Monday, November 28, 2005

Wildwood Condo Progress: Sans Souci R.I.P.

Talk about not letting the door hit you in the a**. I just found out that motel I stayed at in Wildwood was torn down to make way for condos. The motel was the Sans Souci and it was torn down only a few weeks after we checked out. Our stay there was great and the owners were really nice. The motel seemed to be doing well too. We went in the off-season, but there were still a good number of people in the rooms. I guess that's the scary thing in that even if you try to avoid the corporate mega-chains and support a family run business, that really means nothing to developers who can throw around millions of dollars. So now it's time for the yuppies to move in and snag their 1 million dollar condos.

Here's a great photo album by trishylicious documenting some of the great architecture in Wildwood. Beautiful stuff, and sad to think it's all being torn down.

Technorati Tags: condos, preservation, Wildwood

Friday, November 18, 2005

Condos Killing Key West?

In kind of a companion piece to the entry we wrote about Wildwood, NJ, the NY Times had an article today on the change occurring in Key West

The article talks about how Key West was once a low-cost vacation area that actively sought out gay tourists. But now with with real estate prices going up, the resort won't be just a place for the fringes of society. The article says that as more condos get built, people are worried about how the character of the city will change.

Read the full article here:

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

New Podcast posted

We posted a new podcast with some great music. First we play United Nations by the Drapes. The Drapes no longer exist, but the band contained members of The New Rags and The Dansettes. After that, it's a tribute to Patsy Cline with The Last Picture Show doing Strange. You'll recognize the vocals as Carolyn Sills from the band Boss Tweed. Their debut album is out now, so we highly recommend you pick that up. Last song is one from Mary Jane Hooper. There's not much about her out on the web, so she'd be a good topic for another blog posting. Also, we threw in an interview with Tom Merrigan from The New Rags. Tom has a couple of interesting things to say.

- Get the podcast here
- Podcast archive

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Mae Marsh's Birthday

"I didn't care about the money. I wanted to be a good actress."

Mae Marsh was one of D.W. Griffith's top actresses. Like her co-workers, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, she was raised in a fatherless environment. Under the father figure of Griffith, she became one of the first movie stars and had poems and songs composed in her honor. But by the early 20s, her career was winding down and by the time sound came to the industry she was reduced to mostly cameo and bit parts.

Mary Marsh was born in 1895 in the New Mexico territory. Her father died young, and her family moved to San Francisco. Bad luck struck again as her step-father was killed in the 1906 earthquake. According to Mae, she always wanted to be an actress, and she ended up following her sister Marguarite into the movie business. She started out in small parts, but got her big break when she took a part in the movie Man's Genesis. The story goes that the role was offered to Mary Pickford, but she turned it down because the costume required her to show her bare legs. Mae was asked if she would do it and had no problems with exposing her limbs. Now back in that time, women wore dresses down to their ankles. Soon after Griffith changed her name from Mary to Mae because he didn't want two Marys in his film company.

From 1912 to 1916 she worked for Griffith. This period was the birth of the feature length film as the transition was made from shorts to longer movies. She appeared in all of Griffith's groundbreaking feature length movies such as Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, The Avenging Conscience, and Judith of Bethulia. This period was also the birth of movie stars and the movie industry. As Griffith's pictures gained more respect for the movie industry and sold a lot of tickets, the various players were leaving Griffith for more money. In 1917 signed with Goldwyn as the company's first star. She went from $85 a week to $2500. This was the height of her stardom: Mae had a poem composed about her by the poet Vachel Lindsay, a waltz written for her by Sadie Kominsky (a female ragtime composer and maybe the topic of a future blog posting), and strangely had a young Ernest Hemingway writing friends that he was engaged to her (although Mae denies ever meeting him). Her pictures at Goldwyn didn't match her previous successes, and after marrying and having a child she scaled back her acting career. In the early 20s she re-teamed with Griffith for the movie The White Rose, and she also went to England to make a few movies. By 1925 she had retired from the industry. She was forced out of retirement in the 30s after the stock market crash. The Depression wiped out her finances so she needed to return to acting to support her family. In Miriam Cooper's book, she writes how she visited Mae and that she was so broke that there was no food in the house. Miriam was better off, and ended up buying her groceries. Miriam also says that her husband was drinking away the family's money, so maybe it wasn't just the Depression sapping Mae's finances.

Up until the 60s Mae acted in small parts. She lamented the change in the industry from what she saw start as an artform and then turn into a "match factory". She described working with Griffith as being part of a family and staying true to a vision, and admitted that as the industry changed she accepted playing cameo roles because she "didn't care to get up every morning at five o'clock to be at the studio by seven."

As for her legacy, Mae Marsh brings an excting screen presence to any scene she is in. You can see why Griffith took a liking to her because she definitely stands out and catches your eye. Miriam Cooper described her as not attractive in person, with more tiny wrinkles than a 50 year-old man, but someone who photographed beautifully. Mae has a specific way of moving and acting that separates her from other actresses on the screen. Critics may describe it as goofy, but I think of it as a nice contrast to the more elegant styles of Lillian Gish or Blanche Sweet. Where Lillian Gish appears very noble and a little cold, Mae is like the girl you would pal around with. As for recommended viewings, any of Griffith's major works mentioned above offer great examples of Mae's acting. Intolerance is probably her best performance, although the movie's 3+ hour running time can be a little daunting. Best to absorb that movie in chunks. Unknown Video offers Hoodoo Ann, a post-Griffith movie from 1916 that is nice light-hearted romp. It is in the Mary Pickford mold of orphans and rags to riches and is worth checking out. Sadly outside of the major Griffith releases, there aren't many other opportunities to see her work.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Happy Birthday Miriam Cooper

Continuing in our series of tributes to Griffith actresses, today is the birthday of Miriam Cooper. Miriam appeared in Griffith's two major epics Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Like many of the other Griffith actresses, Miriam was brought up in a poor household without a father. Her mother and grandmother raised her in New York City and it was there that she got her start in movies.

In 1911 when she went to the Biograph studios and found work as an extra in a Griffith short. She initially had to hide that fact that she was being paid acting since movie people and actresses were not highly regarded in those days. Her small screen appearance went unnoticed by Griffith so she started working with Kalem Studios. There she appeared in shorts and did all of her own stunts. Her roles were larger, but she received second-billing under Anna Nilsson. When Miriam decided to ask for a raise, she was fired. In 1914, she was back in New York City, and her old screen test was rediscovered by Griffith. After leaving Griffith in 1916, she worked primarily for her husband, the famous director Raoul Walsh. She was a reluctant movie actress and was itching to be out of the business, but her husband prodded her into appearing in his films since he liked directing her. By 1924 she had made her last film and retired from movies. After movies her personal life took some bad turns as she divorced her husband after finding out he was having an affair. Unable to have children, she adopted two boys. As they got older, they both sided with their adopted father and after they reached adulthood, she never spoke to them again. But she did invest her money wisely and was able to live off of her movie earnings.

I've only seen Miriam in Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Her performance in Birth is a bit too detached. I don't think she brings any emotions to the role and with her sharing screen time with great actors such as Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, and Henry Walthall, she doesn't seem in the same league. Her performance in Intolerance as the friendless one is a lot better. There she plays a jealous woman who kills her lover and then frames an innocent man. In this role she captures the emotions of a person dealing with guilt and debating whether to let an innocent man die for her crime. At the beginning of the 70s there was an interest in silent film as movies became part of academia. Luckily before she passed away, she was able to finish her autobiography, Dark Lady of the Silents. I guess after the 70s interest faded and her book is now out of print. You can find copies on ebay, and it's a good read to see what the film industry was like during its infancy.

Silent Stereo Reviews #2

Philly Soul Girls, Vol. I
Philly Archives

(out of five)

oul music is typically divided into two camps. Down south, you have the Stax/Volt sound, made famous by such luminaries as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Wilson Pickett. Up north, the Motown vibe dominated, characterized by legends like Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, the Temptations, and the Jackson 5. Of course, though, the soul music scene is more than just those two sounds. Vibrant soul scenes took hold in Chicago (Curtis Mayfield), New York (Ben E. King) and Philadelphia.

The most famous members of the Philly soul scene are perhaps the O'Jays and the Spinners, both of whom ironically are not from Philadelphia and whose success came primarily during the seventies. The O'Jays, from Ohio, scored a definitive hit in 1972 with
Back Stabbers, their first release for the new label Philadelphia International, while the Spinners originated in Detroit as a doo wop band, were briefly signed to Motown, and enjoyed their greatest successes from 1972-1977 after hooking up with producer Thom Bell, who is largely credited with developing the Philly soul sound.

Bell's sound, which was to define much of contemporary soul music for the seventies, featured rich vocal harmonies, elaborate arrangements, and lush strings. Bell made his mark on such hits as Jerry Butler's "Only the Strong Survive," Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones," and "If You Don't Know Me By Now" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. But before Bell arrived, there was a different ethic at place in Philadelphia soul. Prior to Bell's orchestrations, the Philly sound was heavily influenced by doo wop and to a lesser extent, the girl group sound.

Philly Soul Girls, Vol. I captures that ethic, featuring 25 tracks (and three additional instrumentals) recorded from 1962-1965. All the artists on the disc were part of B & L Productions, which was formed in 1962 by songwriter Frank Bendinelli and arranger Leroy Lovett. Bendinelli and Lovett met on Broad Street in Philly and, discovering that they lived a few blocks from each other, formed the Ben Lee music publishing company. The tracks were recorded primarily at Sound Plus studios in Northeast Philly and highlight a good array of heretofore unknown artists--Patty and the Emblems, the Persianettes, Honey and the Bees, the Swans, the Ladybirds, and Ann Byers, to name a few.

The songs on this compliation are raw and emotional. There are no hints of the lushness or strings which Thom Bell would eventually use to define the Philly soul sound of the seventies. What the songs do feature are powerful lead vocals, omnipresent backup harmonies, and percussive horns, guitar stabs, and hand claps. Ann Byers' "Your Love is a Wonderful Thing" wouldn't sound out of place on a Motown compilation, while "The Hard Way," the sole track by the Butterflies, stands out as one of the discs most passionate tracks.

Philly Soul Girls Vol. I collects some wonderful songs from some wonderful singers that the music world has largely ignored. As documentation of the nascent Philly soul sound, this disc is a keeper. But perhaps more importantly, Philly Soul Girls Vol I is a reminder of the great number of good music and talented artists who never broke into the mainstream.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Finally... some ragtime from The New Rags

Those of you who have purchased The New Rag's EP, Take Jennie To Brooklyn, might have noticed there isn't a proper ragtime tune on the recording. We've fixed that by making a recording of Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag available on the Silent Stereo Records myspace page.

In other New Rags news, they received a review on the site.