From Silents to Sound: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Performers Who Made the Transition to Talking Pictures

As much as The Silents Majority honors the artisans of the silent era, we would be remiss many times over if our coverage of these performers ended with the coming of sound. The greatness of a particular individual cannot be fully appreciated without the discussion of their entire film output. From Silents to Sound: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Performers Who Made the Transition to Talking Pictures, by Roy Liebman, deftly bridges these two seemingly conflicting film eras. The author’s criteria for listing a particular performer was that the person in question had notable roles in “at least three silent films and who had some starring or supporting roles in sound.” In light of this, one will not find such sound stars as Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and John Wayne because they only appeared in bit or extra roles in silents. Other notable omissions are Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings and Percy Marmont because either their silent careers were entirely in Europe (Dietrich) or they returned to Europe for the sound era (Jannings and Marmont). For the curious, there is a short appendix for the “one-and-two-shot wonders” – the stars who made no more than one or two sound films.

In this very readable reference book, each entry has a brief but informative bio touching on the performers silent and sound work. The author writes engagingly and his descriptions of the performers and their screen personas are right on target. (The only disappointment is that this book does not contain any photographs.) Also included are encapsulated comments concerning the performer from reviews (gleaned from Variety and Harrison’s Reports) of their selected sound films. Listed from A to Z are many favorites: superstars like Clara Bow and Lillian Gish; dependable supporting and character players like Polly Moran and Ernest Torrance; and the familiar faces who did their work without the benefit of marquee billing like Sidney Bracey and Charles Stevens.

The Silents Majority recommends From Silents to Sound as a companion book to author Leibman’s Silent Film Performers: An Annotated Bibliography of Published, Unpublished and Archival Sources for Over 350 Actors and Actresses (McFarland and Company, Inc., 1996).

Madison Morrison