Friday, January 4, 2019

Preserving the Republic (Studio)

Because my interest in B movies and the so-called "Poverty Row" studios has increased greatly over the past few years, I was eager to read Chris Enss and Howard Kazanjian's Cowboys, Creatures, and Classics: The Story of Republic Pictures (Lyons Press). I just wish I could say I loved it.

The illustrations, including movie stills, poster art, and related ephemera, are probably the chief asset of this coffee-table-type book. The text I found less impressive. Chapters offer somewhat superficial overviews of topics such as Western heroes, serials, and stuntmen, leaning pretty heavily on previously published material. The well-documented relationship between studio head Herbert J. Yates and his favorite leading lady, Vera Ralston, is discussed at some length, but in the end I didn't feel as though I'd learned much that I didn't already know.

There are also some errors film buffs won't have any trouble spotting, including the misspelled names of actresses Phyllis Coates and Mabel Normand. And while I appreciated the coverage of Gail Russell and Anne Jeffreys in the chapter on Republic's leading ladies, how do you put out an entire book on this studio with nary a mention of funny lady Judy Canova?

It's a shame to begin a new year talking about a book I can only marginally recommend. I'll try to do better next time out.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Coming Attraction

I'm pleased to announce that my eighth book will be published by McFarland next year.

It's a history and filmography of Pine-Thomas Productions, makers of more than 75 films in the 1940s and 1950s. The book offers much previously unpublished information about company founders Bill Pine and Bill Thomas, nicknamed "The Dollar Bills" for their ability to produce entertaining movies on modest budgets. In researching the book, I've been fortunate to enjoy the support and assistance of both the Pine and Thomas families, as well as an array of fascinating archival resources. There are also vintage photos you won't see anywhere else.

I hope you'll give it a look when it's released. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Black Friday Sale!

Just a quick mention that my publisher is having a terrific Black Friday sale, for both print and Kindle eBooks. This includes hundreds of great titles on film and television history.

Details are here. Happy reading!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

One Grateful Author

My first holiday gift of the season came early this year, with the publication of Classic Images' November issue. While I'm always happy to see some love for that cinematic guilty pleasure House of Horrors, the biggest treat for me was the review of Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record that appeared in Laura Wagner's "Book Points" column.

Since I have been reading and admiring Tom Weaver's books for at least 20 years, it came as a huge compliment when Ms. Wagner spotlighted us side-by-side, saying that our mutual publisher McFarland "has two of the best authors of show business history writing for them right now." My book, she says, "gives us a clear sense of who Storm was as a person," adding, "I'll be honest, his recounting of Gale's final years brought a tear to my eye." Throw in her reference to the author's "impeccable research skills," and I might feel a little verklempt myself.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Trials of O'Brien

"I want to report a murder."
"Who was murdered?"
"I was."

If you recognize that memorable exchange from 1949's film classic D.O.A., you'll want to check out Derek Sculthorpe's newest book, Edmond O'Brien: Everyman of Film Noir (McFarland). It's a welcome and worthy look at the life and career of an Oscar-winning actor who lent his talents to more than 100 films. Aside from D.O.A., O'Brien also created distinctive portraits of complex men in The Barefoot Contessa, White Heat, Seven Days in May, and a host of others. As the author notes, "His character studies were never all one thing. They were not all bad and not all good, but they were human."

Away from the cameras, O'Brien dated a dazzling array of Hollywood beauties, and married two of them -- film star Nancy Kelly (a short and tumultuous union), and actress/dancer Olga San Juan, with whom he had three children. Sculthorpe also covers the debilitating health issues that took their toll on O'Brien's life and work, including the gradual loss of his eyesight and, most cruelly, the onset of Alzheimer's while still in his fifties.

This is a quick, compelling read that should serve to reinforce O'Brien's significance as an actor, and insure that his fine performances are not overlooked.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Not Just Lucy's Babysitter

Elizabeth Patterson (r.), with Vivian Vance, on I Love Lucy. 
What I Love Lucy fan doesn't have a soft spot for the Ricardos' charming neighbor, and frequent babysitter, Mrs. Mathilda Trumbull? It's a credit to actress Elizabeth Patterson that she made such an impression -- though frequently mentioned, Mrs. Trumbull actually appeared in only ten episodes. (Before being cast in that role, Miss Patterson played a different character in the first-season segment "The Marriage License.")

One reason we didn't see more of Mrs. Trumbull was that the actress, despite her advancing years, was still in demand elsewhere. In December 1953, syndicated columnist Erskine Johnson reported, "Lucy and Desi will have to find themselves a new baby sitter," as the 78-year-old Patterson was Broadway bound in a new show. Though the play, His and Hers, starring Celeste Holm, ran only about two months, Mrs. Trumbull would be absent from Lucy until the fall of 1954, when she turned up in "The Business Manager." In that memorable episode, Lucy's note about Mrs. Trumbull's grocery order ("buy can All Pet") would cause a confused Ricky to believe his wife was playing the stock market.

Some fifteen years before she joined the I Love Lucy cast, Miss Patterson told an interviewer, "Life and fame for an actress may just begin as she reaches her fortieth year. If she can hold on in Hollywood until she's fifty, she no doubt will have a job as long as her health lasts." Indeed, she continued to act until just a few years prior to her death in 1966, at the age of 90. Her long and accomplished life might inspire all of us to keep pursuing our dreams as long as we're able.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Tale of Two Winners

Now here's a duo you don't see every day. Joan Crawford and Shirley Booth were both nominated for Best Actress Oscars in 1953. Sudden Fear, a suspense thriller, was Joan's latest success in a career spanning more than 75 movies. Shirley, on the other hand, was nominated for her first feature film, Come Back, Little Sheba, reprising a role she'd originated to great acclaim on Broadway.

As most movie buffs already know, Shirley took home the prize on the evening of March 19, 1953. According to syndicated columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, however, Crawford was an extremely gracious loser, spending much of the evening "burning up the coast-to-coast wires" in an effort to reach Shirley in New York. When all other efforts failed, Joan roused one of Miss Booth's apartment house neighbors well after midnight, "turned on the long distance charm, and actually talked the sleepy fellow into getting out of bed ... and shuffling upstairs to slip a message of congratulations under Shirley's door."

For more about Shirley's triumphant night, see Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record.