the REEL WORLD: a book list
This is a partially annotated (and incomplete) list of books about
early film, mostly silents. They're all listed in alphabetical
order by author, but I may sort them out by category later.
- Beauchamp, Cari. Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the
Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. University of California
- Although this book doesn't give a very strong sense of what
Frances Marion, a talented, influential, and prolific screenwriter,
was like as a person, it is utterly fascinating in its description
of her life and accomplishments, and of the people she associated
with. She knew everyone. I recommend this book highly.
- Bernardi, Daniel, ed. The Birth of Whiteness: Race and
the Emergence of U.S. Cinema. Rutgers University Press, 1996.
- A collection of fourteen essays on racism and Eurocentrism in
early American film.
- Black, Gregory D. Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics,
and the Movies. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
- Documents the methods and effects of the Hays Office, the Production
Code Administration, and the Catholic Legion of Decency between 1922 and
- Bowser, Eileen. The Transformation of Cinema, 1907-1915.
Volume 2 in History of the American Cinema.
Charles Scribner and Sons, 1991 (hardcover); University of California
Press, 1994 (paperback).
- Brownlow, Kevin. Behind the Mask of Innocence. Sex, Violence,
Prejudice, Crime: Films of Social
Conscience in the Silent Era. Alfred A. Knopf, 1990 (reissued in
- A thorough and compelling survey of the silent films that dealt
with the pressing social issues of the time, including everything from
sexuality to controversies over abortion and the death penalty to
labor unrest. Brownlow, as always, is fascinating and meticulous.
- Brownlow, Kevin. Mary Pickford Rediscovered: Rare Pictures
of a Hollywood Legend. Harry N. Abrams, 1999.
- A gorgeous hardcover coffee table book full of film stills and
other pictures of Mary Pickford, "America's Sweetheart" and a pioneering
force in the American film industry. Brownlow's text is fascinating,
thorough, and illuminating.
- Brownlow, Kevin. Napoleon. Faber & Faber, 1990.
- Brownlow, Kevin. The Parade's Gone By... Alfred A.
Knopf, 1968 (reissued in paperback, 1992.
- A collection of interviews with and reminiscences by many of the
makers of silent film, including actors, directors, technicians,
stuntmen, and editors. This book is considered one of the most
authoritative and necessary documents about silent film.
- Brownlow, Kevin. The War, the West, and the Wilderness.
- Capra, Frank, et al. The Name Above the Title: An
Autobiography. Macmillan, 1971; reissued in paperback by
Da Capo Press, 1997.
- Carringer, Robert L. The Magnificent Ambersons: A
Reconstruction. University of California Press, 1993.
- Coe, Jonathan. Jimmy Stewart: A Wonderful Life. Arcade
- Couvares, Francis G., ed. Movie Censorship and American
Culture. Smithsonian Institute Press, 1996.
- Cripps, Thomas. Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American
Film, 1900-1942. Oxford University Press, 1993 (reprint).
- Custen, George F. Twentieth Century's Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the
Culture of Hollywood. Basic Books, 1997.
- Doherty, Thomas. Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and
Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934. Columbia University
- Drew, William M. Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the
Screen. Vestal Press, 1989.
- Francke, Lizzie. Script Girls: Women Screenwriters in
Hollywood. Indiana University Press, 1994.
- Friedrich, Otto. City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the
1940s. University of California Press, reprinted 1997.
- Gabler, Neal. An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented
Hollywood. Anchor, 1989.
- Golden, Eve. Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara.
- The first full-length biography of Hollywood's first
publicity-created star, this book gives intriguing insight into
the "vamp" craze of the late 1910s, and into the life of Bara
(who wasn't really a vamp at all). Great pictures, too.
- Hamilton, Marybeth. When I'm Bad, I'm Better: Mae West, Sex, and
American Entertainment. University of California Press, reprinted
- Explores West's thoroughly working-class background, and examines
how her involvement in the gay male culture of the 1920s influenced
- Herman, Jan. A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most
Acclaimed Director, William Wyler. Da Capo Press, reprinted 1997.
- Hillier, Jim, and Peter Wollen. Howard Hawks: American Artist.
British Film Institute, 1997.
- Jacobs, Lea. The Wages of Sin: Censorship and the Fallen Woman
Film, 1928-1942. University of California Press, reprinted 1997.
- Jones, G. William, and Ossie Davis. Black Cinema Treasures: Lost
and Found. University of North Texas Press, 1997.
- This book describes a number of films made for black audiences during
the 1920s to the 1950s, and tells about the effect that their discovery
in a warehouse in Tyler, Texas, had on African-American scholarship.
- Kerr, Walter. The Silent Clowns. Da Capo Press, 1990
(originally published 1979).
- A marvelously informative, evocative, beautifully written survey of
the work of such silent comedians as Chaplin, Keaton, Harold Lloyd,
Mack Sennett, Laurel and Hardy, Harry Langdon, and others. Ask a
bunch of silent film fans which books they recommend and this one is
invariably at the top of the list. Wonderful.
- Koszarski, Richard. An Evening's Entertainment: The Age of
the Silent Feature Picture, 1915-1928. Volume 3 of
History of American Cinema. Charles Scribner and Sons, 1991
(hardcover); University of California Press, 1994 (paperback).
- Lee, Betty. Marie Dressler: The Unlikeliest Star.
University Press of Kentucky, 1997.
- Leff, Leonard J., and Jerold L. Simmons. The Dame in the Kimono:
Hollywood, Censorship and the Production Code from the 1920s to the
1960s. Anchor Books, 1991.
- Maas, Frederica Sagor. The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer
in Early Hollywood. University Press of Kentucky, 1999.
- Marion, Frances. Off With Their Heads! A Serio-Comic Tale
of Hollywood. Macmillan, 1972.
- McCarthy, Todd. Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood.
- McGilligan, Pat, ed. Backstory: Interviews With Screenwriters of
Hollywood's Golden Age. University of California Press, reprinted
- Miller, Frank. Censored Hollywood: Sex, Sin, and Violence on
Screen. Turner, 1994.
- An engrossing overview of the history of censorship in Hollywood,
giving a chronological survey plus a number of sidebars describing
exactly what was done to specific films to make them palatable to
various censor boards. Already out of print, but worth looking for.
- Mitchell, Glenn. A-Z of Silent Film Comedy: An Illustrated
Companion. Brasseys, Inc., 1999.
- Musser, Charles. The Emergence of Cinema: The American
Screen to 1907. Volume 1 of History of the American
Cinema. Charles Scribner and Sons, 1991 (hardcover); University
of California Press, 1994 (paperback).
- Robinson, David, and Martin Scorsese. From Peep Show to Palace:
The Birth of American Film. Columbia University Press, 1996.
- Rogin, Michael. Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the
Hollywood Melting Pot. University of California Press, reprinted
- Ross, Steven J. Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping
of Class in America. Princeton University Press, 1998.
- Sarris, Andrew. You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet! The American Talking
Film: History and Memory, 1927-1949. Oxford University Press,
- Swenson, Karen. Greta Garbo: A Life Apart. C. Scribner's,
- Thompson, Frank. Lost Films: Important Films that
Disappeared. Citadel Press, 1996.
- Usai, Paolo Cherchi. Burning Passions: An Introduction to the
Study of Silent Cinema. British Film Institute, 1994.
- Vasey, Ruth. The World According to Hollywood, 1918-1932.
University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
- Fascinating but rather dry account of Hollywood's attempts to
avoid offensive ethnic and national stereotypes in order to ensure
market share in foreign countries.
- Wagenknecht, Edward. The Movies in the Age of Innocence.
Limelight Editions, 1998 (originally published in the early 1960s).
- A survey of early film written by a scholar who saw the movies
he discusses when they were first released. Entertaining and very
valuable for its insight into the films' social context.
- Waller, Gregory. Main Street Amusements: Movies and Commercial
Entertainment in a Southern City, 1896-1930. Smithsonian
Institute Press, 1995.
- Whitfield, Eileen. Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood.
University Press of Kentucky, 1997.
- A comprensive, very thorough biography of "America's Sweetheart" and
the most famous woman in the world during the first half of this century.
From the meticulously researched social history, Pickford emerges as a
gifted silent film actor and shrewd businesswoman, but later a deeply
screwed-up alcoholic who didn't know what to do with herself when the
talkies came along.
Emily Way (email@example.com)
Last updated September 9, 1999