Tag Archives: John Gilbert

The Great Lover of the Silver Screen

Coming Soon on Public TV: THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA

THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA airs on Alabama Public Television Sunday, October 2, at 6 p.m. EST.  The drama/documentary, produced by filmmaker Robert Clem, highlights the life of Augusta Evans Wilson and her best-selling novel, ST. ELMO.  The uniqueness of THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA is that it is structured around two settings: the mid-nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century.  The film is a visual smorgasburg of nostalgic landscapes and  imagery.  The story shifts from the 1860s to the 1950s, from black and white to technicolor, from sub-titles to sound.  The theme highlights the changing roles of women and the language of romance during those eras.

If you have the opportunity to see THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA, don’t miss it.  The trailer is a treat in itself.

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Augusta Evans Wilson

THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA goes beyond fiction drawing parelells between Augusta Evans Wilson and the novel’s heroine, “Edna Earl.”

Note: The ST. ELMO novel was made into a silent film in 1923 starring  John Gilbert , my favorite actor.saintelmobookcover-1

 

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When Do Books Need Subtitles?

Before choosing a title for your book, you might want to do an Internet search on the title you have in mind.  Your title may or may not be unique.  Although titles are not copyrighted, you need to make sure that your book isn’t confused with another by the same or similar name.

To be honest, I never thought to “google” the title of my novel.  I knew from the beginning that it would be “The Prince in the Tower.”  I chose the title before (or soon after) I started writing. The title is a reference to the main character, a fictional preacher who happens to be a John Gilbert look-alike.

I got the idea for the title after reading John Gilbert’s biography Dark Star: The Untold Story of the Meteoric Rise and Fall of Legendary Silent Screen Star John Gilbert..  Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, the author, refers to her father as “the prince in the tower” because he lived on Tower Road in Hollywood.

Even after I finished writing “The Prince in the Tower” and had it formatted for Kindle, I still didn’t think to “google” the title.  I had already chosen the subtitle, “A Modern Gothic Romance.”  And it’s a good thing I did.

Once the book was published, I noticed the title was in no way unique.  In fact, “the prince in the tower” or “the princes in the tower” brings to mind the hapless nephews of Richard III.  Check out “The Prince in the Tower” on Amazon.com, and you’ll see what I mean.

Not only did I choose an overused title, but the book cover features the Tower of London where the nephews were  imprisoned.

Fortunately, my subtitle sets the book apart from books under the same heading.  I can even change the subtitle as long I use a different ISBN. Without the subtitle, you can’t be sure if a book like mine is fiction, non-fiction, or historical fiction.

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“The Prince in the Tower” was inspired by him, not them.

Finding Inspiration in “The Merry Widow Waltz”

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THE MERRY WIDOW (MGM, 1925), starring John Gilbert and Mae Murray, inspired the following scene between “Effie Butler” and her guardian, “Reverend Gideon Baldwin,” in Chapter 17 of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

“So tell me about the Confederate ball.”

“Well . . . from what I understand, most of the men are re-enactors, so they’ll be wearing Confederate uniforms, and most of the ladies will be dressed like me.  A band will play period pieces that we can dance to.”

“Can you waltz?”

“No, but I wish I could.”

“What time is your date?”

“Seven-thirty.”

“Good.  I’ll teach you.”

He directed her to the center of the room and rearranged the furniture, clearing space beneath the chandelier.  Then he turned the CD player on and as “The Merry Widow Waltz” began to play, bowed before her.  “May I have this waltz?”

His kingly manner surprised her as she drifted into his arms and waited for him to begin.  Effie tried to concentrate on the steps he was teaching her, but the scent of his aftershave and the touch of his hands were distracting.  In attempting to follow his lead, she tripped over his foot. He laughed, so did she, and they resumed waltzing.

“Where did you learn to waltz, Mr. Baldwin?”

“In high school and my name is Gideon.”  He smiled, revealing a perfect set of teeth, and Effie felt the full force of his magnetism.

ST ELMO: What’s in a Name?

ST. ELMO, by Augusta Evans Wilson, is my favorite novel.  The book, published in 1866, was so popular that towns, dogs, children, and cigars were named in honor of it.  The novel opens in a village at the bottom of Lookout Mountain. While the story is fiction, the village is real.  Augusta Evans Wilson visited Lookout Mountain and had friends in Chattanooga, so she chose the village at the foot of Lookout Mountain for the setting.  The village is now a subdivision called St. Elmo.

My dream of visiting St. Elmo came true last week when I was passing through Chattanooga.  I took photos of just about everything with St. Elmo written on it, including buildings and street signs.  The main attraction in St. Elmo is the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway.  The original railway was built around 1895.  The current railway was finished in the 1980s.  It has all the thrill of a rollercoaster and more because it goes up and down the side of Lookout Mountain.

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For more information about the village and it’s connection to the ST ELMO novel, I recommend CHATTANOOGA’S ST. ELMO, by Gay Morgan Moore, and ST ELMO YESTERDAY AND TODAY: “The Story of a Community,” by Jeffery C. Webb.

Who is Effie Belle Butler?

The first time I read ST ELMO, I wasn’t very impressed. I was a flighty 16-year-old, and my knowledge of literature was limited to the required reading list in my English class.  I was familiar with ST. ELMO only because it was my grandmother’s favorite novel. She kept it in her bookcase near the front door. One day I decided to borrow it.  My grandmother did not tell me when to bring it back but made it clear that I should not keep it too long.  I recall that she was relieved when I returned it.

Fast forward 29 years. My daughter was 16 and looking for something to read during the summer and asked for ideas.  I saw this as an opportunity to introduce her to literature.  She read everything I suggested:  JANE EYRE, RAMONA, TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES and similar novels.  When I could think of nothing else, I recommended my grandmother’s copy of ST. ELMO, which was handed down to me years after Grandmother’s death.

Much to my surprise, my daughter gushed that ST ELMO was the best book she had ever read.  Her enthusiasm prompted me to read it again.  Once I picked it up, I could not put it down. Without a doubt, it was the best novel I had ever read too.  I liked it so much that I read it repeatedly–nine times, in fact.  (My grandmother read it fifteen times.)

Written by Augusta Evans Wilson in 1866, ST. ELMO was almost as popular as BEN HUR and UNCLE TOM’S CABIN.  Towns, dogs, and cigars were named after the book and its Byronic protagonist.  Margaret Mitchell used “St. Elmo” as the model for “Rhett Butler” in GONE WITH THE WIND.

ST. ELMO was Augusta Evans Wilson‘s third novel.  She wrote nine and I read them all.  I also read her biography by William Fidler and learned that ST ELMO was made into a silent film in 1923, starring John Gilbert. Thus, the main character in my first novel, THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, is a John Gilbert look-alike.  I named the female protagonist after my paternal grandmother, Effie Belle Butler (1885-1965).  After all, my grandmother ignited my interest in ST. ELMO, which inspired me to become a writer, and I wanted to immortalize her.

The real Effie Belle Butler was just as obsessed with ST ELMO as my fictional “Effie Belle Butler,” but the comparison doesn’t end there.  The real Effie Belle had chestnut hair and sapphire eyes.  So does the fictional one.  The real-life Effie Belle had a best friend named Clara Banton.  So does the fictional one.

Actually, the best friend angle was a coincidence.  I borrowed the name “Clara” from a character in AT THE MERCY OF TIBERIUS (another book by Augusta Evans Wilson) and chose the surname “Banton” because it was in my genealogy.   But I had no idea that my grandmother’s best-friend and first cousin was Clara Banton until I saw the photo below with their names written on the back.

EffieandClaraEffie Belle Butler (left) and Clara Banton (right):  friends in real life as well as in fiction

Make the Most of Your OCD: Write a Novel

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterized by fixations and repetitive behavior.  I used to check the stove at least five times a night to make sure that it was off.  I’d also check and recheck the front door to make sure that it was locked.  This meant that half-way down the road, I’d feel a compulsion to go back home and rattle the door knob, just in case I’d forgotten to lock up.  Inevitably, the stove was off, and the door was locked.  Did that satisfy my compulsive behavior?  No.  My anxiety persisted until I completed these daily rituals.

The repetitions were disruptive and time-consuming.  Finally, I found a healthy way to channel OCD into a worthwhile project.  I had always wanted to write a novel . . . .

My grandmother’s favorite novel was ST. ELMO, by Augusta J. Evans Wilson.  The book was handed down to me and became my favorite novel also.  I read it seven times and liked it so much that one copy wouldn’t do.StElmoPhotosMy obsession with ST. ELMO led to an interest in the author, Augusta Evans Wilson.  I began collecting photos of her as well as the houses she lived in or visited.  

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I even made a pilgrimage to Mobile, Alabama, where Augusta spent most of her life, and to Columbus, Georgia, where Augusta was born and finished writing ST. ELMO.  Once I came within six feet of her.

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PrinceFrontAndBackSo, have I recovered from OCD?  Yes–or I’m in remission.  Either way, it beats writer’s block.

Rudolph Valentino, will you teach me to tango?

Français : Le Cheik (Rudolph Valentino) et son...

Français : Le Cheik (Rudolph Valentino) et son ami Raoul (Adolphe Menjou) dans le film Le Cheik (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rudolph Valentino was “The Great Lover of the Silver Screen” until John Gilbert inherited that moniker after Valentino’s premature death. Valentino was an Italian immigrant, who slept on a park bench in Central Park when he arrived in NYC.  Before he went from rags to riches, he was best known for his dancing skills.

I’ve seen several of his films.  Despite his Italian ethnicity, he was cast as an Arab in THE SHEIK and in The SON OF THE SHEIK.  I haven’t seen BEYOND THE ROCKS, based  on a book written by Elinor Glyn, but love I his performance in BLOOD AND SAND, which earned a remake starring Tyrone PowerTHE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE is not my favorite Valentino film, but it does contain my favorite scene:  Valentino doing the tango.  (The tango made him a star.)  I could watch that scene over and over.  And I have!

Valentino was larger than life.  How tragic that he died so young!

English: movie poster for 1922 film Blood and Sand

English: movie poster for 1922 film Blood and Sand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Poster for 1921 film "The Sheik&...

English: Poster for 1921 film “The Sheik” starring Rudolph Valentino Français : Affiche du film Le Cheik avec Rudolph Valentino (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Son of the Sheik (1926) film poster.

English: Son of the Sheik (1926) film poster. (Photo credit: *Wikipedia)