As always, there are more new film books than I have time to digest, but it’s been a while since I posted a survey, so here we go. As usual, these notices are based on skimming, rather than careful reading, these recent publications…but I feel confident enough to recommend them and didn’t want to wait any longer to spread the word. 

HOLLYWOOD UNKNOWNS: A HISTORY OF EXTRAS, BIT PLAYERS, AND STAND-INS by Anthony Slide (University Press of Mississippi)

Tony Slide has been documenting film history for decades, and has now turned his attention to the least-chronicled participants of Hollywood’s golden age: extras, bit players, and stand-ins. In the silent era, before studio filmmaking was completely codified, fan magazines and opportunists lured would-be actors and actresses to Tinseltown. Many came with big dreams but settled for “day work” in the background…and remained there. Slide paints a vivid portrait of this period and finds another rich vein when he details the labor movement that included a lengthy tug of war between the Screen Actors Guild and the Screen Extras Guild. Naturally, Slide talks about such notable figures as Bess Flowers, the Queen of the Dress Extras, but I was surprised that he didn’t mention two of the most ubiquitous extras of the 1930s who went on to achieve stardom, Dennis O’Keefe and William “Wild Bill” Elliott. Still, there is much to learn in these pages from the author’s always-impressive research.


Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors
BearManor Media

 While debut films often reveal the promise of a great career, the final works of prominent directors run the gamut from great capstones to utter embarrassments. Segaloff has done his homework, and drawn on many first-hand interviews, to provide a wide range of stories that present a wide variety of experiences. With each director occupying a brief chapter, this is the kind of book that’s hard to put down once you dip into it, whether you’re interested in Robert Altman, Arthur Penn, John Ford, or Otto Preminger. Good anecdotes, backed up by solid research and an insider’s savvy sense of the film industry make this a welcome addition to any film bookshelf.



 I admit it: I’m a sucker for John Ford movies. It almost goes without saying that I am also a sucker for those actors, prominent and otherwise, who populated his films, from the ever-present, buck-toothed Jack Pennick and the memorable Hank Worden (“Old Mose” in The Searchers) to long-timers like J. Farrell MacDonald and Grant Withers. Levy’s brief bios provide background on each player and cite their most prominent and memorable work for Ford. A head-shot will help newcomers to the fold identify the faces that go with the less-familiar names in the credits of so many pictures from the 1920s through the 1960s.


WHO’S AFRAID OF THE SONG OF THE SOUTH? AND OTHER FORBIDDEN DISNEY STORIES by Jim Korkis; foreword by Floyd Norman (Theme Park Press)

 As he has proven time and again, animation buff and historian Jim Korkis has a knack for finding little-known facets of Disney history and bringing them to life. Here, he puts the story of Walt Disney’s Song of the South into full and proper perspective, tracing its origins, the background of Joel Chandler Harris and his Uncle Remus stories, and all aspects of the film up to and including the controversy that erupted the moment it debuted. Typically, Korkis also explores other streams that flowed from the film, including Disney’s Uncle Remus comic strip and the eventual use of the Remus characters in the Splash Mountain attraction at Disneyland and other theme parks. To flesh out this slender (but highly informative) volume, Korkis provides anecdotes and backstories on other provocative Disney topics like the latter-day elimination of a black centaurette named Sunflower from Fantasia. Even hardcore Disneyphiles are sure to learn from Jim Korkis, as I always do. One more bonus feature: a foreword by Walt’s first black animator, Floyd Norman.

Incidentally, Jim has also reissued his eye-opening collection The Vault of Walt in a revised edition, with its admiring introduction by Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller. It is also available from Theme Park Press.