Mary Pickford -- Queen of the Movies, Edited by Christel Schmidt, UKentucky Press '12 in oversized format on glossy stock, $45, 276 pages, ASIN #0813136474. Index, photo credits, contributors, bibliography, notes, dozens of b&w and color images.
Time was, in the early days of motion pictures, studios treated actors as interchangeable parts, paying them little attention or compensation. Then came Mary Pickford, whom the Editor calls "the first great movie star." Such an appellation didn't just land in her lap, however; she worked hard for it.
As Christel Schmidt writes, Mary took to the stage at age 7 "to help alleviate her family's poverty." In 1909, film director D.W. Griffith offered her the standard salary of $15/week for a Biograph actor, but to his surprise, the ingenue "pressed for 25/week and received it." Pickford's dedication wasn't simply to her acting but during World War I, she gave patriotic speeches and sold millions of dollars worth of war bonds.
Paving the way for her sex in the film industry, Mary "fought for creative control of her films by becoming her own producer. The results were twofold: her efforts to bring quality to motion pictures helped give movies a respectable image, and she also blazed a trail for actors who wanted to shape their own careers." The Editor brought together "an eminent group of film historians to shed new light on many aspects of the star's life and legacy."
Christel Schmidt is a film historian, writer, and editor and is co-editor of Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and The Triumph of Movie Culture.
Just Plain Dick -- Richard Nixon's Checkers Speech and the "Rocking, Socking" Election of 1952 by Kevin Mattson, Bloomsbury '12, $25, 260 pages, ASIN #160819812X. Index, bibliographic notes, notes, unillustrated.
Opposition forces learned of a special campaign fund maintained by the Nixon people, and the media built on that fact to allege those funds had been misused, a pattern of activity that would later earn the vice presidential candidate the sobriquet "Tricky Dick." Perhaps naively, Nixon expected Eisenhower to spring to his defense. Instead, Ike left his would-be VP to twist slowly in the wind.
The pressure grew on Nixon to somehow clear things up or remove himself from the race. It came down to a nationally-televised half-hour speech that Nixon gave to clear his name. The problem was, who would believe him? And any lawyer can tell you it's nearly impossible to prove a negative -- that is, that he wasn't abusing campaign funds.
It was then that the Nixon campaign hit upon a device that can only be termed brilliant and has been taught in political science courses since. Knowing he had to counter voter skepticism at all costs, he told the TV audience that, come what may, there was one campaign gift he absolutely would not give back. That was a black and white dog named Checkers, which had been given to the Nixons and which daughters Julie and Tricia loved.
Overnight, the national mood changed, for while voters perhaps couldn't understand the finer points of campaign finance, the idea of a family loving its little dog resonated in the hearts of the electorate. Soon Ike realized that his running mate was a winner and asked him to stay on the ticket. The rest is history.
Author Kevin Mattson teaches Contemporary History at Ohio University and has authored several previous books as well as writing for leading publications.
San Miguel -- A Novel by T.C. Boyle, Viking '12, $27.95, 367 pages, ASIN #0670026247.
T.C. Boyle has penned 13 novels to date, has received the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the National Book Award. He has also written 9 short-story collections. His latest book's dust jacket summarizes the plot:
"On a desolate, windswept island off the coast of Southern California, two families, one in the 1880s and one in the 1930s, come to start new lives and pursue dreams of self-reliance and freedom. Their extraordinary stories, full of struggle and hope, are the subject of T.C. Boyle's haunting new novel.
"The fortunes of these families are told from the points of view of the strong-willed, sympathetic, determinedly optimistic women who anchor them. Thirty-eight-year-old Marantha Waters arrives on San Miguel on New Year's Day 1888 to restore her failing health. Joined by her husband, a stubborn, driven Civil War veteran who will take over the operation of the sheep ranch on the island, Marantha strives to persevere in the face of the hardships of living in such brutal isolation and in such conflict with the elements. Two years later, their adopted teenage daughter, Edith, an aspiring actress, will exploit every opportunity that presents itself to escape the island and the captivity her father has imposed on her. Time closes in on them all, and as the new century approaches, the ranch stands untenanted.
"And then, in March 1930, Elise Lester, a librarian from New York City, settles on San Miguel with her new husband, Herbie, a World War I veteran full of manic energy. as the years go on, they find fulfillment and a sense of purpose from the land; Elise gives birth to two daughters, whom she homeschools, and the family members even achieve a celebrity of sorts in the late 1930s when the press proclaims them the 'Swiss Family Lester.' But will the peace and beauty of the island see them through the impending war as it had seen them through the Depression?"
Author T.C. Boyle teaches English at the University of Southern California.