Thursday, April 29, 2010

Valentino-O-Rama 2010

Valentino-O-Rama is here!

May 6, 2010 will be the 115th anniversary of the birth of Rudolph Valentino. Here at Strictly Vintage Hollywood we simply can't let this birthday anniversary pass without paying tribute to our favorite silent star.

Not a simple one day birthday post on May 6th, either. No siree! The celebration of all things Valentino will go on the entire month of May. It's not quite May yet, to get things started a little early, here's a favorite photo of Mr. Valentino.

During Valentino's birthday month there will be plenty of birthday surprises for the fans of Rudolph Valentino. This will include some wonderful photos of Valentino, film clips, slide shows and pieces about his life, lifestyle and his films. There will also be a few surprises I can't talk about yet, you will simply have to tune in to find out.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Restored Metropolis to Screen in San Francisco

Fritz Lang's seminal 1927 film Metropolis has been restored using footage located in an archive in Argentina. This new footage adds about 20 minutes to the film.
The restored film was screened in Los Angeles last weekend during the TCM - Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. All reports have been fabulous on what the footage added to the film.
Happy news for the Northern California film geeks, Metropolis will be screened at the 15th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival. As with the TCM screening, the Alloy Orchestra will play the film live. Oh, and I'm not trying to be snooty, the SF Silent Film Festival attracts film mavens from around the world. Everyone is welcome! I'm just super lucky, I live here.
The trailer for the restored film can be seen here. KINO will be releasing this film on DVD and on Blu-Ray.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mel Brooks -The Critic

Stepping momentarily outside of Strictly Vintage Hollywood to nod to the comedic genius, Mel Brooks, who finally received a star on the walk of fame last week.

Atta Boy Mr. Kaminsky, and thank you for the millions of laughs. Back to regular scheduled programming very soon.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Project Runway - Silent Movie Style

Theda Bara in Cleopatra (dig the crazy snake tattoo)
Costume Designer: Unknown

I am not at all ashamed to admit that I am completely addicted to Project Runway. I've been a fan since Season 1. I've stuck with Project Runway from season to season and from the change of network from Bravo to Lifetime (for better or worse). I absolutely adore Tim Gunn and I ask, who doesn't love him? The move to Lifetime was tough. Getting through Season 6 was not a picnic, believe-you-me. In fact, the only thing that got me through Season 6 and is helping me endure Season 7 are the hilarious recaps written by Una LaMarche (aka The Sassy Curmudgeon).

Project Runway is one of the very few television shows I watch with any regularity. In fact, it is the only commercial television show I watch regularly. The rest of my time in front of the box is random PBS, a cooking show or two and movies. Lots and lots of movies. Thank God for TCM and Netflix.

With the finale of Project Runway upon us this very evening, let me state I'm in Seth Aaron's or Mila's camp and I fear Emilio will win. Emilio probably deserves it, I dunno, I just like Seth Aaron and Mila better. Wow, Seth Aaron won!

As I've been watching Project Runway this season and seeing some of the crazy, ridiculous and plain awful fashion, it made me think of the fashion of the silent film era. No, this is not a swipe at 1920's fashion, I adore the gowns and hats. Were there some really awful looking gowns? I suppose so. Were some of the hats just monstrous? Absolutely. That said, my goodness, there were some wicked designers in the era.

Anita Page models a tea dress (note the amazing shoes) Designer: Unknown
Many or most of the designers from the 1920s are names that have been forgotten for decades. Designers did not typically garner an on screen credit. Unless you pay attention to the fashion spreads in the fan magazines, you may never know who did do the costumes for a particular film. This is a real shame as some of the gowns, as ornate and over the top as they may be, they're totally wonderful. A name such as Clare West is probably unfamiliar. If you've seen any early Cecll B. DeMille films starring Gloria Swanson, or Blood and Sand with Nita Naldi, you will know and recognize her work for Paramount.

Nita Naldi in a publicity shot for Blood and Sand
Designer: Clare West

In honor of the designers whose designs and names have been lost to history, it seemed a good idea to have a silent movie era runway show. What follows is a collection that features daytime, formal, sport, outerwear and even a bridal gown for your consideration and enjoyment.

Project Runway Silent Movie Style

Mary Pickford in a charming daytime ensemble
Designer: Unknown

Greta Garbo in a stunning evening coat from The Torrent
Designer: Gilbert Adrian

Bessie Love in a stylish evening gown
Designer: Unknown

Norma Talmadge in a magnificent beaded gown and plumed fan
Designer: Clare West

Nancy Carroll in a skin tight bridal gown and veil
Designer: Unknown

Clara Bow models a sporty work ensemble
Designer: Unknown

Louise Brooks showing off some spiffy silk pajamas
Designer: Unknown

Mrs. Rudolph Valentino models an evening gown and fur cape
Designer: Paul Poiret

Joan Crawford in an amazing lounging set
Designer: Gilbert Adrian

If you want to learn more about costume design in films, a good place to start is Elizabeth Leese's book Costume Design in the Movies. Loaded with photos it has a capsule bio of many designers from the 1920's through the 1960's. You can also consult the incredible Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

If you want some guidance for vintage fashion looks, I recommend
Zelda Magazine and also visit their links page. How can you resist Hey Sailor Hats? In addition to the terrific Zelda Magazine there are some excellent books to help you sew and style your own vintage look.

If you are in Hollywood and want to hang with a really cool person who is made for and dresses beautifully in vintage fashion, seek out Karie Bible of Film Radar. Karie does some rocking historical tours at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

George O'Brien - Local Boy Makes Good

Thomas Meighan, George O'Brien, Conrad Nagel and Daniel O'Brien
at the San Francisco Train Station May 1922
(Courtesy of The Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley)

Silent film and western movie star George O’Brien was born in San Francisco, California on April 19, 1899. George was the elder son of Daniel J. and Margaret L. O'Brien. His younger brother Daniel O’Brien, Jr. came 3 years later. Like many others, the O’Brien’s lost their home and livelihood in the great earthquake and fire of 1906. The O’Brien clan lived in one of the many refugee camps set up in the city and over the years in several neighborhoods in San Francisco. They lived on Ocean Avenue, Tehama Street and Octavia Street in the Marina. The Ocean Avenue house enumerated on the 1910 census is still standing and can be seen below.

George O'Brien's boyhood home on Ocean Avenue
(Photo by me)

In 1908 desperate for work, Dan O’Brien, Sr. joined the San Francisco Police Force and by 1919 had become acting Chief of Police. Chief Daniel O’Brien was not only the Chief of Police, he was a city ambassador, much like Mayor James J. Rolph (nicknamed “Sunny Jim”). Many a Hollywood star would be greeted at the train station by both the Mayor and Chief O’Brien. It's easy to see where George got his good looks.

Chief Daniel O'Brien
(Courtesy of The Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley)

George and his brother Dan passed happy days growing up in San Francisco. George excelled at athletics and worked hard to emulate his ideal, his Dad. After graduation from high school, George enlisted in the United States Navy to fight in World War I. He served on a Submarine chaser and volunteered to act as a stretcher bearer for wounded Marines. George was decorated for bravery.

After the Great War George moved back in with the family in San Francisco and was at loose ends. Originally intending to attend college, George instead sought some action behind the footlights. San Francisco, then as now, is an attractive city for filmmaking and George soon found stunt work and a small film role in Paramount's 1921 film Moran of the Lady Letty.

Moran of the Lady Letty starred Dorothy Dalton and Rudolph Valentino (fresh from success in The Sheik). George can be seen early on in the film and has a nice little death scene. George was reputed to also do the stunt work on the film. It has been erroneously reported that George took the fall for Valentino at the end of the film. In fact, if George did the stunt fall into the San Francisco Bay, it was for Walter Long, not Valentino.

Dorothy Dalton and George chatting on location in San Francisco
(Courtesy Francis Lacassin)

George appeared in small parts and bits in several films such as Thomas Meighan's The Ne-er Do Well for Paramount (1923) and Milton Sills' The Sea Hawk for First National (1924). It was later in 1924 when George scored his big break with the leading role in the Fox epic The Iron Horse. George also made a lifelong friend in the director, John Ford.

Madge Bellamy and George O'Brien posing with The Iron Horse (1924)
(Courtesy of The Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley)

George's notices for The Iron Horse earned him a contract with Fox and, as they say, a star was born. George made several films, including East Side West Side (which garnered rave reviews in 2009 at Cinecon). The great German director F.W. Murnau cast George in Sunrise based on his work in East Side West Side.

It is the 1927 film Sunrise that cements George O'Brien's place in the cinematic pantheon. With 20+ years of his career was left to him, Sunrise remains the best known and most beloved film of his career.

George's portrayal of a young farmer "The Man" who is tempted by a woman from the city (Margaret Livingston) to attempt to murder his wife (Janet Gaynor in a most unfortunate wig) and then, realizing his error, spends the rest of the film wooing her back is a strong, moving and tender performance. Murnau's lyrical and sensitive direction combined with the photography of Charles Rosher and Karl Struss and the simplicity of the story packs an emotional wallop for even the most jaded film-goer. Even today. Janet Gaynor may have been Academy Award nominee and winner for Sunrise and Seventh Heaven, but it was George who really gives the standout performance.

Margaret Livingston and George O'Brien in Sunrise

The "marriage sequence" shown below still moves this viewer to tears every single time.

George also loved and was proud of his work in Sunrise. While I was not in attendance (before this old timer's time), another old timer posted some recollections of favorite Cinecon festivals past with this small remembrance:

And my all-time favorite Cinecon moment...
1979: New York City
George O'Brien gets a standing ovation at the end of SUNRISE and starts wiping tears from his eyes. Unforgettable.

A Window Card for the film (1927)

George posed for some pretty hunky and spectacular nude art shots for the film Fig Leaves. No need to post them here, you can find them all over the internet, hubba hubba, quite a hunk of man.

George's career continued on with a loan out to Warner Brothers/First National for the epic Michael Curtiz film Noah's Ark. Grueling is not the word. Poor George and his leading lady Dolores Costello took a real beating in this film. By the end of the 1920's George's career had moved firmly into the genre of westerns. George was an active and favorite B-Western star for the remainder of his film career.

George married Marguerite Churchill in 1933 and by all accounts the union was a happy one. George's great happiness with marriage in 1933 was tempered by the passing of his beloved father later that year. Their first child Brian died at 10 days, an unspeakable tragedy. The daughter Orin was born in 1935 and in 1939, son Darcy. George continued to make westerns and raise his family.

He rejoined the Navy and served in the Pacific in World War II. Like many veterans, George came back from battle a changed man. Marguerite took the children and filed for divorce. George never remarried.

As his career in film waned, George became a pioneer in another medium, television. Apparently nothing is extant from the early shows. Sadly, nothing at the Paley Center. His final screen appearances were with John Ford.

George O'Brien lived a full life, a generally happy life and left a legacy of wonderful films. George strove throughout his life to emulate his father, strong and honorable. He was handsome, a good actor and a decent man by all accounts. He served his country with honor and valour in the two world wars. I'm a day late with the birthday feliciations, but they are no less heartfelt today than yesterday.

George's 1937 film Windjammer can be seen on youtube in several parts. Grade B, but still fun and George is charming and hunky.

Happily, George O'Brien has a fan website. It's quite nice with loads of info and plenty of eye candy, too. Aptly named Gorgeous George O'Brien, he certainly was.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rare Nita Naldi Film to be Screened at Cinecon 46

Nita Naldi publicity portrait for The Breaking Point

Our friends at the Society for Cinephiles have begun slowly announcing titles for the upcoming annual Labor Day festival Cinecon in Hollywood. This film fan is THRILLED to announce that the rare film The Breaking Point which features my favorite vamp will be screening at Cinecon 46. Please visit their website for more information on when, where and how you can attend Cinecon. They also have a Facebook page were you can keep current.
It's no secret that I am a big fan of Nita Naldi. She positively steals Blood and Sand right out from under Rudolph Valentino and Lila Lee. Like her vampish predecessor, Theda Bara, a paltry number of films with Nita exist. Any opportunity to see a new film featuring Nita, well, that's the most exciting news we've heard in a long long time. The Daughters of Naldi will be out in force, of that I am sure. I'm also thrilled to bits as there will be a Milton Sills film screening.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Happy Birthday Mary Pickford

America's Sweetheart

By the time Gladys Marie Smith made her film debut in the 1909 Biograph film Her First Biscuits, she was a seasoned veteran of the stage. She'd played the hard circuit of the "ten-twenty-thirts" of one night stands criss-crossing the country and also starred on Broadway in David Belasco's production, The Warrens of Virginia. The trip to Biograph for work in 1909 was one out of necessity and it was also a bit of a comedown for a player on the legitimate stage.

Within a short period of time, Mary Pickford was a force to be reckoned with in the film business. She was one of the first "name" stars of the silent era. She was one of the first stars to earn a million dollars at a time when the average salary of the working man was less than $100 a month. She was also one of the first stars to have her own production company. By 1919 she was pioneering further with the founding of a new studio with her partners, D.W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin and her partner in life, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

Mary Pickford was, for a time, the biggest star of the movies. Known in the early years as "The Girl with the Curls," (this was before name billing), she was later identified as "Little Mary." A sign bearing the legend "Little Mary Here Today" was enough to bring crowds in to the nickelodeon.

Mary Pickford is best remembered and stereotyped as playing little girl characters. There is no mistake, she made many films playing an adolescent. She was capable of and did so much more than that. In the early Biograph years, she played a wide variety of roles, indian squaws, married women, artists and everything in between. In films that she produced, she played mischevious children, teenagers and mature women. She did this very well, the spunky hoydenish girl, the tough street kid, a young boy (and his mother), the daughter of a beloved cop on the beat and the orphan mother to a brood of younger children. Pickford could, and did, do it all. She was a skilled actress and one who was mature well beyond her young age. Pickford showed great poise, enormous depth and an economy of gestures uncommon in the early days of film. She honed her craft with a keen eye and a sense of pride in doing the absolute best she could, for herself and her fans. Fans, one might add, that numbered in the millions. She had fans from every country across the globe.

As a producer, she took great care with her productions, always aware and economical with a dollar due to the crushing poverty of her early years as the main family breadwinner (a role she never stopped playing), her film productions were oppulant and beautifully staged. She was a pioneer and able businesswoman, she crossed swords with the best and worst of the producers and film moguls, and usually won.

In the end and late in life, Pickford misjudged thinking her films would not hold up and would be silly and antique to future generations. She was intent on burning them and destroying the negatives. Happily, her good friend Lillian Gish talked her out of this drastic deed. Through the aegis of the Mary Pickford Foundation and their partnership with Milestone Film and Video, many of Mary Pickford's films can be seen by the home viewer on DVD. To those lucky enough to attend film festivals around the world, her pictures are regularly shown. Thanks to the hard work of film preservationists, Pickford's charm will never be lost. She was a pioneer, she was a fine actress and artist, she was a leading figure in the film community, she was studio mogul, and a very astute businesswoman. In the end, she will remain, Little Mary Pickford, America's Sweetheart.

Happy Birthday Mary Pickford, you're still one of the greatest stars.

Here is one of Mary's finest early performances, posted here previously, the 1912 film The New York Hat.

Friday, April 2, 2010

NEH Grant to the National Film Preservation Foundation

William S. Hart


New DVD Set Will Present the American West in Early Film

Thanks to a $305,000 grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Film Preservation Foundation will produce Treasures from American Film Archives 5, a ten-hour DVD set presenting the American West in early film. The anthology will draw from the preservation work of the nation's preeminent silent-film archives—the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Archives, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive—and explore how film recorded and mythologized the American West from 1897 to 1938.

Some of America’s earliest movies brought the West’s distinctive landscapes and peoples to faraway audiences. By 1910, narratives set in the West accounted for one-fifth of all U.S. releases and had emerged internationally as the first film type for which “American-made” become a selling point. While Westerns were helping to put Hollywood on the map, the real West became a popular subject in educational shorts, travelogues promoting rail and auto travel, industrial profiles, newsreels, and government films about agriculture, Native Americans, and conservation. Film exported the West to every part of the globe and inspired a movie-made vision of America far beyond our shores.

The three-disc anthology will reclaim this little known history by presenting an array of features and shorts previously unavailable on video. Scheduled for release in fall 2011, Treasures 5 will feature audio commentary, new musical accompaniments, and program notes and will reunite the production team from previous NFPF DVDs: curator Scott Simmon (UC Davis), music curator Martin Marks (MIT), and designer Jennifer Grey. The NEH grant builds on a generous start-up grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts in December 2009.

The NFPF's critically acclaimed Treasures DVD series is widely used in libraries and universities around the world. The sets have won awards from the National Society of Film Critics, the Video Software Dealers Association, and Il Cinema Ritrovato, the festival of film preservation in Bologna, Italy, and have become a staple in the teaching of film and history.

The Treasures 5 grant was made through the NEH’s Preservation and Access program. These grants support initiatives that “provide an essential foundation for scholarship, education, and public programming in the humanities.” The NEH designated Treasures 5 as a We the People project, a special recognition for efforts that promise to “strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture.”

The National Film Preservation Foundation is the nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America's film heritage. Since starting operations in 1997, the NFPF has assisted institutions in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and helped preserve more than 1,560 films. The NFPF is the charitable affiliate of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. For more information on the NFPF's programs, please visit

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools

Harold Lloyd

Spanky McFarland and Charley Chase

Charles Spencer Chaplin

Joseph "Buster" Keaton

Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew

The boys