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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