Friday Facts

Vanity Fair Frontispiece Facsimile

Vanity Fair Frontispiece Facsimile (Photo credit: Nils Geylen)

This week’s factual article was originally way back in 1921 in the publication titled Vanity Fair, no less. Written by Charles Hanson Towne, the article was called The Monstrous Movies and it looks at the growing new culture of Hollywood and film, but what it gives a modern audience is a forthright insight at what life was like way back in the silent era. This week I’ve the first of three parts of this fantastic article, with the following two parts appearing right here at Friday Facts over the coming weeks, so now, do enjoy:

 

Vanity Fair - August 2009Vanity Fair – August 2009

 

The Monstrous Movies

 

Caricature of Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936). ...

Caricature of Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936). Caption read “Mr Dooley”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There is a delightful story to the effect that when a young woman disappeared from New York some years ago, and every corner of the earth, seemingly, had been searched for her, Finley Peter Dunne suggested: Has anyone thought of looking in the gallery of the Century Theatre?'”

 

“Certain actor friends of mine have similarly disappeared from time to time. A deep, abysmal silence has followed their strange absence from the usual haunts of the metropolis. But now, at last, the mystery is solved. I know where they all are. They are in the movies – and most of them are in California, in a spot called Hollywood. I have prepared, on my first visit to the Coast, for the giant trees, the giant flowers, the colossal foliage and fruit that cause one to think he is living in a fairy-tale; I was certain of the great, wide-open hospitality – the big hearts and the abundant beauty I should see. But I was not prepared for the giant fungus growth, the monstrous mushroom that has sprung up overnight, as it were, in California – the most amazing and startling manifestation of the age: the movies.”

 

“Nothing can be small in California. Everything is magnified ten-fold or more; but the motion-picture industry has gone Nature one better; and the overwhelming scale on which it is run is something that the imagination cannot grasp at once.”

 

 

The New El Dorado

 

English: Nestor Studios, the first film studio...

English: Nestor Studios, the first film studio in Hollywood, 1913. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“As the old Forty-niners rushed to the gold fields in search of El Dorado, so now actors, actresses and managers, cameraman and directors, writers, artists and continuity folk, flock to that same section of the country; and they have built cities overnight, just as the gold-seekers did, and camped on the Coast. But with this definite difference: they have gone there to stay. They may rear a Spanish town this afternoon and demolish it next week; but something else will take its place within another twenty-four hours. A pavilion which is an exact replica of the one in Italy, let us say, may be erected for one scene in a play, and be absolutely valueless tomorrow. Money is thrown away as chaff before the wind. Almost it would seem that it would be more sensible to send a whole company to Italy than thus to toss gold into the Pacific. But no – all the paraphernalia is here – including the light that Nature has so thoughtfully and lavishly bestowed. Instead of actors being transported to Italy, therefore, Italy is brought to America – for a week or two; and nothing is thought of the miracle. next to it, a Greek village may be in the process of construction.”

 

Hollywood Studios 1922

Hollywood Studios 1922 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“‘The world is too much with us.’ one might say of Hollywood; and indeed the whole world seems literally to be here, concentrated in one tiny corner of the Earth. So many assortments are here that it reminds one of those ingenious prisoners who, with nothing else to do, crowd the words of the Lord’s Prayer on a pin-head. Hollywood is a contracted dance floor, on which everyone in the world is dancing; and the jazz goes on incessantly. There seems no rhyme or reason here, no method, no system, no direction; it appears a madhouse – as it is, and isn’t; and a visitor finds it difficult to adjust himself at first, to fall into step on the crowded, nervous floor.”

 

“Is it any wonder? For hodge-podge is Hollywood’s first, middle and last name. Confusion is the god that in some mysterious way runs this crazy universe.”

 

A Night at the Movies (film)

A Night at the Movies (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“What shall be said of a judgement that exploits the so-called “personalities” of little girls with weak chins but big black  eyes that “film” well, in stories dashed off like penny-dreadfuls, with ungrammatical captions and incoherent “continuity?” Of actors who care only for the money that they earn, and wouldn’t give tuppence for the studios unless their pay-envelope bulged at the end of the week and they could ride back and forth in a ten-thousand-dollar car? Of the younger group of perfect cameo-like profiles who leave shops and offices to go into the films, with no knowledge of the technique of acting, and who, when they have a priceless opportunity to watch a really great artist before the camera (for there are such), sit behind clumps of scenery and smoke innumerable cigarettes?”

 

And that’s that from Friday Facts for this week; See ya next week for part two of this wonderful article, so adios amigo!

 

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee

 

 

 

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Charlie’s Sunday Quote

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

We think too much and feel too little.” ~ Charlie Chaplin

Hope you are enjoying these Sunday quotes from Charlie Chaplin and I hope you enjoy this hilarious video from Youtube of Charlie Chaplin in The Bank.

 

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee

Friday Facts

Hollywood Sign

Back again with the second part of the article Hollywood: The Blessed and the Cursed. As you may recall from last week this article by Robert E. Sherwood is about how it all came about. How did the American film industry decide to find it’s way to find it’s home in California? This week we start in the Mojave Desert:

Mojave DesertMojave Desert

“So the highway across the Mojave Desert were clogged with immigrants, following with pathetic confidence the path of the blistering sun, seeking the ‘thing (whatever it was) that had been gained with apparent ease by such bewildering beings as Gloria Swanson, Richard Barthelmess, Clara Bow and Jackie Coogan. Some few of the hundreds of thousands of unsolicited immigrants had been provident enough to bring with them funds sufficient for their support for a week or so in California; others were positive that they had only to knock once upon the studio portals to achieve the miracle of recognition.”

the Motion Picture Relief Fundthe Motion Picture Relief Fund

“The enormous increase in population thus promoted in the Los Angeles district was naturally gratifying to the Chamber of Commerce boosters, but it imposed a terrific strain upon the local charitable organizations. The swarms of candidates for fame and fortune became public charges and consequently damned nuisances. The employees of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Christian and Hebrew Associations, the Salvation Army, the Motion Picture Relief Fund, etc., were constantly having to listen to the same tale: “I’ve come all the way from New Bedford (or Quito, or Maida Vale, or Eisenach) and they told me at the studios ‘No Casting Today’ but if you can only help me out until tomorrow I know I’ll get a break!”

Begging at American IdolBegging for that One Chance is just as Big Today

“The break always came, but it was usually in the form of a compound fracture of the illusions. Probably no more than one-fifth of one per cent of those who have journeyed to Hollywood in quest of employment have ever managed to earn a bare living out of the movies.”

Will H. HaysWill H. Hays

“It must be said for the regular inhabitants of Hollywood that they have all done all they could to correct the appallingly false impression of their adopted home town. They were embarrassed and horrified by the stories of fancy vice that were being circulated by gossipy journalists. They believed (erroneously) that this sort of notoriety would hurt their business. Through the offices of the film czar, Will H. Hays, and that impressively named organization, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, propaganda was spread to persuade mankind that Hollywood was neither Xanadu nor Mecca, but, in reality, a reputable community of church-going, God-fearing, temperate, and commendably sexless Puritans.”

And that's a WrapCUT!

And that’s a Wrap and so it was. Not the greatest of endings for an article, but the experiences that Robert E. Sherwood have shared about life during the pioneering days of Hollywood were well relayed. And, well, I hope this article has helped you learn plenty about the Great Era of early Silent Film, but I’ll be back again next week, with some more facts about the Silent Era, which, yet again, will be taken directly from the pens of the people who lived those pioneering days. Till next week then!

Friday Facts

The Squaw ManThe Squaw Man Poster

I’ve come across another article from way back in the 1930’s and this one is by Mr. Robert E. Sherwood. This one was published in a publication called America As Americans See It back in 1932 and the title of the article was Hollywood: The Blessed and the Cursed! Over the next couple of weeks or so I’m going to reproduce this article and at the same time learn some more about life during the pioneering days of the Silent Film Era! This is another edition of Friday Facts:

HollywoodEarly Hollywood

“The Discovery of Hollywood, like most epoch-making discoveries, was accidental. It happened that, in 1912, Jesse L. Lasky, a vaudeville magnate, joined with his brother-in-law, Samuel Goldfisch, a glove salesman, in the formation of a motion picture producing company. Their first offering (and, they assured themselves, probably their last) was to be “The Squaw Man“. They engaged Cecil B. DeMille as director and Dustin Farnum as star, and sent them to Flagstaff, Arizona, to make the picture. Flagstaff was selected because it sounded as though it would provide suitable backgrounds for the enactment of a vigorous Western melodrama, but when DeMille and Farnum arrived there, and took one look at the prospect from the station platform, they stepped back on the train and continued on to the Pacific Coast. A chance acquaintance happened to mention to them a hamlet called Hollywood, a sleepy suburb of Los Angeles, which is itself the largest suburb on Earth, and they made that their objective. They rented a barn on Vine Street, and there produced “The Squaw Man“, the first feature picture to be born beneath the California sun.”

Early HollywoodProgressing Hollywood

“(I do not know whether there was actually any holly in Hollywood when the first adventurers arrived there, or whether that Christmassy, Dickensian name emerged from the imagination of some pioneer realtor. There is no holly in Hollywood now, nor any green thing that grows by the will of God as opposed to the artifice of man. The water which irrigates the gaudy gardens about the villas of the stars is imported from far distant sources, just as is the supply of talent, ingenuity and sex appeal which animates the cameras.)”

Mary PickfordMary Pickford in ‘Tess of the Storm Country’

“After “The Squaw Man“, came the first of the immortal Keystone comedies, produced by Mack Sennett, with Ford Sterling, Chester Conklin, Mabel Normand, Fatty Arbuckle, Marie Dressler and eventually, Charlie Chaplin; then Adolph Zukor moved his Famous Players organization to Los Angeles to make “Tess of the Storm Country“, starring little Mary Pickford, and David Wark Griffith arrived with his company of Biograph players to produce the first of the epics, “The Birth of a Nation“. In the year 1915, the second gold rush to California assumed colossal proportions.”

CleopatraCleopatra

“As vast prosperity came to Hollywood, so did scandal, and with it, fame unbounded. The sensational stories, printed in the less scrupulous newspapers and magazines, of Byzantine orgies in the film colony – stories of immorality on the grand scale – conveyed to the avid public the assurance that life in Hollywood was a veritable bed of orchids to be shared with the most desirable, the most god-like representatives of the opposite sex. As a direct result of this misconception, Hollywood became the goal toward which traveled the hopes and dreams of all the frustrated morons: it was recognized as the fountainhead of romance, wherein the frailest, pimpliest ribbon clerk could be converted into a devastating Don Juan and the sorriest slavey into a voluptuous Cleopatra.”

Flagstaff 1882Flagstaff Picture from Back in the Day (1882)

Well that’s that for this week. I hope you have enjoyed this week’s article and sure I’ll have the second part of it for you next week. It’s amazing though how fate led the film industry to Hollywood, but now you know how it happened and why, and I’m sure you’ll agree that Flagstaff doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it.

 

Posted by Michael “Charlie” McGee

Friday Facts

journoheadline

Welcome back to our weekly Nenagh Silent Film Festival Friday Facts post. Again I’ve been studying the 1947 article Hollywood’s Green Years, which is a treasure trove of information about the silent era. Of course with this article having being published less than twenty years after the beginning of talkies, the time would have being fresh in many minds. I hope you may be amazed at some of the facts I’ve found as I have been, and you if you want to read the previous Friday Facts posts, you’ll find them under the Category Friday Facts.

 

Hollywood

In 1909 the American Film Company (AFC) sent it’s first unit to California. After a time there was no sign of any word coming back, so a scout was sent out to locate the company. He eventually found it in San Juan Capistrano, where the director had become a confirmed drunkard and the actors and crew were broke and stranded. The scout contacted AFC and advised them of the situation. The reply wire from AFC read: “WE WANT PICTURES. MAKE UP STORY AND DIRECT IT.” The scout did as he was told! Such was the way of things back in the pioneering days of the early silent era.

 

tarentino

The title of the first two-reeler ever shot was called Oil on Troubled Waters. The story was about a heroine who owned oil wells that were located in the sea off California. The villain of the piece coveted the wells, but the hero of the story arrived just in time (Hooray!) Of course, as in every story like this back in the day pre-Tarentino, you have a calm, comfortable setting at the beginning, then an anti-hero or a villain comes along and upsets the apple cart, until the hero arrives to resolve everything, before everything returns to a calm, comfortable setting again. This is usually accompanied with a love interest between the hero and the heroine. (Check out most films you have watched – same rules nearly always apply) Anyway, a fight inevitably happens between the hero and villain and this occurs when the hero is drilling a new well from a rowboat(?) and the villain had swam out to beat the bejaysus out of him (Booo!), however the hero wins through and ends up drowning the villain by sitting upon him. (Tarentino again: Unnecessary violence)

Complaining

After the first two-reeler was screened, there was a lot of people who were very unhappy with this progression in the motion film industry and hundreds of letters were addressed to the powers that be, as well as to the film companies. An extract from on of these letters from a church minister read: “It is morally degrading to have a motion picture more than one reel in length.” The film industry remained tight-lipped over the matter and continued to make two-reel silent films – Thank God! That’s all for this week, but don’t forget to check us out next week when we’ll have some more amazing facts from the silent era.

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee

Midweek Matinee

Silent But Deadly: The Dawn of the Martial Arts Film

Greed

Ask a film buff for the longest silent movie ever made. Chances are, you’ll get the answer Greed. Erich Von Stroheim’s self-proclaimed master-work was the nine-hour tale of a young California miner who turns to dentistry, marries, wins the lottery, and ends up handcuffed to a dead man in the Nevada desert.

Erich von Stroheim

It was an extraordinary piece of work, as far as we can tell. Stroheim‘s script survives, as does the novel it was based on. Much of the footage has been lost, however. The best that can be seen now is a heavily-chopped copy. Even at two hours, it is occasionally a punishing experience. But how many works of narrative art could survive so well the loss of three-quarters of their length?

The Burning of the Red Lotus

It was nowhere near the longest silent, however. That honour may go to 1928’s The Burning of the Red Lotus. At 27 hours, it is better thought of as a series than as a single movie. Though it was entirely lost by 1940, it’s impact as the first major martial arts movie continued to be felt with a series of remakes extending through to the 1950s.

Enter the Dragon

To feel its impact today, we have to look at the works it influenced, even at second hand. So do yourself a favour. If you haven’t seen Enter The Dragon, or haven’t watched it since your misspent youth, dig out a copy this week. It is forty years old on Friday, and it hasn’t aged a day.

Posted by Kevin McGee