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Silent Stars

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  330 ratings  ·  37 reviews
Film scholar Jeanine Basinger offers a revelatory, perceptive, and highly readable look at the greatest silent film stars -- not those few who are fully appreciated and understood, like Chaplin, Keaton, Gish, and Garbo, but those who have been misrepresented, unfairly dismissed, or forgotten.

Included are Valentino, "the Sheik," who was hardly the effeminate lounge lizard h
Paperback, 510 pages
Published November 1st 2000 by Wesleyan (first published 1999)
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4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  330 ratings  ·  37 reviews

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Jill Hutchinson
Jul 15, 2018 rated it liked it
The author states that the purpose of this book is to feature silent film stars that are forgotten, misunderstood, or underappreciated. It is a good premise but I couldn't relate to how some of these actors fit into those categories. And in only a couple of instances did one of those categories apply. A perfect example is John Gilbert.....a man who will forever be known for his downfall because his voice was too high for talking films. That is a legend without any basis at all. If you have seen ...more
I look to many film historians including folks like Jeanine Basinger and Donald Bogle to inform me and introduce me to new (old) actors and films from the era I love, so I’m thankful for any information I can get. But in this book, Basinger is going over the same actors as a hundred other books have done. There is nothing new or worthwhile here unless you are just discovering Silent films and want a brief biosketch. There are much more great actors of the era that one doesn’t read about, that I ...more
Carla Remy
Strangely I wasn't enthralled and decided to wait and try this some other time. I mean, I did read a good deal of it. I adored Basinger's book about the studio system and I love love love silent movie lore, but . . . I guess this book, consisting of mini biographies and filmographies just didn't grip me.
Michael Sparrow
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very good book! Basinger does a fine job describing the lives and careers of silent film stars whose names are familiar, but whose stories have been overlooked. Her accounts are clear-eyed, but also sympathetic, and she is very adept at placing their lives and careers in historical context. To me, the most interesting chapter was the one on Marion Davies and she closes on a lighter note with her tongue-in-cheek examination of the adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin. The photographs add a lot to the storie ...more
Feb 12, 2013 rated it it was ok

Basinger is a lively writer, whose other books on film history I like, but this book is a disappointment, primarily because it does not deliver what it says it will. From the jacket blurb: "...a look at the greatest silent film stars - not those few who are fully appreciated and understood ... but those who have been misperceived, unfairly dismissed, or forgotten." Into the category of the 'forgotten', Basinger places the Talmadge sisters. Who is she kidding? I've known about these sisters for d
Hala Pickford
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
I was extremely curious to pick up this book as it is one of the few that Nita Naldi’s name comes up in. When I got it I was sorely disappointed. Its probably the best researched book on the don’t list but that’s not saying much. She uses out of date biographies for her research despite newer and better technology being available (the book was printed in 99 or 00 depending who you ask) and the prose is extremely dry and too self important. Her chapter on Keystone, Mack, and Mabel was useless as ...more
C!NDY  L00
3 1/2 stars...
Primarily critiques on the films and the impact they (and the actors) had on the public. There is much less information of the actor’s lives, themselves. Likewise, there are plenty of "opinions” by the author, but few that I agree with. Yet, it is a good source if you are interested in the work of the performers that she covers.
Susan Bybee
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Reading Silent Stars was like taking a college course with the perfect professor lecturing. I learned a lot, and although Basinger is an academic, she has a straightforward, declarative style that is charming and engaging.
Nov 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Film Lovers
Shelves: film-history
Jeanine Basinger spends time with several of the silent greats - some are better remembered today than others, but all of their stories are interesting. I'd love a sequel!
Nancy Loe
Aug 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'll read anything about Hollywood by Jeane Basinger and this is one of her best (but she did mess up a bit on Marion Davies). Still, a fabulous book on the silent era.
Beth Cato
Mar 31, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is a veritable tome and I worked through it gradually over the course of a book. It includes biographies on various stars of the silent era, going into good detail on their entrances into movies, career highlights and lowlights, and what came of them in the talking era and beyond. The author says at the start that their intent was to elaborate on forgotten stars, which made many of the choices rather strange--Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Marion Davies, Rudolph Valentino...? They a ...more
Jul 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating history of stars of the silent era. I read it once straight through and am reading it again. A few interesting pieces of info:

1. Films offered a way for women to earn their own living during that time. Many of the industry's most famous actresses of the time - specifically, Mary Pickford - were in charge of their careers and contracts in ways later actresses were not. (And, of note, Mary Pickford was one of the founders of United Artists).

2. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were
Sep 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In this fantastic book, Jeanine Basinger investigates the lifes and careers of underappreciated, forgotten or misunderstood silent stars. Debunking any myths connected to their careers (especially their failures), Basinger astutely sheds light on big stars such as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert or Clara Bow. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Hollywood and silent film history.
Jaime Contreras
I found this book fascinating but tedious at times due to the content. The author spent too much time on some of the darker stories about these first film stars. I did appreciate the color that it added but for a scholarly book, it had a lot of personal stories in it. Overall, one gets an insight into the culture in which these pioneering movie stars appeared and thrived.
Apr 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Actors, people who like movies, critics.
I very rarely read criticism that I think is well done, and Basinger's dissection of the careers of people like Valentino and the Talmadge sisters is both entertaining ---she can really write as a learned enthusiast --- and insightful.
Oct 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Very good. Not scholarly history but Basinger's own opinions and reactions. I don't agree with everything, but few other film books would even mention the Talmadge sisters, let alone give them a full chapter.
Becky Loader
May 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wow. There was a whole different world around during the silent era of motion pictures. I had to look up Colleen Moore after I read about the amazing doll house she donated to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. There is so much yet to learn about people!
Nov 24, 2010 rated it liked it
"Take me away from here. Take me to Detroit and teach me to make shoes." - The Goldfish, with Zasu Pitts

"We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!" - Sunset Boulevard with Norma Desmond
Mar 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A great book on forgotten, misunderstood, underrated early movie stars. Really well written, easy to understand and enjoyable.
Very entertaining collection of essays on stars of the silent film days. I especially enjoyed the chapter about the dogs Stronghart and Rin Tin Tin.
Aug 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“The astonishing thing about watching Rin-Tin-Tin is that you begin to agree that this dog could act. He could listen at keyholes, hide under bed and inside grandfather clocks, tug open bolted doors and sneak up on villains. He could operate simple machines, put on little shoes and take them off, and he could run and jump on cue. This is already more than some human stars could accomplish, but Rinty could also stir up emotions by looking happy or sad or worried or hurt.”
Jim Dooley
Sep 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Some time ago, I took a Film Studies course on Coursera. I didn’t really expect much from the experience because I’ve been a film collector for many years and have spent a lot of time studying film history. I mostly wanted to experience what it would be like to take a college course online.

Imagine my amazement when I became absorbed in the material. I not only learned things that I hadn’t known before, but I thoroughly enjoyed having my opinions challenged by new perspectives. Best of all, I cou
Madison Grace
Apr 12, 2015 rated it liked it
I'll be honest: I didn't read every chapter of this book because, honestly, I didn't need to. For example, having a chapter about Mary Pickford seemed to be somewhat useless. Sure, she's a legend and is, perhaps, somewhat misunderstood, but one could very easily research her and discover that she was, in fact, a strong businesswoman and not simply a cute little Pollyanna-type in real life. The same would go for Valentino and Chaney, one of my favorites. Yes, they may have screen personas that di ...more
Jeanine Basinger spent many, many hours watching silent films in preparation for this book, and she clearly had a wonderful time. The pleasure she took in these films, many of them forgotten and unwatched, is evident in every page of this book. It's billed as focussing on stars who've been "misrepresented, unfairly dismissed, or forgotten." That's a bit misleading, as it's hard to imagine those adjectives applying to some of her choices; Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino, for example, are stil ...more
Dec 23, 2014 rated it liked it
I had high hopes for this book, but was disappointed. There are two main issues. The first is that it reads as a love letter to Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, especially Pickford. She receives by far the largest section in the book, nearly sixty percent larger than many of the other sections, and she gets it completely to herself. She then appears as a comparison to every other actress in the book whom tend to share sections with other actors or actresses. The same is true for Fairbanks. W ...more
Carolyn Raship
Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
A collection of long, in depth essays on a number of silent film stars. She does a really great job of contextualizing both the careers and the appeal of these actors for contemporary readers. She's funny, enthusiastic and full of opinions. It's rare to read a book by an academic that's this user friendly and enjoyable. One lovely insight was when she writes (in her essay comparing and contrasting the lives and careers of flapper icons Colleen Moore and Clara Bow), that the secret in joke of fla ...more
Sep 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting book about the stars from the early days of cinema. They are pretty much names that are mostly forgotten. This book really got me into Silent films and helped me discover my favorite movie star (Greta Garbo). I only wish there were more to the personal biographies of the stars. It is very much a book about the careers and films the actors/actresses made and it is put together beautifully. I own this book and read it often.
Branden William
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
An introduction to the some of the better-known silent players.
Karen Christino
Jan 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
The author has seen the films and read reviews and biographies, giving her in-depth analysis of the stars' lives and work. Terrific.
Jul 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very detailed, film-by-film accounts of some of the silent era's most important actors. Probably not the best choice to learn more about the silent era but still generally worthwhile.
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Silver Screen Boo...: FEBRUARY 2019: A Woman of Affairs 7 20 Mar 09, 2019 03:31AM  
Silver Screen Boo...: DEC 2018: Silent Stars by Jeanine Basinger 9 18 Feb 23, 2019 08:04AM  
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Jeanine Basinger holds a BS and MS from South Dakota State University. She is a film historian, professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan University and curator and founder of The Cinema Archives at Wesleyan University. In addition, she is a trustee emeritus of the American Film Institute, a member of the Steering Committee of the National Center for Film and Video Preservation, and one of the Board o ...more
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