Friday, March 18, 2016

The Goose Woman

On Saturday I went to the Silent Movie Theatre and saw The Goose Woman (1925), starring Louise Dresser and Jack Pickford. The film was accompanied by the wonderfully talented, Cliff Retallick and I always know it will be a great time when Cliff is behind the keys.

I didn't know what to expect with this film because I had never seen it before. I hadn't even heard much about it to be honest. I expected a silent film drama full of theatrics and close ups of crying faces, and while I did get that, there was also a lot more to this film. 

The film is based off of a murder case that occurred in New Jersey in 1922. The woman in the New Jersey case, however, was referred to as "The Pig Woman" because she was a pig farmer. The case also didn't involve her son or any relation of hers, whereas in the film The Goose Woman unknowingly pins the crime on her son. Also, in true Hollywood fashion, the crime in the film is solved while the real crime remains unsolved. 

One of the best things about this film is the performance by Louise Dresser. Louise was in her late 40's when the film was made and she didn't mind stripping off the make up and the glamour to play a woman who was constantly drunk and living in a shack surrounded by hundreds of geese. Normally I don't like when an actor looks at the camera, (don't ask me why, it just bugs me), but when Louise does it, you can see the anguish and pain in her eyes. When she is eventually given a makeover by the detectives to get her ready for the sensational murder trial she is the star witness of, she just lights up inside and out and becomes a totally different person. 

Jack Pickford's portrayal of the Goose Woman's son, Gerald, deserves recognition as well. Most of the time Jack is seen as just Mary Pickford's drunken, wild child younger brother and his own film career is barely given a mention. I think Jack would have had a career even without the Pickford name. He was good looking, charismatic, and he was talented! He could play adventurous and rowdy boy roles like Tom Sawyer, or a young man just trying to get the approval and love of his mother like he does in this film. 

While watching this film and seeing Jack being interrogated in the police station, I couldn't help but think about how five years earlier he was being questioned by police about the death of his wife, Olive Thomas. As most silent film fans know, one night while the couple was in Paris, Olive ingested mercury bi-chloride. Whether this was accidental or intentional is still debated, but most people (including the police) agreed that Jack had nothing to do with it. I have heard him described as someone who would be more apt to hurt himself (with his drinking and drug use), but not someone that would hurt anyone else. 

It does need to be stated, however, that there were a couple of times during the movie where not just me, but also my friend, uttered a, "Huh?" or "Wait, what?" One of these instances was when the Goose Woman tells her son about where he came from. Now, it is explained early on in the movie that the Goose Woman, whose real name is Marie de Nardi, was a famous opera singer who was lauded around the world for her beautiful voice. She ended up having a child out of wedlock (we are lead to assume) and for some reason, this ruined her voice. How that works, I do not know. 

Anyway, because of the loss of her voice, she resented her son. According to her, he ruined her career and this eventually lead her to alcoholism. While telling her son this story years later she starts to say, "Your father and I were..." and she is stopped before she could finish. What the hell was she going to say?! Her son's crying and instant depression makes it even more confusing. He then goes to his fiance's house (played by Constance Bennett) and begins to tell her what he just learned, but can't seem to say it out loud. He then walks over to the desk and starts to write his name on a piece of paper and the pen begins to leak ink...and for some reason this seems to make the whole situation clear to his gal! The one time in a silent film when you wish you could have dialogue just to know what the hell was going on!

I am gonna spoil the ending for you, so if you don't want it spoiled, don't read! However, I should also note that if you can't guess how this movie ends while watching it, you might need to go back to Kindergarten. 

So, Gerald is being held at the police station and his mother, supposedly being the only one who can identify the killer, is brought in. When she sees that the supposed killer is her son, she runs to him, overcome with remorse. She holds her son and proceeds to tell the police that she made the whole story up and she hadn't witnessed the murder at all. And RIGHT on time the real killer comes into the station and confesses. (I love when things work out so smoothly!) Mother and son continue to hug while the police chief pulls out a crossword puzzle...because apparently the crime is solved and no charges will be brought against the Goose Woman for lying. JUSTICE!

All in all I will say this is a film definitely worth watching. If you are lucky enough to see it played in a theater with live accompaniment, it is 10x better. Who am I kidding, that is ALWAYS the best way to see a silent film!

I would love to hear from anyone else who has seen the film and get their thoughts and comments on it as well! 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Let the rainbow flag fly!

I had a couple of comments come through a few weeks ago that I have been meaning to address. Awhile back I wrote entries about Lupe Velez and Lilyan Tashman and alluded to the idea that these actresses were bisexual. Now, did they come right out and say it during their heyday? Of course not. Was it whispered about or known through the inner circles of Hollywood, like the famed 'Sewing Circle', as Alla Nazimova coined it? Absolutely. While I did/do say that there isn't concrete evidence to support these claims 100%, there are stories that have been passed down some 80 years later that hold weight. Plus, it was Hollywood during the Roaring Twenties! Anything goes! 

The thing that bothers me the most about these comments is not that this person is dead set against believing that these ladies could have been bisexual, but stated that "we need more heterosexual role models."

Sybil Seely in "The Boat", 1921

So, in honor of this ignorant statement I am presenting an entry dedicated to the gay, lesbian, and bisexual actors and actresses of the silent screen.


Jean Acker

Dorothy Arzner

Josephine Baker

Tallulah Bankhead

Anita Berber
Louise Brooks

Joan Crawford

Grace Darmond

Marlene Dietrich

Peggy Fears

Greta Garbo

William Haines

Edmund Lowe

Alla Nazimova
Ramon Novarro

Lilyan Tashman

Clifton Webb

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Baby Peggy

I completely blanked on including this in the Baby Peggy interview entry! Sometimes I wonder how I even function on a daily basis. 

Anyway, if you are part of any of the silent film fan groups on Facebook or have another source for your silent film fans news, you may have read a few months ago about problems Diana Serra Cary aka Baby Peggy was having trying to get financial support from the Motion Picture & Television Fund. The MPTF was not willing to give her financial support because, according to them, she hadn't worked long enough in the industry and the pension she earned (from her years working in a bookstore) did not qualify her to receive any funds. Now, as Diana told me, when she first began working it was the early days of films and actors weren't collecting pensions or social security. This wasn't set up in contracts until much later, after her career was already over.

When I met with Diana and her son Mark it was roughly two months after the MPTF had sent a social worker over to visit with Diana and to evaluate her situation. Instead of offering her care or funds to obtain care, they offered her a place in the MPTF home. While the offer was appreciated, this wasn't what Diana or her son wanted. Diana is quite "with it" for a woman who is 97 years old and she just needs someone to be with her just in case of any emergency and to help her a bit. She politely declined the offer, which I fully support. So, there is a new plan in place to help ensure that Diana has the care she needs and deserves and also to take some of the weight off of her son, Mark's shoulders. Mark is unable to work at the moment due to his having to stay home and care for his mother. They are going to continue working with the county and the state to find the best solution, but Mark also has something going on that once again, I fully support.

Mark will be setting up a website (it is still in the works) where he will be selling autographed pictures of Baby Peggy. He let me look at some of the available photographs and they are wonderful! Baby Peggy with FDR at the Democratic National convention, Baby Peggy feeding a grizzly bear (this event was mentioned in my interview), and Baby Peggy with Jack Dempsey. There are so many beautiful photographs of this amazing woman, and having it autographed by her, that is a treasure right there. 

Below is the information that Mark sent to me and that is what should be used for ordering until the website is up and running. I will post the link here once Mark gives me to go-ahead.

 Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or e-mail Mark at and help support this treasure of silent film.

Thank you, my amazing readers!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Baby Peggy Interview

On February 14th I had the honor to sit down with Diana Serra Cary aka Baby Peggy of silent film fame. Needless to say this didn't just make for the best Valentine's Day ever, but it also made for one of the best days ever. Diana and her son Mark were so gracious and kind to allow me to drive up and spend almost four hours with them in their home, and I am forever grateful. 

Diana Serra Cary and yours truly with a big ole cheesy grin.
My interview differs from others out there because although I did come with questions written for her in my notebook, I really just wanted to sit and listen to what she had to say. Diana has tons of stories not just about silent films, but about growing up during the 1920's, current politics, and libraries and books (we bonded over our love of books and being librarians). Being a silent film fan and having the opportunity to meet and speak with a woman who was there during that time and knew the players, I was just in awe. I still kind of am when I think about it. 

I hope you enjoy reading this interview and also learn something new from what she had to say. 

I first wanted to ask about her early life before she began acting, which isn't a long time at all considering the fact that she was barely two years old when she first appeared on screen. "Growing up, we lived in two tents. My father was a ranger. He helped build the trails in the Grand Canyon. He was the one who took dynamite and mules and lumber down to rebuild the trails. It was very dangerous work and he did this for $18.00 an week."

"One of the reasons we were so obedient was that our mother and father had trained us to respond to a snap of the fingers and 'Don't do that!'" Diana then told me the story about how effective this discipline was on her and her older sister, Louise. One day, Louise was around a year old and was playing outside when her mother saw a rattlesnake near where Louise was running around. Marian barked at her daughter, "Louise Montgomery, you get in here right now!" So, what may have seemed like a harsh command was really Marian's way of getting her daughter to safety without frightening her. This 'training' would come in handy later when Baby Peggy was on set.

"I never had a childhood friend, never. I never went to school, neither did my sister. She had to pay the penalty too because she was associated with me. She didn't get the benefits, she didn't get to pay the price. I didn't get the benefits either, but I got to pay the price. I was the work horse. My sister and I were never asked that crucial question, 'What are you doing to do when you grow up?' I was gonna be Baby Peggy forever. That was it. There was no Democratic feel to our family's table. I simply occupied a house and did what I was told. I was the breadwinner. My sister eventually blacked out a lot of her life. It was so stressful because she was in competition with me. She developed a real inferiority complex."

Eventually, the family moved west to Los Angeles. The rugged wilderness homestead was proving to be a little too much for Marian Montgomery, and she wanted a safer place for her daughters to grow up. Not to mention the fact that there were often wild animals roaming around and sometimes the family would wake up with an inch of snow on their beds!

"My father and a couple of his cowboy friends would meet at a waterhole saloon and they gathered and were there for calls for jobs. And they were known to be there, and that was the first place to get film extras. He got a job and ended up as a stunt double for Tom Mix. And he would come home with all these exciting stories about what was happening at the studio and mother had never been to a studio, so she was curious as to how movies were made." 

One day, a friend of Marian's, who just happened to work in movies, came by and asked if she would like to go with her to the movie studio to pick up her paycheck. Marian was curious about what a movie set would be like, and so she went with her friend to the studio, with her two young daughters in tow. During that time, most film studios were in barns, and so Marian told her daughters to sit on two stools outside of the barn door and not to move while she went and watched some of the movie making action. The girls were trained well because they didn't move or make a sound, even when a director approached Peggy because he thought her to be quite adorable. He was impressed by the little girl's obedience and told Marian so. He told her to give her number to the secretary so they could be in touch about getting the little girl a screen test. 

Now, Marian was quite scared to go home and tell her husband that not only was she on a film set, had given her phone number to a stranger, AND that his youngest daughter was wanted for a screen test. "Father considered women who were actresses a form of prostitute, which was true in many cases. It was not well spoken of. He didn't want my mother near a studio!" Marian had to reassure her husband, "I swear to God I didn't do anything! Peggy was just sitting there!" 

The role that Peggy was wanted for was opposite a dog named Brownie in a series of shorts. When she first met the dog, he ran through the door without any warning from the director and this of course made the little girl cry. "'She's not afraid of a dog,'" my father told them. And of course, my father being a typical stunt man, he didn't want a daughter who was afraid of anything. Father even had me feed one of the big grizzly bears on set, which is something that they refused to let even tourists do! I was reasonably scared, but I didn't show it. Father wouldn't accept that." The dog and toddler eventually became great pals, and Diana said she loved working with him and that he was very smart. 

For being so young at the time she was making movies, Diana has (and is lauded for) her incredible memory about what it was like making films during the silent era. "I remember a lot of infinitesimal, small things. I was taught very early on and I paid a lot of attention to those things and one of the reasons I was so popular as a child actor was because I had such expressions. I could do the emotions and I could imitate the people even though I didn't look like them. It's because I had the equipment facially. And of course I worked with people who had years and years and years of stage work." One of those people was actor Hobart Bosworth, who she was very fond of. "I liked him immediately and so I started asking about his life and I learned all about him. I don't think half the people in Hollywood knew anything about him, but I wanted to learn the whole story! He was telling me, 'I had to learn that my gestures were too broad and they were broad so they could be seen from the back row, since you couldn't see facial expressions on the stage.'"

When I asked her whether or not she knew she was working when she was on set, she responded with a very emphatic, "Yes!" Her mother, however, spun a very different story for the newspapers and magazines. "'Peggy doesn't know she is working. She thinks she is playing. All little girls like to make up stories and pretend.' I knew I was working. For years my mother was condemned as a stage mother, even though she was ignorant about how movies were made. She made up stories all of her life so she could have a better background."

She recalled a story that her sister told her when they were older about the moment she knew that Peggy had 'drank the Kool-Aid' and knew she was a special child. "I was about three and a half and one Monday morning we didn't go to work. There had been a rainstorm and the set was loused up. We were at home in Beverly Hills and there was a big ruckus next door. All of these kids were making noise. I asked what that noise was and Louise said there was some kids next door. I got on a box and looked out the window and saw that they were having a party. 'It's a weekday,' I said. 'Why aren't they working?' She said that she realized then that I had taken the poison. That I knew what was expected of me. If I wasn't working, no one would eat, and I knew that. The connection was impossible to separate. She knew then that I knew what I was doing. It was work. We went to work at 8 a.m. and worked six days a week like everyone else. Why would I think it's playing? I didn't know what playing was!"

During her career, Baby Peggy had the chance to work with some big names in silent film, one of whom is a favorite of mine, Clara Bow. Baby Peggy appeared in the 1924 Clara Bow film, Helen's Babies, and I knew going into the interview that I wanted to ask her about what it was like working with the It Girl of the time (of all time in my opinion). Diana told me that while she appeared with many different people on screen, the only ones she really remembered are the ones she worked with on multiple occasions and because she and Clara only shared the screen for this one film, she didn't really remember her. What she did have to say was that she remembered her being kind. 

Another question I had for her in regards to Helen's Babies was a scene in which five year old Baby Peggy drops from a tree branch hanging over the road into the car that Clara is driving in. I told her that I couldn't believe a five year old was given that kind of stunt to perform because that would be unheard of today! "The little girl I was with [Jeanne Carpenter] refused to do it. She dropped out of the stunt and I had contempt for her from then on. So, father said I was gonna have to do it alone and I remember I was scared to death of that drop, and it was our own car! It was my father's Dusenberg! How that simple family in the film got that car is beyond me, but no one thought about that at the time I guess."

Edward Everett Horton, Baby Peggy, and Clara Bow in Helen's Babies (1924)

While Baby Peggy knew she was working on film sets, she said she later found out by observation and interviews that the male child stars seemed to have had a better time acting. "The boys, they had a ball in films because this boy, a friend of mine, Frank Coghlan, in this film [The Yankee Clipper] was hired and he had the whole run of the picture. Frank told me stories about making this film, he never forgot. For example, he saw Douglas Fairbanks make the drop from that old sailing ship on a rope and he said when he came out his hands were bloody. Both hands were bleeding profusely. He soon became a pal of Fairbanks. All of these things were pluses for a boy of eight or ten years old. They were wild!"

On the opposite end of the spectrum, she recounted tales of stories told to her by female child stars Shirley Temple and Judy Garland, who had a harder time of it. "Their mothers only prayed to God they would have someone like me! In fact, women used to come into the bank in Santa Monica where Mr. Temple worked and ask him to sire a child with him so they could have another Shirley Temple. He got so embarrassed, he couldn't even make up a good answer. Mrs. Temple got $1000 a week from the studio just for curling Shirley's little curls and teaching her her lines every night. You know, when Shirley talked, it was Mama talking little girl talk. That was the way she taught her lines and that's why Shirley talked baby talk almost until she was a grown child."

"I found out from Judy Garland that her mother played the piano in a theater that her family owned and she said her mother had played for all of my films and it was always her dream that she would get a child star and she worked to make Judy a star so that she would be a big salary earner. She learned all that from watching my films. And I thought, 'Oh my God!' It was going on for other children too and I told her that was terrible."

When she was just eight years old, her career was over. Her father reportedly told off the wrong person at the wrong time, and with that his daughter's career was gone, along with all of the earnings she made during her years on screen. To this day, Diana still has no idea what happened to her earnings, which would have been around $600,000. After that, Baby Peggy and her days as a beloved child star of film were forbidden to be mentioned. The Montgomery family still had to eat, however, so Jack went back to being a stunt double in westerns and Baby Peggy was put on the vaudeville stage. "I never took a vacation on vaudeville. I worked seven days a week. There were three shows a day, but during the holidays you worked four shows a day and sometimes on top of that there was a vaudeville benefit for the National Vaudeville Association for tubercular cases. That was the hardest part of my life. That was the toughest period." When I asked her why she was the one who had to work so hard and not her parents she said, "My father worked with me in the act and I think that helped him keep his manly pride."

Like many child actors then and now, Diana went back to the studios as a young adult to try and get work, but using her Baby Peggy name was not the way to do it. According to her, if you were an actor in silents, you didn't mention it. "People asked me in my teens how I could remember anything about making films and I said I remembered everything about making them. I never had any problem with that, but many child stars had that denial thing. They didn't want people to think they started out like that. Many times, and I did it too, I ended up denying that I had ever been in movies. People don't realize that denial was a big problem. I remember Mary Jane Irving and I were photographed together in one still that's very famous and I remember she was right next to me in this photograph and everyone knew her and they said we must know each other. They think we all knew each other, but I had never heard of her and never worked with her before. I still never got her story. I was introduced to Baby Marie Osborne by Richard Lamparski [author of the 'Whatever Became Of...' book series] and I didn't even know who she was! Her time was before mine on screen. I didn't like her at the time because she had worked with Ginger Rogers' mother and later had the blessing to be Ginger's stand-in. I thought, 'I could have been someone's stand-in!'"

"There are so many sad stories, it was overwhelming. Sometimes when I go to sleep at night, I think about them, and the most depressing ones are the ones that shouldn't have gotten mixed up in it. They paid a terrible price for it. To me, they were all cautionary tales. Perhaps I assumed it because I lived it. Not all of my stories are negative, but the one you get caught in is a negative story." She then went on to tell me more stories of child stars she had known and interviewed. "I had a terrific crush on Frankie Darro. Frankie ended up living in the same apartment he grew up in, a hopeless alcoholic. Just tragic. His was the most tragic life of all. So many of the children came to me to write down their stories because they couldn't remember their stories. They squelched them. They made up new ones or trimmed up the old ones. Most of them were children invented as child stars. Their parents dragged them to the studios."

One of the greatest things about interviewing someone born in 1918 is that you get to hear about what it was like going from silent pictures to talkies and from talkies to television. "Hollywood fought television. They wouldn't allow a t.v. set to be seen in any MGM movie. It couldn't be shown in the background. There WAS no television. That is how violently opposed they were. My parents would never have allowed me to go on t.v. because they were so devoted to the industry, and since the industry was opposed, it would have been suicidal. But, like Jackie Coogan said, if it hadn't been for television, he would have starved to death. When he was older that was the only place he could go!" She went on to tell me more about Jackie and his career as a child star. "MGM had blacklisted him, he was blackballed because his father was so obnoxious. Jack Coogan Sr. wanted to be Jackie's pal, not his father. MGM hated his father and they took it out on Jackie. He was blackballed for 18 years and the only place he could work for was Monogram or Mascot on Poverty Row. Chaplin kept Jackie under contract for a year after The Kid so he couldn't capitalize on his fame. So for one full year he couldn't do anything but go to school or stay home and he was the talk of the town! He was responsible for the success of that movie!" 

Another pal of hers was Roddy McDowall, who I was so excited to hear about because I was a big fan of his. Roddy was not just a wonderful actor, but he also cared about the preservation of films. In fact, it was he who bought the headstone that now marks the resting place of the actress who is considered by many to be the first real movie star, Florence Lawrence. "Roddy was the only person I knew who knew everyone's secrets. There's a library in Boston where he put a file full of secrets. No one can access that file for fifty years, so all the secrets are safe. He wouldn't spill the beans on anyone. He was scrupulous. He was the only one of the child stars who never lost their head. He was just a cool person."

Something else I was interested in talking to Diana about was what it was like growing up during the 1920's. She had so many stories and tidbits to share about the invention of the telephone, learning to drive, and dating during that time. "My sister couldn't even date until she was twenty because father wouldn't allow it. Fathers believed they had a job to not let their daughters go out with a boy in a car who could take them to a dark theater and give them the once over. The theater was the place where you would be made. And teaching your daughters how to drive was like making her a prostitute. She didn't have to walk the streets, she could drive the streets! My father never taught my sister or me how to drive, and my mother could never drive. He refused to let her. I remember the sister-in-law of Alice Roosevelt [Theodore Roosevelt's eldest daughter] asked Alice, 'What is your behavior like in a buggy on a date? How do you keep the horses from getting spooked?' and Alice replied, 'Anything is okay as long as it doesn't scare the horses.' 

"The telephone was another under evaluated situation. You never knew who was talking to your daughter. She may be making dates!"

"A woman cutting her hair was just unheard of. She never let her hair down because that signaled she was getting ready for bed or ready for a seduction. The average woman could never meet a man at the door if her hair was down. Nice girls met boys at the door with their hair done up and pompadoured. And my parents fought furiously over these milestones!" 

As our time together was winding down, I wanted to ask her her thoughts on coming to terms with being Peggy Montgomery, Baby Peggy and Diana Serra Cary at the same time. "I've gone through a period with that child where she was the only person I could afford to get mad at. I knew from the age of four that I was a separate person in a way. I never bought the person on the screen. I knew that she was projected by me, but I didn't occupy her. It never occurred to me that she was working for me and she remembered all these little things and I realized I had made a terrible mistake because it was she who was providing me with all the stories, the things nobody keeps record of."

I can't state enough how lucky I feel to have been able to sit down and talk to Diana about her experiences and how amazing it was that she opened up to me about so many topics. Hearing someone you admire so much call you a 'friend' and a 'sister' is incredible, and I look forward to visiting with her again. 

And, in the spirit of the current presidential elections I want to share Diana's take on the current candidates...because it is amazing. "I hope Hilary wins because I don't want any of the other idiots in the Republican party to win. It's not even the Republican party anymore. It's a hodge podge of evangelicals and tea parties." 

Cheers to that!