Recommended Reading

"Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood"

by Robert S. Birchard (University of Kentucky Press, 2004, 430 pages)

A study of the silent era could not be complete without the incluson of Cecil B. DeMille's cinematic legacy. Certainly his memory is more grounded in the sound films he made - the 1956 version of "The Ten Commandments" being his standout achievement - however, his imminence and contributions to the early years of filmmaking are many times buried under the legends (true or not) that surround him as a director. Bob Birchard has done us all a great favor. He has written a book about the films and filmmaking career of DeMille, not a biography, an expose, or lurid revelations about his private life outside the studio. On the other hand, don't confuse this book with so many of those whose titles begin with "The Films of . . ." Yes, the book is designed to chronologically provide one chapter per film; however, that's as far as the comparison goes. Birchard's research is impeccable and amazing. Of course there are the cast a crew credits, but we also are shown how much each film cost and what it grossed, when the picture was completed and when it was released, background information about the selection of players for the film, business dealings with the producers (such as Jesse Lasky and Adolph Zukor) that impacted the film's quality, dozens of verbatim telegrams and letters that had a bearing on the making of the film, and much, much more. Even the synopsis of each film - which is obviously there - is woven into the narrative rather than set aside with a subheading stating, "SYNOPSIS." Birchard notes in his preface that the book has been designed to allow the reader to "jump around" if he or she wishes to read only about a particular film. However, "Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood" also makes absorbing cover to cover reading because there is a narrative thread that ties the chapters together and gives the reader heretofore unseen insights into DeMille's professional life and the machinations behind the making of each film. Bichard also admits that the information in each chapter "sometimes strays beyond the strict limits of the film title headings," but the reader will find that to be a good thing - adding much to the understanding of the man and the circumstances that ultimately influence what we see on the screen. When all is said and done, the reader will have experienced a review of a great director's career quite unlike any that has been written before. Birchard's approach to DeMille's cinematic achievements - and they are many - is a refreshing one - not weighted down by listing generations of geneaology or giving undue text to tidbits and tales about his life outside the studio. What adds to the fun of reading this book is the fact that so many of his films still survive and can be seen today - "The Squaw Man" (1914), "Male and Female" (1919), "The Affairs of Anatol" (1921), "The Cheat" (1915), "The Golden Chance" (1915), "Carmen" (1915), "Manslaughter" (1922), "Don't Change Your Husband" (1919), "Why Change Your Wife?" (1920), "The Ten Commandments" (1923), "King of Kings" (19), "The Road to Yesterday" (1925), "The Volga Boatman" (1926), "The Godless Girl" (1929) just to name a few. For the silent film fan (yes, his sound films are covered, too!) who is interested in a great director's professional career, this book is it.

Purchase this book from

In Association with

Just click on the link above and type in the author's name

or the book title in Amazon's search field.

Return to "Recommended Reading" page