New Book about Bob Hope

51ex+YsuB8L._AA160_Richard Zoglin has written HOPE: ENTERTAINER OF THE CENTURY. I have a strong interest in Bob Hope because he plays a cameo role in my third mystery (due out next year). So I’ve read several biographies of the man, plus several of his own autobiographies, and I usually stop when I get to the point around 1925, which is when my books are set. I don’t want to be influenced too much by the person he became, which was very different from the person he was as a young man.

Some things don’t jibe with how we think of Bob Hope: the amateur boxing, his work as a chicken plucker, a shameless womanizer, and the shoplifting that got him sent to reform school. As my own fictional character, Jessie, was a shoplifter during her young years in vaudeville, she had that in common with Bob Hope. (Who, in those days, went by Leslie Hope or Les Hope, his real name.) Bob and his dance partner did a vaudeville act where the two men danced with Siamese-twin sisters, something we would deplore today as a freak show, but it was popular and gave the sisters a way to make a living. He wasn’t much of an entertainer in 1925, still trying to find his niche. It would be some years before comedy beat out dancing, but he never really left the dancing, did he? In all those silly “road” pictures, he and Bing Crosby usually do a soft-shoe routine.

On the whole, I admire Bob Hope–not everything about him; he was flawed like all of us. I hope I’ve given him a fair shake in my portrayal of him in his younger years in vaudeville.  

Published in: on December 13, 2014 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Douglas Fairbanks’s died 75 years ago

220px-FairbanksMarkofZorroThe great Douglas Fairbanks died on Dec. 12, 1939. He was only 56. Known as “the king of Hollywood,” Douglas had a stellar career in silent movies. He made a few talkies, but his career was effectively over by then, not, I believe, because he couldn’t adapt to sound, but because of his age and drinking. He virtually invented the action hero, the dashing, swashbuckling, romantic guy who gets the girl at the end of the picture. I think he and his audiences had trouble visualizing a 50-something swashbuckler, and anyway, Douglas was more interested in traveling around the world with his third wife. Although a teetotaler in his younger years (he didn’t even serve wine at his dinner parties), he started drinking later on. His death was from a heart attack, but for such a relatively young man who had always been athletic and an advertisement for good health, it had to have been something to do with the drinking. 

Published in: on December 6, 2014 at 10:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Silent Movie Posters

220px-London_After_MidnightI prefer original art hanging on my walls, but the one exception is posters. Travel posters, French dance hall posters, and movie posters, in particular. Original posters can be found at flea markets, art galleries, or auction houses, and prices for the ones I’ve seen range from a couple hundred dollars to tens of thousands, depending upon age, condition, rarity, size, design, and collectibility. Yesterday I noticed something in the paper about a silent movie poster for the 1927 film “London After Midnight”–it sold at auction for a record-breaking $478,000. The most ever paid for a movie poster. Wow.

Heritage Auctions of Dallas announced that it is the only known poster for that film, which stars Lon Chaney as a vampire. That certainly helps on the scarcity scale and the collectibility index. Interestingly, the film “London After Midnight” no longer exists; the last known copy was destroyed in a fire at MGM in 1967. (Old film is highly flammable.) It was sort of re-created ten years ago from 200 still photos, but that hardly counts.

The previous record was a 1932 poster for “The Mummy,” which sold in 1997 for $453,000. That was not a silent movie.

Published in: on November 26, 2014 at 8:30 am  Comments (2)  

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


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)  
Tags: , ,

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  
Tags: , ,

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  

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 345 other followers