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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Monthly Balm For Film Lovers

A 70's Club We Wanted To Join

One upon a time there was a Book-Of-The Month club for movie lovers. The ad above is from 1973, which is close enough to when Movie Book Club started. This was a first monthly obligation by mail I'd been involved with. Record clubs were around, but tainted by parents who hit ceiling when offspring joined without permission, leaving Mom/Dad to rid family of the incubus. Temptation to join was bushel of goods for a dollar, sometimes less, after which body and soul, certainly allowance, belonged to the company store. I thought long before pulling trigger on the Movie Book Club. Would they send me to Devil's Island for missing a payment? What if good titles played out and I was obligated to buy novelizations of latest disaster pics? Doubt was removed from a start, for the Movie Book Club proved a very good thing. I'd be a member for almost as long as the club itself lasted, which memory suggests was plentiful years. 1973 saw dawn upon boom in movie books, enough output finally to support a club. Members would receive a monthly update, with a suggested volume plus others you could choose instead, or add on. You had to let them know by a set date lest the selection arrive along with billing.

I always looked forward to the newsletters, so never was stung by unwanted stuff. My interest being strong as it was, there were always titles to entice. Note the picks here for new members: Citadel's "Films Of ..." series in abundance, a new one of these every few weeks, it seemed. Back in pre-imdb, this was only way to survey an entire career, with photos besides. There were also the William K. Everson books, each a gem, and no less pleasing to read today. Everson was among treasured few with real wit to his writing. I'd baldly imitate him in whatever college themes I was pressed to compose. Getting books through the club was lots easier and more convenient than bird-dogging stores (none around here catered to buffs) or ordering from a publisher. Was there any figure so solitary as a vintage movie fan in 1973? The Movie Book Club, plus few mags and fanzines being published, made it seem we were part of a broader community, even if getting to membership meant crossing one of more state lines.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

We had for a time an absolutely A-1 store called CINEBOOKS. Like all really good independent book stores the owner, David Beard, was a valuable resource. I would often drop by just to listen to him. We lost CINEBOOKS when neighborhood bookstores began to carry film books.

10:03 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I used to buy these books in Argentina more than 20 years ago. They were quite expensive. And those by Everson are still great... I wish I could have met him.

10:42 PM  
Blogger scott said...

"Was there any figure so solitary as a vintage movie fan in 1973?"

Had the cult status of Bogart, W.C. Fields and the Marx Bros. already wained by 1973?

I remember showing Laurel and Hardy Blackhawks during lunch in high school for fundraising. In 1972 we filled the room for three days and met our goal. In 1974 (my senior year) we had nobody.

11:22 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

In the late sixties, I joined some book club (maybe the one you write about) which consisted of the Citadel "Films of..." series. One arrived each month at the hefty price of $3.33. I still have every one, probably 30 of them.

Believe it was Cadillac Publishing or something of the sort.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

Got Everson CLASSICS OFF THE SILENT SCREEN plus the WC Fields and Laurel and Hardy volumes from them about 71 ish?....wish I had kept on but a payment dispute with the credit card company ended that. a PDf of about a year ago. ...was as good as I remember.

9:29 AM  
Blogger RTWhite said...

Does anyone have the issue of Films in Review (or know which issue it was) wherein WKE absolutely eviscerated the Medved Boys' The Golden Turkey Awards?

9:30 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Cadillac Book Club rings a bell. I think they may have eventually become The Movie Book Club. As I recall, the Cadillacs had generic blue covers, with no dust jackets. I have a few of them around. The blue covers didn't appeal to me because they weren't publisher originals, having been re-branded by Cadillac into something less attractive. As I recall, the printing quality wasn't as good on the Cadillacs.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I can't remember if I belonged to the Citadel or Cadillac Book Club. All I know is that they had the blue covers. Man, I loved getting those. Everson's book made me a Laurel & Hardy fan. Those books were a great way introduction to classic movies/actors/genres.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

Growing up in the 1980s, my introduction to the FILMS OF... books was on racks in movie memorabilia shops that also sold posters, stills, etc. There was a shop in the then-MGM Grand Hotel in Reno, Nevada, and other touristy locations like San Francisco had them. My parents bought me THE FILMS OF CHARLIE CHAPLIN for fifteen or twenty bucks, and that copy didn't include Chaplin's last film, A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG, since the book was written before that movie was produced. I discovered later that COUNTESS was included in an updated edition of the book. Makes me wonder if shops like these were simply buying up and reselling old book club stock, regardless of whether they were the newest editions.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

Somewhat off topic, but for me no memory is as special as my first movie book, bought by my dad in A& S department store in 1965. It was Daniel Blum's Pictorial History of the Silent Screen. I think it cost a whopping $6. I still treasure it. Never really got into Citadel books nor movie club subscriptions. However, I once saw Mr. Everson standing in line at Burger King! His L & H book is also a special part of my library.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I wanted to join this club so bad but was forbidden to do so.

Don't the Anobile books (I bought them all) seem really dated now? The Everson Laurel and Hardy book was one of the books that changed my life to a great extent. I always thought that perhaps the Laurel on the cover might be an imitator as the Laurel image on the Everson book cover looked odd. My copy was $3.95 and it took me a month to scare up the money. I would hope so much that no one would buy it before I did.

6:55 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

A bit upset because I just went searching for my ancient "Films of Laurel and Hardy" and couldn't find it, although I have some other Everson titles and the later McCabe & Kilgore "Laurel and Hardy". I have a sick feeling I may have dismissed the Everson volume as redundant and sacrificed it to one of my periodic used bookstore trade-ins.

I still have an ancient "The Films of Charlie Chaplin", which I regarded as a lesser book; that one survived on sentiment and some attractive portraits of Keystone stars out of makeup. Back in the day there were a bunch of "Films of" books that felt like they were knocked out by clerks rather than buffs and scholars. The formula was tons of photos, film credits, careless synopses, and a few review quotes.

Also hung onto two books about Keystone by Kalton C. Lahue. A very familiar name; I read some of his other books on silent serials and such courtesy of the public library. A quick internet check reveals he stopped writing about cinema and shifted to technical books in the 70s. He passed away in 93, a few last tech volumes published posthumously.

Up until the VHS era at least, there were a lot of picture books that served as methadone for film fans; a substitute for not having ready access to the films themselves -- especially old films. You still see "Art of" coffee table books for big new movies and some classics, but there's a much stronger focus on behind-the-scenes info instead of "Remember THIS scene?"

And now and again we get genuine valuable stuff like "Showmen, Sell It Hot!"

6:56 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

So true about books being a substitute for films we couldn't see, the Anobiles being a best example of this. I remember what a great companion Everson's Laurel and Hardy book was when I'd watch the comedies on TV. With a "tenna roter," I was able to bring in L&H from four different viewing markets, and between these, their stuff ran every day, several times a day on weekends.

7:05 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Prof. Everson can do no wrong, and it's nice to see that John and his gang hold him in high regard.

I'd wondered what had happened to Kalton C. Lahue, who was so prolific and (like Everson) so enthusiastic and informed about his subjects. I can think of six or seven Lahue books offhand. The books stopped, and the last thing of his that I saw was a "history lesson" essay for an early-1970s Blackhawk release.

I subsequently heard that "Kal" Lahue was hoping to be hired by Blackhawk, only to find the position filled by David Shepard. That was apparently when Lahue literally shifted gears and became a motorcycle authority. It's a shame, because the old-movie world could have used more of his works.

7:26 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Kalton Lahue basically got burned and burned out on the film history "biz" in the late 1970's,he was one of those unfortunates who tried to make it a genuine profession and raise a family doing it and got tired of barely eking out a living, he made much more money doing auto and camera manuals (as well as editing what we used to call "gentlemen's magazines"). He completely turned his back on film history, feeling he had been let down by various people involved in the area of interest, something that I begin to understand more and more as time goes on, and moved on to greener pastures. He still passed on at way too young an age.

The Silent Comedy Mafia website broke a lot of info about Lahue and what happened to him several years ago, you can read it here:


5:00 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

The Silent Comedy Mafia does indeed have the best and fullest account of Kalton Lahue's work, and what became of him. Of course, the Mafia site is a bottomless well of valuable information on comedy in general, plus many related film topics. It is a place I visit each day without fail, and I recommend all Greenbriar readers do the same.

5:10 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

In case anybody was worried, I found my copy of "The Films of Laurel and Hardy." Actually, my original childhood copy was in paperback and some years later my niece found a hardcover; the hardcover is the one I still have

Remembering it was a big deal to acquire:
-- A paperback edition of "Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy"
-- The newly published "The Disney Version", the first "serious" book about Uncle Walt
-- A sturdy old library copy of "Father Goose", Gene Fowler's loose biography of Mack Sennett
-- The friggin' huge "Art of Walt Disney", first edition (It's been revised and resized several times since)
-- "Behind the Screen" by Kenneth Macgowen, a really vital and enjoyable book
-- Any non-kiddie books about animation
-- Comic book adaptations of new movies, including "The Music Man" and "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" (shoulda saved a few)

Great books like "The Silent Clowns" and "The Parade's Gone By" were yet to come.

6:07 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

For me in the 70s, it was Publisher's Central Bureau, which is actually still around. They were (and still are) a discount mail order book outfit.

They also carried lp records of old time radio shows - I bought several - and soundtracks of films put out by Mark 56 records. Mark 56 put out lp soundtracks of some of the Laurel and Hardy movies.

7:06 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I remember PCB's catalogs -- small print and tiny cover images, with a lot of titles that might be characterized as "nutty" (conspiracies, miracle cures, failed economic predictions, and the occult). It was like gleaning the dollar rack at a big record store, where there were fifty never-were rock stars for every treasure.

I think it was Murray Hill Records that put out Sherlock Holmes and The Shadow on LP. I had three or four of those sets. All of the episodes turned up later in CD collections.

Still get similar catalogs once in a great while, but instead of never-heard-of-THAT remaindered titles they tend to carry what you see on the B&L bargain shelves.

2:03 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Never a member of the club but, yes, many of the books mentioned were as big an influence as the movies themselves. The three biggies: 'Joe Franklin's' CLASSICS OF THE SILENT SCREEN (ghosted by Everson), Everson's own FILMS OF LAUREL AND HARDY and Carlos Clarens' AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE HORROR FILM. Just a notch or two below was everything else by Everson, Daniel Blum's PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE SILENT (an art director's nightmare, but man those photos!) all the stuff by Lahue, and Ray Stuart's IMMORTALS OF THE SCREEN (again, it was the photos!) Wish all the 'FILMS OF...' volumes were up to WKE's standards, but I sure enjoyed a bunch of 'em! Later on, paperback series like Pyramid History of the Movies and Cinema One were economical forerunners to the internet; facts and filmographies along with some generic critical fiber. A few, like David Robinson's BUSTER KEATON, were downright first rate.

4:43 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

It was from one of those book clubs that I ordered Halliwell's "Filmgoer's Companion" (6th edition) when I was in middle school. Used it for years and wore off the covers. (Before getting my own copy, I often consulted the one in the local library; it was in the reference section, so I couldn't check it out.)

1:11 PM  
Blogger Nick Patterson said...

I belonged to this book club in the mid-70's as a lonely high school film buff. So glad you posted this as it really takes me back. I can't remember when the Movie Book Club went belly-up, but my own interest in it must have waned as the 70's moved on to become the 80's and I found other sources to satisfy my craving. Thanks again!

11:29 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I belonged to this club as well! I was but 11 years old! I got the Underwood Karloff book,Vincent Price-Unmasked,the Marx Bros.Scrapbook,and a Harold Llyod book!

6:51 AM  

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