The above was as close as Carole Lombard ever came to genuine stardom in silent movies -- the female lead in the long-lost 1925 Fox programmer "Marriage In Transit," made when Lombard was all of 16 -- and it apparently overwhelmed her at the time. She'd make her share of silents over the next few years, but generally in parts more suited to her relative lack of experience...as an ensemble player in comedy shorts or in a supporting role in features.
Nevertheless, she was living a dream come true, and though she ranked low on the figurative Hollywood totem pole, many girls who saw her on screen at the time envied her (even if they didn't know who she was).
What made the silent era so special, influencing Jane Alice Peters from her childhood in Fort Wayne, as well as millions of others? What was it like as an art form, as a business? And what misconceptions do we have about silents?
These questions were answered in 1980 by Kevin Brownlow and the late David Gill in an extraordinary 13-part British television series, "Hollywood: A Celebration Of American Silent Film." Lovingly done and thoroughly researched, featuring interviews with many of the era's personalities before they left us (including Lombard's first director, Allan Dwan). "Hollywood" is an invaluable resource for anyone who loves film history. Many of us in America saw it later in the '80s on PBS (and a few years ago, it ran again on Turner Classic Movies).
"Hollywood" has appeared on videocassette, and in late 2005 it was announced that it was to appear on DVD the following year.
Unfortunately, DVD rights issues concerning the many silent movies from which excerpts were used at first delayed the release, then canceled it. Three years later, that's the bad news. The good news is that you can watch much of the series online, for free, on YouTube; each episode is divided into five segments of about 10 minutes each.
Nine of the 13 episodes are available: "The Pioneers" (showing the sophistication of early silents), "In The Beginning" (when the U.S. film industry headed west in the early 1910s), "Single Beds And Double Standards" (Hollywood scandals), "Hazard Of The Game" (stunt performers), "Comedy -- A Serious Business" (Sennett, Chaplin, Keaton and more), "The Man With The Megaphone" (a look at directors' work), "Trick Of The Light" (cinematography), "Star Treatment" (actors, fan magazines and studio publicity), and "End Of An Era" (adapting to the arrival of sound).
You can find the videos at http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=qualigin&view=videos. Please check them out...and hope that someday, this exemplary series makes its way to DVD.
We'll leave you with this still of Buster Keaton from his last silent feature, the 1928 gem "The Cameraman":