Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Hello Everyone!

This blog has been silent (ha) for a long time, but it was for a very good reason.
May I present to you...

REELS & RIVALS: Sisters in Silent Film

The last year and a half was a flurry of scribbling, typing, editing, more typing, more was hard work and I loved every moment of it.  You'll find profiles of well-known sisters like Mae and Marguerite Marsh, obscure sisters like Alma and Olive Tell, even vaudeville acts like the Dolly Sisters.  Violent marriages, heartbreaking tragedies. drastic surgeries. secret identities...these were sisters with secrets!

If you choose to read it (and I hope you do), please let me know what you think!

Available from Amazon (click the photo) or directly from the publisher, BearManor Media.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Save the Vitagraph Smokestack 2.0

Those of you who have been following my blog for awhile might remember the petition I started back in early 2012, to try and rescue this piece of history from the wrecking ball.  Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in winning over the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, who claimed it was only a "fragment" of the original Vitagraph complex and, therefore, not eligible for status.

Today I was contacted by Melissa Friedling, founder of Slouch Productions and teacher at the prestigious New School; the smokestack has scaffolding around it and looks in danger of imminent demolition, an action sure to break the hearts of film and history-savvy New Yorkers.  So...

Ms Friedling is taking up the gauntlet and refusing to let the smokestack go without a fight.

Please, all of you, sign her petition and support this cause!   Perhaps it's not too late after all!

© Frank H. Jump used with permission

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review Roundup: VIRTUE (1932) / SEARCH FOR BEAUTY (1934)

Hello Readers!  It's been way too long since I checked in -- hope everything's going well with you all.  Things are going great for me because every Friday in September, TCM is playing pre-Codes!  All the lurid goodness you can handle for 24 hours.  Paradise for this film fan!

Two that I enjoyed over the weekend (hooray for DVR):

VIRTUE (1932) is a gritty little melodrama about Mae (Carole Lombard), a prostitute ready to walk the straight and narrow instead of the streets, and Jimmy (Pat O'Brien), the taxi driver she begins a new life with -- only to have the old one rear its ugly, two-faced head.

I was going to write a full review, but Danny at has done a marvelous job of that already, so go have a look!   Allow me to add that Lombard is on par with Barbara Stanwyck in this -- the entire film feels more like a down-and-dirty WB production rather than Columbia.  Top-notch and I recommend it highly.

SEARCH FOR BEAUTY (1934) is crazy.  The plot of a health-and-fitness magazine trying to run a beauty contest almost doesn't matter; this whole film is sex on screen with a healthy thumbing-of-the-nose at the Hays Code.  It's gotta be the most salacious of the pre-Codes I've seen (and that's saying something)!  Danny at again does the honors with his review.  YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE.  Also: Toby Wing Speaks!  She gets actual billing!  


You may wonder why I'm no longer doing my own reviews.  Well, the fact is: there are so many other bloggers that are much, much better at it than I am!  So you'll continue to see poems, actor profiles, and other interesting tidbits on FF+SS, but reviews will be from other film bloggers worth your attention (and boy, are there some wonderful ones)!  I'll still be adding my two cents though. ;)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Follow Me, Boys (and Girls)!

Hello Dear Readers!

Don't delete me just yet -- every now and then I'll be posting here -- but if you haven't followed me on Facebook or Twitter, you should!  I'll be updating there regularly.

Flapper Flickers + Silent Stanzas on Facebook

FF + SS on Twitter

Hope to see you!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Five Facts About: House Peters

[image courtesy The Loudest Voice]

1. Robert House Peters was born on March 12, 1880 in Bristol, England. He didn't stay put long, traveling extensively as a young man; he sailed to China, India, Australia, New Zealand, and Central Africa (where he served in the Boer War) before returning to the land of his birth.

2. He was already a well-known stage actor both in England and the US when he was chosen to enter pictures, by Jesse Lasky himself.  His first film was IN THE BISHOP'S CARRIAGE (1913), opposite Mary Pickford.  Not a bad intro to movies!

[image courtesy Please Pass the Popcorn]

3. Became a very popular star of the teens, and was billed as "The Star of a Thousand Emotions".  Unfortunately, those emotions were always of the "good guy", which he lamented:

I've always got to be the He-ro.  I don't mind rescuing the lovely maiden -- that's fair enough; but why must I always be condemned to marry the heroine, pay off the mortgage, and live happy everafter? I tell you it gets to be monotonous.  What do they think I am -- a Mormon?
[Allen Corliss, "They Won't Let Him Be Bad", Photoplay, August 1916]

4. His biggest film was THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST (1915), but after that, his career backslid.  He tried for a comeback in the early 20s, but by 1928 House Peters was effectively finished.  His last film was from that same year -- ROSE MARIE, starring Joan Crawford.  He came out of retirement for one movie in the 1950s, which brings us to #5...

5. He married in 1914, and had three children: Ian and Patricia, who dabbled a bit in film, and House Peters Jr, who worked extensively in B-movies and TV spots throughout the 1950s and 60s.  The vast majority of his resume was Westerns, one of which -- THE OLD WEST (1952) -- starred him alongside his father.  However, House Peters Jr is best known for one particular role he held from the late 50s to the early 60s:  the original portrayer of Mr Clean.
[image courtesy The National Enquirer (I know!)]

House Peters passed away in 1967.  His son died in 2008.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Manly P Hall and the Mysticism of 1920s California

This is Manly Palmer Hall.  He was born in Ontario, Canada, on March 18, 1901.  Striking, no?

[image courtesy The Manly P Hall Archive]

Young Manly, accompanied by his maternal grandmother, moved to California to reunite with his mother  in 1919.  (He never knew his father.)  California then was just as much Hippieland USA as it was in the 1960s, maybe even more:

The Victorian Era started the ball rolling with Spiritualism, Theosophy and The Golden Dawn. Between these, all the concepts that would grow and be experimented with through the 20th century emerged: mediuimship/channeling, clairovoyance, astral projection, astrology, mixtures of eastern and western religious concepts, past lives, ceremonial magick, cabalic esotericism for non Jews, the list is endless.

During the 1800s Lodges were how it was done. But in the new 20th century things were changing. People with interesting systems of alternative spirituality were discovering a way to actually achieve stability was to form a little hub in LA...[o]ver the decade as Los Angeles’ reputation grew, it attracted droves of occultists and those wanting to start their own systems of alternative spirituality as well as all the young Hollywood fodder.  ["Los Angeles and the 1920s Occult Explosion", A STEAMPUNK OPERA]

Mom fit in perfectly -- she was a Rosicrucian (a secret philosophical society, Wiki definition here) and a practicing chiropractor. Chiropractic was still in its infancy then, having only been founded in 1895; early on it was still considered a pseudoscience of sorts, containing  heavy doses of metaphysics and spiritualism, so it fit in beautifully to the cosmic Cali atmosphere.

Manly was fascinated and jumped in with both feet, becoming a student of Sydney J Brownson, a "doctor" of phrenology (yup, the "bumps on the head" thing).  Although he only possessed a sixth grade education, he was extremely bright, with a voracious appetite for all things occult and esoteric.   The intense young man took over as preacher for Church of the People in 1919, and became permanent pastor only a few days after his ordination in 1923.

Hall was already a well-regarded lecturer before the age of 21, and wrote over 200 books and pamphlets on mystical and spiritual topics between 1920 and 1950.  It was one such book that created his legacy:  The Secret Teachings of All Ages (1928), a GIGANTIC volume spanning almost every metaphysical topic known to man.  It is still incredibly popular -- over one million copies have sold to date -- and it has never been out of print.  Manly was brilliant, not only in the book's contents, but in its marketing; he created one of the first Kickstarter campaigns, offering copies at a reduced rate for contributions.  He funded Secret's $150,000 publication fees purely through these ads and word of mouth.  

[image courtesy Amazon]

The book made Hall a superstar.  He continued collecting metaphysical knowledge, crossing the globe for rare books and manuscripts.  His trips were funded by benefactors and members of his congregation.  One such benefactor, Carolyn Lloyd (and her daughter Estelle), had been sponsoring Hall since the early 1920s, and upon her death left him a home, $15,000 in cash, and a $10,000 annuity.

He founded the Philosophical Research Society in 1934 --  an organization devoted to "providing resources for the study and research of the world’s wisdom literature".  It is still active today.  Click the logo to visit.  

"But Jen," I hear you asking,  "where's the Hollywood connection?" 
Ah, dear Readers, it's in the stars...

WHEN WERE YOU BORN? (1938) is a crime mystery starring Anna May Wong as Mei Lee Ling, an astrologer who uses her knowledge of the zodiac to solve one murder and possibly prevent others.  Hall wrote the original story for the film, which did terribly on release but has since become quite the cult movie (as you can imagine -- I mean, look at that glorious prologue!).  TCM shows it from time to time, I really want to catch this one.

Hollywood not only knew him, he was friends with most of them  Elvis was a huge fan.  Ronald Reagan borrowed much of his later political posturing from him.  He even officiated at Bela Lugosi's wedding!

[image courtesy The Wild Hunt]

Hall's private life was nowhere near as successful; he married twice, the first ending in suicide, the second an unhappy one with a woman biographer Louis Sahagun refers to as "emotionally abusive".  

Manly P Hall died August 29, 1990, aged 89, under grotesque and suspicious circumstances:

In the ultimate, final tragedy, this man who believed in reincarnation and who had planned to leave the earthly plane consciously, might have been the victim of a greedy plot devised by his assistant Daniel Fritz, who rewrote Hall's will. Hall's body was found under suspicious and horrifying circumstances, apparently dead for hours and with thousands of ants streaming from his nose and mouth. The case was never solved. [Steffie Nelson, "Charting the Man Behind a Mystical City", Los Angeles Times, June 21 2008]

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Corliss Palmer, The Million Dollar Beauty

Every girl is born a princess, blessed by the fairies with beauty, health, joy, the same time, the evil fairy also was present with her curse.

--Corliss Palmer, "In League With the Fairies", Motion Picture Magazine, March 1921

Corliss Palmer was aimlessly thumbing through a fan magazine, just like any other teenager, when something caught her eye:  an unassuming little column at the back of the book, announcing the “Fame and Fortune Contest” for 1920.

“Fame and fortune,” she thought to herself.  “Could you just imagine?”  She could see herself swathed in furs, eating at the finest restaurants, admiring the diamond bracelet on her wrist – and the man on her arm. 

She was pretty, this she already knew.  So did everyone else, since she was crowned “Miss Georgia Peach”.  Sending a photo in seemed like a long shot, but it was worth a try, right?  She cut the coupon out of the ad and set to work.


Eugene Brewster, publisher of Motion Picture Magazine, sat listlessly at the heavy wood table.  He’d been rifling through the photos for that infernal contest all morning; he was tired, bored, and his patience was wearing thin.  Until he saw this:

Brewster was known for his eye for the ladies, but he had never seen one like her before.  He was speechless.  He was smitten.

He was also married. 

Had been since 1916.  At that moment, though, his wife was the furthest thing from his mind.


So begins the tale of Palmer and Brewster, a sordid little story all too common then – and now. 

Corliss would (surprise!) go on to win the “Fame and Fortune Contest” and was touted as “The Most Beautiful Woman in America”.  Her photos took up a good chunk of the publication.  She’s mentioned so frequently that, if you didn't know better, you’d think her the most famous woman in Hollywood! 

She appeared in a few films, most of which are lost and/or forgotten, save one comedy short: BROMO AND JULIET (1926), featuring a pre-Laurel Oliver Hardy and considered one of Charley Chase’s best.  

[image courtesy Fandor]

Brewster continued to make Corliss his personal project.  He founded a studio for her, CORLISS PALMER PRODUCTIONS, and gave her a (almost certainly ghostwritten) monthly beauty column in Motion Picture Magazine.  These columns led to a spinoff publication, BEAUTY, with you-know-who on the cover.  All his time was tied up in Corliss…and, by this time, the two had become a romantic item as well.

[image courtesy eBay]

“But Jennifer!” you might be saying.  “Didn’t you say he was married?”

Yes he was, Dear Reader.  Eleanor Brewster was NOT happy with the way things were going, calling Corliss “beautiful but dumb” and “nothing but trouble”.   You can't blame her;  Brewster continued to funnel money into Corliss, creating a cosmetics line he heavily promoted in his magazine...

...and buying her a $250,000 mansion to live in (with her mother, of course).  This house was the last straw:

Let him buy whatever houses he wants.  Let him move all over the country.  Let him get a divorce from me.  I'll let him -- at last!  But it will cost him EVERY CENT he has, and that means quite a lot of money.  No woman has ever been through such racking mental stress, such spiritual agony, as I have.  And I intend to see that I get some recompense. 
--"Woes of Lovesick Brewster." Buffalo Sunday Courier, circa 1924.

Eleanor sued for alienation of affection, naming Corliss as co-respondent, and the Brewsters divorced in 1926.  That October, Brewster and Palmer were married.

[image courtesy Fanpix]

From here, things went downhill rapidly.  After the success of BROMO AND JULIET, the rest of Corliss' films did poorly.  Didn't help that Eleanor was true to her word, draining Eugene of most of his fortune.  By 1931, he had filed for bankruptcy (citing "bad investments") and he and Corliss were living in a tiny one-bedroom bungalow.  Not long after, Brewster asked Palmer for divorce.  She agreed, admitting that she never really loved him.

Corliss turned to alcohol to numb the pain and confusion of losing her entire world.

[image courtesy Pieces of our Past]

I was blinded by self-pity...I thought if someone pitied me, they would again give me the fame, love, and fortune that I had let slip through my fingers.

While she did find true love towards the end of her life with Bill Taylor, a rodeo cowboy, she never truly came back from the spectacular rise and fall of the Brewster years.  Corliss Palmer died in 1952, in a California state hospital for the mentally ill.  She was only 50.

[image courtesy Movieart]

Bonus:  Fashion News of 1928.  Skip to 1:44 to see Corliss.

Other Sources:

The Most Beautiful Girl in the World / Love at the End of the Rainbow: Corliss Palmer - An Epilogue -- posted by Scott Thompson at PIECES OF OUR PAST

Lowe, Denise. An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films, 1895-1930. New York: Haworth, 2005.

"Husband Broke, Beauty Still at Side".  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 7, 1931.

Slide, Anthony. Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine: A History of Star Makers, Fabricators, and Gossip Mongers. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2010

Corliss Palmer -- IMDb

All images (unless otherwise noted) courtesy the Media History Digital Library.