Merlin Among the Stars!

DATELINE: Jan Merlin’s Final Book!

Hand-made card drawn by Jan at Kilimanjaro during film Woman & the Hunter.

My dear friend and coauthor Jan Merlin died a few months ago. He lived a long and creative life. That does not lessen the effect of a hard loss, and I have managed to complete something that was brewing for decades.

Jan knew that I kept all his letters, copies of his emails, and took notes on many of our conversations over the course of thirty years. He steadfastly said he did not want a biography in any traditional sense. But, as the years passed, he often gave me a flood of memories about his years on Broadway, in early TV, and later in movies. I have completed a memoir in his own words.

He worked with so many famous—and he was one of them, knew their foibles and secrets. If I learned anything, it was a secret society—and they all kept their privilege sacred. Yet, he provided me with anecdotes with people from stage like Josh Logan, from movies such as Marlon Brando, from literature like Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, from TV like every Western TV star over 15 years (from Chuck Connors to Michael Landon).

So, I have compiled his memories to provide some amazing insights into the profession of acting and the business of movies. It did not take long to do—as I had been adding bits and pieces after each chat or text.

Now, I have for you a record of an era: the star of two TV series, Tom Corbett and Rough Riders,who played mostly the bad guy on TV westerns, committing every dastardly act and finding come-uppance weekly in a variety of ways.

His voice is clear and direct on every page; he never pulled punches, never played the social game, and he felt he damaged his career with projects like The List of Adrian Messengerwith Kirk Douglas, and he felt John Huston misused him. Even today, he is the man under the masks—but Douglas takes credit for the performance (even in an Oscar compilation clip!).

He gave me a title:  We Were All Six Feet Tall,which I have kept with the main focus, Merlin Among the Stars.It is now available on Kindle as an ebook and the paperback will soon be out for his fans and friends.

When I re-read his letters, there was so much I had forgotten—and never followed up. One example was his friendship with noted crypto-scientist Willy Ley who was tech advisor on his show Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

There are gems from the era—and can only be appreciated by those with a grand sense of the past.

 

 

Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0831S1RVZ

 

Hollywood: In the Beginning

 DATELINE: James Mason & Kevin Brownlow

intolerance

Intolerance Anyone?

To find the 1979 Kevin Brownlow documentary series on the origins of Hollywood is a treat. With the stirring music of Carl Davis, adapted to so many styles over the episodes, you have Brownlow’s research to find many lost clips and footage. The limited series was called simply Hollywood.

Of course, for us, the best part of the series was the narrative voice of James Mason, lending a kind of grandeur to the proceedings.

The first episode, In the Beginning, does indeed have a Biblical echo. After all, film pioneer D.W. Griffith’s epics, like Intolerance, put Hollywood on the map.

The story begins with gangsters in New York and New Jersey disrupting independent filmmakers around 1903. These producers and studios were under constant threats as the Edison company wanted exclusivity.

This led to many film producers to look for a place far from the East Coast unions and controls. It took them to California, to a spot outside Los Angeles, where orange groves dominated the mountain backdrop.

They could find every conceivable film set location within a few miles: from snowy mountains, to deserts, to mountains, to oceans.

In addition, movies required sunshine, as most films were made outdoors (even indoor sets) with open roof for light. Since Los Angeles had over 300+ days of sunshine every year, they had found nirvana.

Within a few years, the world knew the streets of Hollywood from movie settings. It became more enhanced when movie star mansions became the Newport of a new aristocracy. Pickfair was the West Coast Buckingham Palace with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks as the ersatz American royalty.

If you want to see how the United States and its silent film industry took over the world of film art, you have Kevin Brownlow and David Gill to thank for this insightful series.

Other episodes looked at morals clauses in the budding business, stuntmen, Westerns, and comedians like Chaplin and Keaton and Arbuckle. If you love movies, Hollywood is the best series on its advent.