Moguls & Movie Stars

I have been thoroughly enjoying Turner Classic Movies’ seven-part documentary “Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood,” which premieres each Monday night with several other airings through the week. If you’ve missed the first three episodes, you can probably catch them on the TCM schedule at some time or another — but next week may be when you want to jump in anyhow, because the first three episodes have been an unusually-detailed history of the silent movie era, and we will get to the talkie era next week.
I’ve enjoyed the first three episodes. The very first episode started with magic lanterns and nickelodeons and the very first movies, five-second or ten-second snippets of storyless action intended to amaze the audience with the very fact that motion could be recorded on film.
Last night’s episode, about the prime of the silent movie era, included a very brief summary of the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle scandal. I’ve read that the late Chris Farley wanted to star in a Fatty Arbuckle biopic, and I certainly think someone ought to make one. It’s a fascinating story, albeit a sad one.
This documentary, however, focuses as much on the moguls as the movie stars — the men like Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner, Darryl Zanuck and Carl Laemmle whose personalities and backgrounds helped shape the outputs of their respecitve studios. One of the books that really got me interested in classic movies was “The Hollywood Studios: House Style In The Golden Age of the Movies,” by Ethan Mordden, now out of print. Mordden explained well what made each studio unique, and the TCM documentary seems headed for a similar approach.
It’s a worthy and well-executed effort, including Christopher Plummer’s evocative narration and a number of great interviews with descendants of the various moguls. I had no idea that the actor Bob Balaban hailed from a family of pioneering theatre owners, by the way.