Tuesday, September 19, 2023

This week: The 'Marion Davies Late Summer Four-Places-in-New England Book Tour' with author Lara Gabrielle plus 'Show People' (1928) with live music

It's here! This week brings the New England book tour of author Lara Gabrielle, whose long-awaited Marion Davies biography 'Captain of Her Soul' came out last year and is winning raves.

Lara will host four book-signing/screening events starting Thursday, Sept. 21. Each will include a screening of 'Show People' (1928), one of Marion's most celebrated silent film hits, with live music by me.

Here's a quick run-down of each of Lara's appearances, which are (in order) in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts:

• Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, 7:30 p.m.: The Jane Pickens Theatre, 49 Touro St., Newport, R.I.; (401) 846-5474; https://janepickens.com/. Tickets $16 per person, available online or at the door. Screening and author book-signing in partnership with Charter Books, 8 Broadway, Newport, R.I.; (401) 236-8678.

• Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, 7:30 p.m.: Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.; (603) 654-3456; www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com. Admission free, donations of $10 per person encouraged. Screening and author book-signing in partnership with Balin Books, Somerset Plaza, 375 Amherst St./Route 101A, Nashua, N.H.; (603) 417-7981.

• Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, 2 p.m.: Harbor Theater, 185 Harbor Avenue, Boothbay Harbor, Maine; 207-633-0438; https://boothbaycinema.org/. Admission $10; members $8. Screening and author book-signing in partnership with Sherman's Books of Boothbay Harbor, 5 Commercial St., Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

• Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, 2 p.m.: Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.; http://www.somervilletheatreonline.com. Tickets $16 adults, $12 seniors/students; on sale at the door or in advance online. For more info, call the theater box office at (617) 625-5700. Screening and author book-signing in partnership with Porter Square Books, Porter Square Shopping Center, 25 White St., Cambridge, Mass.

I first met Lara when she was the featured speaker at this year's Kansas Silent Film Festival back in February. She's done a great job crafting this long overdue comprehensive biography of Davies, one of the brightest stars of early Hollywood but whose career and life story have been neglected by critics and scholars. 

But don't take my word for it. Here's what critic and film historian Leonard Maltin had to say:

“Author Gabrielle has given us a gift: an honest biography of a woman whose life and career have long been misunderstood. . . .  In short, this is the book Marion Davies has always deserved.”

I think you'll find Lara is an eloquent advocate for all of Marion's accomplishments, both on screen and off. I'm thrilled that she agreed to include New England in her travels to promote the book. It's a real privilege to be working with her.

Each stop on the tour will include opening remarks from Lara to put Marion and her career in context. We'll then screen 'Show People' (1928), a crackerjack Davies comedy for which I'll provide live accompaniment. 

Afterwards, Lara will answer questions, then sign copies of her book, which will be on sale by local bookstores at each appearance. 

For more detail, here's the text of the press release that went out promoting the tour. (Details for each screening are above, if you missed them.) 

*   *   *   

William Haines and Marion Davies meet Charlie Chaplin in 'Show People' (1928).

Author Lara Gabrielle to embark on four-stop New England tour in September to promote new Davies biography

She was among Hollywood's top box office stars of the 1920s. But for many fans, her best-known role was longtime companion of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst.

She was Marion Davies, an actress (and later philanthropist) whose pioneering professional and personal journey was as remarkable as any role she played during a highly successful film career.

Davies's full life story is told for the first time in a new comprehensive biography, 'Captain of Her Soul: The Life of Marion Davies' by author Lara Gabrielle. Published by University of California Press in 2022, the book was the result of a decade of research and writing.

Gabrielle will travel to New England in September for a four-stop book tour that will include screenings of 'Show People' (1928), a popular MGM comedy showing Davies at the peak of her stardom.

Gabrielle will speak about Davies' multi-faceted life, which included significant work in the fields of entertainment, business, and charity. She will also sign copies of her new Davies biography, 'Captain of Her Soul,' in partnership with local independent bookstores at each appearance.

In writing the biography, Gabrielle removed layers of rumor and mistruth that have clung to the actress, who grappled with a stutter and rarely gave interviews. 

The story of Davies' life has long been overshadowed by her relationship with legendary press baron William Randolph Hearst.

Many movie buffs believe that the character of Susan Alexander in Orson Welles' landmark film 'Citizen Kane' (1941) was based on Davies, an assumption that has distorted Davies's reputation for decades. Gabrielle addresses and clarifies this idea in 'Captain of Her Soul,' bringing Davies back into view as she truly was.

"There's a common misconception that Marion Davies allowed Hearst to manipulate her work and her image," Gabrielle explains. "But in fact, Marion overhauled her whole persona when she felt it wasn't working for her, and became one of the greatest comedians of the silent era, entirely on her own. She was an independent, hard-working, exceptionally intelligent woman whose generosity knew no bounds. It's been an immense honor to tell her true life story."

According to the publisher, the book "reveals a woman who navigated disability and social stigma to rise to the top of a young Hollywood dominated by powerful men."

"The title of my book is 'Captain of Her Soul,'" says Gabrielle, "and that comes from a quote that Marion Davies said about herself. She took charge of her own career, negotiated her own contracts, and lived her life, her way."
A scene from 'Show People' (1928).
'Show People,' directed by King Vidor, shows Davies at the height of her 1920s popularity as a screen icon. The light-hearted story follows Peggy Pepper (Marion Davies), a beauty queen from small-town Georgia who hopes to break into the movies as a dramatic actress. William Haines plays Billy Boone, lead actor at a slapstick comedy studio where Pepper lands her first opportunity.

Can a young actress yearning for drama survive the indignity of pies in the face? When her big chance finally comes, will it mean sacrificing her growing friendship with Billy? Will low comedy win out over high drama?

In pursuing those questions, 'Show People' pokes fun at Hollywood phoniness and the culture of celebrity worship that had emerged by the 1920s. 

'Show People' also offers rare behind-the-scenes glimpses of movie-making at the very end of the silent period, when studios were rushing to prepare for sound.

"They knew an era was ending, and 'Show People' is kind of a Valentine to the whole silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will accompany the screening. "It's a love letter to the movie business."
A scene from 'Show People' (1928).

'Show People' features cameos by dozens of major stars of the period, including Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., William S. Hart, and John Gilbert.

In 2003, 'Show People' was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

For more information about 'Captain of Her Soul: The Life of Marion Davies' and author Marion Davies, visit www.mariondaviesbook.com.

About Lara Gabrielle: Lara Gabrielle is a biographer and researcher, whose work on Marion Davies has been featured in Alta, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Missouri Review, The Wall Street Journal, and on PBS’s American Experience. Gabrielle has spoken at film festivals and retrospectives worldwide, and is acknowledged as the leading authority on Davies’s life and legacy, serving as a consultant on Marion Davies for books, dissertations, and film projects. Gabrielle’s biography, Captain of Her Soul: The Life of Marion Davies, has been included on many top book lists for 2022. She lives in Oakland, California.

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