It is reported that Henry Ford captured his idol and close friend Thomas A. Edison’s last breath in a jar. By the same token, many of us feel the same way about our film idols. We feel lucky to be alive during their time, even if their careers were over long before many of us were born. With a similar intention, author Michael G. Ankerich has done no less in capturing memories for posterity.
Most industry people are long gone from the extinguished silent era. The interviews that were garnered from them during their fame and after are treasured by those wanting to know and understand as much as they can. Now, the last survivors from the transition of silents to sound are in their 80s and 90s. As time slips away, the necessity of procuring their oral histories is apparent. Like his first book of interviews, Broken Silence, Ankerich’s latest book, The Sound of Silence, gives voice to the individuals who were there. In his introduction, he relates his race against time: “I still feel a sense of urgency about capturing the memories of our early film players. It is indeed sobering to realize that, of the 23 silent film players interviewed for Broken Silence, only six now remain.”
For this volume, Ankerich interviewed a diverse group of 16 personalities. These sessions were conducted between the late 1980s and mid-1990s. The silent performers represented are the late Billie Dove, and surviving (as of this writing) Anita Page, Mary Brian, Barbara Kent, Pauline Curley, Marion Shilling and Mexican import Lupita Tovar; and child stars Marsha Mae Jones and Edith Fellows from the early 1930s. With those not as familiar with stage personalities, there is a fascinating introduction to actresses Barbara Barondess, Rose Hobart, Barbara Weeks and Esther Muir. All four actresses went directly from the stage into talkies.
Surrounded by all these lovely ladies is silent screen actor Hugh Allan (off the screen by 1930) and early sound actor William Janney (whose career started in earnest in 1929). Both had very promising, yet all-too-brief stints in pictures as potential leading men. Also included is Thomas Beck, a Zanuck contract character player and very much a thorn in the mogul’s side when the ink had just dried from the merger of 20th-Century and Fox.
While several of these names may not trigger recognition or even interest at first glance, these individuals rubbed elbows with the people who were labeled “stars” and experienced the ups and downs of the movie making process. They were on the set, on the lot, in the dressing rooms and in the social settings of Hollywood royalty. They reveal moments of candor that arose in their day-to-day collaborations with the idols that millions worshipped.
The Sound of Silence is recommended as a companion book to the author’s previous collection of interviews, which brings the total of 39 early Hollywood first-person life narratives film fans are far richer for having available.