Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Words from the master

In making inquries about my Harold Lloyd novel (The Glass Character), I scraped up my nerve and sent an email to Kevin Brownlow, who is without a doubt the world's foremost authority on silent film. Not only that: he knew Harold Lloyd personally.

I was quite taken aback that he responded so quickly, and with such detailed commentary, which I can't help but share here.

Dear Margaret Gunning

I am fascinated that you are so keen on Harold Lloyd. Me too, but it’s strange how people repeat the old cliches about his being ‘mechanical’ You will love John Bengtson’s book – it tells you so much about the places in which he worked.
You are a good writer, and it was a pleasure to read your extract. I would take issue with you on one subject – did they use obscenity when they swore in those days? T E Lawrence, in his account of barrack room life THE MINT, had his book banned because he repeated the swear words, which he was finally compelled to reprint like this; ---
But in talking to scores of silent film veterans, I heard plenty of swearing, but it was all profanity – ‘Jesus Christ’ – or ‘God almighty’ - presumably because of the strong Irish Catholic tradition in Hollywood.. When they got worked up it was ‘Son of a bitch’ I notice you use both for Hal Roach – ‘Jesus, Harold! Do you want to be fucking killed?’ (Roach’s family was from Cork, by the way.) You may be right, but I would be interested to know if you have any evidence.
I noticed, when I researched a script about silent era Hollywood (never made) how many words they used that have fallen out of fashion. ‘Everything’s jake!’ ‘Twenty-three skidoo’
By the way, motion picture makeup was yellow, not white. (The cameramen hated white )
As for the money earned by the top comics, Chaplin made three comedies to Lloyd’s eleven in the 1920s, but Chaplin’s still made more money overall.
Did you know there was a film magazine publisher and producer called Wid Gunning? Are you any relation?
I have written a book about making THE THIRD GENIUS, but as the rights for the documentary have lapsed, it won’t be possible to bring the programme out on DVD with the book as I did with the Chaplin and as I planned with the Keaton book. What a shame,
I wish you the best of luck with the book.
Warmest wishes
Kevin Brownlow

Ryan's Fifth

You wouldn't believe how long it takes (and how much experimental printing it requires) to make one of these little "Grandmark" cards ("Made with Love"). I got into it a couple of years ago, and now do it four times a year. Ryan is obsessed with cars. That's all you need to know!