Issue No. 5 / late summer 2006
Winnifred Eaton (1875-1954) was born in Canada to a British father and a Chinese mother, and decided to capitalize on her exotic appearance by pretending to be Japanese and adopting the pen name of "Onoto Watanna." Under that name, she wrote more than a dozen Japanese romantic novels and a number of short stories. She is of interest to this column because of the screen adaptations of her work and her time in the 1920s as a screenwriter at Universal. Diana Birchall is Eaton's granddaughter, and Onoto Watanna: The Story of Winnifred Eaton (University of Illinois Press, $29.95/$20.00) is the rather dreary and dull recounting of the subject's life and career. I am sure Winnifred Eaton was a fascinating character, and obviously she had an extraordinary life, but she obviously needs a better biographer.
Eaton's 1901 novel, A Japanese Nightingale, was filmed by Pathé in 1918, and the author claims it was not successful. She provides no evidence for this statement, nor does she acknowledge the film's star, Fannie Ward, whose presence did, in all probability, guarantee the film's commercial success. Nor is there any mention of the major director involved, namely George Fitzmaurice. It is puzzling that Colonel William N. Selig appears quite a few times in the text and is described as Eaton's agent, but nowhere does the author mention his prominent early film company, the Selig Polyscope Company; I was not aware that Selig also was active as a literary agent while managing his production company, and this is an area that needs more explanation. A 25-page chapter is devoted to Eaton's work at Universal, which began in 1924 at the studio's New York office, where she was a scenario editor. She is described as a protégé of Carl Laemmle, but the author offers no proof of this, and, indeed, Eaton's minor work at the studio suggests otherwise. The author also states that Eaton's closest woman screenwriter friend was Lois Weber, but, again, provides little if any information as to the relationship and goes on to describe Weber (most incorrectly) as the director of the 1918 production of Tarzan of the Apes. Eaton did have some writing credits at Universal in the mid through late 1920s, and also contributed to Motion Picture Magazine, but the information provided by her biographer lacks detail and suggests a lack of understanding of film history.
Obviously intended primarily as a textbook, David Bordwell's The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies (University of California Press, $60.00/$24.95) examines the manner in which today's blockbusters continue the principles of visual storytelling created during the studio era. The analysis of the films is clear and intelligent, but I think the best part of the book is the 48-page appendix, "A Hollywood Timeline, 1960-2004," which, year by year, provides statistical data along with information on company activities, television, video and the internet, and moviemaking technology. I don't know if anyone else has done this type of breakdown, but if they have, I cannot believe they have done it better.
Barbara Klinger's Beyond the Multiplex: Cinema, New Technologies, and the Home (University of California Press, $60.00/$24.95) studies the manner in which audience view films at home and away from the traditional movie theaters. It is the first full-length study of how contemporary entertainment technologies and media influence our encounters with the motion picture – and, as such, it is an excellent introductory text.
Are the journalistic efforts of most newspaper reporters worthy of republication in book form? The answer is a resounding No! Certainly, one can only wonder at the seeming high regard in which one such journalist is held as evidenced by an array of over-the-top quotes of praise on the front and rear covers of Judy Stone's Not Quite a Memoir: Of Films, Books, the World (Silman-James Press, $29.95). Stone wrote for a handful of Bay Area newspapers, and the book reprints a fair number of her short pieces. Among the film people covered are Alfred Hitchcock, Jeremy Irons, Joseph E. Levine, Carlos Saura Jim Sheridan, and Gus Van Sant. I could find nothing particularly original here – in fact, it all seemed drearily politically correct – and nothing that deserved a second read.
Once upon a time there was a wonderful Brooklyn-based film buff named Herb Graff, who was both a brilliant raconteur and the owner of a unique 16mm film collection. Young film buffs will not know his name despite his once being profiled in The New Yorker and also being a frequent speaker at the Cinecon banquets. I remember one of his stories of an incident that took place in the men's room at New York's New School after one of William K. Everson's film screenings. Herb Graff was seated in one of the cubicles and he heard two young gay men enter. Both were enthusing about Kay Francis, the star of that night's film. The first young man revealed that he was the proud owner of one of the actress's gowns. Turning to his companion, with one assumes both hesitancy and desire, he added, "If you come home with me, I'll let you wear it."
I tell this story as evidence of the unique fascination that Kay Francis holds for gay men (and presumably gay women), which at times appears to harm, or at the least influence, any discussion of the lady's talents as an actress. It is unfortunate, because as Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career by Lynn Kear and John Rossman (McFarland, $35.00) shows, she was a first-rate performer and a fascinating personality. Kay Francis was able to acknowledge her age on screen and grow from a very sexy dame who knew how to wear a dress with just the right amount of swagger in the 1930s to play with decided strength and warm Deanna Durbin's mother in It's a Date in 1940. Perhaps it is unfair, but I often see Kay Francis at her best as a svelte and really erotic version of Mae West. The latter is often a joke, a sad parody, whereas Kay Francis is the real thing.
This new book documents Kay Francis's life and career in considerable detail. It is heavily footnoted, and includes a detailed filmography. What makes the book truly fascinating, of course, is that the authors had access to Kay Francis's personal papers at Wesleyan University. In particular, they read and deciphered her diaries, with their revelations of her many sexual relationships with both men and women. This is a volume one can admire for its scholarship and love for its revelations, none of which, I might add, are presented in a breathless or outrageous tone.
I first met Richard Lamparski when I first came to Los Angeles back in 1971-1972. Every few weeks, we would have dinner together, along with director Curtis Harrington, at the Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Boulevard. At that time, he was already well known as the author of the "Whatever Became of…?" books and for a similarly themed radio show, which I have to confess I have never heard. I always remember that the message on his answering machine identified him as Richard Lamparski, living in the heart of Hollywood, "a city that has no heart."
In the intervening years, it is as if Richard had disappeared from the scene, although, in fact, I still spoke to him on the telephone. He moved up to Santa Barbara and it would seem he deliberately removed himself from the Hollywood arena. Now, he has published his first new book in more than twenty years, Hollywood Diary: Twelve Untold Tales of Gary Cooper, Patsy Kelly, Pola Negri, Robert Taylor, Zeppo Marx, The Grapes of Wrath, A Star Is Born, "Our Gang," Rock Hudson, Soupy Sales, Quentin Crisp, Mae West (BearManor Media, $19.95). It is a fun read despite Richard's insistence on leaping all over the place. The chapters relate to far more subjects than the book's subtitle would suggest. Here is all the gossip, not necessarily fit to print, that one would expect from the author of Whatever Became of…? Richard has no hidden agenda, everything is out in the open, and film buff readers may not always like what is written of their favorite player.
If I have a complaint, it is that the book has no introduction. The first chapter, titled "The Hollywood Fans All over the World Dream of," takes the reader on a fascinating tour of Hollywood landmarks in the company of Quentin Crisp. But there is no explanation as to who Richard Lamparski is or how his career developed. I would love to know more about his background, his early years, but perhaps that is the subject for another volume?
Aside from the gossip, what makes Hollywood Diary important is its documentation on the film buff scene of twenty or thirty years ago, the days before the video revolution, when one really had to work hard to view a specific film. It is so good to have a record of Hollywood's most aggressive autograph seeker, Marty Jackson, and to read of the Parlour Cinema run by Bob Chatterton in his North Hollywood home. I can recall going to screenings there with film buff Marty Kearns, Chatterton's ponderous and miked introductions to the films, and the insistence on no negative comments on the films or the performers. It seems like an eternity ago.
Thank you Richard for bringing the past so vividly and so entertainingly to life. I look forward to the next volume, also from BearManor Media, Manhattan Diary.
I know little about BearManor Media, but it is a non-trade publisher with a large number of relatively cheap, paperback volumes relating to entertainment history. Other titles available include Stuart Oderman's Talking to the Piano Player and a fascinating autobiography of director Frank Tuttle, They Started Talking, edited by John Franceschina. For more information, go to www.bearmanormedia.com or write to BearManor Media, P.O. Box 750, Boalsburg, Pa. 16827.
Pedro Almodovar by Martin D'Lugo and Chris Marker by Norma M. Alter are two new volumes in the "Contemporary Film Directors" series published by the University of Illinois Press (each $50.00 in hardcover and $19.95 in paperback). Both are excellent introductions to the works of their respective directors and both serve as useful reference sources. The narratives are readable and inclusive, and supplemented by interviews, a filmography and a bibliography. At the paperback price, there is nothing better – and it is quite amazing how much information has been crammed into so few pages. My only complaint in regard to this series would be that the subjects are generally obscure (for example, Claire Denis and Edward Yang) and some major figures in modern American and British cinema need to take their places here.
The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia by Glenn Mitchell (Reynolds & Hearn/Trafalgar Square, $29.95) has been updated and revised – and it is good as the original edition. This is a first-rate A-Z reference work on the comedy team, covering every film, individuals involved and subjects as varied as the piano and religion. Even references to Garbo are documented! Mitchell is also responsible for the excellent (and reasonably priced) Laurel and Hardy Encyclopedia, The Chaplin Encyclopedia and the A-Z of Silent Film Comedy.
The British publisher I.B. Tauris has announced a number of film books for summer release:
Crime Wave: The Filmgoers' Guide to the Great Crime Movies by Howard Hughes (paperback) promises to the "essential companion to crime films" – all in 288 pages.
Teen Dreams: Reading Teen Film and Television from Heathers to Veronica Mars by Roz Kaveney (paperback) examines "how teen films and tv series deal with the tragic and comic undersides of the American dream."
Once upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers' Guide to Spaghetti Westerns by Howard Hughes (paperback) is described as "the ideal popular guide…authoritative, entertaining and comprehensive." Again all in 288 pages.
Hollywood's History Films by David Eldridge (available in both hardcover and paperback) examines "how movie-makers have trodden the perilous line between historical fact and fiction." Despite the all-embracing title, the book focuses only on the 1950s.
Filming the Modern Middle East: Politics in the Cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab World by Lina Khatib (available in both hardcover and paperback) "assesses cinema's role as a tool of nationalism in the USA and the Arab world, and the challenges the Arab cinemas present to Hollywood's dominant representations of Middle Eastern politics."
Iranian Cinema: A Political History by Hamid Reza Sadr (available in both hardcover and paperback) studies 100 years of Iranian cinema and is written by a Tehran-based film critic.
Chasing Dragons: An Introduction to the Martial Arts Films by David West (paperback) looks at the genre as presented in films from Hong Kong, Japan and Hollywood.
British Cinema and the Cold War: The State, Propaganda and Consensus by Tony Shaw (paperback) covers a little discussed area of film history, with "tales of conveniently forgotten films" such as High Treason, Little Red Monkey and The Man Between.
The Curse of the Werewolf: Fantasy, Horror and the Beast Within by Chantal Bourgault du Coudray (hardcover and paperback) includes horror films of the 1980s in its remit.
Religion and Film: An Introduction by Melanie Wright (hardcover and paperback) is wide ranging over 272 pages.
I.B. Tauris has also announced a number of television-related texts. Its books are available in the U.S. from Palgrave Macmillan (212-982-3900). For more information, go to www.ibtauris.com.
THE HOLLYWOOD NOVEL
Just as this section has become a regular feature of The Slide Area, so it seems is it dedicated to books that have recently found their way to the remainder tables or the brilliant catalogs of Edward Hamilton. The current subject is The Hollywood Dodo by Geoff Nicholson (Simon & Schuster, 2004). Geoff Nicholson is an English writer with a very original and comic style, and his latest work concerns itself with Henry Cadwallader, a recently-widowed English doctor who accompanies his daughter, Dorothy, on a trip to Hollywood, where she hopes to become a movie star. There, Cadwallader meets "auteur of the future" Rick McCartney, who is trying to make a costume drama set in 27th Century England about a man who owns what he believes is perhaps the last dodo on earth.
The novel moves backwards and forwards in time between the present in Hollywood and 17th Century London, until the two storylines merge as one with the making of the film. A pornographer plays a prominent role as does his once-famous leading lady, who is now a real estate agent and a casual lover of Henry Cadwallader. As seems always to be the case with a Geoff Nicholson novel, there is some relatively kinky sex, this time with Cadwallader about to perform sex on screen with a porno star while watched by his daughter.
The author knows contemporary Hollywood well, and his research is far superior to that of many film academics. Of course, with the honorary exception of Stuart M. Kaminsky, most academics don't write Hollywood novels.