Silent Stars

Jeanine Basinger, Author Alfred A. Knopf $35 (512p) ISBN 978-0-679-43840-3
Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Tom Mix and dozens of others are the ""forgotten, misunderstood, and underappreciated"" stars whom film historian Basinger (A Woman's View, etc.) profiles in her excellent tribute to the silent film era. No tell-all, this book recreates the excitement the actors provoked while illustrating the nature of their appeal. Colleen Moore's onscreen transformation from maiden to flapper ""is the exact story of what happened to the American girl"" in the 1920s; tight-lipped William S. Hart provided the ""first and truest face in the Old American West on film."" Basinger also discerns the strengths lost in historical caricature: Mary Pickford's roles revealed a range far beyond that of ""America's Sweetheart""; Marion Davies's successful career belies her legacy as inspiration for the off-key singer Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane. Not surprisingly, a recurrent theme is the ephemerality of fame. Not only do most silent stars' careers (famously, John Gilbert's) end with the talkies, but the near-obscurity of these actors today suggests that, for anyone, it's a mere four generations from footlight to footnote. While Basinger's blend of erudition and reportage often translates into an impersonal style, it is redeemed by her love of the subject and a Margaret Dumont-like lack of irony that allows her to assert, ""The astonishing thing about watching Rin-Tin-Tin is that you begin to agree that this dog could act."" Learned and wholehearted, the book is classic Basinger fare: effortless history that sets no fires but quickly establishes its necessity. 285 photos. Main selection of Eagle Book Club's Movie and Entertainment Book Club. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/04/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 510 pages - 978-0-8195-6451-1
Open Ebook - 460 pages - 978-0-307-82918-4
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