‘Comediennes of the Silent Era’ & film historian Anthony Slide at the American Cinematheque
Film historian and author Anthony Slide, once described by Lillian Gish as “our preeminent historian of the silent film,” will attend the American Cinematheque’s 2017 Retroformat program “Comediennes of the Silent Era” on Sat., May 6, at 7:30 p.m., at the Spielberg Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Slide will be signing copies of his book She Could Be Chaplin!: The Comedic Brilliance of Alice Howell (University Press of Mississippi), about the largely forgotten pioneering comedy actress of the 1910s and early 1920s. The book signing will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the lobby of the Spielberg Theatre.
Pioneering women comedians
Organized by Retroformat’s Tom Barnes, “Comediennes of the Silent Era” is a reminder that although men dominated the field of American film comedy throughout the 1910s and 1920s – e.g., Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Raymond Griffith, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, John Bunny, to name a few – women also had their niche, even if, apart from superstar Mabel Normand, their films were less prestigious and less popular than those of their male counterparts.
According to Retroformat’s press release, four actresses will be featured in the “Comediennes of the Silent Era” program. That serves as another reminder: long before Jane Krakowski, Ellie Kemper, Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Amy Schumer – in fact, long before Judy Holliday, Claudette Colbert, Jean Arthur, Irene Dunne, Carole Lombard, and Lucille Ball there were:
- Alice Howell in Cinderella Cinders (1920) and One Wet Night (1924).
- Billie Rhodes in Mary’s Merry Mix-Up (1917).
- Fay Tincher in Rowdy Ann (1919).
- Dorothy Devore in Should Husbands Dance? (1920).
The movies will be show in 8mm prints from Tom Barnes’ own collection, with live musical accompaniment by Cliff Retallick. Anthony Slide will also be on hand to introduce the screenings.
“Comediennes of the Silent Era” is expected to last 2 hours.
As an aside, comedy actress Alice Howell also happened to be the grandmother of American Film Institute founder George Stevens Jr. and (at one point) the mother-in-law of two-time Best Director Oscar winner George Stevens (A Place in the Sun, 1951; Giant, 1956). Her daughter was minor 1920s actress Yvonne Howell (Somewhere in Sonora, The Great Mail Robbery).
Born in Birmingham, U.K., besides She Could Be Chaplin! Anthony Slide has written dozens of books and hundreds of articles in the last five decades, including:
- Frank Lloyd: Master of Screen Melodrama.
- The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville.
- Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine.
- Hollywood Unknowns: A History of Extras, Bit Players and Stand-Ins.
- Now Playing: Hand-Painted Poster Art from the 1910s through the 1950s.
- A Special Relationship: Britain Comes to Hollywood and Hollywood Comes to Britain.
- Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses, in which he discusses silent era performers he had met, ranging from popular Paramount player Mary Brian (Peter Pan, Beau Geste) to eventual Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Mary Astor (The Great Lie, 1941).
Slide has also filmed interviews with the likes of:
- Early Metro star Viola Dana (Merton of the Movies, Frank Capra’s That Certain Thing).
- D.W. Griffith star Blanche Sweet (The Battle of Elderbush Gulch, Judith of Bethulia).
- Actress Margery Wilson (“Brown Eyes” in Griffith’s Intolerance).
- The Covered Wagon and The Pony Express cinematographer Karl Brown (reminiscing about his work as a camera assistant on The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance).
The Spielberg Theatre is part of the Egyptian Theatre complex, located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard. According to the Retroformat release, “advance tickets are strongly recommended” for the “Comediennes of the Silent Era” program.
American Cinematheque website.
Anthony Slide website.
Anthony Slide and Lillian Gish Bowling Green University image via Retroformat.
Image of early comedienne Dorothy Devore via Pinterest.