May 31, 2012

Mary Pickford Resources: Part Two, The Books

I've read a lot of Mary Pickford books over the past month, and there were a few more I read before I ever got the crazy idea to put on this shindig. These are the ones that I admire most, and which I plan to read again:

Sunshine and Shadow, by Mary Pickford 

Every other Pickford book references this classic autobiography, so why not get it from the source? This is a great read, with the sort of voice that makes you feel like Mary is there telling you her stories in person. Apparently she was disappointed by some of the cuts her publisher made, and she claimed to want to share both her good and bad experiences. She does do this to a degree, though you can sense that she is holding back and even glorifying some of the grittier stories she does share. I'm guessing that was not entirely due to the publisher either. It didn't matter to me though, because I felt like I got the essence of Pickford from this book. She gives you a strong picture of her joy, frustration, sadness and gratitude, all told in a likeable voice.

The Parade's Gone By. . . and Mary Pickford Rediscovered: Rare Pictures of a Hollywood Legend, by Kevin Brownlow 

Legendary film historian Kevin Brownlow's writing about Pickford is special, because he actually spoke with her. His 1960s interview with her in his silent film tribute, The Parade's Gone By. . . has been quoted so many times that I felt like I'd read it before the first time I picked up the book. He captures a tart, opinionated Pickford. It's a revealing portrait, not so much because of what she shares, but because of the way she demonstrates her view of herself, her films and the people who worked alongside her. She seems simultaneously defiantly proud and disappointed in herself. There are several other fascinating mentions of Pickford in the book, both by Brownlow and other interviewees.

I love Mary Pickford Rediscovered: Rare Pictures of a Hollywood Legend because it is lovely and deceptively substantial. The photos are a rare treat, but it is the text that truly inspired me. As far as I know, this is the only book to thoroughly examine Pickford's work, film-by-film. The plots, production history and response to all the full-length titles that received frustratingly little space in her biographies are related in great detail, with the added benefit of Brownlow's thorough research and the healthy skepticism that always drives him to dig deeper. Pickford's short films receive less attention, but her early career at studios such as Biograph is well detailed.

Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood, by Eileen Whitfield 

I finally had to read this book and see what the big deal was. I get it now. Whitfield has written the epic version of Pickford's life. This is primarily due to the astonishing amount of research she conducted for this very thorough biography. Not only does she get the details of Mary's life, but she places it all in the context of the times in which she lived. The result is a rich history of movies, culture and society, in addition to a beautifully written tribute.

New Books 

Mary Pickford: Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart, by Peggy Dymond Leavey 

I have to admit I went into Peggy's book wondering what on earth she could possibly have to add to Mary's story, but this book was almost literally impossible to put down once I started reading. The writing flows beautifully. Leavey tells Pickford's story with rich detail and strong clarity. I would recommend this version of Mary's life to anyone who is new to Pickford or classic movies.

Sweet Memories, by David Menefee 

It was eerie reading this fictional re-telling of Mary's early life, as seen through her mother Charlotte's eyes, right after finishing Sunshine and Shadows. I've mentioned this comparison before, and it is a perfect way to describe the book: it was like the biopic version of her autobiographical "documentary." Menefee researched the book thoroughly, determined to get the details right, but then he opened up the story with dialogue and drama in the most amusing way. You'll all get a chance to win a signed copy of this book during the blogathon! More details to follow. 


The only book I didn't get to, but that I really wanted to read was Scott Eyman's Pickford biography, which seems to be held in high esteem. I'd love to hear from any of you who have read it.

Are there any other Mary Pickford books and resources that you like? Please share your favorites in the comments.

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May 30, 2012

Mary Pickford Blogathon: Participants and Instructions

Our Pickford party is still a few days away, and I am already having a wonderful time! It has been so much fun to talk with all of you about Mary. I'm heartened to see that there is a lot more love out there for her than I thought.

Thank you to all of you who have signed up to participate. We're a diverse bunch, but we all have our admiration for Pickford in common. I hope that sentiment will last beyond the three days of this event.

I've been getting several questions about when and how to submit posts, so I thought I should let you all know what I have planned.

There's no need to sign up for a specific day, just leave a link to your post in the comments of this or any Pickford blogathon post on the site and I will add it to the list for that day (if I don't get to you the day you send it, never fear, I will post it by the next day). If you prefer, you may also send the link to classicmovieblog (at)

If you haven't signed up, but would like to participate, you are still welcome! Feel free to send me links to new and previously-written Pickford posts any day of the event. If you have a fantastic idea, but don't have a site, let me know and I can host your post.

And now, the current list, with participants and the topics I know. If I have somehow missed you or made any errors, please leave a comment or send me a message. Thanks again everyone!

Special Guests:

June 1: Author and documentary filmmaker Sarah Baker will share her thoughts on Olive Thomas, Jack Pickford's tragic wife, and her relationship with Mary.

June 2: Author and actor Stephen Jared will write about Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks and their eventful relationship.

June 3: I'll share an interesting Q&A with Peggy Dymond Leavey, the author of Mary Pickford: Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart, which was published late last year.

Participating Movie Sites and Organizations:

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, Stella Maris (1918)
Once Upon a Screen, Romance of the Redwoods (1917)
Mary Pickford Institute (Manon Banta), Mary as a role model for today's girls
Mary Pickford Institute (Hugh Munro Neely), Mary and Charlotte Pickford as producers
Journeys in Classic Film, Cinderella (1914)
The Silent Volume, The Little American (1917)
A Mythical Monkey Writes About the Movies, Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley (1918)
Crítica Retrô, Sparrows (1926)
She Blogged By Night, Secrets (1933)
Movietone News, Kiki (1931)
Hollywood Revue, My Best Girl (1927)
A Person in the Dark, The New York Hat (1912)
My Love of Old Hollywood, Pickfair profile
The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World, Career overview
True Classics, The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)
Commentary Track, Photo Play: My Best Girl (1927)
Twenty-four Frames, A Beast At Bay (1912)
These Amazing Shadows
The Other Side, Sparrows (1926)
What Happened to Hollywood
Movie Classics, Daddy Long-Legs (1919)
Krell Laboratories
Forget the Talkies, Pickford overview/links
The Cinementals
Mary Pickford Foundation (Sloan DeForest)
Pretty Clever Films

May 27, 2012

Horsethon: Eadweard Muybridge and the Gallop Towards Movies

This post is my contribution to Page's Horsethon, at My Love of Old Hollywood. Check out the rest of the entries here

Horses are a fitting subject for a blogathon, because it is the movements of this animal that bridged the gap between still photographs and the movies. This is thanks to the work of the innovative photographer Eadweard Muybridge.

Though Muybridge would likely have been famous as a photographer even if he had never attempted to catch a horse in motion, he would probably not be well remembered today. Since he did, the idea of moving pictures began to develop into the movies we know today with his discoveries, and his name is a familiar part of cinema history.

Muybridge's photographs of horses in motion are so famous, that people who care nothing about photography or old movies are familiar with them:

The images were even the subject of a Google doodle earlier this year:

Eadweard Muybridge was born in England, but he spent most of his life in the United States, and particularly California. He immigrated to San Francisco in 1855, when gold fever was still wild in the west, and eventually established himself as a bookseller.

Muybridge Self-Portrait with Enormous Tree
Everything changed for Muybridge when he set off on a trip to England in search of books for his business. He was in a violent stagecoach accident and suffered a severe head injury which led to lost memory, double vision, impaired senses and confused thinking. It is thought that the injury led to his later creativity and innovations, in addition to erratic and eccentric behavior

Seven years would pass before Muybridge was fully rehabilitated and could return to San Francisco. While in recovery, he changed his vocation to photography. By the time he returned home in 1867, he knew his trade well. He quickly made his name as a photographer of landscapes, and most notably Yosemite Valley. Muybridge also traveled to find interesting subject matter, such as the Tlingit people in Alaska.

This is where the horse part comes in.

In 1872, former California governor, railroad baron and race horse owner Leland Stanford hired Muybridge to answer a question. He wanted to know if a trotting horse ever had all four feet off the ground, and he was rich enough to find out.

Muybridge set up his camera at Stanford's farm in Palo Alto, and he captured proof on a single negative that is now lost. Yep, that horse was airborne.

While the initial study excited Standford, the most famous of Muybridge's horse images (and the ones you see pictured above)would not be taken for several years.

There was a bit of scandal in the eccentric photographer's life.

Muybridge had married Flora Shallcross Stone, a much younger woman, in 1872. They had a child, Florado Helios Muybridge, in 1874. Several months later, Muybridge became convinced that the baby was the son of Major Harry Larkyns, a drama critic.

The livid photographer tracked down Larkyns and shot him dead. He was willingly arrested, and most irritated that his lawyer pleaded insanity. The jury ignored the plea anyway, and acquitted him for "justifiable homicide." Stanford had managed the troubled Muybridge's defense.

Once free, Muybridge left for South America to take a previously-planned photography trip. When he returned several months later, Flora had died.

Muybrdige never had much more to do with his son, though photographs have shown that the boy did resemble him. Florado worked on a ranch for most of his life, and was hit and killed by a car at age seventy. 

Back to the horses.

Stanford hired Muybridge again in 1878 to make a more detailed study of horse movement. New technology had greatly improved the quality of the photographs and thus a sharper, more detailed image could provide more insight into the animal's motions.

Muybridge set up 24 cameras on the racetrack. Frustrated by his inability to take images of the horse quickly enough by hand, he set up a system of electrical wires on the racetrack. These would be triggered by the horse when it ran across them, thus setting off the shutter of the camera. Muybridge also hung bright white sheets across the race track so that the contrast between horse and background would be greater.

The resulting images created a sensation. They were the subject of local newspapers and scientific journals. No one had ever explored the possibilities of motion in photographs to this extent.

Muybridge created a projection device called a zoopraxiscope. He would use this machine to show the images in motion by copying them in silhouette form onto a disc. By quickly rotating the images, the images appeared to move. This is the view from the top of the device:

Here's a close-up of the images:

This new method of projection set several imaginations on fire, one of the most significant being motion picture pioneer Thomas Edison.

Though Muybridge had a falling out with Stanford over the rights to his horse images, he would continue making motion studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he took over 100,000 images. In addition to horses, Muybridge studied other animals and even people. His subjects included cows, goats, dogs and boars.

He also captured the movements of one of the last surviving bison:

Muybridge was particularly interested in the movements of athletes and captured them wrestling, jumping, tumbling, fencing and boxing. Many of his human subjects were filmed nude so that every nuance of their motion could be studied in detail. He even made a few studies of himself in the all-together:

In 1887, Muybridge published a portfolio with thousands of his images. Their influence was so powerful that it and a couple of books to follow continue to be used by individuals in science, athletics and the arts today.

Later in life, Muybridge traveled the world, giving lectures and demonstrations. During the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, he projected his moving pictures in the Zoopraxographical Hall. This would make his exhibit essentially the first commercial movie theater.

After a long life of accomplishment, Muybridge returned to England in 1894, where he lived until his death in 1904. He would have held a small corner of photography history without Stanford and his horses, but who knows when the movies would have come along if he hadn't trained those cameras on Occident?

Quote of the Week

She couldn't get out of her own way. . . . She wasn't disciplined. . .but she didn't do it viciously, and there was a sort of magic about her which we all recognized at once.

-Barbara Stanwyck, about Marilyn Monroe

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May 24, 2012

Mary Pickford Resources: Part One

I've found so many fantastic resources as I've researched Mary for the blogathon. I wanted to share them with all of you, so you can enjoy them as well. There's a lot of information, so this is going to be a two-parter. This week, I'm posting about resources I've found online. Next week I'll share some of the Pickford books I've had the pleasure to read.

The Mary Pickford Institute for Film Education 

This is the first place to look for any online research about Mary. It's got a great gallery of personal and professional photos, a concise, but detailed biography and a solid list of recommended reading. There's also information about the Institute's programs and how to get access to the films in the Mary Pickford Library, and much more.

The Internet Archive 

Though the quality of the clips on the Internet Archive can often be pretty scrubby, you can sample a lot of great Pickford media here. There are interviews, short and full-length films and movie magazines, among other things. I particularly love this CBC Radio Interview from May 25, 1959, because it is so charming to hear Mary tell her own story. She's putting on a show and enjoying it.

The Rob Brooks Mary Pickford Collection 

It has been claimed that Rob Brooks, of Toronto, Ontario has the largest Mary Pickford collection in the world. Check out his site to get a taste of his astounding archives. He has been collecting since 1979, though according to Cliff at Immortal Ephemera, most of the collection has been gathered in recent years, since the arrival of auction sites.


I've found some interesting interviews as well. Including one with her nieces in which they are quite candid about their Aunt Mary. It's a beautiful, personal perspective on Pickford.

I've only just begun to dig through this enormous collection of Mary Pickford interviews from the silent era on Taylorology, the bare bones William Desmond Taylor tribute site (Taylor directed a handful of Pickford's films).


Are there any online Pickford resources you like that I have missed here? I would love to know about them!

May 20, 2012

Quote of the Week

A casting office asked me if I'd ever thought of having my nose fixed. I said, "It's already been fixed, by about four left hooks."

 -Robert Mitchum

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May 17, 2012

Mary Pickford Blogathon: Q&A with David Menefee

As I mentioned in my blogathon update post last week, prolific Pulitzer-nominated author David Menefee has generously offered to send a signed copy of his book, Sweet Memories to a lucky winner during the event.

The book is an entertaining fictional retelling of Pickford's early life and career as told by her mother Charlotte. I should add that the fiction is only in the dramatization. Having just read several Pickford books, I can say that this story is deeply rooted in fact. Call it a biopic instead of a documentary.

I thought it would be fun to learn a little more about David and his wonderful book. Here's what I learned from our brief exchange:

What inspired you to write about this period in Mary Pickford's life?

The first decade of American filmmaking was filled with exciting and explosive developments. At first, no one thought they were forging a new art form; they were merely supplying cheap entertainment for the masses. Nevertheless, an art form did develop, one that drew elements from theater, ballet, literature, painting, music, and sculpture, and merged them into an altogether new experience. 

By around 1910, this fact had become clear to certain filmmakers, and Mary Pickford was one of those accidentally pioneering in the new art. They fully realized that they were onto something unique when The New York Times began reviewing films, bestowing onto them the same respect previously reserved for theater, ballet, literature, painting, music, and sculpture. 

Why did you decide to tell the story through (Mary's mother) Charlotte Pickford's eyes?

By the written accounts left by those who knew Charlotte Pickford, she was the unheralded mover and shaker behind Mary's unique and phenomenal success, involved in nearly every detail of Mary, Jack, and Lottie's careers, but someone who has remained outside the spotlight, standing silently in their shadows. Although her influence resonates through Mary's autobiography and those of others, she never wrote her memoirs, unlike Margaret L. Talmadge, who wrote The Talmadge Sisters, a memoir about Norma, Constance, and Natalie Talmadge.

Charlotte probably would have written a memoir had she lived longer, so I wanted to give her a voice, but I desired that the voice ring true, as if Sweet Memories sprang from her and solidly reflected the facts. With Mary, any writer will be vilified if he or she strays from the facts, so I had to perform due diligence and research every written account on record and stay on a straight and narrow course with those facts. This task was difficult to accomplish, but there were enough clues in the writings of others to light the path clearly. 

Fortunately, those 1909-1913 years were so full of turbulent drama that the fictionalization required was only minimal. I pieced together Charlotte's personality into a mosaic-like filter, and then channeled each incident through that screen so that the details were accurately retold from her point of view. Sweet Memories also was written to be a film, and so the story flows neatly and swiftly in a way that lends to one sitting, as it will be when the film version is made.

Would you ever consider writing a sequel to cover Pickford's Hollywood career and later life?

Yes, if I can put my thumb on the core drama around which the story will fall. There is a recurring problem with fashioning a scenario from the long life of a famous person. Most take the approach of telescoping their entire life down to about two hours, and the result always disappoints. (Think of other silent film bioflicks, such as Chaplin, The Buster Keaton Story, Valentino, The Man of a Thousand Faces.)

A better approach is just the opposite: to pluck a single segment from their life and expand and amplify that, which is exactly what I accomplished with Sweet Memories. One of the questions I would most like to pose to participants in the Mary Pickford Blogathon is: what do you think is the single most dramatic turn of events in Mary's later career? I already imagine it may be her struggle to play little girls while ever advancing in age, but I'd like to know what other people think.

You mentioned that you fell in love with Mary when you saw a showing of one of her films in a theater. Which movie was that? What about it, and her, appealed to you?

Poor Little Rich Girl (1917). Who cannot help but identify with the story of the child trapped in one set of circumstances but longing to be in another? Even when life is good, which life is for Gwen, a person can be miserable if they're not where they should be in the world. Mary's real-life kindness, rebellious temperament, fighting spirit, and radiant personality seem to glow from every scene, and the close-ups seem to penetrate her soul.

Do you have a favorite Pickford movie?

Sparrows (1926), which seems to possess a timeless quality, perhaps because the movie features so many scenes with children who were captured being themselves, not acting. That one element bestows the movie with a realism not always found in movies.

In my opinion, straying too far into theatricality contributed to the overall demise of her popularity in the 1930s, not advancing age, the transition to talking pictures, or her personal life. I also still enjoy watching the gripping one-reeler The Lonely Villa (1909), because the movie still packs a punch, and because the movie features one her very first film appearances. Those film firsts, like Lillian and Dorothy Gish in An Unseen Enemy, are moments in which we get to glimpse what we now know are the births of legends. 

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions David.

Stay tuned! I'll keep you all updated as to how you can win your own copy of Sweet Memories.

May 16, 2012

For the Love of Film III Fundraiser: Vertigo Retold by Its Heroine

About the fundraiser, from the Siren herself:

This year, we are raising funds for the National Film Preservation Foundation's project, The White Shadow, directed by Graham Cutts and written, assistant-directed, and just generally meddled with in a number of different ways by the one and only Alfred Hitchcock. The goal is to raise $15,000 to stream this once-lost, now-found, three-reel fragment online, free to all, and to record the score by Michael Mortilla.

With over 100 bloggers participating, I know we can reach this goal. Why not donate now? Here's the link:


For my entry, I have posted a slightly-revised version of a book review I wrote last month. It is the fascinating, devastating story of Judy Barton, the tragic heroine of Vertigo (1958). I would recommend this book to any fan of Hitchcock:

The Testament of Judith Barton
Wendy Powers and Robin McLeod

I felt like the embattled heroine of The Testament of Judith Barton when I started reading this book. I meant to read only a few pages, but then it sucked me in.

There are few movie characters I’ve felt more empathy for than Judy Barton in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). The poor woman comes to San Francisco alone, ready to begin her life, and it’s as if the men of the town are waiting to destroy her, grabbing at her like the animated trees in The Wizard of Oz.

First, she’s seduced and abandoned by a wealthy man, though it is never clear whether it is money, passion or both that drove her to him. Then, when she thinks she’s met a decent fellow, he not only won’t acknowledge her identity, but totally strips it away from her until he believes he has recovered the apparition that obsesses him.

The Testament of Judith Barton tells the story of this young woman from Salina, Kansas. It takes her from childhood to the conclusion of the filmed Vertigo story in a rich, troubling and engrossing tale.

Due to a remarkable dispensation by the Hitchcock estate to use quotes from Vertigo in the book, the voice of the film haunts the story, but it somehow does not overtake it. I think this is primarily because the authors set up their own world before diving into the elements that are more familiar to fans of Hitchcock’s film.

I thought I would be impatient with the early scenes in Judy’s life when I started reading. After all, I was interested in the book because I wanted to see Vertigo through her eyes, not necessarily the rest of her life. As her story developed, I found that I liked that background story as much, if not more than the San Francisco narrative connected to the movie.

Judy is portrayed as a straightforward small town girl. She’s a tomboy, who loves her jeweler father and spending time outdoors. Though she’s the opposite of her more feminine sister, they have a close relationship and her mother is supportive and loving.

It was interesting to get to know the young Judy, and the people she knew in her early life. She has a bit of edge, but not so much that it obscures her sensitivity and decency. I relished Judy's interactions with her family and friends, and the details about gemstones and jewelry that were woven into the narrative as she learned her father’s trade.

Once Judy began her life in San Francisco, I became more critical, even skeptical of the direction the story was taking. Little details irked me, mostly when I thought that the Judy I knew in the movie would not have behaved in a certain way. I wish I would have just trusted the authors, because they make it work.

Vertigo is not a very plausible story, and this novel cannot be expected to be either, but in so many ways it is. I believed Judy could have been the way she is portrayed, and I felt for her as if she was a real person. Even knowing her fate, I kept hoping that something would change, and that was entirely due to the hold this riveting tale had on me.

Thank you to Wendy Powers for providing a copy of this book for review. Purchase information here.

Please consider helping the White Shadows effort by clicking on the image below and making a donation. It doesn't have to be much. Pennies don't come from hell!

May 13, 2012

Quote of the Week

Let’s face it, I was a freak. I never went to a senior prom. I wasn’t a normal teenager. I wasn’t even doing the things my brother was doing, or the girl across the street.

 -Elizabeth Taylor

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May 10, 2012

Mary Pickford Blogathon Update

Thank you to everyone who has signed up so far for the Pickford blogathon. I'm really looking forward to reading your posts! There have been a lot of interesting developments since I first announced the event, so I thought I'd give you all an update:

Book Giveaway

Pulitzer-nominated author David Menefee has generously offered to send an autographed copy of his latest book, Sweet Memories to a lucky winner. The book is an entertaining fictional retelling of Pickford's early life and career as told by her mother Charlotte. I'll share more details about the contest, and my Q&A with David, as we get closer to the event.

Fabulous Guests

I will also be hosting a post from a fabulous guest author each day of the blogathon. I've got some great talent lined up:

Sarah Baker is the author of one of my favorite classic Hollywood books, Lucky Stars, the dual biography of silent stars Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. It is also one of the first books I reviewed on this blog. Sarah also toiled for seven years to complete a documentary about Olive Thomas, the tragic first wife of Mary Pickford's brother Jack.

When I first saw The Artist (2011), I thought, well I've already met this character! There really are a lot of similarities between Jean Dujardin's George Valentin and the titular hero of actor and writer Stephen Jared's classic Hollywood-inspired adventure novel Jack and the Jungle Lion (which I reviewed here). I will soon review Stephen's newest novel, Ten-a-Week Steale, which is set in 1920s Hollywood. Stephen will be writing about Pickford's fame and her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks.

I am also delighted to have the opportunity to interview Peggy Dymond Leavey, the author of Mary Pickford: Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart, which was published late last year.

This is going be a fun event! There's still plenty of time to sign up, either by posting in the comments here or sending me an email at classicmovieblog (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks again to everyone for your interest so far.

May 6, 2012

Quote of the Week

I think I made essentially a mistake staying in movies. But it’s a mistake I can’t regret because it’s like saying I shouldn’t have stayed married to that woman, but I did because I love her.

 -Orson Welles

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May 3, 2012

Book Review--The Astaires: Fred & Adele

The Astaires: Fred & Adele
By Kathleen Riley
Oxford University Press, 2012

Before Fred and Ginger, there was Fred and Adele. When I started reading The Astaires, I expected that phrase would best describe this tribute to the legendary sibling dance team. I was wrong.

The gist of it is really this: maybe Fred found more widespread fame, but his charismatic older sister was the spark in their brilliantly successful partnership. Adele’s popularity was such that when she retired from the stage to marry, there was some concern that Fred would be able to make it on his own. We all know that he somehow managed to soldier on.

From their days as child hoofers to their conquest of London’s west end, Fred and Adele Astaire excited audiences with an eccentric, but well-executed performance style. The word “Astairia” was coined to describe the rapturous effect they had on their audiences.

With signature moves like the wild runaround, where they would whip around the stage in circles before careening into the wings, they demonstrated a modern, lively flair for choreography, showmanship and complicated footwork. Partnerships with great composers, such as their good friend George Gershwin, also gave them a boost.

The Astaires details both the team’s remarkable professional partnership and the tight, and occasionally stifling, family bond that enveloped the siblings and their mother. Their father led a frustrating life of unrealized ambition. The early success of his children sunk him deeper into unhappiness and his marriage suffered. He essentially dropped out of the picture as the rest of his family went in search of success.

Determined to give her children every professional advantage, the Astaire’s mother was always present as a guardian and caretaker as they went on the road to perform. As a result, she strengthened her bond with them while increasing her dependence on her offspring.

Adele could also be possessive. When Fred met Phyllis Potter, his first wife and greatest love, he found she was not welcomed in the trio. Determined to find his own happiness, he nevertheless balanced himself carefully among the women in his life, trying to keep the peace.

Though she left the partnership for marriage herself, Adele never fully released her hold on Fred. An alcoholic husband and several miscarriages left her depressed and desperate for the attention of her brother. Providing aid to the troops during World War II lifted her spirits, but for the most part, there was a  steady decline for Adele once she left the stage.

The Astaires dances elegantly among these personal stories and professional anecdotes. It is rich with detail about the era in which Fred and Adele performed, with fascinating asides about the politics, culture and overall climate of the times.

The bits about Adele were especially intriguing. After reading about her universally adored wit, talent and goofball charm, I was deeply depressed that she decided not to pursue Hollywood stardom. In fact, there has never been footage filmed of the team dancing.

As disappointed as I am that I will never be able to see this charming team at work, The Astaires did help me to envision a bit of their magic. The real deal was a gift to lucky audiences in a distant past, a flash of brilliance that has lived on in legend.

Thank you to Oxford University Press for providing a copy of the book for review.