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A Person in the Dark

For FlickChick Fans

Beautiful Edna, the Last Unsmashed Idol 4
Jean Harlow: Goddess of Bling and Cosmetics 5
Silent Films: It's Personal 6
James Cagney: I Know I Shouldn't Love You, But...... 7
Marilyn Miller - Look for the Silver (Screen) Lining 8
Clara Bow: I Want to Be Happy 9
Douglas Fairbanks: The Greatest Romantic 11

Beautiful Edna, the Last Unsmashed Idol
Monday, August 23, 2010
By now you may have guessed that Norma Desmond is
my classic movie guru - wisdom wrapped in warped
glamorous illusion and delusion. "They took the idols of
the world and smashed them!" Somehow, they all
became real. And even those who managed to maintain
their god and goddess-like state while alive were
revealed as all too real after death. But not Edna

Beautiful Edna Purviance was Charlie Chaplin's leading

lady. It was all about Charlie, always, and so Edna
served as the pretty girl, the lovely background. She
was sweet and placid, not really an actress. But you
know how sometimes it's the quiet person in the
background that you can't help noticing? There was just
something about her.

Edna's star did not shine without Chaplin and so she faded from view and, eventually,
from memory. It seems no one, least of all Edna, was interested in pursuing her life in

Like a beautiful painting once viewed and then hidden away, Edna remains a mystery.
There were no biographies, only little stories about her written in the margins of some
other famous people's lives.Tempting tidbits. Watching her with Chaplin you could ask
"who was Edna?", but there are no answers. No voices. Only a face and graceful form. Is
she a blank slate? A silly empty girl? Or is she the fascinating darling with skin as soft as
rose petals and laughter as sweet as tinkling bells? In the magic that is conjured in the
dark she stakes a claim on my imagination and will not leave. She is my creation. My
Edna can be like no one else's Edna. Through neglect, a forgotten idol is spared.

Will my last idol be smashed? Linda Wada, the conquistador who cracked the code of
Edna, is writing Edna's biography. And I do want to know everything. I can't help myself.
But my own private Edna will be gone.

To learn all about Edna, visit and be prepared to be charmed.

Posted by FlickChick at 06:58PM (-04:00)

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Jean Harlow: Goddess of Bling and Cosmetics
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Imagine you are in Macy's Jewelry Department.
There are three counters to choose from: one that
offers cheap but irresistibly shiny and huge imitation
rings and bracelets, another that offers real glittering
gems and gold, all just a little too bold for the average
consumer, and lastly, a counter filled with tiny,
understated 10k gold pieces, just perfect for the shy
and demure. For those who are attracted to bright
shiny objects, counters 1 and 2 beckon.

Similarly, there were three Jean Harlows. The first

was the cheap platinum blonde draped in clingy satin
and covered in jewels. This was the Jean of "The
Public Enemy" and "Iron Man." She was tawdry and
outrageously trashy, but like the cheap hardware,
she dazzled. Her electroplated hair was her crowning glory, her face a canvas of
cosmetic bravery, her clothes barely masking a rock candy swizzle stick form. Maybe her
acting was not so great, but she was mesmerizing.
Unlike the "natural" beauties that came before (and after) her, Jean Harlow was a gal
who freely embraced product. There was no effort to make believe this was real. This just
didn't happen. This took effort. She bleached, painted and plucked and made it clear that
she was most pleased with the results. She adorned her natural self with platinum hair,
makeup, jewels and satin lounging pajamas. Her message was clear: Forget about what
God gave you. You can make yourself over. And you can have fun.
The second Jean was a refinement of the first. She was still a tart, but the MGM cleanup
crew was clearly at work. She was no longer cheap. She was now glamorous. This Jean
made her first appearance as the " Red-Headed Woman," and, combined with "Red
Dust"," she was the trollop deluxe made acceptable because she was fun. She reached
her apex in "Dinner at Eight" and "Bombshell" and the images of her in those films are
unforgettable. White hair, white feathers, white satin, white shag rugs, deco jewels, black
(presumably red) lips, bonbons and the ever present mirror. A goddess for the age of
The third Jean is an example of messing with success. There are reams written about
this, but the toning down of the hair and makeup and sexuality was a mistake. Jean
Harlow would never be Mary Astor. And why bother?
For me, Jean Harlow defines the phrase "you go girl." She slapped on her makeup and
checked the mirror before bravely sailing out to conquer the world, armed only with
cosmetics, big jewels and nerve. My hero!

Posted by FlickChick at 09:04PM (-04:00)

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Silent Films: It's Personal
Saturday, September 04, 2010
Watching a silent film is an intensely
personal experience. No matter how many
people are with you in the theater (if you
are lucky enough to see one in a theater),
you are truly alone in the dark. You are
alone with your thoughts, your dreams, the
(imagined) sound of a voice, the throb of
your heart. The right music casts an even
larger spell and you are carried away on an
internal magic carpet ride. Norma Desmond
was only half right when she said they had the eyes of the whole wide world. The
marriage of film and silence created a portal to a pure and primitive place in the viewer's
The unspoken longing, the secret desire, the private passion, these belong to the owner
in their most perfect form. Once spoken and shared they cannot be altered. The internal
has found a voice and the spell is broken.The silent film enlists the viewer in a very
intimate partnership. Each viewer's interpretation of the images on the screen is slightly
different, colored by each individual's inner landscape.The personal ideal of love, beauty,
humor and heartbreak is added. One gives life to the other. No one's experience can be
exactly the same.If sound films are prose (beautiful, passionate, exquisite, hilarious
prose), then silents are poetry.
The language of silent film is not our native tongue anymore. If you ended up living in a
country where the language was not the one you grew up learning and speaking, most
likely, no matter how expert you become, it will always feel slightly foreign. You might
even think first in your native language and speak in your adopted one. And so, watching
a silent film today requires a bit of adjustment. As viewers, we are not used to being
asked to fill in the blanks. Silents requires you to strip yourself of all self-consciousness
and delve into your inner realm.
I invite you to spend 10 minutes or so with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in "Flesh and
the Devil." Click on the gray right-pointing arrow and turn up your speakers to listen to the
gorgeous music of Carl Davis. There are no words......

Posted by FlickChick at 11:50AM (-04:00)

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James Cagney: I Know I Shouldn't Love You,
Friday, September 10, 2010
Tough or Tender? .
Sigh... I know I shouldn't love you, Jimmy, but I do. You
won't be good to me, you won't do right by me, you might
even be mean to me, but, gee, I sure think you're swell.
There are others more handsome, but hands down James
Cagney wins the charisma contest. He is, at every stage of
his career, irresistible. He's not romantic, although you hope
he will be. No, it's that little boy/charming psycho cocktail
mixed with a generous sprig of good humor and dangerous
grace that has me hooked. And he knows it. For those of us
who ever lusted after the bad boys, he is the alpha treasure,
the chairman of the board.
He can be sweet and often is. Think the Cagney of "City for
Conquest" and "The Strawberry Blonde." Doesn't your heart
just melt over his devotion to Ann Sheridan and (eventually)
Olivia De Havilland? He almost seems as
though he could be domesticated. Almost.
He is Jimmy as we want him to be. He
cooperates for a film or two, but it's not who
he really is. He will not be tamed.
It's fun to watch him dance in "Yankee
Doodle Dandy" and "Footlight Parade," but
it's even more fun to watch him dance in
"Angels with Dirty Faces" and "The Roaring
Twenties." While not musical films, his
performances are totally musical. His body
moves to an efficient tempo like a tommy
gun at target practice. His voice, hands and
eyes are stylized accessories that
accompany a body in full command of itself.
Watch him lean into an adversary, his form
at a perfect 90 degree angle.He hovers a
bit, just to make sure there is the proper
amount of menace, and then spins on his
heels with a flourish. Later in life the body
got a little stockier, but he never lost the
musicality. His tortured passion for Doris
Day in "Love Me or Leave Me" is a
symphony; his Cody Jarrett of "White Heat"
grand opera.

Cagney was a complicated soul who just

wanted to be a simple guy. He really hated
having those moments of insight and used his fists, his wits and various illegal means to
operate in his world. His downfall often came because, for some reason only he, and not
the rest of his thug associates, had a code of ethics. He was honorable. And that's what

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makes all of those bad-boy characters so endearing.Cagney is redeemable (as well as
masculine, cute, sexy and funny). He portrayed himself as a tough guy from the slums,
but the elegant dancer is always in view. Together, they combine to make beautiful
motion picture music.

Some super Cagney films (so many to chose from) are: Taxi, Picture Snatcher, Hard to
Handle, G-Men, and the aforementioned Angels With Dirty Faces, The Roaring Twenties,
Footlight Parade, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Love Me or Leave Me. And - of course -
anything that he ever appeared in. He is not known as a great lover, but paired with the
right gal (Ann Sheridan in City for Conquest or Torrid Zone), he stops your heart.
Cagney and Sheridan: Perfect Together

Posted by FlickChick at 05:51PM (-04:00)

Marilyn Miller - Look for the Silver (Screen) Lining

Thursday, September 16, 2010
Back in the 1920s it was inconceivable that Marilyn Miller
would someday be largely forgotten. I came upon her quite by
accident, seeing her name in books about early Hollywood
musicals. I had no idea who this great Broadway star was or
why she was so famous. After some furious research I got up to
speed, read all I could lay my hands on about her and poured
over tons of photos. She was a huge star! Why had I never
heard of her? And - more important - how could I see her?
Photos are one thing, but I hungered to see her perform.
Marilyn Miller was of the theater. She was a Ziegfeld star in the
most rarefied galaxy. Her greatest triumph was in the Jerome
Kern musical "Sally," a show that featured her signature song,
"Look for the Silver Lining." Before her fame, the name Marilyn
was barely found in the U.S. Census records. After America fell
in love with her, it was the 16th most popular name in the
country. She was known for her talent, her
younger than springtime beauty, charm and
devotion to her craft. She was also a
fashion plate who was equally famous for
her many love affairs, salty vocabulary and
fondness for alcohol. She worked hard and
played hard. She was an authentic diva.
Marilyn had a brief brush with silent films
and Hollywood in the 1920s when, in 1922,
she married Jack Pickford, thus becoming
Mary Pickford's sister-in-law (by all
accounts, Mary and Marilyn did not hit it off
too well). After a star-studded wedding at Pickfair where a great photo of Mary air-kissing
Marilyn was taken, the marriage turned toxic . Marilyn, by way of a Paris divorce, beat it
back to Broadway.
Once movies were all talking, all singing, all dancing, Marilyn seemed a good bet for
Hollywood stardom. Her two great stage successes, "Sally" and "Sunny" were filmed for
Warner Brothers and were popular, but after a third film fared poorly, Marilyn and
Hollywood parted company for good. The rest of her story is mostly a sad one. After one

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last Broadway triumph, she died of a sinus infection at the age of 37. The magnitude of
her fame and the beauty of her performances faded from memory.
But wait. The footnote that Hollywood was to her fabulous career preserved those two
great stage successes. The late twenties and early thirties movie musicals drew scores of
Broadway performers to Hollywood. Most tried their luck and headed back east after one
or two attempts. The stage and the screen have very little in common when it comes to
star power. Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, who found success in films, were the exceptions.
Big stage stars like Fannie Brice, Gertrude Lawrence, Helen Morgan, The Duncan
Sisters, Charles King, Harry Richman and Marilyn Miller came and went. In a twist of
irony, the medium scorned by the stage served to preserve the work of these artists for
future generations.

And so we have Marilyn Miller in "Sally." Originally filmed in early Technicolor, "Sally"
only survives in a black and white version. The make up used for Technicolor looks harsh
and overdone when seen black and white, making Marilyn look a little bit like a hard-
hearted kewpie doll. Her singing voice is a little thin and she is not beautiful in the
conventional Hollywood way. But boy oh boy can she dance. And, miracles of miracles, a
snippet of "Sally" in its original Technicolor was found. It is the "Wild Rose" number and,
in it, she is youthful, adorable and flirtatious. Her joy in performing is evident in every kick
and twirl and here, preserved forever, is Marilyn Miller in all her glory. We catch a glimpse
of her magic and she is no longer a mystery, just a name or photo in a book.We
understand what made her a Broadway legend. Thank you Hollywood! (click "read more"
to watch movie clip)

In a case of the fates serving up justice, Marilyn Miller continues to be ever-present on

Broadway. In the late 1920s the I. Miller Shoes (no relation) building was adored with
statues of four great stars: Ethel Barrymore as Ophelia, representing drama, Rosa
Ponselle as Norma, representing music, Mary Pickford as Little Lord Fauntleroy,
representing film, and Marilyn Miller as Sunny, representing dance (I wonder how Mary
feels being frozen in time next to her despised ex-sister in law?). The building, located at
Broadway and West 46th Street in Manhattan, now houses a TGI Fridays on street level.
But if you stand on the corner and look up, there is Marilyn, surveying her empire. Still.

There are some nice videos of Marilyn on You-Tube, especially a neat tap dance from
"Sunny" and the "Look for the Silver Lining" duet with Joe E. Brown and the Butterfly
Ballet from "Sally."

Posted by FlickChick at 07:46PM (-04:00)

Clara Bow: I Want to Be Happy

Friday, October 08, 2010
Now you know I love the stars and like to have fun with them, but I can only gush about
Clara Bow. Forgive me for being a little serious, but our Clara deserves respect!

A silent film viewer's response to Clara Bow is immediate and emotional. She, more than
any other performer of the silent era, represents raw emotion. There is joy in her
presence. She is young, healthy and full of fun, and really, really pretty. She has magical

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star quality. Clara makes me happy.
Was she a good actress? She was great, but it
is her electric presence that grabs you. She
was the essence of the flapper. According to

“the term flappers in the 1920s referred to a

"new breed" of young Western women who
wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to
jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was
then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers
were seen as brash for wearing excessive
makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual
manner, smoking, driving automobiles and
otherwise flouting social and sexual norms.”
That was Clara, but that was not all that she

Across the decades, Clara continues to cast a spell.

She is the best girlfriend, the sexy sweetheart, the
seductive minx. She is a regular person from
Brooklyn. Even though Clara is gorgeous, we
believe she is real, just like you and I, only more
vibrant and vivacious. She has the qualities of the
great ones who are set apart from the rest. There is
a generosity in her spirit that translates to film. She
wants to have fun. What makes Clara oh-so-special
is that she wants you to have fun, too.
Clara was the original "It Girl," a term that is still
with us today and one that is associated with sex
appeal. She is excessively pretty and sexy,
especially in sad photos, but I like to see
her happy. Of course, the sadness of her
life is legend and we don't have to dwell on
all that. The sad Clara is gone, but the
young, peppy flapper is still with us. Clara's
biography, "Running Wild" by David Stenn,
tells all and it is a harrowing story much
more dramatic than any film she ever
made. I prefer to watch Clara on the screen
where she is forever young, pretty and

Let Clara's face speak for itself:

Clara Bow belongs totally to the 20s and the Jazz Age. If you look closely at Clara's
pictures, you can always see a hint of sadness. Just like the 20s, there is desperation
underneath and maybe a premonition of disaster around the corner. But let's not go
there. Let's keep it light and skim along the surface. Like stones tossed out on dangerous
waters, she skips lightly and joyously. She is a magnificent silent screen star.
Here is Clara having fun and just being Clara at Coney Island (with a most unworthy
Antonio Moreno) in 1927's "It." Don't you just wish you could be there with her?

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Posted by FlickChick at 07:08PM (-04:00)

Douglas Fairbanks: The Greatest Romantic

Wednesday, December 01, 2010
When we consider the word "romance" or
"romantic" we usually think of romantic,
sexual love. In the silent era, the great
romantic male lovers were Valentino,
Gilbert and other smoldering latin lover
types. We usually don't think of Douglas
Fairbanks, high-spirited, happy-go-lucky
adventurer, as a romantic star. However, if
we think of romance as: "a fictitious tale of
wonderful and extraordinary events,
characterized by a nonrealistic and
idealizing use of the imagination," (a
definition from a web-based dictionary) then I make the case for Douglas Fairbanks as
the most romantic movie star. Ever.
How fortunate for Doug and for filmgoers that his exuberant spirit and the silent film
collided. How lucky for silent films, this most personal form of entertainment that speaks

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directly to the child in us and the child's love of make
believe, that they and this joyful man-child found one
another at just the right moment.
In Doug's hands, the romance of adventure, high
spirits, of heroes and damsels of old, were tales that
were lovingly told with an open heart and a sweeping
vision that could only have found a voice in silent
films. His youthful view of the world and the youth of
the medium, combined with the giddy, youth-
worshiping twenties, produced films that spoke to the
hours curled up with Robin Hood or The Arabian
Nights, alone with nothing but a book and an innocent
imagination of a world where anything is possible; a
world of beauty where good always triumphs,the hero
is dashing (always) and the damsel is beautiful and in
distress. It is a world of action and possibilities, of
chaste kisses, full hearts and happy endings.
Who better than Doug to sweep us away on a magic
carpet ride?

Douglas Fairbanks was a great artist who knew exactly

what he was doing. He infused his work with enthusiasm,
joy and romance, all with the sole purpose of creating
magic and enchantment. He loved the movies. When
faced with the dreary, mechanical vision of a sound stage
for talking pictures, Fairbanks tuned to his colleague, Art
Director Laurence Irving, and said "Laurence, the
romance of motion picture making ends here." Limits, the
sad reality that ushers in maturity, had been set. Things
would never be the same.

The world moves on, we age and the little child in us

moves ever farther away. Even Doug grew older and
lost Mary, Pickfair and stardom. Nevertheless, he, and
the great silents, gave us a portal to that eternal child.
What a relief to find a way back to romance and
innocence through Doug's pure artistry, athleticism,
vision and joy. For those of us that think this is what the
movies are all about, there is no greater star than
Douglas Fairbanks.
Posted by FlickChick at 06:59PM (-05:00)

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