Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood- FOSTER (CSS)

FOSTER, Charles. Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2000. 408p. Resenha de: BRILEY, Ron. Canadian Social Studies, v.37, n.2, 2003.

In Stardust and Shadows, Charles Foster argues that Canadians made an important contribution to the development of early Hollywood. To support this thesis, he includes eighteen portraits of Canadians who were active in the formative years of the film industry in both New York and Hollywood. In addition to brief biographies of well known film figures such as Mary Pickford, Louis B. Mayer, Mack Sennett, and Norma Shearer, Foster examines lesser known individuals such as Florence La Badie, Al and Charles Christie, and Joe and Sam De Grasse. The sketches are well written and based upon interviews conducted by Foster, an author who is obviously enamoured with his subject. A careful reader will find some real gems in this volume, such as the fact that when the Pickfair estate (home of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks) was renovated, its new owners were shocked to find what they assumed was some type of torture chamber. Instead, they had discovered a dentist chair and equipment which was installed by Fairbanks so that Canadian actor Sam De Grasse, whose original training was in the field of dentistry, could attend to Fairbanks in the comfort of his own home.

Foster primarily uses anecdotal evidence to bolster his case for the Canadian influence within Hollywood. However, Foster is not a professional historian, and he offers little analysis as to why Canadians played such a pivotal role in the film capital’s formative years. In fact, Foster offers little explanation as to why he has selected these eighteen Canadians for inclusion in his volume. The assumption is that these are the individuals about whom Foster was able to gain the greatest amount of information during his interviews.

Foster began this project during the Second World War when he was a pilot for the British Royal Air Force and spent two weeks of leave in Hollywood. He was invited to stay at the home of fellow Canadian and director Sidney Olcott, who was instrumental in opening the doors of the film industry to Foster. The Canadian connection in Hollywood became a passion for Foster, who returned to the film industry as often as possible over the next fifty years. His work in the field of public relations in both the United States and England, however, made it difficult for Foster to turn his interviews into a manuscript. Upon retirement in the early 1990s, Foster vowed to complete his labor of love which is contained within the pages of Stardust and Shadows. The author concludes, The result is this tribute to eighteen talented Canadians. It will, I hope, make a lot of people wonder whatever would show business have done without them (p. 10).

Foster is obviously enamored with the glamour of early Hollywood, but what will modern readers make of this volume? Individuals such as Mary Pickford and Norma Shearer are hardly any longer household names. In eulogy to the way Hollywood used to be, it is worth considering that film today is in many ways a more democratic and accessible enterprise with new technologies and the inclusion of racial and ethnic groups once excluded from the mainstream. Also, it is not necessary simply to consider the Canadian contribution to Hollywood, for Canada has a rich film industry and culture which is worthy of celebration.

Accordingly, while Foster’s book is often quite entertaining, it is also rather antiquated. It is difficult to perceive of this volume being of great interest in the schools, however, students might learn something about the value of doing oral history and pursuing one’s dreams. Some of the portraits might be of use in the classroom to demonstrate that Hollywood was not simply an American creation. Many nationalities, including Canadians, played a significant role in Hollywood’s formative years. While Stardust and Shadows may be of greater interest to older readers, it is worth noting that there is a rich Canadian cinematic history on which contemporary filmmakers continue to build.

Ron Briley – Sandia Preparatory School. Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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