Those countless hours spent mining through antique shops are well worth the effort, even when you leave empty handed. And since I do normally leave empty handed, this morning I was rapturous to have discovered an antique slim volume from 1925. The salesman let me have it for a fiver. I would have paid ten times that much for it.
Mirrors of Hollywood was published in 1925 written by one Charles David Fox. Its prose, duly overinflated and swimming in saccharine, is nonetheless revelatory. The world of silent Hollywood leaps to life in every fawning flourish, we take a tour of the studios, and what’s more, Fox provides stats that, for LA history enthusiasts like myself, are absolutely priceless. Not only census information, but, as Fox puts it, “Film Folk” vital stats. Most of them are terribly inaccurate (Chaplin born in Paris?) and one suspects Fox got his so-called “facts” from movie fan magazines but it’s a lot of fun regardless.
And since I live smack in the heart of Hollywood (across the road from the Roosevelt Hotel) it is strangely bittersweet: that sleepy farm town that I would have so loved now littered as it is with trannies and tourists and trash.
It truly was another universe then…
John Barrymore: Born February 15 1882. Height 5 ft 10 in; weight 160 lbs; brown hair, light brown eyes.
Charles Chaplin: Born, Paris, France. eight 5 ft 4 in; wight 125 lbs; brown-gray hair, blue eyes.
Dorothy Davenport: Born, Boston Mass., March 13rh, 1895; educated Roanoke, VA; Height 5 ft 7 in; wight 130 lbs; black hair, brown eyes
Doris Eaton: Born, Norfolk, VA; educated Washigton D.C.; Height 5 ft 2 in; weight 112 lbs; brown hair, hazel eyes.
Douglas Fairbanks: Born Denver, Colorado, May 23rd 1884Height 5 ft 10 in; weight 165 lbs; dark brown hair, brown eyes
Buster Keaton: Born Pickway, Kansas, October 4th 1896; Height 5 ft 6 in; weight 160 lbs; black hair, brown eyes.
Rod La Roque: Born Chicago, Illinois, November 29th, 1893; educated Nebraska. Height 6 ft 3 in; eight 181 lbs; black hair, brown eyes
Mabel Normand: Born Staten Island, New York; Educated St. Mary’s Convent at Northwest Port, Mass. Height 5 ft 4 in; weight 120 lbs; dark hair, laughing brown eyes.
Gloria Swanson: Born, Chicago Illinois, March 27th 1898; educated Chicago Illinois. Height 5 ft 3 in; weight 110 lbs; brown hair, gray-blue eyes.
Rudolph Valentino: Born, Castellaneto, Italy, May 6th, 1895. Genoa, Italy. Height 5ft. 11 in; weight 160 lbs; black hair, brown eyes.
Anna May Wong: Born, Los Angeles, Calif; Height 5 ft 4 in; weight 120 lbs; black hair, brown eyes.
Gotta love it.
Here are a few of the more enthusiastic excerpts from the book and a selection of stills:
No romance that has ever unfolded on the silver screen, no fantastic tale from the pen of a Jules Verne has ever depicted the glamorous drama of Hollywood, America’s real live Fairyland–the dreamer’s dream come true. Brilliant as the eternal California sunshine, soft and languid as the Cailfornia moon, the beauty of Hollywood is the glorious envy of the artist, the never-to-be-obtained goal of the poet.
Woven of the fabric of genuine romance, as absorbing and dramatic a tale as has ever been told, is the story of the transition of this one-time sleepy suburb of Los Angeles, to the present-time thriving and well populated city of Hollywood.
Hollywood, to you, is Los Angeles, California– home of the motion picture. Hollywood, to me, is a little garden, nestled at the foot of hills of purple loveliness, reaching for–almost touching, the deep blue of the vast pacific.
Nor is it a settlement of motion picture studios, though it is perhaps the geographic center fo screen production in the West. There are studios in Hollywood, of course, but these studios, widely scattered as they are, must be sought out with a guide if the casual visitor to America’s playground is to see them. The studios, if we expect a few, bear no resemblance to what you would expect them to be, and so, you would pass them by unnoticed, were not the inititated to stop you to say: “Here’s the Lasky studios” or “This is where the Metro pictures are made.”
Miles and miles of quiet residential streets, busy shopping ceters, well populated grammar and high schools, thriving banks, wealthy churches, neautiful hshops ranging in size from tiny band-boxes to Robertson’s Department Store, two newspaper plants, theaters, real estate offices, hotels, and gardens, make Hollywood distinctly a city of homes.
Green hills shelter the town, while here and there atop them, somewhere up on the skyline, venturesome folk have build their bungalows and lodges, the dwellings looking for all the world like neighbors to the stars.
Framed against the backdrop of Hollywood’s hills, the whole city– all the palm-lined streets, with their impossibility picturesque and gayly colored bungalows, forming a veritable riot of color with here and there quaint windows peering sightlessly from air spaces under low roofs– looks more like one of the huge movie sets that have brought it fame, than it does like the peaceful city of normal community activities and interestes, of children, of mothers and fathers, of sisters and brothers, which this magic city of the West really is.