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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Friday Facts: Hollywood’s Adoloescence

Quotation from Woodrow Wilson's History of the...

Quotation from Woodrow Wilson’s History of the American People as reproduced in the film The Birth of a Nation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Welcome back to Friday Facts and to the article Hollywood’s Adolescence by Richard E. Hubler. Last week I reproduced the first half of this article and we left it where the author was referring to how filming began to be brought indoors, with an orchestra playing at each shoot, while sets were built practically on top of each other. So here’s the concluding part of this wonderful article:

Cameraman“Even cameramen had temperament. Their stock excuse for quitting was: “The light is getting yellow.” Only cameramen could detect this quality in the sunlight so it always worked. Yellow light invariably spoiled negatives, but more than one director noticed that it set in just in time for his cameraman to get to the races.”

“Since a rival company had just completed a three-reel picture, Universal decided to do the stupendous thing. They issued orders to make a four-reeler, but on the safe subject of the Spanish-American War. The director shot it in eight days – a long schedule. Universal, then in  financial straits, tucked away the negative which represented its rehabilitation.”

D. W. Griffith“That night the studio was razed by a huge fire – and the negative was burned. The director summoned his cast and cameraman and shot the whole affair on a single day – from eight in the morning to five at night.”

“A not uncommon bonus for meritorious actions was a white enamel Simplex car, capable of 120 miles an hour. It was the custom to surround this monster with a solid bumper of railroad iron. A pastime acceptable to the motion picture colony, but looked upon with disfavor by the police and citizenry, was driving this creation into streetcars.”

“The motion picture writer began to come into his own – as the ‘titler’. Griffith invented his famous Came The Dawn“. Ralph Spence was possibly the most famous of these terse word artists. He was able to change the whole meaning of a picture, insert comedy or tragedy, simply by adroit one-line titles.”

The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In 1915, D. W. Griffith issued his epochal The Birth of a Nation. It marked the end of motion picture puberty. It introduced the screen as an art. It demonstrated that long pictures were feasible, high box-office prices obtainable, and that the camera was a medium that owed nothing to any other source. In a word, ‘class’ had come to Hollywood. The motion picture industry was never to be the carefree jerry-producing business it had been.” -END

Well that completes another wonderful article filled with plenty of facts from the glorious early days of Hollywood. I hope you’ve enjoyed this and will join me again next week, when I’ll come up with another fact-filled article based around the great silent-era.

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee

Friday Facts: Hollywood’s Adolescence

Silent Movies Music

Well I’m back again with another edition of Friday Facts. This week I’m going to reproduce an article that was printed in a publication called: “47 the Magazine of the Year.” The title of the article is Hollywood’s Adolescence and it was published in May 1947. The article, which was written by Richard G. Hubler, takes a look at the forming years of Hollywood and looks at life during the silent era – hope you enjoy the first part of this article, with he second part to be reproduced next week:

English: Vitagraph Studios, early Hollywood fi...

English: Vitagraph Studios, early Hollywood film studio, photo by Robert Monroe, shown in center of photograph wearing knickers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Los Angeles and its environs were crowded with new motion picture companies. The American Film Company, the Vitagraph Company, the Universal Company, Christie Comedies, and Selig found competitors springing up like weeds after rain: the demand for ‘flickers’ was enjoying its first boom.”

Hollywood Studios 1922

Hollywood Studios 1922 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The 2000 theaters that showed motion pictures charged nickels and dimes. Most of them were converted grocery stores. Musical accompaniment was supplied by a lone pianist. Dialogue was offered in subtitles or in monologues by the theater manager. Insurance was hard to come by because of the inflammable film and the rickety theaters.”

Beauty and the Bandit.

Beauty and the Bandit. (Photo credit: Beinecke Library)

“Two-reelers about the Civil and Spanish-American Wars commenced to be the fashion. To save time and wear and tear on the meager wardrobe stocks, the big battle scenes were shot all-Union one day and all-Confederate the next. The scenes were intercut with each other. In the Civil War, to preserve the market in both the South and North, the retreats nd advances of both sides were mathematically divided.”

Universal's stampede of thrills "The Ghos...

Universal’s stampede of thrills “The Ghost City” … (Photo credit: Beinecke Library)

“Censorship raised its ugly head for the first time. In Chicago, the police demanded that the guns in the hands of the villain’s henchmen on the billboards be deleted. The problem was solved by pasting flowers over the six-shooters. Instead of holding up the stage-driver, the grim masked men extended bouquets to him.”

Universal Life Insurance Company

Universal Life Insurance Company (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

“Naturalism was in demand. In one Western a live rattlesnake was used. The director picked it up to look at it; the snake sank its fangs into his bulbous nose. Nobody was sure whether the poison sacs of the reptile had been removed. So the director got roaring drunk. The next day he had a formidable hangover. The snake died.”

English: Union Brigadier General Ulysses S. Gr...

English: Union Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant photographed at Cairo, Illinois (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“One large film company had only one really convincing false beard. Moreover, they had only one actor who looked genuine in it. In their war features they used him for both General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant.”

Motion picture actors and actresses (1916)

Motion picture actors and actresses (1916) (Photo credit: State Library and Archives of Florida)

“Motion picture making was assuming its own dignity. More reels were shot on interior stages with the new mercury arc banks of lights. No scene was shot without an orchestra playing, “to get the actors in the mood.” But space at such studios as Universal was so cramped that sets were built less than six inches apart. A director doing a tear-jerker drama might be playing Hearts and Flowers, while on one side of him Al Christie would be doing a comedy and playing ragtime, and on the other Robert Z. Leonard would be having his orchestra play a schottische for a foreign portrayal. It was bedlam confounded, but the results were effective on the screen.”

 

English: The intersection of Hollywood and Hig...

English: The intersection of Hollywood and Highland, 1907. This would become the location of the current Hollywood and Highland complex and a center of Hollywood tourism today. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so that’s Friday Facts for this week. Interesting stuff, but if you hunger for more of this article, I’ll be reproducing it even further next week with the second half of Hollywood’s Adolescence. Bye for now!

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee

Midweek Matinee

Decaying Hollywood MansionsDecaying Hollywood Mansions

Another website recommendation today. If you want a painless and freewheeling way to explore Hollywood’s past, visit Decaying Hollywood Mansions on Facebook. The site is dedicated to stills and other ephemera of several golden ages of cinema, from the earliest experiments with motion to the frontier wildness of the early 1970s.

John WayneJohn Wayne in The Searchers

The page is a labour of love by Charles Lieurance, who is a relentless truffler in the cinematic undergrowth. Recent highlights of his “multi-media spookhouse of cinema’s past” include a vintage comic-book version of The Searchers, and this fabulous PR shot from 1928:

1237692_672089429479066_539418604_n

Kudos if you recognised the young Joan Crawford. If you also clocked the grizzled Gibson Gowland (last seen hereabouts in Stroheim’s Greed), give yourself a gold star.

Scenography for the movie Greed. 1926.

Scenography for the movie Greed. 1926. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cropped screenshot of Joan Crawford from the f...

Cropped screenshot of Joan Crawford from the film Category:Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Kevin McGee

A Quote on Thursday: Silent Women

Mary PickfordMary Pickford

Mary Pickford:

Adding sound to movies would be like putting lipstick on the Venus de Milo.

 

Louise Brooks 1Louise Brooks

Louise Brooks:

“A well dressed woman, even though her purse is painfully empty, can conquer the world.”

 

Talluhah BankheadTallulah Bankhead

Tallulah Bankhead:
It’s the good girls who keep the diaries. The bad girls never have the time.”

 

Gloria SwansonGloria Swanson

Gloria Swanson:
As Daddy said, life is 95 percent anticipation.”

 

Anna May WongAnna May Wong

Anna May Wong:

“There seems little for me in Hollywood, because, rather than real Chinese, producers prefer Hungarians, Mexicans, American Indians for Chinese roles.”

 

Louise BrooksLouise Brooks

Louise Brooks:
Love is a publicity stunt, and making love – after the first curious raptures – is only another petulant way to pass the time waiting for the studio to call.”

 

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee

 

Midweek Matinee

Louise BrooksLouise Brooks

3EPKANO & LOUISE

Everyone who attended last year’s Nenagh Silent Film Festival remembers the band 3epkano. They provided the music for Murnau’s Nosferatu. It was a hell of a noise for four people to make. I think I saw someone afterwards counting the drummer’s hands.

Pandora's BoxPandora’s Box (1929)

They’ve expanded their silent-film repertoire to include another German masterpiece. This time it’s Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, a late silent movie starring the scandalous, and scandalously beautiful, Louise Brooks.

NosferatuNosferatu

Brooks is one of not many silent stars who could walk into a producer’s office today and emerge with a starring role. She also wrote one of the indispensable acting memoirs, Lulu In Hollywood. Marvel here at her looks, her art, and her ridiculously influential hairdo. And turn up your speakers: that’s 3epkano bringing the noise:

 

Posted by Kevin 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!