Friday, August 30, 2013

Part 4 - Exclusive Interview with biographer Eve Golden on John Gilbert

Part 4 – About the Author
Eve Golden
photo credit: Amy Sussman
Eve Golden photo credit: Amy Sussman

LYNN DOUGHERTY: You are from Philadelphia; me too, which part are you from?
EVE GOLDEN: I’m from the Main Line, right outside of Philadelphia.
LD: I see that you are a photo archivist, can you tell me about that?
EG: Yes, I work at the Everett Collection and go through our filing cabinets to see what we need in our online database. I also kill celebrities. When celebrities die, I put together their obituraries and send them out to the media (newspapers, magazines, television stations, etc.), anyone who is our client or who we hope to get as a client. I have been there for 7 years.
LD: So this means that you’re not a full time biography writer?
EG: Oh, no one could make a living at that. I’m lucky if I make much of a profit because biographies are so expensive to research. Photo rights alone cost about $3000 for the John Gilbert book and I had to travel to Washington, DC to the Library of Congress to see some of the films and get a hotel there. I also had to buy certain books and DVD’s and videos that were not available anywhere else, so, I’d say the book cost me about $5000 to write.
LD: So, hopefully you’ll break even or make a profit?
EG: I usually make a profit, but not a big profit. I have to sell 2500 books, just to break even. So, I’m hoping that this will do well enough, I’ve been promoting it and I’ve been very lucky with reviews and TCM, so I’m hoping this one will make a tiny bit of a profit but really biography writing is a hobby; not a living.
LD: What is your educational background and what made you start writing?
EG: I was Theater and English major, so I graduated prepared to do absolutely nothing. If you’ve ever watched Mad Men, I was “Peggy,” basically. I was an actress for a few years and a very bad one, so that didn’t go over well. then I got into a secretarial pool of an advertising agency so I was a little typewriter girl and I clawed my way up to become a copywriter, just like Peggy, and that’s how I became a writer.
And, I wrote my first book because of course, I was already an old movie fan and I was thinking, “Gee, I’d love to read a good biography of Jean Harlow, it’s a shame nobody’s ever written a book about her. And, I thought for goodness sakes, I’m a writer, why don’t I write one myself?” I did not realize what I was getting into or how difficult it was and so I just dived in and did it. At the time, the only book on her was that one byIrving Shulman, which I read for the first time at 13 and even at 13 I knew it was crap.
LD: You’re obviously a classic film fan; can you talk a bit about that? Why do you like classic films (silent and sound) and do you think they are relevant today? Where does it come from?
EG: From the time I was a kid, I used to watch silent films on PBS and there were revival houses in Philadelphia that showed old movies that I went to with my grandmother. From the time I was eight years old, I’ve been clipping obituaries from the newspaper. I know because of the years of the first one’s I saved. I’ve always been a biography and obituary fan and not only old movies, but theater as well. I wrote about Anna Held and Vernon and Irene Castle, but it’s harder to write about theater people of course because you can’t really see their performances.
LD: What are you writing now that you’ve finished Gilbert?
EG: Not a darn thing. There are about 5 or 6 people I would like to write about but either other writers have dibbs on them or the family won’t cooperate or, there’s just not enough documentary material to get a book out of. So, I’m kind of stuck right now.
LD: What made you decide to write about Gilbert?
EG: I was casting about for a new subject and desperate, as usual to find somebody that was doable and I just started flipping through books and I saw John Gilbert and I thought, Ah! Why had I never thought of him before? Also, I’d never written a full biography about an actor; I’ve always written about actresses, except for Vernon and Castle, which was a dual biography and I thought it would be interesting to write for a man for a change. I love John Gilbert, he was brilliantly talented and I couldn’t write about somebody I didn’t at least, respect and it just kind of hit me like a lightning bolt, John Gilbert, perfect!
LD: The only other book I knew about him was Leatrice Gilbert Fountain’s, “Dark Star.”
EG: That’s a really, really good book and I recommend that everybody read it, but it’s a daughter’s book, which is an entirely different thing.
A few weeks ago, I went up to Connecticut and met with Leatrice and her sons, all of whom are handsome and delightful, by the way.
With Eve, in photo above, from left, they areGideon, Christopher and Anthony Fountain (grandson’s of John Gilbert)
LD: Is Leatrice Gilbert Fountain a fan of your book?
EG: She loves it. She is in frail health right now, but she clutched the book, and has been very supportive from the beginning, and said that anything that brings more attention to her father she is happy about.
LD: Did you use the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire film at all when writing about the Castles?
EG: I watched it of course, but there was very little truth in that movie. One thing Irene didn’t want known was that she and Vernon were about to get divorced when he died. It’s much more romantic if she is a grieving war widow than a soon to be divorcee, so she brushed that under the carpet.
LD: I also liked when you wrote about 1939 vs. 1932. 1939 is much known as the best year of all time for film, but you disagree, can you talk about that?
EG: I love 1932 so much. I don’t know what the big deal is about 1939, I think 1932 is so much more interesting and it had as many good films. By 1932, talkies were on their feet, it was no longer an experiment anymore, so they really knew what they were doing, but at the same time there was still a freshness about them and most importantly, the production code hadn’t kicked in yet. So, you’ve got the really naughty films in 1932, which you didn’t have in 1939, plus you had a lot of new people coming in. There were the stage people and the former extras who were just starting to become huge stars of the 1930’s, and you still had a lot of the silent people who were still working. I just think 1932 is so exciting and when you look at the list of films from that year, it’s just breathtaking. 1939, definitely doesn’t suck, but I just find 1932, more exciting.
I find the early 30’s to be fresh and interesting and still a little experimental and, as I say, before the production code, a lot naughtier.
LD: Of all time, what is your favorite film?
EG: No, not one, I have a whole list of favorite films. There are films I can watch over and over, like Dinner at Eight, and The Best of Everything, I love. I adore that film. When I started out as a secretary in New York, it was still like that. I have a friend who was an office temp with me and we still call each other Hope and Suzy. And it was one of Joan Crawford’s best performances. Speaking of Joan, I love “Rain.” I adoreFootlight Parade. Oddly enough, I like modern films like “Airplane” which I think is one of the funniest films ever. Of course, only I would think of 1980 as a modern film. The Bad Seed is one of my favorite big acting films. When the Bad Seed is on, I just turn it on, have to watch. I also love IT with Clara BowMillion Dollar Legs with Lyda Roberti, a parody of Mata Hari.
This interview with Eve is a long and a rewarding one that I have divided into four parts.

Click on the links below to read each section:

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