OF THE Bs, John, but you beat me to 'em.]

2:41 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Excellent list! I have to include LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES, THE MGM STORY, Daniel Blum's PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE TALKIES and Leonard Maltin's annual movie guide. I only discovered the Brownlow book two years ago, and it does make me appreciate the silents more. Last year, I made a big discovery: THE GROVE BOOK OF HOLLYWOOD!! It's an omnibus of film journalism from the silent era to day, mostly told by the first person, with the most amazing anecdotes. Get this from your local bookstore, eBay or Amazon. You can thank me later....

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, and what about Anthony Slide's KEATON? As I remember, it was a classy little square of a book with thick slick pages. I think it was part of a series.

7:17 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I would add the 2 Laurel and Hardy books by John McCabe.."Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy"-1967..and the later 1975 big BIBLE text of films.."Laurel and Hardy"
I grew up with the books of William K Everson and like you,was lucky to meet him in 1992 along with Hal roach,Richard Bann and George "Spanky" McFarland all in at once..a true night of history for me..

10:22 PM  
Anonymous East Side said...

I had at least seven of these growing up. Where were you when I was the only old-movie geek within a 50-mile radius?

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Griff said...

I second Christopher's endorsement of McCabe's MR. LAUREL & MR. HARDY and the great LAUREL & HARDY tome by McCabe, Bann and Kilgore.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Oh, man! Not only were YOUR choices spot on, but ditto on most of the suggestions in the comments to date. I still have very beaten and battered copies of about 95% of these. Anybody mention Daniel Blum's A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE SILENT SCREEN with that crazy chock-o-block layout of a zillion pictures from a zillion movies never to be seen again?

10:21 AM  
Anonymous G. D. Wilson said...

My most prized book is a little tome entitled "Collecting Classic Films" by Kalton C. Lahue, which was sold by Blackhawk Films for years. Lahue, a serial fan, also wrote "Continued Next Week," and "Cops and Custards" among several others.

Actually, my film mania began with a 16mm Clem Williams Films Inc. rental catalogue discarded by a teacher. Packed with great ad slicks and stills, I practically wore it out. Last but not least, being an old "monster kid," is my well-worn copy of author Michael Weldon's "The Psychotronic
Encyclopedia of Film" which inspired a second, larger volume. But the icing on the cake ages ago was the monthly arrival of the Blackhawk Films Bulletin especially mid-60's - mid 70's. Those were the days.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

I guess I'll yield to temptation and add my two cents' worth to all the excellent recommendations in these comments:

All of the "studio story" books from Crown Publishers, especially The RKO Story, my own favorite of the bunch (however, avoid The Films of 20th Century Fox, which isn't part of the series, nor is it very good).

The Focus On... books from Spectrum (a Prentice-Hall imprint) in the early-to-mid-'70s. I'm not sure how many were published; I've got 13. Each volume collected essays on a filmmaker (Howard Hawks, D.W. Griffith), a film (The Birth of a Nation, Citizen Kane, Rashomon) or a genre (westerns, science fiction, Shakespearean film).

The Hollywood Musical by Clive Hirschhorn, an exhaustive chronicle that I crack open almost daily.

And three books that cover two of the most interesting (to me) periods in movie history: (1) For the very early (pre-studio) years, Terry Ramsaye's venerable A Million and One Nights, as pertinent and readable today as it was in 1926; and (2) for the transition from silents to talkies, Scott Eyman's The Speed of Sound and Richard Barrios's A Song in the Dark, both indispensible.

It's hard to stop, isn't it?

2:28 AM  
Anonymous R.J. said...

When I was a little boy, our neighbor,the late Allan Hersholt, gifted me with a copy of Rudi Blesh's "Keaton" with an inscription I've never forgotten, "To Rick, because of his heartfelt appreciation of the past". Coming from the son of Jean Hersholt, not bad.
I like your list as well. I was always kinda partial to "Those Crazy Wonderful Years When We Ran Warner Bros." by one Stuart Jerome, myself. Very clever fellow. (In all fairness, you've more than overplugged that one. And once more, a very big "Thank You" is in order!)
As always,
R.J.

P.S.: There actually is another one that pre-dates all the rest, published around 1941, or '42 I believe. My father apparently had known the author, who gifted Dad with a copy, and I remember so well as a child going thru it again and again -- called simply "The Movies", I believe, by music-critic and commentator Deems Taylor.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

You're right, R.J., the Deems Taylor book is A Pictorial History of the Movies (1943), and I remember gazing wide-eyed at my uncle's copy before I could even read -- one or two pictures on every page, glossily reproduced with minimal captions. There were hundreds of pictures that fascinated me -- Kong on the Empire State Building, Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster, the fish fry in Heaven from Green Pastures, the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in Intolerance -- from movies I wouldn't see for years, even decades. When I did learn to read, this was one of the first books I pulled off my grandparents' shelf, eager to know what those amazing images were all about.

1:17 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Jim and RJ, I once came across a copy of the Deems Taylor book in a Hollywood book shop --- it was signed by former owner Josephine Dillon, along with her address, in longhand. The store clerk never realized he was selling a book that once belonged to the first Mrs. Clark Gable!

3:37 PM  
Blogger Classic Maiden said...

I second what Griff said - you could have gone on and on.

A wonderful nostalgic post!

9:25 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks Classic Maiden, and I really like your own very handsome site ...

http://www.classicmaiden.com/

9:32 AM  
Blogger Classic Maiden said...

Thanks John :)

4:13 PM  
Anonymous R.J. said...

John and Jim,

Boys, you're really taking me back here. This is far too rich a field for all us interested in "Movies", or "Cinema" (as one chooses to approach it) and all things and people related thereto, to be tossed-off in just one posting. My father too, had both the Daniel Blum Books, plus his "Pictorial History of the American Theatre" and I would, as well, pour over these in his den for hours. To this day if I'm watching a movie that, as you said Jim, was unavailable for years, the still photo from one of these volumes (including the wonderfully evocative Deems Taylor book), immediately pops into my head. The Terry Ramsaye book is also worthy of mention. And for me personally, two wonderful volumes by Herman Weinberg, "Josef Von Sternberg" and "The Lubitsch Touch" which were virtually bibles during College filmcourse days.
Five minutes after sending my former comment, John, I read a sentence of yours that reminded of yet another great story -- here it is, fast: We had a bookstore in Beverly Hills on the corner of Rodeo Drive and little Santa Monica, called "Hunters". Very popular place. One day after school, I found myself sitting on a little footstool, totally immersed in a small volume that had just come-out on Buster Keaton. Understand, most of the films pictured therein and described by the author, at that time had been unseen since their original release (many thought lost) and there was scant hope among any of us of ever seeing them. Suddenly, I feel a presence standing by me, so I move the stool over a little to give this person some room. Still this person is standing close-by, and half-annoyed, I look up. A gentle pair of very familiar eyes were looking at me very sympathetically,along with a world famous smile. Startled at recognizing who it was, I smiled back. It was Red Skelton.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Graceann said...

How funny that you put together this phenomenal post. I just did a very similar (though much less comprehensive) one at my LJ:

http://silentsgirl.livejournal.com/44942.html

David O. Selznick's Hollywood and the Blesh feature VERY prominently in my film influences.

2:13 PM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

The Pyramid series is interesting; I'll have to search for the Claudette Colbert book.

I have the Carole Lombard book, written by a young Leonard Maltin in the mid-'70s; it's a decent volume, full of Maltin's keen observations and biases (his disdain for "True Confession" is well known, though I think it's a much better film than "Fools For Scandal").

I used to own two copies of the Lombard book, but about a decade ago, I gave my spare copy to Laura Prepon, who was just starting out on "That '70s Show." (I was editor of a New Jersey weekly at the time, and the Prepon family resided in our circulation area. We wrote a few stories about her.) I figured Lombard would be a good inspiration for any comedic actress, although I have no idea if she's ever read the book.

1:05 PM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

John, gone on too long? Far from it! I couldn't help scrolling through your list, saying, "Got it...got it...got it." You've really hit on many of the classics we ALL remember. The fact that many of these are (still) in my library, despite 40 years of travels, speaks to their relevance, and their status as "must haves". Thanks for sharing!

6:22 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

i used to love to gander at Richard Lamparski's,"Whatever became of..?"books in the bookstores(in the days before computers,when you had to make trips to Walden's to seek information)I think I only owned one of the books.There was another series of books I liked and collected of which "Cut:the Unseen Cinema"by Baxter Phillips is one...Seal of Dracula was another..THey always had the paperback versions for like a buck or two on the Cheapie tables up front.The text in those books was often loaded with errors but they were just jam packed with great photos of classic horror and the current Euro trash films of the early 70s..lots of nudie photos,which was largely what I liked about them..

12:58 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Received the following comment from Movie Man at The Dancing Image ...

Well, you really got into the spirit of this thing! You envy Barbour for his good old days in the forties and fifties; I envy you for yours in the sixties and seventies!

Anyway, this line: "when Saturdays were another name for paradise." would be worth the price of admission, were there any. Thanks for participating!

... and thank you for the terrific work you've done compiling book favorites at "The Dancing Image", Movie Man. Readers should check out the recent update there and enjoy the many comments and links on great film books.

8:48 AM  

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