As we continue our occasional series spotlighting material shared with us by that longtime Friend of LOAC, Bill Chadbourne, we thought we’d note that, during our ongoing e-mail exchanges, Chad discusses a lot more than comics with us.
For instance, we share a love of what is now known as “classic” cinema, as well as its featured actors and actresses. Today’s hyper-saturated media landscape lends itself to celebrity, but in those days there were stars who maintained an enduring hold on the popular zeitgeist for decades with their ability to bring to life a variety of roles.
Consider, as one example, the wonderful Jimmy Stewart: perhaps best remembered as George Bailey in Capra’s 1943 It’s a Wonderful Life, Stewart’s filmography spans compelling work in comedy (The Philadelphia Story, Harvey), biography (The Glenn Miller Story, The Spirit of St. Louis), Westerns (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and How the West was Won, both directed by John Ford), and drama, including headlining roles in two of Hitchcock’s finest, Rear Window and Vertigo. Stewart is far from the only light in the Golden Age firmament, though of course he’s one of the brightest (and The Jimmy Stewart Museum is a charity to which this author proudly donates each year).
Since Chad is at that point where’s he’s more interested in down-sizing than up-sizing, he knows we’re willing and able to provide good homes to those items with which he’d like to part ways. So – to mark the end of the Writers Guild of America’s strike (and to congratulate Hollywood’s scenarists on a largely-positive strike outcome, especially our friends and acquaintances who are WGA members) – we wanted to show you some of what Chad shared with us about Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Let’s begin with a discussion about movies conducted earlier this month, when Chad said, “I have a box of books, movie-related, to send, including one hardcover, the first present I ever bought myself as a child, copyright 1943 (3rd edition). It is Deems Taylor’s History of the Movies, a treasured book I’ve perused many times over my lifetime.”
While the cover of the Taylor is spartan in the extreme, its contents is a cornucopia of early-cinema wonders. There are loads of stills from scores of silent and early-sound films, accompanied by clear, authoritative text. (Yes, click images throughout to enlarge.)
History of the Movies is not the sort of book one reads cover-to-cover; instead, one dips into its pages for occasional short bursts. In the few weeks since it came our way, our short bursts have been equal parts entertaining and informative. It’s adding to the list of Movies We Want to See For the First Time, which is no small feat, given how long we’ve been watching films!
In our September discussion, Chad continued, “Another of the books in the stack is a scene-by-scene presentation of The Maltese Falcon.” Along with a companion volume featuring a scene-by-scene re-creation of Garbo’s immortal Ninotchka, which Chad also sent along, the in-print recreation of John Huston’s timeless 1941 adaptation of Sam Spade’s greatest adventure provided us with waves of pure nostalgia; both books harken back to the pre-streaming, pre-DVD, pre-VHS days when movies were ephemera. They’d come to a theater, or perhaps appear on a network Movie of the Week (or run during a PBS pledge drive), and then they were gone, leaving viewers with only their memories of the viewing experience. Artifacts like this were the only way for fans of that time to capture the essence of a film and keep it available on demand.
“The other books were purchased to use in a graphic novel that never materialized. I was going to use actual movie stars as my principal characters. It’s been done many times since, but in the process the idea faded for me.”
As the images below prove, Chad had great taste while considering potential cast members for his novel: Clark Gable, James Cagney, and Humphrey Bogart (the lead in the aforementioned Huston Maltese Falcon) all have filmographies to rival Jimmy Stewart’s!
“Last week I watched The Oklahoma Kid with Cagney (his ten-gallon hat was nearly as tall as he was himself. In fact, his shortness was part of the script: bad guys calling him derogatory names worse than ‘shorty’).” Chad said. “Yet, I cannot say he was miscast; he seemed to be having a good time.”
About Bogart, Chad observed, “High Sierra put him on the leading man path. Key Largo was on TV last week, with all the old pros! Claire Trevor was particularly great. You know,” he went on to say, “in a way, all these original shows on the streaming services are a sort of repeat of the old studio system, putting out new stories to provide viewers something to watch for their monthly subscriptions.” Something we had never previously considered, but now that the thought is out there …
One final book about movies Chad provided us, The Great Films, is an excellent overview of that most Golden of Ages; among its delights, it offers a look at several Clark Gable films (we’ve included 1934’s It Happened One Night below), and offers up two great stills from one of our personal favorites, the original and greatest King Kong, from 1933.
It’s hardly unusual that our conversations eventually weave in a comics-related thread, and movie-talk is no exception. Chad’s recollection – “There was a Snuffy Smith movie that had been released in the 40s that blew me away. The actor looked exactly like his cartoon counterpart, yammering to his wife about ‘revenoors’” – sent us scurrying to the Web to learn that, yes indeed, actor Bud Duncan portrayed Snuffy in both 1942’s Private Snuffy Smith and its sequel, Hillbilly Blitzkrieg. Great balls o’ fire!
For the previous installments in The Chadbourne Dossier, check out the first, second, and third chapters in the series. We’re betting you’ll be thrilled and delighted … Then keep watching in the days ahead when we return to our primary focus and showcase a few of the books Chad has shared with us about comics. What’s that old advertising phrase? “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”