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Silent Lives
100 Biographies of
the Silent Film Era

By Lon Davis

 

BOOK REVIEW

Silent Lives: 100 Biographies of the Silent Film Era
By Lon Davis

BearManor Media : Albany, Georgia : 2008
ISBN 1-5939-3202-2 : 411 pages : hardcover : $49.95

BearManor Media : Albany, Georgia : 2008
ISBN 1-5939-3124-7 : 420 pages : trade paperback : $24.95

Reviewed by Carl Bennett
Lon Davis has assembled, as its title implies, a book of brief biographical sketches of 100 silent era film players, directors, executives and craftspeople of note. The scope of the book covers those silent era stars who are known to the masses and the obscure personalities known only to silent film enthusiasts.

The rundown of Davis biographies is: Gilbert M. Anderson, Roscoe Arbuckle, Theda Bara, Ethel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Richard Barthelmess, Beverly Bayne, Billy Bevan, G.W. Bitzer, Clara Bow, Betty Bronson, Louise Brooks, Tod Browning, Clyde Bruckman, John Bunny, Francis X. Bushman, Eric Campbell, Lon Chaney, Charles Chaplin, Sydney Chaplin, Charley Chase, Andy Clyde, Chester Conklin, Jackie Coogan, Joan Crawford, Donald Crisp, Karl Dane, Marion Davies, Cecil B. DeMille, Carol Dempster, Marie Dressler, Thomas Edison, Douglas Fairbanks, Geraldine Farrar, Felix the Cat, W.C. Fields, Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish, D.W. Griffith, William Haines, Neil Hamilton, Oliver Hardy, William S. Hart, Jean Hersholt, Alfred Hitchcock, Harry Houdini, Thomas H. Ince, Al Jolson, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Stan Laurel, Florence Lawrence, Paul Leni, Harold Lloyd, Babe London, Del Lord, Marion Mack, Mary MacLaren, Georges Méliès, Antonio Moreno, F.W. Murnau, Fred Niblo, Mabel Normand, Ramon Novarro, Willis O’Brien, the kids of Our Gang, Olga Petrova, Mary Pickford, Edwin S. Porter, Edna Purviance, Jobyna Ralston, Wallace Reid, Rin-Tin-Tin, Hal Roach, Will Rogers, Malcolm St. Clair, Larry Semon, Mack Sennett, Norma Shearer, Ford Sterling, Erich von Stroheim, Gloria Swanson, Constance Talmadge, Natalie Talmadge, Norma Talmadge, William Desmond Taylor, Irving Thalberg, Ben Turpin, Rudolph Valentino, King Vidor, H.M. Walker, Henry B. Walthall, Lois Weber, Billy West, Pearl White and Adolph Zukor.

The memories of the majority of these people have been well served by autobiographies and in excellent full-length biographies by other authors. This fact begs the question, what purpose does this book serve and does it add anything to the existing literature on these people?

One can approach this work as a collection of broadstroke pastiches to be read for entertainment (the book is illustrated by photographs and advertisements, both rare and distressingly familiar), or it may be utilized as an introduction to these people by readers who are just now exploring the silent era (each bio features a brief bibliography of other works that can be used for further reading and viewing). But, to us, the book’s main value is in its writings on those few people previously ignored by biographers — the odd director here or the unknown character player there. Each sketch averages about four pages (with illustrations) which is far too brief to be very informative or of compelling value. With the hundreds of intriguing undocumented people who worked on silent era films to choose from, we had to wonder why a biographical sketch was dedicated to the Model T Ford as a comic character.

This book can be recommended to those relatively uninformed readers who are nurturing a blossoming interest in silent films as it covers a gamut of people, from those already known worldwide to those who will be introduced for the first time here, but those long-term enthusiasts with well-stocked libraries of reference materials will only find bits here and there of previously unencountered information.

 
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