Tuesday, April 28, 2009

These Lives. How Many Pages for These Lives?

I shouldn't be blogging, especially when I've got a great workload sitting heavily on my shoulders, but I am amazed at the resources available for my research. I've discovered that Time Magazine's website keeps a free archive, which is a great help when there's information to find about the actors I'm writing about, and The New York Times has articles available from the 1910s. But go over 1921 and you have to pay for whatever articles you wish to read. $3.95 per article, or $10.95 for a 15-article pack. Too pricey for me. If it was one actor, maybe. But not at least 13 actors thus far. Fortunately, for the modern-day late actors, the website has free articles from the late 1980s on. I've downloaded 56 articles from The New York Times on Fatty Arbuckle alone, most about the sensationalized three trials he endured. I've still got to organize them by date in a separate Word file. They're .pdfs, but a reading order would help.

The one thing I hate about this research thus far, and possibly the only thing, is doing my preliminary research through Wikipedia. I don't get right into the books that I've checked out from my library. I prefer to start with Wikipedia, because as I've learned, the facts aren't all there in those articles. Either the writer doesn't know of any other resource from which to find the facts and post them in the entry, or they don't care, or there are no other facts. For nearly all of these actors, there are. That's where the experts and historians come in. It's tedious reading each Wikipedia page on each actor and typing out facts I need to know. But, the questions keep me going, questions I ask in between the facts. Like with silent film actor and D.W. Griffith associate Robert Harron, he was one of nine children, and saw Griffith as a substitute father, which seems to be the proper term, according to the foremost expert on Harron, whom I've talked to by e-mail recently. So the question here is: Where was Harron's real father? Working hard enough to support nine children that he didn't have a great deal of time to spend with Harron? I'm sure there aren't definitive answers for every question I have, but it leads me somewhere. I'm trying not to write the beginnings of these essays until I get well into the lives of these actors through my research, but for some, I can't help it, based on what I've learned on my own in the past when there wasn't a book to write, and when I was just reading movie history and biographies for pleasure. Not to say that this isn't pleasure, but there's a lot more to do now than just reading.

I am curious about these actors. I want to finally understand the appeal of James Dean. I see part of it just by his appearance, but what else? I want to learn about the transformation of Norma Jean Baker into Marilyn Monroe and understand as best as can be understood through various historians about how it affected her. I want to pay proper tribute to Chris Farley, because even though I don't like "Tommy Boy" as I did when I was 11, I remember how hard he worked to make people laugh, on Saturday Night Live as well. He's the only one I'm confident about on what he might have done in movies had he not died. "Shrek" would have been vastly different.

I've written movie reviews for nine years, and I know when to end each review. This is new territory. I don't want to ask for a word limit or a page limit. I think I will know when to stop. Just enough detail in each actor's biography/career overview to give the reader a full-enough view of the actor so there's an easy transition into the speculation, mainly led by the experts and historians who've agreed to talk to me about these actors. It'll work.

Here it is again: 4:49 a.m. and I'm doing exactly what I did at this time yesterday morning. Still in Wikipedia, though I've gotten further because I finished my preliminary research on silent film comedian/writer/director Larry Semon yesterday afternoon, Mabel Normand a few hours ago, and I'm still working on Fatty Arbuckle. I don't think I want to go into such detail about the three trials, since there's enough writing on them already, but I am curious about certain elements, such as William Randolph Hearst's zeal for them, which sold a lot of papers. Was it just the selling of papers that attracted him and made those tabloids sell well? Or did he have personal animosity toward Arbuckle? A lot of questions, but again, those questions should help a lot.