Friday, August 4, 2017

Some snapshots and scans of my photoplay book collection

Having recently moved, I have finally had the chance to get all of my photoplay editions out of boxes and onto some shelves. And here they are....


I am keeping my Louise Brooks related photoplays (Beggars of Life, Canary Murder Case, and others) with my Louise Brooks related books, which constitute two other bookcases. Perhaps sometime in the future I will snap a picture or two of those cases.


I am note sure how many I have, but while shelving I did uncover a few duplicates which I plan to sell. That should reduce the collection.... My collection is organized by film title (not book title, which sometimes appears on the spine). Along with the Brooks-related titles, I also have a few John Gilbert and Greta Garbo and Clara Bow and Eric von Stroheim photoplays, as well as a number in dust jacket (a scarce thing, and the determining factor in a book's value). A number of my prize possessions came from the collection of the late collector Emil Petaja (who was a dear friend). Emil also authored the first ever book on the subject, Photoplay Edition, back in 1975). I have Emil to "blame" for my interest in this genre.

Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on Photoplay editions, which I wrote a few years back:

Photoplay edition refers to movie tie-in books of the silent film and early sound era at a time when motion pictures were known as "photoplays". Typically, photoplay editions were reprints of novels additionally illustrated with scenes from a film production. Less typically, photoplay editions were novelizations of films, where the film script was fictionalized in narrative form. Today, vintage photoplay editions are sought after by film buffs, bibliophiles, and collectors.
The first photoplay editions were published around 1912, and as a genre, they reached their height in the 1920s and 1930s. Thousands of different titles were issued in the United States. Most photoplays were published in hardback by companies like Grosset & Dunlap or A.L. Burt, and some in soft cover by companies like Jacobsen Hodgkinson. Similar movie related books were also published in England, France and elsewhere.

Typically, photoplay editions of the 1920s and 1930s contained stills and/or a dust jacket featuring artwork or actors from a film. Deluxe editions might also contain a special binding, illustrated end papers, or rarely, a written introduction by the star of the film. Sometimes, the spine or cover of the book will note the edition is a "photoplay edition."

Illustrated movie tie-in books continued to be published though the 1940s, 1950s, and into the 1960s. Today, novels published in conjunction with the release of a film will often feature an actor or actress on the cover of the book, but without the interior illustrations.

Today, the most sought after photoplays are those tie-in editions for favorite films such as Dracula, Frankenstein and King Kong, or lost films such as London After Midnight. Other collectors search for books featuring individuals stars, like Louise Brooks or Rudolph Valentino. Published by Grosset & Dunlap in 1927, The General is today one of the most sought after of photoplay books. Not only did the Joseph Warren novel make its first appearance in print as a photoplay, but the book is the only photoplay edition to feature film star Buster Keaton.

Among the highlights of my collection are a handful of autographed photoplay editions including books signed by Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, and Baby Peggy. I also have a handful of variants. For example, I have three different photoplay editions of Under Two Flags (different formats and bindings and endpapers), and two different editions of The Virginian (both the 1923 silent and the 1929 talkie with Gary Cooper).

I have a few petite English hardcover photoplays of American films, some French softcover photoplays of American films, and a scarce German copy of Fritz Lang's Das Nibelungen. One of the oddest books is also one of the most recent issued in my collection. I have a 1982 softcover edition of The Story of Gosta Berling with Garbo on the cover. (The book, which may or may not be a pirated edition, is in English but may have been printed in Sweden?) When I asked the acclaimed poet Robert Bly to sign this copy -- he translated Selma Lagerlof's novel -- he exclaimed that he had never seen this edition before and wondered about its origin. Nevertheless, he was gracious enough to sign my copy.

Most of my collection focuses on the silent era. However, I also have a few photoplays of early talkies. How could I resist a photoplay with a youthful Barbara Stanwyck on the cover? Among the oddest sound-era titles is Her Unborn Child, the novelization of the 1930 Windsor Talking Picture film. (The book was issued by the equally obscure World Wide Publishing Company.) The film was subject to controversy and censorship, as it deals with premarital pregnancy. The film also marked the film debut of Elisha Cook, Jr., who is listed in the cast at the beginning of the book.

I am especially proud of my small collection of softcover books published Jacobsen Hodgkinson. Printed on pulpy paper, these hybrid books / magazines are especially fragile. I have a couple dozen of them which can be seen in the images below. Another fragile sub-genre were the children's photoplays published by companies best known for making board games: I have a couple of deluxe hardcover photoplays published by the Milton Bradley Company featuring stars Madge Bellamy (Lorna Doone) and Miriam Cooper (Evangeline). Another nifty kids-related photoplay which I own is Little Robinson Crusoe, starring Jackie Coogan and published by the Charles Renard Company in 1925. Here are a couple of scans which suggest why I adore these old books.




I have always collected on a budget, so don't own anything especially valuable. I collect according to my interest in the silent era, especially its forgotten corners. Another unusual title, the brown cloth hardback seen below, is titled Little Stories from the Screen. It is a 1917 collection of illustrated short stories which were turned into films. Among them is actor House Peters, Sr. as the "Cave Man" in The Heir of the Ages. Such unusualness is why I collect such books. They reveal the unusualness of the silent film era.



p.s. A few years back, I mounted an exhibit of some of my film related books at the San Francisco Public Library. The exhibit was called "Reading the Stars," and I wrote about it on the San Francisco Chronicle website, SFGate. Check out my article HERE. It contains a few more nifty illustrations.

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