A Re-created 1920s Town Emerges

Seibert$20Food$20StoreWhile in Denver last week for a charity Book & Author event, I met Jan Presley, who shares my own interest in the Roaring Twenties. But Jan has an unusual way of expressing her interest. I write mysteries set in the Roaring Twenties. She is re-creating a Roaring Twenties town in Colorado.

logoSeibert is a small, historic town located two hours east of Denver, just one mile off busy highway 70. It has a population of 184. Ms. Presley is slowly buying up property and returning the buildings to business typical of the 1920s, including a bed-and-breakfast inn, two restaurants, a speakeasy (appropriately concealed behind an ice cream parlour), two gift/antique shops, and a movie theater. Her vision is for the town to become a tourist destination.

61f89a1c466604b2ffff8174ffffe415For more details, see her website at http://www.1920seratown.com


Published in: on November 16, 2014 at 1:09 pm  Comments (5)  

Son of Zorro Night

This week, I’m presenting a 2-night program at Patriots Colony, the retirement community where my parents live in Williamsburg, based on my Silent Murders book. The program starts on Wednesday with a screening of Douglas Fairbanks’s movie, “Don Q: Son of Zorro.” Since you can’t be there (I’m sure you’re not old enough!), I’ll share my short, pre-film presentation. I hope the folks there enjoy the 1 1/2-hour film. The following night, I’m giving a short talk on silent movies and joining the entire community for a cocktail reception. (Cocktails always bring out a crowd . . . ) 

220px-FairbanksMarkofZorroDon Q: Son of Zorro, is the 1925 sequel to Douglas Fairbanks’s hugely successful Mark of Zorro of 1920. You’ve probably heard the joke about the high school student who is reading his first Shakespeare play and complains that Shakespeare uses so many cliché’s . . . well, that’s the case with watching a Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler. He invented the action hero. His own athletic prowess and acrobatic feats seem ho-hum today—but they wowed audiences in his day because he did them first. Swinging from a chandelier, sword fighting on the stairs, leaping from parapet to parapet, dropping down onto the back of a horse—Douglas was a font of ideas that others were quick to copy. He had a superb physique. He mastered the sword, the whip, the bow and arrow, and the knife. His gymnastic skills let him leap, tumble, and swing with apparent ease. He did his own stunts. After Zorro, he went on to play the lead in the Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, Thief of Bagdad, Ben Hur, the Black Pirate, and Man in the Iron Mask.

In Son of Zorro, Douglas plays two roles: that of the aging Zorro as well as his dashing, young son, Don Cesar. Douglas was 42 when the movie was filmed, 20 years too young to play the father and 20 years too old to play the son. When he showed up on the set all made up to look old, the director jokingly called him Gramps. Douglas was not amused. Hollywood actors did not appreciate being reminded of their age. His co-star, Mary Astor who played the fair Dolores, was 18.

The story takes place not in California but in Spain. Zorro has sent his son to Spain to acquire culture. There he is falsely accused of killing the heir to the Austrian throne and has to hide out in the ruins of the family castle. He writes his father who dashes to Spain to help. In the movie, this seems to happen in a few weeks . . . in reality, it would have taken a ship at least 12-14 months to sail from Spain to California with a letter, then another 12-14 months to return. But never mind details . . .

Zorro was the creation of Johnston McCulley, the man who wrote the original short story titled “The Curse of Capistrano” which appeared in a minor magazine in 1919. It would have died an obscure death had not the great Douglas Fairbanks happened to read the magazine onboard his ship on his way to Europe for his honeymoon with Mary Pickford. He decided it would make a great movie–with himself as the star, of course. It was a smashing success, soon followed by a sequel that you can watch tonight. Douglas also invented the “son of” sequel, something that had never been done before.

If the titles seem to stay on the screen forever, it is because the movie producers were aiming at the lowest common denominator. Many people had minimal education and read very slowly; many in the audience were immigrants with poor English. The rule of thumb was to allow one second per word, which to us today seems overly long.  I tested this and found 30 words lasted precisely 25 seconds.

Douglas Fairbanks plays an important role in my book, Silent Murders, as Jessie’s employer, as she moves from vaudeville to Hollywood for a low-level job at Pickford-Fairbanks Studios where they are currently filming Son of Zorro. Jessie quickly learns that all of Hollywood scorns the speakeasies everywhere with bootleg hooch and Mexican dope. After a powerful director is murdered at his own party and Jessie’s waitress friend is killed for what she saw, Jessie takes the lead in an investigation tainted by corrupt cops. Soon she’s tangled in a web of drugs, bribery, and murder, nearly becoming a victim herself.

Published in: on November 9, 2014 at 9:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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Calling all library card holders!

colorIf you have a library card, could I ask a favor? Check to see if your local public library has a copy of SILENT MURDERS yet, and if not, request they purchase one. (It’s only been out for 5 weeks.)

You can check the library’s website by looking into their on-line catalog, or you can ask the next time you visit the library in person. Libraries usually have a request form for patrons and they usually oblige those requests. This way you (and many others, I hope) can read the book for free!

I appreciate the help.

Published in: on October 31, 2014 at 9:34 pm  Comments (4)  

Friday Night at the (Silent) Movies

250px-Byrd_TheatreLast Friday night I went to Richmond’s historic Byrd Theater, built in 1928, to attend their annual silent movie presentation of Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera from 1925. This is a special event because it features not only the classic film but the live music to accompany it. ms

largeThe Byrd Theater is one of very few to have an original “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ in good condition. I don’t say excellent condition, because it is slowly being restored as funds become available. Friday night’s event was a fundraiser. All the money from the $12 ticket went to the organ’s rehabilitation. The place was full–every one of the 1,400 seats–which means over $16,000 for the organ. The organ console were raised up to a spot just below the bottom of the screen, so the audience could see the organist, Michael Britt (who came down from Baltimore to perform), as he played without stopping for the entire feature-length film. Quite a feat. (I play the pipe organ as a hobby, so I probably appreciate his talents more than most.) 

The Byrd Theater is a National Historic Landmark. It has survived all these years without alterations. The interior is gorgeous.

Attending the movie was great fun. Although I’d seen clips of this famous picture, I’d never seen the entire thing. I hadn’t realized that the masquerade scenes were made in color–a nice surprise.  

Published in: on October 25, 2014 at 3:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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THE IMPERSONATOR doesn’t win the literary award . . .

. . . but we have a great time at the presentation dinner at the Library of Virginia!

On Saturday night, Oct. 18, the Library of Virginia literary award winners were announced by Virginia author Adriana Trigiani. There were 5 finalists in my category (The Impersonator is far right on this screen).


The winner (drumroll) was David Baldacci for KING AND MAXWELL. Here we are, post award.  image1









But I had a very nice consolation prize–the following day, Sunday’s New York Times book review section reviewed SILENT MURDERS, which just came out last month. (If you click on the newspaper, I think you can make it large enough to read.)




Published in: on October 19, 2014 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

You’re Invited to a Roaring Twenties Party



To all my readers within striking distance of Richmond, Virginia, please come to a Roaring Twenties party to celebrate the publication of my second mystery, SILENT MURDERS. There will be beverages for both “wets” and “dries,” hors d’oeuvres, period music, Charleston lessons, a lecture on silent movies (short, I promise!), a screening of the 1925 film  “Son of Zorro,” and a book signing. Last year’s part for THE IMPERSONATOR was a blast, and this one promises to be even better. Sponsored by the Library of Virginia and the Art Deco Society, whose members usually “dress to kill” in Twenties attire. (I don’t have a real flapper dress, but I have one that’s kinda flapperish that I’m planning to wear.)

Location: the Library of Virginia, 9th and Broad Street, Richmond


Wednesday, Oct. 15

free party

free parking below the library


And here’s the WTVR interview from Oct. 10 where I talk about the books. I don’t think an Oscar nomination is forthcoming, but I did my best.


Published in: on October 11, 2014 at 5:42 pm  Comments (1)  

The Star of Bombay provides a secondary plot line


Back in 2010 I visited the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum where I went to the gems and minerals hall to see the Hope diamond. I was surprised to see in a nearby exhibit the Star of Bombay, an enormous blue star sapphire that was given to Mary Pickford by her husband, Douglas Fairbanks. It came to the Smithsonian in 1981 after Miss Pickford’s death. (She died in 1979 at the age of 87.) The gem was discovered in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), which made me wonder why it isn’t called the Star of Ceylon . . . but never mind. It consists of 182 carats. Unbelievably, when Mary Pickford owned it, the stone was set in a ring. I cannot imagine how tiny Miss Pickford could have worn such a thing and still lifted her hand. 

I was remembering this last weekend while ruminating over possible plots for the fifth in my Roaring Twenties series. I needed a subplot to work alongside the main story and was thinking about jewel theft, something I haven’t touched on in previous books. All at once, I remembered the Star of Bombay at the Smithsonian and decided this would work beautifully. The story takes place in New York while Douglas and Mary are visiting on business, and I think I’ll have someone steal Mary’s huge ring. I am not 100% positive she owned it in 1926–nothing I could find tells me when Douglas gave her the jewel–but I’m going to assume she had it by 1926. After all, by 1930 their fairytale romance had lost its magic and they divorced a few years later. 


Published in: on September 28, 2014 at 4:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Upcoming Book Events


Several readers asked about upcoming events for my Roaring Twenties books. Many are private, such as yesterday’s meeting with a book club in someone’s home or my upcoming visit with the Kiwanis, but these (below) are open to the public. Most are free; a few involve a meal or fundraiser and so cost $. There is an updated list with details on my website at www.marymileytheobald.com or contact me directly at mmtheobald@comcast.net.

September 24 5:30 – 9:00. Book talk, dinner, and discussion at the Inn at Warner Hall, Gloucester, VA, $55. Details.

September 30 6:00. A reading from SILENT MURDERS at Chop Suey Books in Carytown, Richmond VA, across from the Byrd Theater.

October 11 10:00-1:00. Book signing at Barnes & Noble, Merchants Square, Williamsburg VA.

October 15 6:00-8:00. Party to introduce SILENT MURDERS at Library of Virginia, 9th and Broad, Richmond VA. Food and drink, screening of Douglas Fairbanks’s Son of Zorro, short talk about silent movies, reception, book signing, period music, Charleston lessons. Free underground parking.

October 21 7:00 PM. Book talk and signing at Dumbarton Public Library, Richmond VA.

November 6 morning. Book signing at Barnes & Noble, Colorado Avenue, Denver, CO.

November 6 6:00-10. Kappa Kappa Gamma 25th anniversary Book & Author dinner, talk on Roaring Twenties, Hyatt Regency, Denver CO. Details. 




Published in: on September 21, 2014 at 2:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Have a bite of the Roaring Twenties–try a Charleston Chew.

250px-CharlestonChewEvery so often, I have to do a book signing. This involves sitting at a table at a book store for three or four hours, hoping customers will stop by to chat and maybe buy a book. To make the process more interesting for book store customers, I usually bring show-and-tell: my 2 beaded flapper dresses from 1925, my (empty) bottle of poison that my killer used to murder a couple people, antique vaudeville programs, and a 1929 doctor’s prescription for alcohol (legal booze). Talking about these helps pass the time. 

I recently decided I needed something to give away, so I had some bookmarks printed and did a quick bit of research into candies that were popular in the Roaring Twenties. There are several that are still around–and still popular–today, but I chose Charleston Chews, largely because the name evokes the era–the Charleston was the signature dance of the decade. I had a local candy store order a large quantity of bite-size Charleston Chews for me and am ready to set them out at my next event! 

Other candies were popular in the Twenties: Butterfingers, candy canes, and Clark Bars, for example. I mention Clark Bars in SILENT MURDERS when Carl Delaney, the cop who likes Jessie, hands her one after she’s been arrested and says they gave them to him in France during the Great War. (I can’t write World War I because it wasn’t called that until after World War II happened.) But Clark Bars don’t have the verbal tie-in to the Twenties that Charleston Chews have, so I went with those. Maybe, if the Charleston Chews are popular, I’ll buy some Clark Bars and give out both . . . 

Charleston  Chews were introduced in 1922, and since my books take place in 1925 and 1926, they come from the right era. I plan to mention them in my next book. They are chewy, as you might expect from the name, and made of nougat coated in chocolate. 

Published in: on September 13, 2014 at 7:34 am  Comments (5)  

Prohibition and the Church/State Overlap

Church Pic1I read something interesting in The Economist last week. Something I hadn’t thought about but it made sense. “A century or more ago, Protestant pastors largely stayed out of politics. They were wary of church-state entanglements, so tended instead to their flocks’ basic needs. It was Prohibition, for which many clergy campaigned before the first world war, that galvanized the church’s involvement in politics.”5 Prohibition Disposal(9)


Published in: on September 7, 2014 at 8:29 am  Comments (1)  
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