Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Charlie Chaplin 125 -- April 16, 2014

Happy 125th birthday to Charlie Chaplin, the greatest comedy actor in film. 

The drawing, by Walter Tittle, is from the January, 1921 Photoplay

Monday, April 14, 2014

Iris Theater -- April 14, 2014

The illumination of Denver's Iris Theater is shown in this image from the April, 1911 Motography.  Note that the neon sign had been demonstrated only the year before, so the theater relied on lots of incandescent light bulbs for illumination.  Also note that admission was five cents.   

Last month we saw photos of Denver's Isis Theater from the same issue of Motography:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mary Anderson, RIP -- April 12, 2014

I was sad to learn of the passing of actress Mary Anderson.  She played the nurse in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat.  She asked Hitchcock "Which do you think is my best side?"  He replied "You are sitting on it." 

She also appeared in Gone With the Wind

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book: Lame Brains & Lunatics -- April 10, 2014

I finally finished reading Steve Massa's excellent book Lame Brains & Lunatics/The Good, the Bad and the Forgotten of Silent Comedy

I was happy to learn from his introduction that his first film-related magazine was Forrest Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland.  I saved my quarters to buy that magazine.  He learned a lot from Daniel Blum's A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen.  I enjoyed that one, too, frequently taking it out from the Richmond Branch Library.  I was sad that some pages and some individual photos had been cut out. 

Steve starts his book with a chapter on comedy teams of the Teens.  He talks about some that I knew, like the Snakeville comedies of Essanay and John Bunny and Flora Finch at Vitagraph, and some that I did not know, like Heinie and Louie and Lyons and Moran.  He talks about Montgomery and Rock.  I'm sorry to see that most (all?) of their movies are lost.  I remember reading a book which featured a long interview with Joe Rock. 

A short chapter on Mack Sennett comes before a long one on Roscoe Arbuckle.  I liked the description of Arbuckle's skill as a director.  Massa has dug up information I didn't know about Billie Ritchie, who claimed that Chaplin was imitating him.  Ritchie "deserves his own place in silent comedy history for presenting possibly the most low-down, despicable, and unlikeable character ever seen on the screen." 

Alice Howell gets a chapter of her own.  Two little-known Vitagraph series, Josie and the Jarr family have a chapter.  Then Gale Henry has one. 

Moving Picture World, October 14, 1916
To me the most interesting chapter was the one about Marcel Perez, who had a significant career in both French and American comedies.  Perez went by many names and his characters went by many names, including Tweedledum, Dweedledum and Tweedie.  I don't remember reading about him before I read Steve Massa's book.  "Tweedy's Tangled Tale" is a good title for the chapter. 

Charles Parrott, Charley Chase, gets a well-deserved chapter, which traces the influences his early directing and writing had on his later star vehicles. 

The chapter on Fay Tincher shows how, unlike many comedians who strove to develop a single, consistent character, that Tincher had three distinct characters. 

The chapter on Al St John answered the question of how Al was related to Roscoe Arbuckle.  Al's mother was Roscoe's sister.  It also gave me a better appreciation of the way that Al moved away from the psycho-rube-hillbilly he played at Keystone and Comique and became a more well-rounded performer in the 1920s. 

The chapter on Marie Dressler shows how her career rocketed up and down in the Teens and Twenties. 

The Max Linder chapter ends with a portrait of Max that shows the effects of his terrible problems. 

The chapter on comedy teams of the Twenties, like the chapter on the Teens, includes teams I know about, like the Hallroom Boys and Adams and Conley, and teams that I didn't know like Virginia Vance and Cliff Bowes and Al Cooke and Kit Guard.  I learned about Cooke and Guard in this book and then got to see them soon after in the second Accidentally Preserved DVD ( 

"Keaton and the Silent Comedy Grapevine" talks about Buster Keaton's influence and imitators.   Massa talks about how Larry Semon and Charley Bowers shared Buster's tendency towards surrealism. 

I enjoyed the chapter on cross-eyed George Rowe.  Massa quotes Sam Gill on his efforts to track Rowe down after someone mentioned that he had bumped into him on Hollywood Boulevard in 1966.  Massa tried to find death information about Rowe, but the commonness of the name frustrated his efforts. 

 Film Daily, 16-September-1926

I also enjoyed the chapter on Our Gang/Little Rascals and their imitators. 

Massa talks about Stan Laurel and Harry Langdon, and how Stan learned from Harry, in a two-page chapter. 

The text concludes with chapters on Max Davidson and WC Fields. 

A long appendix has selected filmographies for most of the comedians discussed in the book. 

Run out and buy a copy of Lame Brains & Lunatics.  Don't fall into a mud pit or slip on a banana peel. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

María Félix 100 -- April 8, 2014

Happy 100th birthday to Golden Age Mexican actress María Félix.  La Doña won three Ariel Awards.  One of her Ariels was for Enamorada

The photo of María Félix and the poster are from

Monday, April 7, 2014

Francis Ford Coppola 75 -- April 7, 2014

Francis Ford Coppola was born 75 years ago, on 07-April-1939.  I think the first movie of his that I saw was Dementia 13 on Creature Features, a late night horror show on KTVU Channel 2. 

I was too young to see The Godfather when it came out, but I read the Mad Magazine version over and over again. 

The first movie of his that I saw in a theater was The Conversation.  It was on a double bill with something totally unrelated.  I can't remember where I saw it. 

I saw Apocalypse Now  at the Strand, a Market Street house that was very popular with homeless people.  It seemed appropriate, especially when a character mentioned the unspeakable things going on in Kurtz's compound. 

I saw Hammett, which Coppola mostly reshot after Wim Wenders left the project, at the Metro on Union, I think.  I liked the book better. 

We saw The Cotton Club at the Bridge on Geary.  I liked it.  My then-fiancée, who tap dances, liked it.  Critics did not like it. 

I don't know how many times we saw "Captain EO", with Michael Jackson, at Disneyland. 

I've seen his other movies, including the three Godfathers on television.  I would like to see Godfather and Godfather Part 2 in a theater. 

We went to see Abel Gance's Napoleon, with a score by Coppola's father Carmine, at the Opera House. 

Coppola opened a restaurant in the Sentinel Building in North Beach.  Boss Abe Ruef had his office in the building. 

The photo of Coppola with his Godfather Academy Awards and the poster are from

Mickey Rooney, RIP -- April 7, 2014

I came home from a rosary for my father-in-law and learned that Mickey Rooney had died.  I was recently thinking about how he was one of the last living people who had starred in a silent movie, in his case a series of Mickey McGuire short comedies.  He may also have been the last person alive who starred in a movie with Tom Mix.  The poster for My Pal, the King is from Listal (, 

I remember seeing  him on television when I was a kid and having trouble relating him to the young boy I saw in old movies. 

He was widely talented.  His career had a lot of ups and downs, but more ups.  I'm sorry to see him gone.