Writing History: Bringing it to life
Monday, November 25, 2013
According to polls taken in the mid-1990s 25% of college seniors could not pinpoint the date of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus; 40% couldn’t say when the American Civil War occurred, and fewer than 2% of American teenagers could name the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court—but for all this seeming historical ignorance, works of history often show up on non-fiction best-seller lists. Either the polls aren’t telling the whole story, or there is a fanatic minority out there who voraciously eats up anything to do with the past.
This month’s panel on writing history will look at what’s happening now about the unpredictable past and explore the motivation, research, writing and publishing that go into creating the chronicle of who we have come to be.
Our panel of writers:
Cari Beauchamp is the author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and The Powerful Women of Early Hollywood and Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years. She edited and annotated Anita Loos Rediscovered: Film Treatments and Fiction by the Creator of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary: Her Private Letters from Inside the Studios of the 1920s. Beauchamp’s works have made New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Amazon “Best of the Year” lists. She wrote the Emmy-nominated The Day My God Died and received a Writers Guild Award nomination for the Turner Classic Movies adaptation of Without Lying Down, which she wrote and coproduced. Cari has written for Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and has twice been named Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film Scholar. Currently she is the Mary Pickford Foundation’s resident scholar. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as a private investigator, a campaign manager, and served as Press Secretary to California Governor Jerry Brown.
Jim Dawson documents American pop culture—especially early rock ‘n roll and the history of flatulence. He wrote the best-selling Who Cut the Cheese? Other books include What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record? co-written with Steve Propes, cited by Mojo magazine as “one of the most impressive musical reads of the year,” and which remains a valuable resource for music critics and rock historians. His 1980 Richie Valens cover story in the Los Angeles Times Calendar led to the Rhino Records reissue of the entire Valens catalog (with Jim’s liner notes) and the 1987 biopic La Bamba, which utilized his research. Jim has written liner notes for roughly 150 albums and CDs, including Rhino’s Central Avenue Sounds, celebrating the history of jazz and early R&B in Los Angeles. His most recent book is Los Angeles’s Bunker Hill: Pulp Fiction’s Mean Streets and Film Noir’s Ground Zero. He’s currently working on a novel about a 1920 coal mine war in his native West Virginia.
Steven J. Ross is Professor of History at USC, and has written extensively about working-class, social, and film history. His first book, Workers On the Edge: Work, Leisure, and Politics in Industrializing Cincinnati, 1788-1890, was adapted by Cincinnati unionists as the filmed documentary They Build the City: The Working People of Cincinnati. His second book, Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America (1998), received the prestigious Theater Library Association Book Award for 1999, named one of the “Best Books of 1998” by the Los Angeles Times, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in History. His latest book, Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics, received a Pulitzer Prize nomination and a Film Scholars Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Ross is now working on a book titled Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews and their Spies Foiled Nazi and Fascist Plots Against America (to be published by Bloomsbury Press).
Jon Wilkman began his career working with Walter Cronkite on the award-winning Twentieth Century and 21st Century television series with the CBS News documentary unit. He also worked on Of Black America, hosted by Bill Cosby, and wrote the book, Black Americans: From Colonial Days to the Present. In 1971 Jon formed Wilkman Productions, Inc. He worked as a program producer on the Emmy Award-winning Great American Dream Machine and the Sigma Delta Chi Award-winning documentary Attica for PBS. Recent projects include Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood for Turner Classic Movies; Chicano Rock! The Sounds of East Los Angeles; The Port of Los Angeles: A History; With Heart and Hand: The Restoration of the Gamble House, and At Issue: Immigration. Jon is co-author, with his wife Nancy, of Picturing Los Angeles, and Los Angeles: A Pictorial Celebration.
He was a three-term president of the International Documentary Association, and founded the First Congress in association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Robert S. Birchard is an award-winning film editor who brings to his chronicles of the movies an insider’s perspective and a great affection for the people who work in the picture business. He is the author of Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood, Silent-era Filmmaking in Santa Barbara, Early Universal City, King Cowboy: Tom Mix and the Movies and is a contributing writer to the omnibus volumes M-G-M When the Lion Roars, Don Miller’s Hollywood Corral, The Encyclopedia of Early Film, and Hollywood: The Movie Factory. His articles on Hollywood filmmakers have appeared in American Cinematographer, Statement, Film History, The Moving Image, Griffithiana, Daily Variety, the Los Angeles Times Calendar, and others. He is a past president and board member of the preservation organization Hollywood Heritage, Inc., and is current president of The Cinecon Classic Film Festival, which has screened classic films over Labor Day Weekend for nearly half a century. He is currently editor of the AFI Catalog of Feature Films.