Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Clara Bow #15 -- April 30, 2014

Red haired Clara Bow was probably the most popular silent actress after Mary Pickford. In this item from the 11-May-1927 Film Daily, she is called "The 'It' Girl" because of her appearance in the 1927 movie It

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mechanical Toys as a Means of Practical Instruction -- April 29, 2014

From Scientific American / New Series, Volume 20, Issue 14, April 3, 1869

He who will introduce toys with the double object of amusing and instructing will be a benefactor to the race. We are aware that many of the popular toys now in use, are based upon mechanical laws, and, in a degree, illustrate mechanical facts; but this elucidation is not a primary or principal object in their construction, and can be found generally, only by a close study or a partial dissection of the toy. It is not apparent to the casual observer; indeed, the object seems to be to conceal the mechanism and exhibit only the result, tempting the inquiring mind -- one that likes to understand the why and wherefore, "that seeks to know where faith should trust" -- to copy the example of the boy who burst the head of his drum to see where the sound came from, or ripped the bellows to find the source of the wind.  From the great steam man to the flying top, from Maelzel's automaton chess player to the pasteboard acrobats and dancers, the source of power and its modes of transmission are concealed as much as may be. Yet this is the best, most valuable, most interesting exhibition of the device. Concealment is not knowledge; mystery is not wisdom.
The zoetrope or "wheel of life" is a play upon the organ's vision, a valuable exemplification of the science of optics. As such it is amusing, and bewildering. But how valuable it would be to show the action of machinery, to illustrate mechanical movements. A machine or its parts might, by its use, be presented in actual, or rather apparent motion, showing not only the parts of the machine and their relations, but also their action. Why could not the principle of the zoetrope be extended to exhibit, simultaneously to every individual of a large audience, the movements of machinery? Certainly here is room for invention, or, at least, improvement. This toy might be made a valuable aid to impart scientific and mechanical knowledge. The lecturer who first succeeds in introducing the zoetrope to his class, or audience, to illustrate mechanical movements will inaugurate a profitable and valuable means of imparting knowledge. These suggestions are worthy the attention of our inventors.

The image is from The Young Folk's Cyclopædia of Games and Sports by John Denison Champlin and Arthur Elmore Bostwick, 1890.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Educational -- Inspiring -- Clean -- Thrilling -- Historical -- April 28, 2014

On 25-March-1916, heavyweight champion Jess Willard, the Pottawatomie Giant, defended his title against Frank Moran, the Fighting Dentist at Madison Square Garden.  Willard won in 10 lifeless rounds.  This ad is from the 08-April 1916 Moving Picture World

Willard, a cowboy who didn't start boxing until he was 27, was, at the time he won the title from Jack Johnson in 1915, the oldest (33), tallest (6' 6 1/2") and heaviest (235 pounds) heavyweight champ.  There was some suspicion that Johnson might have thrown the fight, but no firm evidence. 

Willard lost the title to Jack Dempsey in 1919.  After a short retirement, Willard returned to the ring and fought well until 1923. 

After Moran left the ring, he became an actor.  He was a member of Preston Sturges' stock company, appearing in most of his movies. 

From the New York Evening World, 27-March-1916.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mutoscope #2 -- April 27, 2014

A Mutoscope at San Francisco's Musee Mechanique ( . The sign ("This is an authentic, turn of the century Zoetrope!") is wrong. The Mutoscope is a hand-cranked entertainment machine that works like a giant flipbook. I took the photo on 20-September-2008.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Grauman's Chinese #37 -- April 26, 2014

In July, 2012 we paid a return visit to Hollywood and Grauman's Chinese Theater.  Sid Grauman was a San Francisco showman who came to Los Angeles and built three major houses, the Million Dollar, the Egyptian, and the Chinese. The theater has hosted many film premieres, but is most famous for the hand and footprints (and hoofprints and nose prints and other types of prints) in the forecourt.

Charles Laughton left his hand and footprints in the forecourt on July 24, but he didn't include the year.  He was a great actor, but I think the first movie I remember him in was The Hunchback of Notre Dame.   (31/DSC_0052.JPG)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

If You Have Not Yet Booked Oz Features Do So at Once -- April 24, 2014

The Oz Film Manufacturing Company, located in Los Angeles, was formed in 1914 to produce movies based on stories by L Frank Baum, the creator of The Wizard of Oz.  The company made some movies, but was not a financial success. This ad is from the 10-October-1914 edition of Moving Picture World. It refers to their first two movies, The Patchwork Girl of Oz and The Magic Cloak of Oz.  It claims that The Patchwork Girl had "Crowded Houses -- Playing to Standing Room Only -- At the Strand Theatre, New York City." 

I know The Last Egyptian, a non-Oz Baum story got produced.  I'm not sure about His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

America's Leading Photoplay Artist -- April 22, 2014

Actress Pearl White was the first serial queen, starring in The Perils of Pauline in 1914. Before the serials, she appeared in many comedies, such as the Crystals, released through Universal.  The ad is from the 05-October-1912 Moving Picture World.  "Split Reel Every Sunday.  Consisting of Two Rip-Roaring Comedies." 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Bunny for Easter -- April 20, 2014

Happy Easter, everyone. Here is a Bunny for Easter. John Bunny was a popular performer in early Vitagraph comedies like "A Cure for Pokeritis" (1912), "Hearts and Diamonds" (1914) and "The Pickwick Papers" (1913). He was born to play Mr Pickwick. Bunny died in 1915 and the world mourned.A detail from a Vitagraph ad in the 23-May-1914 Moving Picture World.  Be sure to click on the image to see the larger version.  Note his tooth.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Johnnies On the Spot, Slightly Bent But Never Broke -- April 18, 2014

Today is the 108th anniversary of San Francisco's 1906 Earthquake and Fire.

The Miles Brothers, pioneering San Francisco producers and distributors, offered films of San Francisco before the earthquake, including their famous film known as "A Trip Down Market Street." 

The "Panoramic View of Newspaper Square at Kearny and Market Streets" mentions "Lotta Fountain" and the "Sutter Street Turntable."  This was actually the Geary Street, Park and Ocean turntable.  The intersection was called Newspaper Square because the offices of the Chronicle, the Examiner and the Call were on three of the corners. 

Be sure to click on the images for a larger version. 


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. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Bessie Love #16 -- April 6, 2014

I have always been fascinated by the career of actress Bessie Love.  She was born in Texas.  Her name was Juanita Horton.  Her family moved to Los Angeles and she went to Los Angeles High School.  Looking for work, she met director  DW Griffith and got a small part in Intolerance.  She appeared in movies with William S Hart and Douglas Fairbanks.  She was a 1922 WAMPAS (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers) Baby Star.  She played many leading roles, most famously in The Lost World, but never broke through until the talkies came, when she starred in The Broadway Melody.  Her career was hot again for a few years, but then tailed off.  She continued to appear in small parts in movies until the early 1980s.
Here is nice photo of Bessie Love.  That is a nice composition with the mirror. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Scene in a Modern Motion Picture Studio -- April 4, 2014

This image of a stage in the Jersey City studio of Pathé Freres is 11-July-1914 Moving Picture World.  The cameraman is Lefty Miller, "ex-professional baseball player."  He must not be Elmer "Lefty" Miller, a pitcher, who would have been only eleven that year.  John McGraw was manager of the New York Giants from 1902 to 1932 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Alec Guinness 100 -- April 2, 2014

Sir Alec Guinness, CH CBE (Companion of Honor, Commander of the British Empire) was born on 02-April-1914.  He studied acting and appeared on the stage before World War II.  During the war, he served as an enlisted man in the Royal Navy, with time on leave to appear in a Broadway play. 

After the war, he appeared in many movies.  He could play almost anything, from military officers (Bridge on the River Kwai) to to Dickens characters (Oliver Twist, Great Expectations), Popes (Brother Sun, Sister Moon) to Father Brown to Obi-Wan Kenobi.  I think of him in association with the Ealing comedies.  I think the first one I saw was Kind Hearts and Coronets on PBS.  Guinness played eight characters.  I love The Man in the White Suit and The Lavender Hill Mob, but my favorite is The Ladykillers

The photo of Alec Guinness as the Professor and the poster are from