Recommended Reading

"The First Female Stars - Women of the Silent Era"

by David W. Menefee (Praeger Publishers, 2004, 238 pages)

I always like books like this that give short biographies of several stars ("Golden Images" by Eve Golden, "Silent Players" by Anthony Slide, and the Kalton C. Lahue books like "Clown Princes and Court Jesters," "Winners of the West," "Gentlemen to the Rescue," etc.). Books such as Menefee's "The First Female Stars" are also particularly welcome when they include mini-life stories on the more obscure stars such as Gene Gautier and Laurette Taylor. Menefee said he originally proposed the book to have over 50 chapters with both men and women, but the publishers whittled it down to 15 and are reserving some of his other chapters for a book on male stars. That, too, will be welcome. Each chapter gives a good overview of the star's life, usually about 10-15 pages each. We are treated to period reviews, quotes from books and magazines articles of the time, portrait photos and movie stills, and photos of advertising material, as well. Each chapter ends with a filmography of the star, although we are somewhat disappointed that it only includes the film's title and year of release. Menefee does make a misstep once in awhile, though rarely, in the book. For example, he says, "Now considered to be lost for all time, 'Street Angel' survives in still photos taken at the time of filming." "Street Angel" (1928, starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell) does indeed survive and was at one time one of the Killiam Collection offered by Critic's Choice Video. A couple of the biographies could have also been improved with less space given to talking about a particular film and more space given to the overall career. In the chapter on Carol Dempster, there is actually much more space given to D.W. Griffith and his 1924 epic "America" than Dempster. There is no need to nit-pick about the book, however, because it will be a welcome addition to any silent film buff's library and will provide a good reference for anyone wishing a brief synopsis of one of these stars' lives. Menefee should be commended for this effort, and readers of this book will also be glad to know he has just had a biography on Sarah Bernhardt released with other biographies on Richard Barthelmess, George O'Brien and Lou Tellegen in the works. Other chapters in this book include Theda Bara, Beverly Bayne, Sarah Bernhardt, Pauline Frederick, Janet Gaynor, Dorothy Gish, Mae Marsh, Mae Murray, Alla Nazimova, Constance Talmadge, Norma Talmadge and Pearl White.

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