Tomorrow at 8 p.m. (Eastern), Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. unveils episode 4 of its seven-part documentary on Hollywood, "Moguls & Movie Stars," with "Brother, Can You Spare A Dream?", an examination of the film industry with the arrival of sound and the onset of the Depression. And Carole Lombard fans wonder whether she will be noted. Given her status as the leading female star of the screwball genre, one would think so, but...
Which actress popularized the page-boy hairstyle so prevalent during the 1920s? Louise Brooks, at right, according to episode 3 which aired last week. But anyone with knowledge of the era knows the answer was actually Colleen Moore, left, who not only a far bigger star than Brooks, but wore the style in her 1923 hit "Flaming Youth," two years before Brooks appeared on screen and three before her first credit. (It doesn't help matters much that only one reel of "Flaming Youth" survives, but many of Moore's other hits from the '20s remain available.)
Yes, the public -- or at least the segment of it with an ounce of interest in classic Hollywood -- is more aware of Brooks today than Moore, but through "Moguls & Movie Stars," TCM had the chance to set the record straight. I'm astounded that with the likes of Cari Beauchamp (who's written extensively on the silent era) assisting the project, a mistake of this magnitude went through.
And Moore wasn't the only star to be ignored; neither Constance nor Norma Talmadge, both of whom were big in the '20s, were mentioned, nor was major star Wallace Reid, whose death from morphine addiction in 1923 was among the scandals rocking the industry at that time. Heck, no note was made of Florence Lawrence, who a century ago was the first film star to receive on-screen credit (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/268617.html) -- and her story ties into that of Universal founder Carl Laemmle.
Moore may be little remembered today because most of her work was for First National, a studio that was absorbed by Warner Bros. in 1928 and was effectively relegated to a subsidiary. (The Warners studio site in Burbank was initially developed by First National, and was the prime reason Warners bought it out.) Similarly, while TCM aired several Fox films last week ("Sunrise," "The Iron Horse"), virtually nothing was said about the studio, a major force during the 1920s. (Fox's history before its merger with Darryl F. Zanuck's Twentieth Century studio in 1935 tends to be overlooked.) A look at 1920s Hollywood that overemphasizes MGM, Warners and Paramount, while ignoring First National and Fox, isn't telling the complete story. (In fairness, episode 3 did touch on some things that tend to be glossed over, such as William Randolph Hearst's production of movies before he met Marion Davies.)
So while I look forward to episode 4, I'm hoping for the best but fearing the worst, expecting that 1) Lombard will be remembered solely for her marriage to Clark Gable (one doubts it will be noted she was first married to William Powell), rather than for her acting skills, and 2) screwball comedy will be illustrated by "Bringing Up Baby" (as if Katharine Hepburn won't be recognized in later episodes). I keep my fingers crossed that I will be wrong, and that a film such as "My Man Godfrey," both a screwball masterpiece and a fictional snapshot of the Depression era, will be recognized.