Recommended Reading

"King of the Movies: Francis X. Bushman"

by Lon and Debra Davis

(BearManor Media, 2009, 363 pages)

A biography is "good" if you close the last page of the book and feel as though you know about the person. A biography is "great" if you lay the book down and feel as though you know the person. Therefore, Lon and Debra Davis have provided us a great biography of Francis X. Bushman. Although the authors never had the pleasure of meeting the great man personally, their tribute to this icon of cinema (not just silent cinema!) is filled with special insight due mainly to two people with whom they did have personal contact: Bushman's second wife and most famous co-star, Beverly Bayne - and Bushman's last wife, Iva, who allowed the authors access to Bushman's personal reminisces left in notes and recordings. Theirs, therefore, is an authentic biography filled with memories only Bushman himself could provide. His was an intriguing life - both film career and personal life lending themselves well to a fascinating biography that is difficult to lay down before the final chapter. His early life in Baltimore where he experienced his share of youthful shenanigans is absorbing. As one would expect, he wanted to be an actor, and his father wanted a more stable, respectable career for his son - resulting in his running away at 14 years of age to work on a ship. Then we are moved by the romance of his first marriage and the love of his children complicated by their financial ups and downs - all further complicated by his legendary love affair with co-star Beverly Bayne - a love affair that the Davises, through their conversations with Bayne, reveal was not the great romance film history has led us to believe. The glory days of the 'teens when Bushman and Bayne ruled the screen are brought to life in these pages, as well as the desperation of the early 1920's when Bushman waited in vain for producers to call - then the most prestigious role of his career - Messala in "Ben Hur." The reader will be intrigued by the many incidents in Bushman's life that are incredible but true. For example, Bushman and his then-wife being kicked out of their mansion after he had lost all of his fortune in the Wall Street crash - with no money and no place to go, he breaks into a vacant Santa Monica beach house and takes up residence without the owner's knowledge. In another instance, believing in outlandish publicity stunts, he offers himself in marriage to the highest bidder - the fact that he was married at the time serving as little deterrent. Throughout these mesmerizing episodes, we then are told happily of a career revived by radio; laying aside pride to take advantage of less-than-distinguished acting opportunities in radio, television and movies; a final happy marriage; and the comfortable and happy twilight years of his life. All give life to Bushman's memory. The Davises' deserve credit for telling the story rather than dissecting the man. Bushman's life speaks for itself as the authors lay out Bushman's eccentricities (for example, an extraordinary obsession with Great Danes), resiliency, egotism, talent, professionalism, foibles, self-indulgence, extravagance, charisma, and charm. They write with style, ease of reading, a comfortable flow and without pretension. Lots of great photos, and, in addition to an authoritative filmography, there is an interesting section on Bushman's surviving films. Bushman's life makes good reading; the Davises make good writing - so if you want to curl up with a good book, this is it.

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