Issue No.14 / Fall 2009
Lynn Kear is the author, with John Rossman of two excellent volumes on Kay Francis. Her latest work, with James King, looks at the career of one of the most coldly beautiful and very up-to-date in terms of her good looks and restrained performances of silent actresses. No, I am not talking about Louise Brooks. The latter is not quite frankly as talented an actress, and certainly does not boast a career as long as that of the lady to whom I refer: Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Lady Crook (McFarland, $45.00).
Here is a book, the subtitle of which I don't like, of which it is immediately obvious that very extensive research was involved. Lynn Kear has put together an incredible biography which leaves out nothing in terms of its subject's lesbian activities, two marriages and third relationship with a man to whom she possibly was not married. Evelyn Brent, née Mary Elizabeth Riggs was probably born in Florida, but, as with so much of the lady's life, there is confusion, with no record of the birth. It is this type of conflicting or non-documented information with which the author has had to contend, but throughout she does exceptionally well in trying to sort out fact from fiction, particularly as reported in the fan magazines. Evelyn Brent began appearing in films in 1914, attempted suicide on a number of occasions, had a brief, relatively successful career as a British film star in the early 1920s, and then returned to the United States, where her greatest work was in Underworld and The Last Command.
She was one of the stars of Paramount's first talkies, Interference, and should have continued on as a major star of early talkies. She didn't. She lost her money. She tried her luck in vaudeville. And she continued on screen in a variety of minor roles in minor films, often from minor producers.
It is all here, with much background information on others with whom the actress came into contact. I am quite astounded, for example, by the research that Lynn Kear undertook in documenting Brent's lover Dorothy Herzog, and their frequent meals together at Hollywood's Montmartre Café. There are seven references to the establishment, I suspect in part because the author likes the hint of sophistication that the name suggests. However, I wonder if Lynn Kear is aware that the building housing the Montmartre is still there on Hollywood Boulevard, and that for many years it was the home of Collector's Bookstore?
The first part of the book is taken up with the biography. The second half, somewhat lengthier, consists of a highly detailed filmography, with information as to whether the film exists and its preservation status, complete credits, synopses, and some critical commentary. From the last, it is obvious that Lynn Kear has seen quite a few of Evelyn Brent's films. I do wish that perhaps she had given her thoughts on those films within the biography, rather than relying entirely upon the opinions of others. Actually, about the only major disagreement I have with the author is over one of those opinions, and that is of Doris Kenyon in Interference. Regardless of what Lynn Kears thinks, it is my belief that the other female lead in the film, Doris Kenyon, gives a great performance, certainly comparable to that of Evelyn Brent. In fact, you only need to see Kenyon in the 1933 John Barrymore vehicle, Counsellor at Law, to know she made an easy transition from silents to sound and was an adept performer in the latter.
The volume is heavily endnoted, which lifts it beyond the typical film buff publication. Yes, I know it is a book that will appeal to film buffs, but that does not mean it cannot be scholarly in approach and content. The illustrations are not as well reproduced as they might be, although that is obviously a fault with the publisher (which one suspects is trying to save money). In fact, I think we could have done with a few more photographs throughout.
This is not a cheap book, particularly for a paperback, but it is a book that deserves to do well and one that serves Evelyn Brent well. (Even if the actress does deserve a better descriptive subtitle!) I wish it luck, and I hope it will generate the attention which it so rightly deserves.
(Apropos of nothing, I am fascinated that Lynn Kear lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia. It is Stone Mountain that gave America the modern Ku Klux Klan. That it should also have given us the authoress of books on Kay Francis and Evelyn Brent means the community cannot be all bad. And how fascinating that Evelyn Brent starred in the 1928 film The Mating Call, in which appears a Ku Klux Klan-like organization.)
Extensive research has obviously also gone into Laura Petersen Balogh's Karl Dane: A Biography and Filmography (McFarland, $45.00). Danish-born Karl Dane is probably not that well remembered today. If his name, and his performances on screen, means anything, it is because of The Big Parade and a series of comedies in which he co-starred opposite George K. Arthur. A lack of familiarity does not mean a lack of talent, as is very apparent from this biography. Beginning with Dane's birth and early years in Copenhagen, Laura Petersen Balogh follows the actor to America, to his first film at Vitagraph, to his first featured role in My Four Years in Germany, to his MGM contract, to his problems with the coming of sound, and to the tragedy of his end in 1934.
Karl Dane dies of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and it is unfortunate, to say the least, that it is probably the manner of his departure from this work that is of more interest to many than the quality of his screen performances. His biographer makes the rather startling comment that, "Given today's economic situation, his impoverished end touches a nerve, since it speaks to all of our worst fears." In an epilogue, she also writes of the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital, noting the imminent closure of the latter due to a lack of financial support from the industry.
Whether such commentary belongs here is perhaps arguable, but there can be no disagreement that the closure of the Motion Picture Country Hospital is tragic. Like many, I am puzzled that so many actors and actresses are reportedly earning in excess of $20 million a film and yet cannot donate, say, ten percent of their salaries – a mere $2 million – towards keeping the hospital open. Supposedly, the hospital loses $12 million a year. I understand where the board is coming from in that it is not a matter of raising $12 million but, rather, an endowment of $250 million, which would guarantee the annual amount needed. What I do not understand is why the wealthiest in the entertainment community cannot show a little charity. I suppose I am simply naïve. I live in Los Angeles, a city where the dividing line between rich and poor is obvious and, it would seem, permanent. While the rich, the celebrity non-entities garner publicity and nightly booze and stone themselves in nightclubs, the poor are reliant upon a third world charity for medical care. Apparently, Michael Jackson could afford millions of dollars a year on drugs to destroy his body. Could he not have channeled some of those drugs to Woodland Hills and the Motion Picture Country Hospital?
Okay, enough editorializing on a subject beyond the scope of this site. Let us return to Karl Dane, and to the splendid work of Laura Petersen Balogh, who provides the address of a website fighting the Motion Picture Country Hospital closure, a website that I will also cite: www.savingthelivesorourown.org. Aside from the fact-filled text, there is a also a complete listing of Dane's features and short subjects, along with biographies of the principals involved, good endnotes and a thorough bibliography.
At last, a major academic work on a little-discussed subject that is both readable and well-researched. I refer to Tom Kemper's Hidden Talent: The Emergence of Hollywood Agents (University of California Press, $55.00/$21.95), which provides what is, I believe, the first book-length study on the history of Hollywood agents from the 1920s through the 1940s. Told in linear style, with extensive discussion not only of the major figures involved, but also their client list and how such clients were handled vis-à-vis the studios, Hidden Talent is undoubtedly set to become the definitive work in its field.
The author has obviously made extensive use of the papers of major Hollywood agents now located in archival collections, including those of Myron Selznick at the University of Texas, Ivan Kahn at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Charles K. Feldman at the American Film Institute. He does not appear to have used the papers of Paul Kohner at the Berlin Film Museum but he does take advantage of a lengthy interview with the legendary agent famed for his relationship with European talent. What is pleasing about the book is not simply the amount of documentation and the commentary on the major stars and their agents, but, equally, the space devoted to "lesser" players. For example, there is much discussion of actor Gene Raymond's less-than-enthusiastic response to Charles Feldman's handling of him at a crucial time in his career and his realization that he would have to continue his career as a secondary player on screen.
Generally, I am not an enthusiastic supporter of dust jacket blurbs. However, with Hidden Talent, I have to agree with two of the gentleman quoted on the back cover. Yes, Toby Miller is correct in that this is "a landmark volume," and equally correct is ICM's Jeff Berg that Hidden Talent is "a mandatory text."
Richard Dix fans are very obsessive if small in number – and I am sure they will start obsessing that they are not small in number. Anyway, I am sure they are delighted with the publication of Out of Hollywood: The Autobiography of Robert Dix. I have not seen the book, which is authored by Richard Dix's son and in which, according to publicity, "he shares the history of his famous family, his film and TV career, leading ladies, his loves and losses, and the personal recovery that moved him to share his life's truth with others." The price is reasonable at $24.95, plus $5.27 shipping and handling and $2.31 California sales tax where appropriate. You can order your copy now, autographed or not, from www.robertdix.com, or by writing to Dix Ink, 9909 Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Suite 256, Chatsworth, Ca. 91311/900-275-6031. This guy has all his bases covered.
Regular as clockwork, a new volume in the "Contemporary Film Directors" series appears. All are uniform, and equally consistent, is my very positive and ongoing response. One of the latest is Albert Maysles by Joe McElhany (University of Ilinois Press, $60.00/$19.95) and examines the work of the prominent American documentary filmmaker whose credits, usually in collaboration with his brother David (who died in 1987), include Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens. The text is very readable and the author contributes his own interview with the subject.
Another new volume in the series is Chris Fujiwara's Jerry Lewis. Obviously, there are many who will question the worth of such a book and such a subject, but let's be fair and acknowledge the incredible contribution that Lewis has made to American cinema beginning in 1960 when he directed his first film, The Bellboy. You may not like them – and I don't – but they certainly bear the Jerry Lewis imprint, proof of his right to be called an auteur, and the sheer number is demonstrative of the comedian's appeal somewhere to somebody. All the books in the "Contemporary Film Directors" series feature at least one interview. The Jerry Lewis volume features one by its author, and it is, appropriately for a man with the ego of Jerry Lewis, longer than I can recall any other interview in any other books in the series being. Lewis begins many of his replies with "Yeah," but once he gets beyond that word, he can be surprisingly entertaining and informative.
Café Society: The Wrong Place for the Right People by Barney Josephson with Terry Trilling-Josephson (University of Illinois Press, $32.95) is a delightfully entertaining account of the Greenwich Village nightclub of the title name, which Josephson opened in December 1938 and of the entertainers who worked there. The book is filled with fascinating commentary on the performers such as Hazel Scott and Lucienne Boyer, and the text contains "asides" by others with personal reminiscences. There is a lot of front material, which should be avoided in that it lacks the sparkle of the autobiography itself (which is in no way a putdown of Josephson's wife who has obviously performed a heroic task in assembling the text). Admittedly, there is not too much about Hollywood here, but what there is helps inform us of the manner in which African Americans were treated there.
Moving Viewers: American Film and the Spectator's Experience by Carl Plantinga (University of California Press, $60.00/$24.95) is strictly for the academics. It starts out OK with the author discussing his reaction at the age of seven to a drive-in screening of The Birds. But once one gets beyond that first page, it is all too esoteric and academic for a general readership. The emphasis is, of course, on relatively new, mainstream Hollywood films – despite a cover illustration that appears to show a theatre audience from the 1920s or 1930s. Making "powerful use of cognitive science and philosophical aesthetics," the author examines the "emotional charge" given by the movies throughout the world, including "Steven Spielberg's America." As someone who does not want to be a part of Stephen Spielberg's America, this book is not for me.
Equally obtuse, and equally not for me, is The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience by Jennifer M. Barker (University of California Press, $60.00/$24.95). I didn't get much beyond the back cover blurb, which explains, "The Tactile Eye expands on phenomenological analysis and film theory in its accessible and beautifully written connection between films and their viewers." Well, they do say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but my eye failed to find anything beautiful or accessible here. Like so many academic texts whose readership I find it difficult to define it is more an irritating mote in the eye.
I suppose it says something not too intellectual about me that I was far more excited by Ken Wlaschin's Silent Mystery and Detective Movies: A Comprehensive Filmography (McFarland, $55.00). At first, I was ready to dismiss the volume as a listing guide whose entries could be found in far more detail in the American Film Institute Catalog. Then, after a more careful examination, I discovered that the author has included not only American feature-length films, but also American short subjects and serials, and – most impressive – all manner of non-American productions. Rather than list credits for each film, entries are written in narrative form with all relevant or basic credit information and a short synopsis, sometimes with historical documentation or a quote from a contemporary review. Adding immensely to the worth of the book is an appendix with biographical information on authors whose films were filmed in the silent era. The information here would be difficult, if not impossible, to find in one source. Unfortunately, the illustrations are not particularly of a high quality, and, personally, I really didn't like the reproduction of covers from DVD or video releases. However, that being said, Silent Mystery and Detective Movies is a volume that should appeal both to the film enthusiast and the mystery aficionado.
Victoria Sturtevant's A Great Big Girl Like Me: The Films of Marie Dressler (University of Illinois Press, $60.00/$20.00) has a great title. It features an incredibly appropriate and amusing photograph of its subject on the cover. And the text is not too bad either. Marie Dressler has been fairly well documented in print. She published her supposed autobiography, My Own Story, as Told to Mildred Harrington, in 1934, and has been the subject of two relatively recent biographies, Matthew Kennedy's Marie Dressler: A Biography; with a Listing of Major Stage Performances, a Filmography and a Discography (McFarland, 1999) and Betty Lee's Marie Dressler: The Unlikeliest Star (University Press of Kentucky, 1997).
This new volume is not intended as a biography, but rather a study of Dressler's films, with the emphasis on specific titles, primarily from the MGM period and including Min and Bill and Tugboat Annie. Some films, such as The Divine Lady, in which the comedienne is truly awful, are not mentioned at all. The author writes well, has done her research and understands the need to both embrace and entertain her audience. At the same time, she does get "bogged down" in esoteric academic argument, as for example when she worries about the problem of decoding film authorship. Get over it, I say. The bulk of Marie Dressler's films, beginning with Tillie's Punctured Romance, exist because she is the star and the reason for audience participation. As the star, she is also the authoress. An argument might be made that Marie Dressler is in fact an auteur, with her performances – her mugging, her over-acting, and her outrageous facial expressions – more important than the films themselves.
I was pleased that the author (of the book not the films) takes time out to discuss Marie Dressler's sexuality, referencing actress Claire DuBrey's position in the star's household, although, surprisingly and I am sure incorrectly she identifies Thelma Todd as a lesbian comedienne. There is a wonderful photograph (not in the book) of Dressler's playing the piano for Jean Hersholt, with DuBrey seated on top of the piano and Anna Q. Nilsson, who had a later business if not lesbian relationship with DuBrey, standing behind the comedienne. The warmth and sistership between the women is very obvious, and, quite frankly, Marie Dressler has never looked more beautiful than in this photograph. It is interesting how the motion picture emphasized the unattractive aspects of her features, ignoring that here is a woman of some beauty, style and elegance.
As academic books go, A Great Big Girl Like Me is the most entertaining and readable to come along in many a year.
The history of American radio is told in succinct and readable fashion in Jim Cox's American Radio Networks: A History (McFarland, $45.00). The book covers not only NBC, CBS, Mutual, and ABC, but also local radio. There are also chapters on government oversight and advertising revenue, among other topics. In conclusion, the author provides a directory of past radio networks from ABC News & Talk Radio to the Z-Rock Radio Network. A useful and readable volume.
Latina/o Stars in U.S. Eyes: The Making and Meanings of Film and TV Stardom by Mary C. Beltrán (University of Illinois Press, $65.00/$25.00) is a lightweight, academic study. Don't expect any lengthy discussion of the careers or importance of stars such as Dolores Del Rio or Ramon Novarro here. If anything, the emphasis is on later performers, such as Desi Arnaz, Rosario Dawson, Jennifer Lopez, Rita Moreno, and Freddie Prinze.
Also intended for the academic Latina/o community is Latin American Melodrama: Passion, Pathos, and Entertainment, edited by Darlene J. Sadlier (University of Illinois Press, $60.00/$25.00). The coverage here is wide, but obviously in view of the countries involved, far from complete. There are essays on melodrama in Venezuelan cinema, women as "civilizers" in Brazilian cinema of the 1940s, Luis Alcoriza and Mexican cinema, and contemporary Brazilian documentary. At less than 200 pages, I cannot help but think it should be more than double the length, although I must confess that what is here is readable. And I do like a comment by Gilberto Perez in the first essay in the book. When he asked a colleague what was the difference between tragedy and melodrama, back came the response: "If you don't like it, it's melodrama."
As an ethnic study, far more impressive is Neepa Majundar's Wanted Cultured Ladies Only: Female Stardom and Cinema in India, 1930s-1950s (University of Illinois Press, $65.00/$25.00). You will probably not have heard of the stars of whom she writes – with wonderful names like Lata Mangeshkar, Nargis, Sulochana, and my favorite Fearless Nadia – but that is one reason why the author needs undiminished praise. I now know that Fearless Nadia was a stunt star with a low-brow following, while Sulochana was the queen of Indian stars in the 1920s and 1930s, and the most popular star of the silent era.
Unfortunately the book is constructed in a somewhat dull academic format, which in my opinion limits its potential audience. A typical sentence, on page three, reads, "The translocation of the cultural apparatus of narrative forms and film culture into India is far more complex than a simple imported/indigenous dichotomy can hope to suggest." The translocation may well have been complex, but the description thereof does not have to be.
For some twenty-five years, Scott MacDonald has published a series of volumes on independent cinema. The latest is Adventures of Perception: Cinema as Exploration (University of California Press, $29.95). One academic quoted on the back cover writes that "All the essays are intellectually, personally, and viscerally vibrant," and singles out a reworking by MacDonald of a vintage essay from 1981 on the uses of pornography. Admittedly, the academic in question does have something of an obsession with the subject, and she also has a nice sense of alliteration. "Viscerally vibrant." I wish I had come up with that. But the essay in question is rather dull to be honest, with the "uses of pornography" primarily reduced to one – masturbation. The remainder of the book is taken up with essays and interviews. The latter include a couple of relatively known names (at least in their fields), George Kuchar and Karen Cooper. Again, the essays are flat and boring, sometimes intended to flatter other academics, and it is obvious that the author has a high regard for himself. Presumably these books sell or the University of California Press would not keep publishing them – and in paperback as well, suggesting classroom use – but I cannot help but wonder what is the audience?
And talking of series, Patrick McGilligan continues his excellent one with Backstory 5: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1990s (University of California Press, $65.00/$24.95). The majority of the interviews are by editor McGilligan, but there are also seven by others. The featured writers are Albert Brooks, Jean-Claude Carrière, Nora Ephron, Ronald Harwood, John Hughes, David Koepp, Barry Levinson, Eric Roth, John Sayles, Tom Stoppard, Barbara Turner, and Rudy Wurlitzer. Each interview is extensive, accompanied by an introduction of a couple of pages in length and with a listing of the writer's films, with titles, dates and the subject's contribution.
Backstory is, arguably, the best film-related series around.
British publisher I.B. Tauris has a new slate of film-related titles announced for publication by the end of this year. As I have previously noted, I never seem to see these books for sale in the U.S., and they do not appear on the shelves of American libraries, but that does not signify that they are without interest. Here's the list:
Lorca, Buñuel, Dali by Gwynne Edwards; The Child in Film: Tears, Fears and Fairy Tales by Karen Lury; Hollywood Catwalk: Exploring Costume and Transformation in American Film by Tamar Jeffers McDonald; Ingmar Bergman: The Life and Films of the Last Great European Director by Geoffrey Macnab; Aim for the Heart: The Films of Clint Eastwood by Howard Hughes; Soviet Cinema: Politics and Persuasion under Stalin by Jamie Miller; Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation by Ella Shohat; New Turkish Cinema: Belonging, Identity and Memory by Asuman Suner; Horror Zone: The Experience of Contemporary Horror Cinema, edited by Ian Conrich; Projecting Empire: Imperialism and Popular Cinema by James Chapman and Nicholas J. Cull; Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology by Jennifer K. Stuller; Withnail and Us: Cult Films and Film Cults in British Cinema by Justin Smith; and Live from the Moon: Film, Television and the Space Race by Michael Allen.
I.B. Tauris has also announced a new, paperback edition of Jeffrey Richards' The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in 1930s Britain, with a new introduction. I.B. Tauris books are distributed in the United States by Palgrave Macmillan. I.B. Tauris can be reached at www.ibtauris.com.
The Hollywood Novel
When was the last time that silent screen star/producer/character actor of the talkies Hobart Bosworth was featured in a novel? Well up to now, I am not sure that he ever was, although the character of Jimmy Montague in Charles E. Van Loan's Buck Parvin and the Movies: Stories of the Moving Picture Game, first published in 1919 is identified by the author as based on him. However, first published in January 2009 (and already available at under ten dollars from remainder outlets) is Paul Malmont's Jack London in Paradise (Simon & Schuster, $25.00), in which the two central characters are Hobart Bosworth and Jack London. The year is 1915, Hobart Bosworth has filmed a number of Jack London's novels, but three villainous Hollywood moguls, Ivan Rudisill, Frank Garbutt and Adolph Zukor have told the novelist that the movie star has cheated him. It is all part of a ploy by Zukor to seize Bosworth's producing company and eventually take over the industry.
Bosworth goes off in search of his former pal Jack London, eventually finding him and defending himself in Hawaii. It does not end particularly well either for London or Bosworth, with the former dying at the novel's end and the actor's losing control of his studio. Along the way, there is a lot of action, including a nitrate fire, and a great deal of historical discourse. Very clearly, the author has done a lot of research, including time spent with the Jack London Collection at the Huntington Library. He doesn't credit any source for the filmic aspects of the novel. It is all very much above reproach in terms of historical accuracy, but at times it seems a little dull, despite all the fighting, surfing and Hawaiian background. Truth be told, the author wants the reader to know that he has done his homework and spends too much time on historical narrative that becomes dreary and is, at time, obsolete.
The other problem that I had with the novel was an irritation with Jack London and his wife, with their constant reference to each other as "Mate-Man"and "Mate-Woman." All that being said, Jack London in Paradise is a good book in many respects – and a long one (almost 400 pages). Both fans of Jack London and lovers of the Hollywood novel will welcome it, and certainly, in the latter category, it is one of the best to come along in quite some time.
Apropos the storyline, is it not about time for a good biography of Adolph Zukor? He is such a pivotal figure in early cinema, so crucial to the development of the studio system and of the control of exhibition by the studios (a subject which is touched upon here). Zukor really didn't need to conspire to take over the independent production units. Once Paramount controlled the theatres, it was easy for him to deny an exhibition outlet to his competitors. In his autobiography, Two Reels and a Crank, Albert E. Smith accuses Zukor trying to destroy the Vitagraph Company, and I am sure there were many other pioneers who held similar views.
Me and Orson Welles by Robert Kaplow (MacAdam/Cage, 2003), also available from remainder outlets, deserves to be in the Hollywood Novel category because of one of its title characters. In fact, it is not about Hollywood, but about a seventeen-year-old New Jersey schoolboy who gets involved with and appears in Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre production of Macbeth. The story takes place over a period of one week, during which the "me" character, Richard Samuels, meets and hero worships Orson Welles, sleeps in his hero's pajamas after losing his virginity to a young lady in the company, and, eventually, realizes that his hero is nothing more than an egotist who has no interest in him or anyone else aside from himself.
It is a very attractive-looking book, exuding quality. The author has done a large amount of research and it shows a little too obviously. However, the storyline is ultimately so dazzling that one does not mind the over-attention to contemporary detail. Aside from Welles, there are substantial appearances in the novel by Joseph Cotton, George Coulouris, John Houseman, and Norman Lloyd.
I asked Norman Lloyd about the book, and, apparently, he is far from happy with it, together with the portraits of himself, Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles. He has refused to help promote a new film based on Me and Orson Welles, which stars Zac Efron as Me.
Back in issue No. 12, I wondered what had become of Charles Phillips Reilly, longtime editor of Films in Review. I have now heard from Boris Kachka, who is working on a history of publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux, that Charles is still alive although not in good shape.
I recently came across a catalog from Ferret Fantasy, 27 Beechcroft Road, Upper Tooting, London SW17 7BX, United Kingdom/email: George_locke@hotmail.com. The catalog features a large collection of Rafael Sabatini manuscripts. Of particular interest are an unproduced film treatment from August 1947 by Miles Malleson titled The Tavern Knight, with twelve pages of typed notes by Sabatini; and Sabatini's personal copy of the script for the 1940 version of The Sea Hawk, sadly unannotated. The prices are not excessive.
Ken Wlaschin died in Palm Springs California, on November 10, 2009, at the age of seventy-five. He first came to "fame" in London in the 1960s as a film programmer at the National Film Theatre, and from 1969 through 1984, he was responsible for the London Film Festival. He returned to his native United States in the mid 1980s, working as director of Filmex in its final days and as head of the AFI Film Festival. He ended his professional career at the American Film Institute as vice chairman of the National Center for Film and Video Preservation.
Ken was also the author of a number of film books, the most recent of which, Silent Mystery and Detective Movies: A Comprehensive FIlmography is reviewed above. I suppose his first two volumes should not be taken too seriously: Bluff Your Way in the Cinema (1969) and Illustrated Encyclopedia of the World's Great Movie Stars and Their Films (1979). However, in later years he was responsible for a number of important works: Faber Book of Movie Verse, which he co-edited with the much over-rated British film critic Philips French (1993), Gian Carlo Menotti on Screen: Opera, Dance, and Choral Works on Film, Television, and Video (1999), Encyclopedia of Opera on Screen: A Guide to More than 100 Years of Opera Films, Videos and DVDs (2004, and a reworking of an earlier 1997 book), and Silent Cinema in Song, 1896-1929: An Illustrated History and Catalog of Songs Inspired by the Movies and Stars, with a List of Recordings (2009).
He was a nice, affable kind of a guy, who I first met back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when I programmed a handful of series at the National Film Theatre. He had no ego and none of the usual problems one finds with film programmers whose self-importance diminishes the films and their makers that they are presenting.
Stuart Kaminsky, has died in Florida, on October 2009, also at the age of seventy-five, is best known today as the author of approximately seventy books in the mystery genre. He was, however, an academic at Northwestern University, who began his writing career authoring a number of volumes which were once of importance but, as is the way, have ceased to have much prominence today: Clint Eastwood (1974), Don Siegel, Director (1974), American Film Genres: Approaches to a Critical Theory of Popular Film (1977), John Huston: Maker of Magic (1978), and Basic Filmmaking, with Dana Hodgdon (1981).
Apparently, he began writing mystery novels when a planned authorized biography of Charlton Heston fell through. The first of the series featuring 1940s Hollywood private eye, Toby Peters, was Bullet for a Star, published in 1977. The last of more than twenty novel featuring Peters was Now You See It, published in 2004. Moscow police inspector Porfiry Rostnikov was introduced in the 1981 novel, Death of a Dissident. The final volume in that series, A Whisper to the Living, will be published next year. Chicago police officer Abe Lieberman was introduced to readers in 1990 with Lieberman's Folly, and Florida private eye Lew Fonesca was introduced in Vengeance, published in 1999.
There were other novels outside of the series, of course, and Kaminksy also wrote a couple of screenplays and worked with Sergio Leone on the director's final film, Once Upon a Time in the West (1984).
Like Ken Wlaschin, Stuart Kaminsky was one of the "good guys." I recall meeting him in the late 1970s, when I was at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and he asked me to get a copy of his John Huston book to James Stewart in the hope that the actor would agree to an authorized biography. He didn't.
(My thanks to Michael Carlson's thorough obituary of Stuart Kaminksy, which appeared in the October 29, 2009, edition of The Guardian.)
Finally, my latest book has just been published by Bear Manor Media. Titled Frank Lloyd: Master of Screen Melodrama, it discusses the life and career of the two-time Academy Award winner, responsible for two Best Picture winners, Cavalcade and Mutiny on the Bounty. Those films are discussed in detail along with others, including The Sea Hawk, The Divine Lady, East Lynne, and Berkeley Square. Frank Lloyd: Master of Screen Melodrama is reasonably priced at $19.95, and can be ordered from the publisher at bearmanormedia.com or 1-800-566-1251. Order it today!