A Classic Tome Revisited: The Parade’s Gone By…

The Parade’s Gone By . . . (University of California Press, 1968), Kevin Brownlow’s precursor to his distinguished documentary Hollywood, is a labor of love and dedication to the preservation of silent films and silent film history. Indeed, this volume serves as a compliment and companion to the Hollywood series.

This chronicle of the early days of the film industry and of Hollywood, told through interviews, historical research, and first hand accounts by silent film makers, unfolds as a story of pioneering spirit and creativity. In only a few years, individuals with no background in film (and many without entertainment background at all) were able to create an industry that spanned the first four decades of this century and transformed silent cinema from a “working-class” diversion into a high art form that remains popular today.

The story of the silents is told through the words of those who witnessed their genesis, early years, and maturity. Mr. Brownlow personally contacted many film pioneers, as well as their friends and colleagues. Interviews with performers such as Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Geraldine Farrar, and Gloria Swanson; directors like Allan Dwan, Josef von Sternberg and William Wellman; cameramen such as Charles Rosher (whose experiences filming the legendary Pancho Villa in 1913 Mexico are particularly interesting); art directors; stuntmen; technicians; and other unsung heroes of film production, fill the book.

The lives of the men and women who formed the silent film community are explored through dozens of stories and hundreds of photographs. Leatrice Joy’s loving remembrances of director Cecil B. De Mille, and Mary Pickford’s less than loving recollections of director Ernst Lubitsch are unforgettable, as is actor Joseph Henabery’s telling of how he landed the part of Lincoln in Birth of a Nation (David W. Griffith Corp., for Epoch Producing Corp., 1915) and became D. W. Griffith’s historian and researcher (he did the majority of the historical research for Intolerance {Wark Producing Corporation, 1916}). Other highlights include: a visit with screen diva Gloria Swanson to the set of A Countess From Hong Kong (Universal, 1967) to meet with the film’s director, Charlie Chaplin, and watch him direct Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren; an analytical overview of the European silent film industry; and a chapter devoted to the books dedicatee, Abel Gance, the director of Napoleon (Westi/Societe Generale De Films, 1927).

The chapters of the book are beautifully woven together by Mr. Brownlow’s historical narrative and sense of drama, which is always clear and entertaining. Included are synopses of movies, analyses of acting and directorial styles, discussions of the use of sound in silent pictures, and anecdotes that lead the reader to join the author in his deep commitment to his subject. The Parade’s Gone By . . . is largely a classic overview of the American silent era. It is a vast assignment which in itself is an ambitious undertaking. However, the total exclusion of major silent star Clara Bow did not go by unnoticed by the great silent star Louise Brooks, who personally took Brownlow to task in a scathing letter for this glaring omission. To his credit, Brownlow later produced an excellent chapter of the above mentioned Hollywood series focusing on Clara and her energetic and sensual impact in the movies in the second half of the 1920’s.

This valuable resource will educate and entertain both readers who are just discovering the silent treasures, as well as life-long fans. It will also anger readers as they become acutely aware of the loss of so many of these great films and the disregard for the people who made them. Indeed, the book’s title itself comes from an anecdote concerning the filming of The Buster Keaton Story (Paramount, 1957). Monte Brice, a silent movie veteran who was working on this film and also a writer and director of silent films such as the comedies Hands Up (Famous Players-Lasky, 1926), Behind the Front (Famous Players-Lasky, 1926), and The Fleet’s In (Paramount, 1928), commented to Brownlow his experience on the set of this silent era bio:

“They had it all wrong,” said Brice. “I tried to tell them that things weren’t like that in the twenties, but they wouldn’t listen. I remember the assistant, a young guy. He said to me, ‘Look, why don’t you go away? Times have changed. You’re an old man. The Parade’s gone by . . .”

Madison Morrison