First person oral histories are the most interesting wealth of information in a fascinating world gone by. Too many times a person of our greatest admiration and/or fame leaves us before we realize the treasure of stories experienced that say I was there. It seems even more tragic that these opportunities slip away and real first person insight is gone forever. The events of our times are forgotten or mythologised, even though it is not ancient history – much of it happened in the first third of our 20th century. What makes a great interview? Knowing your topic, asking the right questions, and standing back and letting your subject express their thoughts. It is about the subject, not about the interviewer.
Broken Silence succeeds as an enlightening compendium of interviews with 23 stars of the silent era. Author Michael G. Ankerich includes a wide variety of stars – from the prominent stars as Esther Ralston, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Patsy Ruth Miller, Madge Bellamy, Marion Mack, Eleanor Boardman, Lois Moran and Lina Basquette; the great child stars Junior Coghlan and Baby Marie Osborne; as well as Lew Ayres, who made one silent, The Kiss (M-G-M, 1929) with Greta Garbo, but who is known primarily for his work in the talkie era.
Most valuable in Broken Silence are the segments on stars on which little , if any, previous information has been published. We are indebted to M. Ankerich for bringing out of obscurity and into the limelight of the historical record stars as David Rollins, Muriel Ostriche, Gladys Walton, George Lewis, Dorothy Janis and Maxine Elliott Hicks, among others. It was because of Ankerich’s book that I discovered Maxine Elliott Hicks, who started in movies in 1916, notably in The Poor Little Rich Girl with Mary Pickford. Miss Hicks’ most recent performance was a guest appearance on the Murphy Brown television series around 1994. Her film career spanned 78 years – 3 years longer than Lillian Gish’s 75-year (1912 – 1987) career! The only other person with a longer acting career in films is likely Milton Berle, who started in bit parts as a child in 1914, and is still active 82 years later.
Yet another interesting revelation in Broken Silence deals with David Rollins, who played in several silents opposite Sue Carol (later the wife of Alan Ladd). Rollins narrowly escaped being killed in the same car accident which took the life of director F.W. Murnau, as he had originally planned to take the trip with Murnau, but backed out at the last minute.
The afore-mentioned tidbits are simply a minute sampling of some of the information included in Broken Silence, much of which isn’t included in any other film history book on the market. Ankerich’s writing style combines a summation of what he learned from the interviews with the stars, as well as some quoted passages from the actual interviews, making for most enjoyable reading. The book is further enhanced with footnotes which rovide in-depth information and facts on some of the topics discussed, as well as illustrative photos of the stars interviewed.
Broken Silence is a treasure trove of information. It is a title that every library should have in its collections, and is also a highly recommended addition to the private book collections of all who appreciate the fine art of silent cinema.
Broken Silence. By Michael G. Ankerich. (McFarland, 1993). 319 pp, including an index. Hardbound only. $38.50. ($41.50 Postpaid). This book can be purchased from the publisher: