Kansas Silent Film Fest Celebrates Women Pioneers

“Half of all the films copyrighted between 1911 and 1925 were written by women.” Noted author Cari Beauchamp’s words to a sold-out ballroom on the Washburn University campus at the 22nd annual Kansas Silent Film Festival stuck with me long after the fest’s last screening. As keynote speaker at the fest’s Cinema Dinner, Beauchamp went on to explain more shocking reveals that painted a very different Hollywood landscape for women of the silent era than of today. Women were even more plentiful behind the scenes in a myriad of roles than in front of the camera, then the entire system changed with the advent of sound. But not in a positive way for women.


Before the transition to talkies, small teams produced hundreds of films. Today, a single film takes dozens of writers, producers, and techs to create an overly inflated budget buster but the women are scant. What happened? Beauchamp illustrated the evolution of women filmmakers from the glorious silent hey days to their decline via talkies (with a studio system and investors dominated by men) through the examples of Frances Marion and other female film pioneers. After her presentation was complete, my husband noted, “this was the best speaker we’ve seen at these Cinema Dinners.” I was too busy gushing praise via standing ovations to disagree.


This was a highlight of so many fabulous moments and screenings at this year’s installment of the Kansas Silent Film Festival. Every February, silent film fans travel near and far to experience this FREE two day film festival of speakers and screenings in the nation’s heartland of Topeka, Kansas. The only exception for any expense is the Cinema Dinner. For $40 you get a delicious meal and an outstanding guest speaker. Our only minor complaint for these dinners is the Kansas tradition of Prohibition rearing its ugly head, but I think we can manage an otherwise perfect evening without a glass of Chardonnay. I’ve attended this fest for many years but I was especially excited for this year’s theme, “Women In Silent Film.”

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Every screening was introduced with fascinating trivia tidbits by film historian, Denise Morrison. For example, in her intro to Gale Henry’s 1919 short, THE DETECTRESS, she shared that Henry made 238 films between 1915 and 1933, and had her own production unit after only three years in the business. But the most interesting trivia nugget about Henry was in her secondary career as a dog trainer to Hollywood. Her most famous kennel alum? None other than “Skippy” himself- aka “Mr. Smith of THE AWFUL TRUTH and “Asta” of THE THIN MAN series. Other than the uncomfortably racially-insensitive depiction of Chinatown, THE DETECTRESS was a fun platform for Henry’s physical comic skills.


Another unique asset to this fest is the live musical accompaniment for all of their screenings. We enjoyed music by organists Marvin Faulwell and Bill Beningfield, percussionist Bob Keckeisen, pianist Jeff Rapsis, and the famed Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. I have been fortunate enough to see a screening of Colleen Moore in WHY BE GOOD? (1929), introduced by Cari Beauchamp at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. It was equally delightful to see it this time with Beauchamp’s insightful intro, now further enhanced with Mont Alto’s talents.



Two of my favorite screenings included a hilariously low-budget special effects 1915 feature, FILIBUS starring Christine Ruspoli, and a manless future of flappers in THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1924). The joys of FILIBUS went beyond an airbus armed with a 6,000 foot rope to commit crime hijinks, as it also featured a cross-dressing female lead who was as smart as she was crafty. THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is loosely based on a 1826 Mary Shelly novel and its entirety from concept to costumes was solid, man-starved entertainment. The film was a rare print on loan from the MOMA. Apparently the future U.S. government, with “flip-flapper” Senators that fashion steam-punk lingerie, will be man-free but the President (named Pratt!) houses dozens of cats roaming the White House. If you haven’t seen these films yet, you will thank me later when you do.


From the talented lineup of works from female film legends like Mary Pickford, Alice Guy-Blache, and Frances Marion, tearful dramas like Nazimova in CAMILLE (1921), laugh-out-loud comedies like a fox-trotting Mr. and Mrs. Drew, and the always captivating author Cari Beauchamp*, plus so much more, the 2018 KSFF was a classic film lover’s heaven. It’s no wonder that each year I see more friends from out-of-state return, and get to meet new ones, too.

KSFF 2018 Program:

Friday, 2/23, 2018:

Overture and Opening Titles, music by Marvin Faulwell
Welcome and Intros by Denise Morrison, Film Historian
with Louise Fazenda
Music by Jeff Rapsis on piano
with Alice Howell
Music by 
Bill Beningfield, organ
with Gale Henry
Music by 
Marvin Faulwell, organ, and Bob Keckeisen, percussion

Feature introduced by Denise Morrison, Film Historian

with Colleen Moore
Music score byThe Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

Saturday, 2/24:

Film Documentary
60 min.
A special presentation by KSFF
directed & produced by Alice Guy-Blaché
Music by Marvin Faulwell, organ, and Bob Keckeisen, percussion
10 min.
with Lois Weber
Music by 
Bill Beningfield, organ 
with Nell Shipman
Music by Marvin Faulwell, organ, and Bob Keckeisen, percussion

Overature & Short Opening Titles by Jeff Rapsis
Welcome and Intros by Denise MorrisonFilm Historian

with Dorothy Gish
Music by 
Jeff Rapsis
with Arline Pretty
Music by Marvin Faulwell, organ, and Bob Keckeisen, percussion
69 min.
with Christine Ruspoli
Music by 
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Book signing in the lobby by Cari Beauchamp

Short Overature by Rodney Sauer
Intros by Denise MorrisonFilm Historian 

with Mabel Normand
Music by Rodney Sauer, piano
with Mr. Sidney Drew & Mrs. Lucile McVey Drew
Music by Jeff Rapsis, piano
70 min.
with Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino
Music byJeff Rapsis, piano

 and Opening Titles by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

Welcome and Intros by Denise MorrisonFilm Historian

with Mary Pickford, written by Frances Marion
Music by 
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
with Earle Foxe, loosely based on Mary Shelley‘s 1826 novel The Last Man
Film Print from the Museum of Modern Art 
—Music by Marvin Faulwell, organ, and Bob Keckeisen, percussion

For more information on the Kansas Silent Film Festival, you can follow them on social media: Facebook, Twitter @kssilentfilm, Instagram, YouTube, and their KSFF site at www.kssilentfilmfest.org.


*Cari Beauchamp is an award-winning, American author, historian, journalist, and documentary filmmaker. She authored the biography Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood which was later made into a documentary film. She also serves as resident scholar of the Mary Pickford Foundation. Twitter: @caribeauchamp and site: CariBeauchamp.com




Star Trek History Beams in Nebraska


The man who created Klingons for Star Trek will find his way home this weekend in the small town of Beatrice, Nebraska. Sadly, while screenwriter/producer/novelist GENE L. COON is no longer with us, his spirit lives on with millions of Star Trek fans from the obsessive ‘Trekkies” to the passing fans. March 2-4th, fans can experience the rare treat of discovering more about the man who inspired generations of fandom and became a globally recognized phenomenon of entertainment and pop culture.

In the first season of this unique science-fiction tv series in 1966, Gene Roddenberry took exploration into space quite seriously. After the first 13 episodes, Coon joined the Star Trek production team and forever changed the navigation of the franchise by adding humor and heart. In addition to giving birth to iconic characters like Klingons and Khan, Coon is credited to the key to Star Trek’s success by injecting levity into interstellar drama such as the occasional good-natured ribbing from McCoy and Spock.

David Gerrold, fellow Star Trek writer from the original series, should know. Gerrold wrote the famous “The Trouble With Tribbles” episode and will be headlining as guest speaker at the Gage County Classic Film Institute this weekend to discuss working with the famed Nebraskan. Recently, I got a chance to chat with fellow classic film buff and local historian Jeanelle Kleveland, an organizer for this 3 day festival, that will showcase guest speakers, historical insights and screenings.

Interview with Jeanelle Kleveland: 

Kellee: “How long have you been a classic film fan? Did anyone in your personal life inspire this passion?”

Jeanelle: “I don’t remember a time that I didn’t like classic films.  Obviously, they are far more available today than when I grew up, but I would watch them on late night tv when they were on.  Then I remember when Turner showed quite a few on TNT before TCM existed.  I was on the TCM chatroom with other classic film lovers shortly after TCM started.  That was a lot of fun.”

Kellee: “When did you become deeply interested in Nebraska/Gage County history, beyond being a resident?” 

Jeanelle: “Gage County has a very interesting history.  The Oregon Trail comes into Gage County.  We have the Homestead National Monument.  We have Clara Colby who published a suffrage newspaper from Beatrice.  She was friends with the best known suffragists.  I’m sure I got more interested as I got a little older—probably in my 30’s.  My mother always enjoyed it and I enjoyed going to things with her.”

Kellee: “How long have you been involved in the Gage County Historical Society?”

Jeanelle: “Probably at least 30 years.  My mother always got me a membership along with the one she got for herself and my dad.  We almost always went to the annual dinners and programs.”

Kellee: “When did the Gage County Classic Film Institute begin? What is its goal and what do you hope for its future?” 

Jeanelle: “We formed under the umbrella of the Gage County Museum in 2014.  We had our first event in 2015 and we have had four events.  Two of them were on Robert Taylor*, a true Hollywood legend, and two were on John P. Fulton, special effects.  He won three Oscars and his father, Fitch Fulton, won one.  A couple of films also included Janet Shaw as a character actor.  She’s also from Beatrice.” 

(*For my report on the Robert Taylor event, read it here: “Hometown Pride Honors Robert Taylor…”)

“Our Institute was formed for the purpose of educating and show casing people in the entertainment business that are from Gage County. Last year we did Fulton and one of his grand daughters brought one of his Oscars and we all got to have our picture with it.  We didn’t know it was coming but it was a real treat to hold a real Oscar.”

Kellee: “What led you to choose Gene Coon for this year? Is there a process for who is chosen for each year?”

Jeanelle: “Gene Coon has been on our radar and Star Trek is very popular and Star Trek Discovery was coming out and we felt the time was right.  He was a prolific writer and worked on dozens of series.  He was kind of a fix it guy.  He wrote on a number of westerns and we will be showing a couple of those as well.”

Kellee: “Would you describe yourself as a trekkie or SciFi fan?”

Jeanelle: “Yes, I suppose I am.  My favorite Star Trek would be The Next Generation.  In fact I have a life size cardboard Riker that friends of mine gave me for my birthday because I was a big fan of Number 1.  He’s my very low maintenance cardboard boyfriend.  He is on display right now at the Beatrice Public Library watching over the Gene Coon exhibit.”

Kellee: “Was there anything that surprised you in researching Gene Coon and David Gerrold?” 

Jeanelle: “Always some interesting things that one learns when planning an event.  Gene Coon and a colleague came up with the idea of the Munsters as a satirical response to Donna Reed Show.”

“David Gerrold was mentored by Gene Coon.  I can’t wait to hear him speak.  He wrote The Trouble with Tribbles and it was produced by Coon.  We’ll be watching it Friday night.”

Kellee: “There are a variety of classic film festivals that fans can attend across the country, tell us why they should journey to Beatrice.”

Jeanelle: “They should come see the programs and hear the stories about Gene Coon and learn about where he came from.  While here, he was a teenage newscaster on the local radio station—KWBE.  Going to where someone grew up and where his family lived gives you an understanding about what they are like.  Gage County is a relatively small county.  I find it amazing that we have a number of celebs from here.” 

“We are tentatively looking at Harold Lloyd for next year.  That would be fun.”

Kellee: “Anything else you want to add so that interested fans can learn more about attending this fest?” 

Jeanelle: “I think people will enjoy discussing the similarity between the westerns and Star Trek.  Coon was the moral center of Star Trek.  You see that same thing in many of his other stories.”


For my own research, I was surprised to learn that Coon was also responsible for the controversial episode that featured half-white/half-black faced humanoids that tackled racism, “Let This Be Your Battlefield.” Coon had his own battles- with Stanley Robertson, NBC’s first African American broadcast standards exec- to get this story on air.

According to wired.com, (Andreea) “Kindryd, (his production secretary and) an African-American civil rights activist who had worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, was uneasy about working with an old white guy named Coon—especially after Coon told her that his father had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan—but Coon was passionate about injecting anti-racist messages into Trek.”

Tolerance and enlightenment had a future thanks to Star Trek. And thanks to Gene L Coon, there was a place for more heart and humor, too.

For more information and to purchase tickets to this festival, you can follow their FaceBook page and/or explore their site: Gage County Film Institute Fest 2018.


31 Days of Oscar: Day 3

The final day of the 31 Days Of Oscar Blogathon wraps up at Paula’s Cinema Club. Read all the terrific entries in Day 3…

Paula's Cinema Club

While there’s still a week of Best Picture nominees and winners left in TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar tribute, today our Sixth Annual blogathon of the same name draws to a close with a bumper crop of fabulous and informative entries centered on the Golden Man and his history with everyone from Janet Gaynor to Forrest Gump and Agnes Varda.

Always Try discusses Katharine Hepburn’s [many] Oscar Wins.

Another Old Movie Blog analyzes the context around Joan Crawford’s win for Mildred Pierce.

Life’s Lessons Daily Blog delves into the social and emotional significance of the Awards in More than an Award Show: Oscars, The Host and Forrest Gump (1994).

Blog of the Darned presents seven films that should have been nominated for Best Picture in Great Movies: 7, Oscar:….

Old Hollywood Films recaps the career and Oscar year of Janet Gaynor, The First Best Actress Winner.

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Day Two: 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon

For our Day Two entries, I passed the baton to co-host Aurora. Enjoy!

Once upon a screen...

The Oscar frenzy continues on Day 2 of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon. Today is my day to host a group of entries covering topics from a memorable drag competition to Oscar mistakes. If you missed any of the posts from Day One, please visit Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled. Lots of terrific stuff was submitted spanning Oscar’s storied history. Paula will host the third and final day tomorrow leaving you free to enjoy the 90th installment of the Oscars on ABC on Sunday, March 4. I also highly recommend you carve out as much time as you can to enjoy the final full week of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar marathon during which the network spotlights Best Picture winners and nominees from the 90 years of the Academy Awards.

“For the first time, you can actually see the losers turn green”.
Bob Hope, Academy Awards…

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It’s here! The time has finally arrived to celebrate that marvelously golden man, Oscar. For an entire month, Turner Classic Movies network puts on a grand gala tribute to the winners of that coveted statuette, and for six years we’ve joined the party.

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Please join my co-hosts Aurora (aka @CitizenScreen) of Once Upon A Screen, Paula ( aka @Paula_Guthat) of Paula’s Cinema Club, and me this weekend as we showcase bloggers’ works on this glorious subject. For Day One, here is today’s lineup:

Danny of Danny Reviews (twitter @danny_reviews ) perseveres as he chats about MOTION PICTURES (“CHARIOTS OF FIRE” and “THE KING’S SPEECH” : FILMS ABOUT PERSEVERANCE) 

Paddy of Caftan Woman details the BEST DANCE DIRECTION Nominee: SHE (1935) for that category’s first year as an Academy Award. twitter: @CaftanWoman


Steve of Movie Movie Blog Blog (twitter: @MovieBlogger61 ) outlines his picks for 10 EMBARRASSING ACADEMY AWARD MOMENTS .


Daniel of Movie Mania Madness (twitter: @dsl89) honors the 39th winner for Oscar’s Best Picture, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS.


The Gal Herself of One Gal’s Musings takes a look at 1954’s Best Actress Competition with A STAR IS ROBBED: THE 1954 BEST ACTRESS RACE. 


Annette of Hometowns To Hollywood (twitter: @Home2Hollywood ) reviews how the Academy Awards Ceremonies celebrated with humor and Hope: THE ACADEMY AWARDS AND PLENTY OF HOPE.

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Ruth of Silver Screenings (twitter: @925screenings ) goes deep on the Oscars’ origins and answers the question, WHY DO WE HAVE THE OSCARS?

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The Story Enthusiast laments over the CLASSIC FILM STARS WHO NEVER WON AN OSCAR.

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Dan of Top 10 Films (twitter: @top10films ) lists the TOP TEN HORROR SUCCESSES AT THE OSCARS. 


Finally our last entry in today’s offerings, Gill of Real Weegie Midget Reviews (twitter: @realweegiemidge ) extols the talents of OSCAR WINNING ACTRESSES IN RETRO ROMANTIC COMEDY MOVIES.

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Enjoy reading all of these superb contributions in Day One of our blogathon event. We encourage you to leave glowing feedback for these writers- share the Oscar love! Tomorrow, pop over to Aurora’s site for Day Two entries, followed on Sunday at Paula’s site for Day Three.

day 2: once upon a screen

day 3: paula’s cinema club

Thanks so much for joining us this weekend! Be sure to watch the 90th Oscars Ceremony on ABC this Sunday, March 4th 8pm ET.

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Announcement: 31 Days Of Oscar Blogathon

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed out the first Awards at a dinner party for about 250 people on May 16, 1929 to honor movies released from August 1, 1927 – August 1, 1928. The first Academy president, Douglas Fairbanks, hosted and presented in the ceremony held in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. The brainchild of MGM studio mogul, Louis B. Mayer, the Academy was formed in 1927 as a non-profit dedicated to the advancement and improvement of the film industry. Some might argue about some of those achievements, but there is one thing that is sure to impress classic movie and Hollywood fans – when the music plays to open this year’s Oscars on March 4, 2018 it will be the 90th time the film industry honors achievements in movies.

Here are the 1929 Winners and Nominees

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If you take the time to look through all of the moments in 90 years of Oscars ceremonies, you’ll find numerous surprises, disappointments and controversy any number of which may spur debate from film aficionados. That’s where we come in. For the sixth consecutive year, I am joining forces with Aurora of Once Upon A Screen aka @CitizenScreen and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club aka @Paula_Guthat to bring you the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon. Given Oscar’s special anniversary and all of the memories, we hope you’ll consider joining us to make this the best and brightest outing yet.

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As you know, this blogging event is inspired by Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar marathon, which begins its 23rd installment on February 1. This year the network is presenting the movies based on the categories in which they were awarded or nominated. February 1st will honor Best Original Song Winner and Nominees and the festival kicks off with Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935). William Wyler’s Ben-Hur (1959) will end the 31-Day presentation on March 3, the day dedicated to Best Picture Winners.

Since both TCM and the Oscars bring to mind our beloved host and favorite historian, Robert Osborne, we thought we would kick off our Blogathon with his words about the 31 Days of Oscar marathon…

“One thing seems to stir the souls of our Turner Classic Movie loyalists like no other: the 31 Days of Oscar salute.” 

Blogathon Details

Rather than hosting the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon for the entire month of February, as we’ve done in the past, we will host all entries the weekend before the Oscars this year. That is from Friday, February 23 through Sunday, February 25, which leaves Oscar weekend free for last minute movie watching. We’re also combining all topics this year and simply presenting them over the three days. Any Oscar-related topic is fair game. We are not limiting this event to classic film fare as we’d like to see entries covering the entire 90-year history of Oscar, including this year’s nominees. To help get you motivated here are the categories we have used in the past…

  • The Actors
  • The Directors
  • The Motion Pictures
  • Oscar Snubs
  • The Crafts (music, costumes, etc.)
  • New Idea – Oscar Controversies

Most of you know the drill, but as a reminder, adhering to the following is necessary:

  • Let us know what your desired topic is by leaving a comment on any of the host blogs
  • Include the title and link to your blog in the comments area
  • Advise if you have a date preference – Friday 2/23, Saturday 2/24 or Sunday 2/25
  • Include the event banner on your blog and in the entry post to help us promote the event

Restrictions – just two:

  • Please do not submit previously published posts
  • No duplicates will be accepted to ensure we cover as much of Oscar history as possible

We look forward to hearing from you and to reading your entries. As many entries as you want, actually, so get to it!

Until then here’s to Oscar, to TCM and to YOU! Happy Blogging!

Participating Blogs and Topics

Caftan Woman – 1936 Best Dance Direction Nominee, Benjamin Zemach for Hall of Kings from Merian C. Cooper’s SHE (1935)

Blog of the Darned – 7 Films that Should Have Been Nominated for Best Picture

One Gal’s Musings – The 1954 Best Actress Competition

Silver Screenings – How the Oscars Began

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Embarrassing Oscar Moments

Old Hollywood Films – Janet Gaynor’s Three Oscar Wins

Hometowns to Hollywood – Wings (1927)

Critica Retro – The Trouble with Thrillers

Realweegiemidget Reviews – Oscar-winning Actresses in Superhero Movies

Moon in Gemini – Forgotten Winners and Nominees

Cracked Rear Viewer – Claire Trevor in Key Largo

Once Upon a Screen – Why Barbara Stanwyck Should Have Taken Oscar Home in 1942

Danny Reviews – Chariots Of Fire (1981) and The King’s Speech (2010), Best Picture films about perseverance


Busby Berkeley Choreography: Geometric Gems



He’s been called many things: an artist, a visionary, a perfectionist, a genius, a legend, even a fascist. But what Busby Berkeley did for musical numbers of the silver screen was simply unforgettable. While Berkeley had a long and successful career that included being a choreographer and a director, today I only want to address the choreography of his musical numbers that highlights his mastery of geometric patterns in dancing harmony.

From conducting military parades and staging camp shows for soldiers in WW1, William Berkeley Enos aka “Buzz” returned home and quickly became one of Broadway’s top dance directors. By 1930, Ziegfeld gave him his big chance to transition to film so he moved to Hollywood. Beginning with choreographing musical comedies like, WHOOPIE! (1930) with Eddie Cantor, he started to get noticed. Producers Samuel Goldwyn and Darryl F. Zanuck each gave him opportunities to have greater creative control. It was Zanuck that offered him the big break at Warner Brothers with the film 42nd STREET (1933) that forever changed his destiny.

In Lloyd Bacon’s 42nd STREET (1933), Berkeley directed the key musical numbers that made the film a huge hit, “Shuffle Off To Buffalo”, “Young and Healthy” and the “Naughty! Bawdy! Gaudy!“, depression-era story-telling finale, “42nd Street”. In these numbers, we see the enormous ensemble of dancers and grand scale perspective begin to emerge.




In “Young and Healthy,” the circles and rows of dancers, including unique camera techniques like snaking underneath a bridge of continuous legs, creates magical human kaleidoscopes for which he soon became famous. In this number, we are also witness to BB’s frequent use of glowing shades of white in repetition contrasting against a black backdrop, another sign of his artistic-meets-tech mastery to achieve the greatest effect.

What followed was an astounding surge of creative output of some of the most iconic musical numbers ever put to film. Although he went on to direct and choreograph dozens of films and musical numbers until the 1960s, it was the massive production in the Pre-Code years that reflected his crowning achievements in geometric patterned brilliance.

In Mervyn LeRoy’s GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), Buzz reaches new heights. Working again with catchy, Oscar nominated songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, BB created four spectacular musical numbers: “We’re In The Money,” “Pettin’ In The Park,” “The Shadow Waltz,” and “My Forgotten Man” made the final cut. (“I’ve Got To Sing A Torch Song” number by Ginger Rogers was cut; instead given to Dick Powell, but not as a full production number.)



In “The Shadow Waltz,” Berkeley showcases some of his signature moves such as the use of a reflective flooring that was used as a mirror to further create the kaleidoscope effect. In color, this would be too busy visually to simply use a mirrored floor. But in black in white, he knew that a shiny, black flooring with glowing shades of white elements- including neon violins- would create this effect with maximum results.

Another BB signature element is to have the rows of dancers move in a way that makes it appear alive. In “The Shadow Waltz” we see spinning, flowing movements that appear like a flower opening and closing its petals. One way he is able to create this effect is to have the camera often go from deep closeups shots to extreme ariel shots. In this case, each dancer twirls and the dresses are like spinning, inverted plates but from a distance, whether in a row or in circles, it takes on a new, and different form. To ponder how many hours of detailed planning was required to achieve this makes my head spin!

In Lloyd Bacon’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE, Berkeley leaves the gritty, marching rows of ‘forgotten men’ from his last film and takes a dip in the waters. From numbers that range honeymooners to back alley cats, in the “Shanghai Lil” musical number, he takes on prostitution and opium dens (and asian stereotypes) but ultimately returns to rows of marching military. Musical numbers:

  • “Honeymoon Hotel” – by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
  • “Shanghai Lil” – by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
  • By a Waterfall” – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • “My Shadow” – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • “Ah, the Moon Is Here” – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • “Sitting on a Backyard Fence” – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)



Buzz was known for coming up with his best ideas for his elaborate choreography from daily soaks in his bath tub. In “By The Waterfall,” synchronized swimming takes geometric patterns to new heights, and greater depths, than Buzz had ever gone before… or since.




In Ray Enright’s DAMES (1934), “Beautiful Girls” is arguably the finest example of kaleidoscope inspired use of geometric patterns in a Busby Berkeley musical number. Additionally, in “I Only Have Eyes For You,” surreal, large Ruby Keeler heads dance around, but otherwise all the signature BB markers are present, from rows and circles of white twirling dresses against a black backdrop, with zooming extreme closeups and ariel shots.


In GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935, Berkeley sits in the directing chair beyond just the musical numbers. The “The Words Are in My Heart” number takes the phrase “go big or go home” to heart with dancing pianos. A plethora of baby grand pianos are constantly moving and spinning on elaborate staircases and flowing in waving rows. To complete the kaleidoscope patterns, rows of women wave their flowing white skirts. In his masterpiece “Lullaby On Broadway,” he ambitiously tells a dark tale with armies of dancers in a mini film-in-a-film that lasts nearly 15 minutes.


Busby Berkeley continued with directing and choreographing films and musical numbers so the examples above are only highlights. I know what you’re thinking. What’s the deal with that ‘fascist’ comment? According to a Busby Berkeley documentary, a few people called him that more in jest simply because of his obsessive work demands from dancers and the set crew, combined with his infusion of military-influenced marching formations.

Apparently, his demands were so intensely high that he was known to push people to extremes with zero sympathy, in order to achieve his dazzling results. He was also known to be anti-social to the point he preferred discussing tech over chatting with dancers. If you consider how he utilized his dancers- often dressed the same, and in formations like parts in a big machine, I guess it’s not that surprising. So I’m also not surprised to hear he was married six times, with each marriage lasting less than a couple of years. His last marriage being the only exception.

He lived a long life with a successful career but I wonder how his scandal of being tried for manslaughter for the deaths of two people affected him personally, and his relationships with others. It is said that alcohol was a contributing factor to him plowing into two vehicles one night in 1937 while driving home after a party that resulted in two deaths and five injured. He also attempted suicide and was placed temporarily in a psychiatric hospital following his mother’s death in 1946.

He was acquitted for the car crash deaths, but did that haunt him? Was work his salvation? Perhaps being a perfectionist helped him in some way. The brilliance of his geometric patterned wonders may not give us the answers, but they can provide us joy for decades and decades to come.


This was my contribution to the Busby Berkeley Blogathon, hosted by Annette of Hometowns To Hollywood, January 25th- 28th. Be sure to read all the entries!




Sixth Annual What A Character! Blogathon – Day 3

Co-host Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club closes in with Day Three of our What A Character! Blogathon, as more entries celebrate those kooky characters!

Paula's Cinema Club

Welcome to Day 3 of the Sixth Annual What A Character! Blogathon, in which we celebrate those actors whose faces you know but whose names you may not. I’m your hostess for the Day 3 offerings. Be sure to also check out Day 1, hosted by Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled, and Day 2, hosted by Aurora at Once Upon A Screen. It’s been my pleasure to work with these two dames to shed some light on the names below the title. And now, on with the show…

First up, my co-host Aurora at Once Upon A Screen recaps the multi-faceted stage, TV, and film career of Mary Wickes from her earliest theater work to Sister Act and beyond.

Terry at A Shroud of Thoughts reminds us that William Schallert, who is so well-known for his intelligent and/or nice characters, could actually be “not exactly sympathetic…downright…

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Zasu Pitts, Funny Lady with a Funny Name



First things first. Before I can gush on about this distinctively funny lady with the fluttering hands that stole every scene, one must learn how to say her name correctly. Oh sure, many of my ‘old movie weirdo’ friends may know, but it’s a common mistake. To honor her properly, let’s begin with this lesson, provided via Thelma Todd and ZaSu herself:

YouTube: ZaSu Pitts: Learn My Name!


Now that we all know how say “Say-zoo,” a name which is a combo of her aunts Eliza and Susan, let’s explore the memorable ways this distinctive lady who began life not too far from me in Parsons, Kansas, became one of the most recognized faces in Hollywood.

Her most notable characters were the woeful worrywarts. Physically, her appearance was defined by delicate, thin lines and a frequent focus on her ever- waving, fidgeting fingers. Her tiny mouth was shaped like a kewpie doll with the corners often turned down. Her large, soft eyes were doe-like and she usually looked upward. Her voice had a distinctive mumbling of melancholic concern, often with an “oh dear…” muttering to herself. She gained the reputation of stealing every scene.




ZaSu’s signature characterizations were such a fan favorite she was parodied in cartoons, a reflection that she was immersed in pop culture. If you’ve seen Olive Oyl from Max Fleischer’s Popeye the Sailor cartoons, you are already familiar with the signature ZaSu Pitts tone and voice. She was also featured in Looney Tunes, in Hollywood-ribbing toons like “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood.”


Pitts often faced the challenge of looking too similar to Lillian Gish. Here, with Mary Pickford, THE LITTLE PRINCESS (1917).

Born Eliza Susan Pitts on January 3rd, 1894 (her 124th birthday is next month), the family moved to Santa Cruz, California seeking sunnier opportunities. Despite her shy demeanor and bird-like qualities, Pitts was a natural performing on stage and moved to LA by age twenty-one. Working a small part with icon Mary Pickford, A LITTLE PRINCESS (1917) was her first break on the big screen.


Erich von Stroheim’s masterpiece GREED 

Soon, she was starring in one-reelers and feature films, working with greats like directors King Vidor and Eric Von Stroheim (i.e. the silent masterpiece, GREED)- in a range of parts from tragedy to comedy to drama. Her popularity increased in the 1930s, with a demand for her in character roles in comedies. She was partnered in series with Thelma Todd (Hal Roach promoted the two as a female Laurel and Hardy) and with Slim Summerville.


mastering comedy with Thelma Todd

The 1940s brought her success to radio, vaudeville and Broadway, working with the biggest names in entertainment. She transitioned easily to television in the 1950s, in popular roles like cruise ship beautician Elvira Nugent on “The Gale Storm Show.” But this decade also introduced ill health, with a cancer diagnosis. As a fitting tribute to her own career, her last role would be in the epic ensemble of comic legends, in IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963). Even with health battles, she continued working until her death at the age of sixty-nine on June 7, 1963.


Pitts’ last role in IT’s A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD

ZaSu Pitts was a true wallflower success story. She proved that a shy girl from Kansas, with more matronly than cover-girl looks, could be a huge star as a character actress. She worked from the silents to the sixties, in every entertainment medium (film, radio, vaudeville, television and on Broadway), from dramatic roles to comedy, and she worked with some of the biggest stars and filmmakers in Hollywood’s heydays.


The more ZaSu films I watch, the more I am thoroughly charmed by her. And to see her range from tragic epic dramatic roles like GREED to super silly shorts with Thelma Todd, I am also in awe of her talent. What a character!


This article on character acting legend ZaSu Pitts is my contribution to the 6th annual WHAT A CHARACTER Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and yours truly. You can read the other entries on character actors from this blogathon from days one, two and three:

6th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon: Day Two

Lovely co-host Aurora of ONCE UPON A SCREEN kicks off DAY TWO of our What A Character Blogathon. Our second day of entries offers up an amazing array of character actors. Take it away, Aurora!

Once upon a screen...

I’m thrilled to be hosting Day Two of the 2016 What A Character! Blogathon. This is the fifth consecutive year that I co-host this tribute to the lesser known players that enriched so many movies. As you probably know my co-hosts are the fabulous Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled who kicked things off with the Day one posts and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club who hosts the third and final day tomorrow. As always, I’m honored to be in cahoots with these two ladies.

If you want a refresher on the back story for the What a Character! Blogathon take a look at the Announcement post, which includes the entire list of participants and chosen character actors. Otherwise I’m getting to the main course of this entry, the tributes to memorable supporting players. Here they are…

What a Character!

Silver Scenes discusses the career of Lovable Old Gent Henry Stephenson who could be benevolent…

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