From the archives: Beauty and the beast – new film biographies worth reading (2011)

July 16, 2012

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 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.

Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, by Emily Leider

If you have an interest in early Hollywood, there are three events taking place within the week 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, the author 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 penned a thoroughly researched and stylishly written biography of a terrifically accomplished actress and humanitarian 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.”

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 and 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.

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend

[Looking ahead: on February 21, 2012 Leider is scheduled to speak on “Nick and Nora’s San Francisco” at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. Leider’s illustrated presentation, presented by the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, will include movie clips.]

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 journalist Don George will introduce.

Rin Tin Tin is a story of magnificent obsession. It tells the story of the famous canine who went from orphaned puppy found on a battlefield in France during WWI to Hollywood movie star in the silent era to international icon and television star during the ensuing decades. Rin Tin Tin is also a poignant exploration of the bond between one man and one dog – as well as a history of twentieth-century entertainment and the changing role of dogs in the American society.

In its review, The New York Times Book Review asked “Do dogs deserve biographies?” In Orlean’s hands, the answer is an affirmative “Bark.”

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 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.

The Phantom of the Opera


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