Despite the march of time, there still seems to be a good deal of interest in early Hollywood. Older films continue to be restored and screened and eventually released on DVD. Festivals devoted to classic cinema are popping up just about everywhere. And biographies of key figures in the history of the movies are published with some regularity. Fortunately, for local film buffs, the San Francisco Bay Area is a hotbed for those interested in just this sort of thing.
If you have an interest in early Hollywood, there are three events taking place within this weekend which shouldn’t be missed.
On Thursday, October 27th, San Francisco biographer Emily Leider will discuss her just released Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood (University of California Press) at Bookshop West Portal in San Francisco. Start time is 7 pm.
Leider, theauthor of such acclaimed biographies as Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino and Becoming Mae West and California’s Daughter: Gertrude Atherton and Her Times, has now penned a thoroughly researched and stylishly written biography of a terrifically accomplished actress who was much more than a list of screen credits.
Leider puts it this way in her introduction. “From day one Myrna Loy’s screen image has conjured mystery, a sense of something withheld, something intriguing because it seems unknowable. ‘Who is she?’ was a question posed in the first fan magazine article published about her, in 1925. This book attempts to fill in some of the gaps and to counter the relative neglect that has befallen her abundant legacy. I want to remind people of Myrna Loy’s prodigious achievement onscreen and of the remarkable person she was.”
The remarkable person she was included fighting the House Un-American Activities Committee, becoming a UNESCO delegate, campaigning for various Democratic Party candidates, serving John F. Kennedy on the National Committee against Discrimination in Housing, helping co-found the American Place Theater all the while striving for the betterment of the human condition.
Loy got her start during the silent film era. She was discovered by Rudolph Valentino, and went on to appear in small roles in films like A Girl in Every Port (1928), with Louise Brooks. This first ever biography of the wry and sophisticated actress, best known for her role as Nora Charles – wife to dapper detective William Powell in The Thin Man (1934), does just that. Myrna Loy details a remarkable life as well as an extraordinary movie career that spanned six decades, while giving us the first full picture of a very famous though very private woman all too often overlooked in the annals of film history. Leider’s new book is certainly one of the best film books of the year.
On Sunday, October 30th, New Yorker writer Susan Orlean will discuss her recently released Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend (Simon & Schuster) at Book Passage in Corte Madera. Start time for this ticketed luncheon event is 12 noon. Local travel writer Don George will introduce.
Rin Tin Tin tells the story of the famous canine who went from an orphaned puppy found on a battlefield in WWI to world-famous Hollywood movie star in the silent era to international icon and television star during the ensuing decades. At its heart, the book tells the story of the American soldier – one time Oakland resident Lee Duncan, and his special relationship with the orphaned pup whom he found and affectionately called Rinty.
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend is the poignant story of one man’s love for man’s best friend – as well as a history of twentieth-century entertainment and the changing role of dogs in the American society, including military service. In its review, The New York Times Book Review asked“Do dogs deserve biographies?” In Orlean’s hands, the answer is an affirmative “Bark, bark.”
And later the same day, on Sunday, October 30th, the San Francisco Symphony presents the silent era classic,The Phantom of the Opera (1925), with live musical accompaniment at Davies Symphony Hall. Start time is 8 pm for this now annual Symphony tradition of showing a silent film at Halloween.
This first Phantom of the Opera, staring Lon Chaney in the title role, has been called “the greatest horror film.” And that it is. Accompanying this special screening will be instrumentalist Cameron Carpenter, who will be performing on the Davies’ Ruffatti organ, acknowledged as one of the largest concert hall organs in the country.
Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and film buff, and the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the legendary silent film star. Gladysz has contributed to books, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced the actress’s films around the world. He writes about movies, books, and popular culture for various websites and print publications.