Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Magic Lantern

See movies for a nickel.
It was serendipitous my coming across the book. Published in 1952, it had been a library discard that I bought for a quarter years ago. The dust cover was long gone; someone's puppy had chewed on one corner. Ugly, in other words. But the title, The Magic Lantern, got my attention. I suspected when I got around to reading it, that it would have something to do with early motion pictures.

I'd been interested in the birth of the movies ever since I began the research on what would become my first book, The Movie Years, published back in 1989.  Two years ago I got another opportunity to delve into that fascinating history again when I started work on Mary Pickford, Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart (Dundurn, 2011).

All this time, the book by Robert Carson has languished on my book shelf, gathering dust, until the other day when I was looking for something to read. Just as I'd hoped, it is a fictionalized account of early Hollywood. The central character is the son of movie mogul, Frank Silversmith. The novel takes the reader from the vaudeville stage, the nickelodeons and the advent of the flickers, on to the days when movie studios were springing up on vacant " lots" all over Los Angeles.

An early movie theatre

I don't know which studio boss Silversmith, of "Silversmith Productions" is based on, but I recognized much of the background information in the book because it closely follows the history of the birth of Hollywood. It was fun to encounter real life film pioneers in the story, people like D. W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and Mary Pickford.

Two interesting bits of trivia I later discovered: Author Robert Carson's wife, Mary Jane Irving (1909–1983), was a child star of the silent films just as Mary Pickford had been. And Carson won an Academy Award in 1938 for his well-known screenplay, A Star is Born.

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