Today is the birthday of the great film director King Vidor (1894-1982). There is so much to celebrate about the man: The Crowd (1928); his 1928 silent comedies with Marion Davies The Patsy and Show People; his first talkie, the incredible all-black musical Hallelujah (1929); his adaptation of Elmer Rice’s Street Scene (1931); The Champ, made the same year, one of the most perfect Hollywood movies of all time; his contributions to The Wizard of Oz (he directed the Kansas scenes, uncredited); the over-the-top strangeness of movies like Duel in the Sun (1946) and The Fountainhead (1949)….one could go on and on — this is only a partial list!
But probably most dear to us is the research he did in the 1960s that led to Sidney Kirkpatrick’s 1986 book A Cast of Killers. For a time, Vidor investigated the unsolved 1922 murder of film director William Desmond Taylor, intending to turn the material into a screenplay. The story is of great interest to silent movie fans: Edna Purviance and Mabel Normand were among the last people to have seen Taylor alive. Eventually Vidor abandoned the investigation and the screenplay. Kirkpatrick found his notes and turned it into a book. At any rate, Caviglia and I are both big fans of the book; it was one of the things we bonded over during our first date. Sad, but true. (BTW, subsequent research has sort of invalidated both Vidor and Kirkpatrick’s conclusions, but the book is still worth reading so I won’t give you any spoilers).
Anyway a very cool snatch of interview with the older Vidor, on the topic of thinking in pictures:
For more on early film history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
For more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.