Sinister Cinema: Greeks in Hollywood

Paging through Greeks in Hollywood: In the Silent Movie Era, I was stopped in my tracks when I saw the clipping of Jack Pierce, legendary makeup artist, working on Boris Karloff.

If you dig the original Universal Monsters, Pierce pretty much gave all of them their iconic looks, imagery which persists to this day. I’ve known Pierce’s name since I was a teen, but I guess I never read deeper into his biography over all these years.

I had no idea he was Greek.

Real name Ioannis Pikoulas.

The sub-title In the Silent Movie Era for the book isn’t strictly accurate, even though most of the coverage goes back to the earliest days of Hollywood. But Pierce brings you into the talkies, and there’s a photo of a young Marlon Brando hanging out on a beach with some fellow (Greek) actors.

Roughly half of the hundred page plus text comes from Nikos Theodosiou, and the other half from our pal Fondas Ladis. You’ll remember that Fondas is researching the San Francisco strikebreaker Blackjack Jerome, prominent on the local scene when Hammett first arrived in the city as a Pinkerton’s op in 1921. But he took a sidetrack to knock this project out.

Great book — if you’re a silent movie buff (or a student of Greek cultural history) I cannot plug it enough. Tons of period photos and ads. You’ve got a large section on Alexander Pantages and his theatres. Thanasis Lyberis and other Greek film pioneers you probably have never heard of fill up other chapters.

Here’s a paragraph that I like:

We find Lyberis in 1916 in Mexico, in the midst of the Mexican Revolution, looking for his brother, who was by then Pancho Villa’s brother-in-law, and while in Russia the Winter Palace was falling to the Reds in 1917, Lyberis was an extra in silent movies in Hollywood.

There’s a page covering how Pantages bet Jack London $195 against the three dollars he had in his pockets that the young author wouldn’t be able to land a Beardslee trout on a fishing expedition to Lake Crescent in the Olympic Mountains.

Using the Greek angle, you get a look into primal Hollywood you won’t know about. Not the same old same old.

And the actual physical book is gorgeous, a tall trade paperback with a three-quarters wrap-around dustjacket.

I can only hope Fondas’ book on Blackjack Jerome is this good. But I’m guessing it will be.

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Rediscovered: A William H. Kofoed John Hancock

Autograph Hound Super-Sunday again, and signature maven Brian Leno reports in with one of his (many) recent acquisitions (Call Them Legion).

“On ABE I saw a copy of a book titled Mirage, signed by William H. Kofoed,” Brian says, “who started the whole Brief Stories thing where Dashiell Hammett did some of his early writing.

“But Kofoed also has a Robert E. Howard link, since he likewise started Fight Stories and even, unofficially acting as Howard’s agent, placed ‘Fists of the Desert’ in Dime Sports.

“And — get this — William and his brother Jack partied with Al Capone shortly after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. 

“Obviously I had to add Kofoed to my list of editor signatures.”

Here’s Brian:

Kofoed started The Little Story Magazine, which became Brief Stories, where he remained editor and must have handled the “Peter Collinson” manuscripts. Of course anyone no longer wearing short pants knows Collinson was Hammett.

Because he started Fight Stories, Kofoed worked with Robert E. Howard. We all know Howard submitted there. In addition, Kofoed — a busy fellow — also started Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine and Howard appeared in that pulp as well.

When that magazine folded Kofoed still had 3 short stories and a novelette from Howard left in the Dempsey unpublished inventory. Doing Howard a favor, Kofoed placed the novelette “Fists of the Desert” with Dime Sports Magazine — the title was changed to “Iron-Jaw.”

Howard’s main literary agent, Otis Adelbert Kline, got his panties stuck in his crack and told the Texan, apparently, that he wasn’t too keen on Kofoed helping him out. The writer would apologize for using another agent, but he still let Kline know that he had the right to employ two agents at once if he so desired.

After the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Al Capone was arrested in Philadelphia for carrying a concealed firearm. Can you imagine? Anyway, he was released, although he would have to return later in the year to serve a short prison sentence. 

Not being a Scarface expert, some of the details of this stuff are a bit murky for me, but following his release he went to Florida and threw a big party. Two of the guests were William Kofoed and his twin brother Jack.

Call me a celebrity chaser but I think it would have been pretty cool to have a glass of champagne with Alphonse shortly after the massacre. As long as Al wasn’t close to a baseball bat.

And by the way, William Kofoed would go on to co-author a book titled Meet the Mob.

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Mort: Frederic Forrest

I definitely should record the passing of actor Frederic Forrest on June 23 at the age of 86.

For purposes of the Mean Streets, he claims the honor for portraying Dashiell Hammett in the 1982 film Hammett directed by Wim Wenders. I’m not a big fan of that flick — think I’ve only seen it once upon release. But Forrest did his best with the material, I’ll admit. (I might rewatch it someday to see David Patrick Kelly in the role of the Wilmer Cookish punk — it was great to see Kelly surface in John Wick as the undertaker.)

Plus Forrest played Hammett again a decade later in 1992’s Citizen Cohn, about the Communist witch hunts. One a made-up Hammett from a crime novel, the other Hammett from real life.

If you’re into trivia, the Forrest-as-Hammett-twice is something to keep in your pocket. Not as spectacular as one-time standup comic Richard Belzer in his role as John Munch, playing that character across something like eleven TV shows, but worth knowing about in case it comes up.

The fictional and real angles give Forrest an edge.

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Hammett: I Just Knew “The Diamond Wager” Sucked

Today Will Murray put out his latest research project over on the Black Gate blog, and every serious Hammett fan will want to take a gander — then do a double-take — and then sit down with a drink to soak up and ponder the hell out of the info.

People, if Will’s right — and he seems to be rock-solid on this one — as of June 30 we now have one less crime story by Dashiell Hammett.

Yeah, scratch “The Diamond Wager” published under the byline “Samuel Dashiell” off the list.

Read it all. One repercussion mentioned is that the pulp magazine the story appeared in has been selling for up towards a thousand bucks lately. Our resident Hammett bibliographer and arch-collector Terry Zobeck tells me, “I think he is probably right. Which makes my copy of the pulp, for which I paid $425 for back in 2004, a lot less valuable today.”

Do you feel the pillars of Hammett bibliography shaking?

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Hammett: Yet Another Dashiell

You probably know about my little hobby, pretty casual, of recording how the name Dashiell pops up in the culture. From Gotham City to Night Court.

I was watching a podcast with Michael Biehn and thought I heard him reference his son — named Dashiell.

Sure enough. Dashiell King Biehn, born March 21 2015.

I’m still irked that the follow-up to Aliens starring Biehn got derailed in development. No less than twice.

Sure, if they’d shot it when originally floated maybe it wouldn’t have been the best action film ever made, trying to follow Aliens — but it would have had to be good. At least a Die Hard 2 (and the trailer for Die Hard 2 remains the best trailer I’ve ever seen).

At least they haven’t screwed up the John Wick franchise yet. . . .

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Hammett: Jeopardy! Again

After sneaking in a Hammett ref toward the end of the year, Jeopardy! threw another one out a few months ago.

I made a note at the time, and today seems like a good day to record it:

S39 E139 for March 23, 1923

The category 5-letter literary characters

$200 clew — meaning it ought to be an easy pickup.


“In ‘The Maltese Falcon’ his name is this. Sam this.”

A player buzzed in with “Who is Spade?”

Spade. Sam Spade. (They’d done a James Bond ref to set the tone but that detail might have gone by unnoticed.)

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Sinister Cinema: Wim Wenders’ Hammett

Heard from a guy over in France who plans to do a documentary on the 1982 Wim Wender’s film based on the Joe Gores novel Hammett.

Cool aspect — I guess if it all works out — is that the eventual montage of film clips and images and Talking Heads will mostly cover the initial try at filming the story.

You may or may not know but Wenders shot most of the movie on location in San Francisco, but then producer Francis Coppola had a reshoot done in Zoetrope Studios in Lalaland. The reshoot would be the finished movie you’ve seen.

The way I heard it at the time, with this report based strictly on memory of the moment, is that Wenders filmed approximately 80% of what he wanted — including towing the old ferry boat Eureka around the Bay for some scenes. But Coppola insisted they reshoot at least 60% of those reels, plus whatever else they needed to tie it up.

The documentarian told me that he understood I followed that original shoot and press coverage when it was happening in 1978, before Coppola hauled it into the studio backlots.

“I’m trying to gather as much info as possible on that San Francisco part,” he said, “and any direction toward first hand witnesses, documents, magazines and other press coverage (newspapers, local TV, etc.), audio and behind the scenes photos — and of course contemporary memories — would be more than helpful.”

I wasn’t following the progress as much as you might think (I did hike out to some of the major locations to see the billboards painted to recreate the 1920s era), and can imagine someone with much more on scene knowledge.

If you’re still alive and interested in diving into a noir Ken Burns thing, let me know and I’ll forward the contact info over to France.

As I was thinking about it, I did get excited over what would have been a great lead: star Marilu Henner. In recent years I heard she is one of less than a hundred people worldwide documented with the condition hyperthymestic syndrome — essentially, she remembers every detail from every waking hour of every day.

That would make for a hell of a source.

Our filmmaker says, “To the best of my knowledge, Henner was not part of the original location shoot, as she took over the part extended by Wenders for Roney Blakley, a fact which didn’t make Coppola happy.”

Maybe he’ll get lucky. Some of the major players are still around, but perhaps as many more have passed away.

That original shoot, however — that’s almost like a whole new film. Alternate reality stuff. What coulda been — and was — shot on the streets of San Francisco.

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Hammett: Birthday 129. . .

May 27th rolls around again, and Hammett begins another year as a shadow ever gumshoeing the mean streets. . . .

I believe I have a few tidbits stuck aside to mark the occasion. . . .

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Hammett: Frisco Apartment on the Block

Yeah, people have been bombarding me with queries about the recent article which reports a Hammett San Francisco residence — 237 Leavenworth — up for sale if you’ve got a few million.

Four million — sounds cheap:

An early 1920s Tenderloin apartment building that “Maltese Falcon” author Dashiell Hammett once called home is on the market for $4.35 million. 

The 23-unit-building at 237 Leavenworth Street was listed this week in conjunction with a neighboring 35-unit apartment building around the corner at 620 Eddy Street, for a total of 58 units at a combined asking price of $10.5 million. 

Hammett’s former home is in the smaller of the two buildings, with 23 studios that are “fully occupied” with “solid in-place rents,” according to the listing notes. The Eddy building has 30 studios and five one-bedrooms, most of which were “lightly renovated with new flooring, granite countertops and new paint upon turnover.”

But here’s the trick with the info as laid out: I never heard of Hammett living in 237 Leavenworth.

I admit it is perhaps possible, since some of Hammett’s residencies in town were quite short, a month, two months. And there are a few months hanging loose amidst the known addresses where he might have lived someplace we don’t know about, otherwise.

Maybe they have a log with Hammett’s signature or a rent receipt or the like.

I think, however, someone somewhere in the process just messed up the info — because Hammett did indeed live in 620 Eddy Street.

Lots of evidence, return address on Continental Op stories, photos of Hammett with his kids standing on the roof, letters, Veterans medical records. Without question 620 Eddy is the place during his eight years in San Francisco where Hammett lived longest.


Now that I’ve cleared that point up, I will say in general the piece is bursting with confusion — the idea seems to be that 620 Eddy Street is next to or around a corner from 237 Leavenworth.

I’m guessing the guy selling the properties just bought a couple of buildings in the Tenderloin that were available at the time, but they sure weren’t next to each other.

620 Eddy is located on Eddy Street between Larkin and Polk. Leavenworth Street is a couple blocks over from Larkin. Going east, Larkin, Hyde, Leavenworth. . . .

620 is very cool. The place where Hammett created the Op and knocked out a good run in the series. When he moved again, he was a real writer.

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Mort: John Jakes

It’s time to mention his name in Atlantis.

Brian Leno popped the news to me that John Jakes died Saturday March 18, age 90.

Jakes was one of the most commercially successful writers to emerge from the paperback originals and digest mags of the 1950s and 60s. I imagine Mario Puzo may have made more money after he broke through, but it’s hard to imagine many others even close — Spillane maybe, but I’d think Jakes did much, much better than “king of the paperbacks” John D. MacDonald.

And that level of success explains why he gets a big obit in the New York Times.

More granular fans of Jakes don’t just know the North and South historical sagas and the rest, but understand he did a little bit of everything before getting to those. Science fiction, crime, detective. With his character Brak the Barbarian, Jakes became one of the first wave of modern writers following the trail into Sword-and-Sorcery pioneered by Robert E. Howard.

When I got my critical anthology on Howard, The Dark Barbarian, ready to go to press in 1984 I understood it would be nice to have a few advance blurbs. Within the circle of writers working in S&S, I considered Fritz Leiber the best — but Fritz had an essay in the book. Other genre stylists didn’t seem to carry enough gravitas with them to count for much, not if the book was going to go larger than just another fan effort.

Jakes, however — by then a huge bestseller and an actual fan of Howard and S&S. I asked Greenwood Press to send him an advance proof, in case he’d do a blurb for it.

The blurb:

“Tops my list of all Howard studies so far. Serious, scholarly, yet entertaining throughout.” — John Jakes

I can see getting other blurbs about as good as that one, but I can’t see getting one that is better.

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