Sunsets and Literature


photoMA31367462-0002How can anyone describe something as spectacular as a sunset?   Nothing can take the place of a photograph, can it?  Augusta J. Evans (1835-1909) creates a credible word picture of a sunset on page 116 of ST. ELMO, and the twilight that follows sets the eerie stage for the entrance of the Byronic protagonist “St. Elmo Murray.”.

The sun went down in a wintry sky; the solemn red light burning on the funeral pyre of the day streamed through the undraped windows, flushed the fretted facade of the Taj Mahal, glowed on the marble floor, and warmed and brightened the serene, lovely face of the earnest young student.  As the flame faded in the West, where two stars leaped from the pearly ashes, the fine print of Edna’s book grew dim, and she turned the page to catch the mellow, silvery radiance of the full moon, which shinning low in…

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Leatrice Gilbert Fountain (1924-2015): Daughter of Hollywood Legends

Leatrice Gilbert Fountain was simply the most fascinating person I have ever met. I wrote her a fan letter years ago after reading her book DARK STAR: The Untold Story of the Meteoric Rise and Fall of Legendary Silent Screen Star John Gilbert, her father’s biography. She responded with a letter and an invitation to join the John Gilbert Appreciation Society.  I joined and eventually became president of the Society.
As president of the JGAS, I had the privilege of getting to know her well.  I interviewed her, consulted with her on the JGAS newsletter, and attended film events with her. I was in awe of Leatrice.   She had every ounce of her father’s charm, if not more.  She was larger than life, and yet she made others feel important.
She loaned me many photographs when I interviewed her for the SILENTS MAJORITY: Online Journal of Silent Film. Among the beautiful stills was a newspaper clipping with a photo of Leatrice working in a soup kitchen. That photo says volumes about who she was–a kind, generous person who enjoyed helping others.
I owe a great deal to John Gilbert because if it were not for my obsession with him, I would never have met his extraordinary daughter.  Leatrice was a superstar in every way.
I met Leatrcie for the first time at a film event in Englewood, New Jersery, in 1998.  She had come to introduce one of her father’s best known films, “Flesh and the Devil” (MGM, 1926), to a packed house at the John Harms Center for the Arts. The New Jersey Youth Symphony, led by Adrian Bryttan, played the musical score. It was a night to remember and the beginning of a lasting friendship.

ST. ELMO and “The Passion of Miss Augusta”

Filmmaker Robert Clem pays tribute to Augusta Evans Wilson and ST. ELMO in his film THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA.  The film premiered September 12, 2013, in Mobile, Alabama.  I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m looking forward to viewing the DVD.  (I’m listed as one of the co-producers in the credits.)

“The Passion of Miss Augusta” is part drama, part documentary.  The film begins as a silent film version of ST. ELMO then fast-forwards to the 1950s with the main characters in modern dress.  As you watch the trailer (above) notice the differences between the silent and modern-day versions.

Augusta Jane Evans Wilson (1835-1909), America...

Augusta Jane Evans Wilson (1835-1909), American novelist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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ST. ELMO: What’s in a Name?

ST. ELMO, by Augusta Evans Wilson, is my favorite novel.  The book, published in 1866, was so popular that towns, dogs, children, and cigars were named in honor of it.  The novel opens in a village at the bottom of Lookout Mountain. While the story is fiction, the village is real.  Augusta Evans Wilson visited Lookout Mountain and had friends in Chattanooga, so she chose the village at the foot of Lookout Mountain for the setting.  The village is now a subdivision called St. Elmo.

My dream of visiting St. Elmo came true last week when I was passing through Chattanooga.  I took photos of just about everything with St. Elmo written on it, including buildings and street signs.  The main attraction in St. Elmo is the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway.  The original railway was built around 1895.  The current railway was finished in the 1980s.  It has all the thrill of a rollercoaster and more because it goes up and down the side of Lookout Mountain.


For more information about the village and it’s connection to the ST ELMO novel, I recommend CHATTANOOGA’S ST. ELMO, by Gay Morgan Moore, and ST ELMO YESTERDAY AND TODAY: “The Story of a Community,” by Jeffery C. Webb.

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Happy Birthday, John Gilbert!

"Cameo Kirby" (Fox, 1923)

“Cameo Kirby” (Fox, 1923)

Turner Classic Movies is featuring John Gilbert’s films today in honor of his birthday.  He made about 100 films, and some of the best withstood the sands of time.

Below are some of my favorite photos of my favorite star.

This photo of John Gilbert was taken by MGM photographer Ruth Harriet Louise.

This photo of John Gilbert was taken by MGM photographer Ruth Harriet Louise.

cropped-mw.jpg“The Merry Widow” book cover from the MGM 1925 film

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"La Boheme" (MGM, 1927)

“La Boheme” (MGM, 1927)

John Gilbert in CAMEO KIRBY (Fox, 1923)

ConteCristoIDontKnowI’ve had this photo of John Gilbert for several years.  His name is on the front beneath the image with no mention of a studio or a photographer.  The back of the photo is blank.  I think this was a publicity shot (for MONTE CRISTO (1922) perhaps?).

Rudolph Valentino, Won’t You Teach Me to Tango?

Français : Le Cheik (Rudolph Valentino) et son...

Français : Le Cheik (Rudolph Valentino) et son ami Raoul (Adolphe Menjou) dans le film Le Cheik (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rudolph Valentino was “The Great Lover of the Silver Screen” until John Gilbert inherited that moniker after Valentino’s premature death. Valentino was an Italian immigrant, who slept on a park bench in Central Park when he arrived in NYC.  Before he went from rags to riches, he was best known for his dancing skills.

I’ve seen several of his films.  Despite his Italian background, he was cast as an Arab in THE SHEIK and in The SON OF THE SHEIK.  I haven’t seen BEYOND THE ROCKS, based  on a book written by Elinor Glyn, but love I his performance in BLOOD AND SAND, which earned a remake starring Tyrone PowerTHE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE is not my favorite Valentino film, but it does contain my favorite scene:  Valentino doing the tango.  (The tango made him a star.)  I could watch that scene over and over.  And I have!

Valentino was larger than life.  How tragic that he died so young!

English: movie poster for 1922 film Blood and Sand

English: movie poster for 1922 film Blood and Sand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Poster for 1921 film "The Sheik&...

English: Poster for 1921 film “The Sheik” starring Rudolph Valentino Français : Affiche du film Le Cheik avec Rudolph Valentino (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Son of the Sheik (1926) film poster.

English: Son of the Sheik (1926) film poster. (Photo credit: *Wikipedia)

Hats Off to Silent Films

Rudolph Valentino and Nita Naldi in Cobra.

Rudolph Valentino and Nita Naldi in Cobra. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Logo I created for the Twilight Saga Wiki

Logo I created for the Twilight Saga Wiki (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To read my endorsement of silent films, see my post  “The Twilight Saga: To Stare or Not to Stare?”

New Biography: “JOHN GILBERT: The Last of the Silent Film Stars”

Two book-length biographies have been written about John Gilbert.  Leatrice Gilbert Fountain wrote the first, DARK STAR, in 1985.

Now Eve Golden has published JOHN GILBERT: THE LAST OF THE SILENT FILM STARS.  Visit her Web site,, and for a description of the book and pricing information.  The book is drawing a lot of attention.  It was featured in the April 2013 edition of the magazine VANITY FAIR.

John Gilbert and Renee Adoree in “The Big Parade”


THE BIG PARADE (MGM, 1925) John Gilbert‘s best-known film, is a realistic portrayal of WWI.  It was the biggest box office hit ever until GONE WITH THE WIND.  Renee Adoree was John Gilbert’s co-star.  She starred with him in more films than any of his leading ladies.  The photo above depicts the famous chewing gum scene that Gilbert and Adoree ad-libbed.  The scene inspired the Blatz company to use it to advertise their chewing gum.