The Film Professor’s Story, As Told By The Film Professor
My story begins on New York’s Lower East Side. The mythologized setting has been immortalized in such films as William Wyler’s Dead End, King Vidor’s Street Scene, Alan Crossland’s The Jazz Singer, Abraham Cahan’s Hester Street, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, Milos Forman’s Ragtime, and Michael Curtiz’s Angels With Dirty Faces. Thoughts on my early years—1938 to 1942—appear reflected in these aforementioned cinematic narratives; and, up to a point, I very much identify with the legendary Dead End Kids such as Spit (Leo B. Gorcey) and Dippy (Huntz Hall). Even now, three-quarters of a century later, I remember quite well the poor neighborhoods, the concrete playgrounds, the poverty, the dirt, the smells, and the crowded living conditions. I make no claim I was Oliver Twist’s cousin, but those were tough times. Other storytellers may say they never knew they were poor, because everyone around them faced the same problems. Not so for me. I knew I was lower middle class and was never allowed to forget it.
There are, however, powerful differences between the films’ fictional characters and me. I belonged to no gang and had no special friends; I benefitted from no benevolent relatives, friendly shopkeepers, or supportive neighbors. My exceptional mother, who bore the major responsibility for bringing up my exceptional sister and me, had to work every day of her life as a salesperson in women’s clothing stores to make ends meet. Because there were no daycare centers or nannies for us, the chief safe houses to deposit her children were third-run movie theaters. In those days, most theaters had a children’s section and a matron who watched over the youngsters left in her care. New York’s Loews Delancy, later replaced by Flatbush’s The Elm and The Midwood, opened its doors at ten a.m. and remained open until late in the evening. From a very early age, that’s where I stayed most days watching cartoons, short subjects, documentaries, newsreels, (serials on the weekend), and double features. On special occasions, the theaters repeated screenings of popular films from the past. And since my protective and loving mother worked tirelessly on her feet until seven at night, I often saw the programs over and over.
These days, people in my generation matter-of-factly describe those unassuming but intense times with a throwaway line, “I used to go the movies regularly.” It won’t do here. Let me quickly name some of my pre-public school viewings: Victor Fleming’s Captains Courageous, Norman Taurog’s Boy’s Town, Michael Curtiz’s Angels With Dirty Faces, Busby Berkeley’s They Made Me a Criminal, William K. Howard’s Knute Rockne: All American, William A. Wellman’s A Star is Born, Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon, William Wyler’s Dead End, John Ford’s The Adventures of Marco Polo, Victor Fleming’s Gone With the Wind, John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, Zolton Korda’s The Four Feathers, George Stevens’ Gunga Din, William A. Wellman’s Beau Geste, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Meet John Doe, Sam Wood’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips, John Ford’s Stagecoach, William Wyler’s Wuthering Heights, George B. Seitz’s Andy Hardy Meets Debutante, King Vidor’s Northwest Passage, Zolton Korda’s Elephant Boy, Lewis Milestone’s Of Mice and Men, Ludwig Berger’s The Thief of Bagdad, and John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley. In musicals like W. S. Van Dyke’s I Married an Angel, Roy Del Ruth’s DuBarry was a Lady, W. S. Van Dyke’s Sweethearts, H. C. Potter’s The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, Norman Taurog’s The Wizard of Oz, Busby Berkeley’s Babes in Arms, Gregory Ratoff’s Rose of Washington Square, Vincente Minnelli’s Cabin in the Sky, Norman Taurog’s Little Nellie Kelly, Robert Z. Leonard’s New Moon, Victor Schertinger’s Road to Singapore, Norman Taurog’s Broadway Melody of 1940, and Victor Schertinger’s The Birth of the Blues, I was introduced to the hit tunes of Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed, Jerome Kern, Yip Harburg, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and heaven knows how much jazz and how many classical scores underpinning the genre films, documentaries, serials, and cartoons.
Films like these molded my tastes in movies, music, behavior, and social values. Of course, other profound influences would be added with the passing years, but this was the beginning. By the time I entered the first grade, I may not have understood most of what I saw and heard in these mainly anti-intellectual, anti-authoritarian fantasies, but I took what I saw very seriously. I found movies, like books, definitely more than just entertainment. They were the stairways to the stars.
Nonetheless, I recognized the differences between the exploits of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Johnny Weissmuller; and the adventures shown in the highly touted “A” films. In addition, in growing up, early on, I became comfortable with controversial ideas about people, places, institutions, and presumed notions of respectability. Unlike many of my peers, however, I never became “house broken.” Having been drawn into an idyllic world, I never abandoned it.
The late film critic Roger Ebert ingeniously labeled movies, the “empathy machine.” It is no wonder then, why I found movies so meaningful to my intellectual curiosity. Because of films, I was able to compare and to contrast my feelings and my life with viewers around the world. The empathy machine also allowed me a chance to escape my drab surroundings. But it is important to recognize I fled to something meaningful! (A lovely film illustrating how movies provided Depression audiences with escape is Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo.) Right or wrong, good or bad, helpful or not, I was dealing with complex issues and complicated situations far beyond my years. Keep in mind, these were the days when you defined an intellectual as someone who could listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger.
America’s “National Theater,” as Pauline Kael branded the movies, inspired me in a thousand different ways, and it showed in my attitude towards public school. I loved learning. And because of my vicarious experiences in multiple theaters offering riveting images of our national life, I was far ahead of my more conventional classmates. My teachers certainly felt that way; and at the end of the first grade, they skipped me to the third grade. But that summer the family moved from the callous sidewalks of New York to Brooklyn’s fabled Flatbush area. The passage dramatically altered my life forever.
As the movies shifted from the war years to the Eisenhower and Kennedy eras, there was a noticeable change from conservative themes toward iconoclastic motifs. This Modernist swing reinforced my progressive leanings. Now, artists from around the world imaginatively introduced brilliant film narratives filled with revolutionary values that had a profound impact on me. Ironically, the more I was drawn to the foreign films, the more I became increasingly confused about everything and everyone. It had all been so clear before the 1950s. Now I questioned the status quo even more than before. One only has to read David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd, or Charlie Reich’s The Greening of America to place me in my time. Almost everything I would write and teach would stem from the first eighteen years of my life. Fortunately, I met a remarkable English teacher in my senior year in high school and had a second major life change.
At Ohio State University, I became an English major and for the first time found value in scholarly studies. Using an imposing but subjective list of great imaginary works, required to master by the time I graduated, I spent the next four years feverishly cramming into my head western civilization’s “major” literary writings. My only problem was the list didn’t satisfy my intellectual curiosity. For example, if I read Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge and liked it, then I wanted to read Hardy’s other novels. If I read Shakespeare’s tragedies and liked them, then I also devoured his comedies and histories. By the time graduation arrived, I had compiled a subjective list of my favorite books, which have been added to over the years but never replaced the irreplaceable Buckeye choices of the fifties: the Bible as literature, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, William Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, William Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, Charles Dickens’s complete novels, Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, plus the poetry collections of the Romantic and Victorians authors, as well as the verse anthologies of Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and W.B. Yeats. I can truly say without qualification, it is a list I treasure to this day.
November 12, 2013
- Teachers College, Columbia University Ed.D. 1966
- Hunter College M.A. 1960
- Ohio State University A.B. 1957
- Professor Emeritus of English and Film
University of Vermont, 2000-
- Professor of English and Film Studies
University of Vermont 1988-
- Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of English
University of Vermont 1977 – 1988
- Critic-at-Large, Vermont ETV,
- Critic-at-Large, Channel 22,
Burlington October, 1981-December, 1983
- Chairperson, Department of Communication
University of Vermont 1981-1983
- Professor of Communication& Theatre 1971 – 1977
University of Vermont
- Associate Professor of English& Speech 1967-1971
- Visiting Professor Theatre Arts & Journalism
University of Bridgeport Summer, 1967
- Assistant Professor English, Southern Connecticut
State College 1964 – 1967
- English Instructor, New Rochelle High School 1958-1964
(New Rochelle, New York)
TAKE TWO: A FILM TEACHER’S UNCONVENTIONAL STORY (Washington, D.C.: New Academia Press, 2016)
EXITS AND ENTRANCES: INTERVIEWS WITH 7 WHO RESHAPED THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN IMAGE IN MOVIES (Washington, D.C.: New Academia Press, 2013)
EVERY STEP A STRUGGLE: INTERVIEWS WITH 7 WHO SHAPED THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN IMAGE IN MOVIES (Washington, D.C.: New Academia Press, 2007)
FILM STUDY: AN ANALYTICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY. 4 Vols. (Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990)
AN ALBUM OF MODERN HORROR FILMS (N.Y.: Franklin Watts, 1983)
GREAT SCIENCE FICTION FILMS; REVISED EDITION (N.Y.: Franklin Watts, 1982)
GREAT SPORTS MOVIES (N.Y.: Franklin Watts, 1980)
THE BOX OFFICE CLOWNS: FROM BOB HOPE TO WOODY ALLEN (N.Y.: Franklin Watts, 1979)
GANGSTERS ON THE SCREEN (N.Y.: Franklin Watts, 1978)
WOMEN ON THE HOLLYWOOD SCREEN (N.Y.: Franklin Watts, 1977)
AN ALBUM OF GREAT SCIENCE FICTION FILMS (N.Y.: Franklin Watts, 1976)
THE TALKING CLOWNS (N.Y.: Franklin Watts, 1976)
YESTERDAY’S CLOWNS: THE RISE OF FILM COMEDY (N.Y.: Franklin Watts, 1973)
FILM STUDY: A RESOURCE GUIDE (Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1973)
CAMERAS WEST (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1971)
TERRORS OF THE SCREEN (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1970)
WHEN MOVIES BEGAN TO SPEAK (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1969)
WHEN PICTURES BEGAN TO MOVE (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1968)
MOVIES AND HOW THEY ARE MADE (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1968)
Articles and Book Chapters
“A Reel Witness: Steven Spielberg’s Representation of the Holocaust in Schindler’s List, Baron, Lawrence, ed., The Modern Jewish Experience in World Literature (Massachusetts: Brandeis University Press, 2011), 168-177 pp.
“Marcel Ophuls (Originally ‘A War Over Justice: An Interview With Marcel Ophuls,’ 1978),” Walker, Elise M. and David T. Johnson, eds., Conversations with Directors: An Anthology of Interviews from Literature/Film Quarterly. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008. 59-78 pp.
“Post-Code Movies (From Gangsters on the Screen, 1978),” Silver, Alain and James Ursini, eds. Gangster Film Reader, Pompton Plains, NJ: Limelight Editions, 2007. 97-106 pp.
“What Does It Mean, Mr. Holmes? An Approach to Film Study,” Literature Film Quarterly 31:1 (2003):69-76.
“Cultural Confusion: A Look Back At Delmar Daves’ BROKEN ARROW.” Hollywood’s Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American on Film. Eds. Peter Rollins and John E. O’Connor. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 2003. Expanded Edition.
“What About Jack? Another Perspective on Family Relationships in Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING,” Discovering Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’. Ed. Tony Magistrale. San Bernardino, CA.: The Borgo Press, 1998.
“Cultural Confusion: A Look Back At Delmar Daves’ BROKEN ARROW.” Hollywood’s Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American on Film. Eds. Peter Rollins and John E. O’Connor. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 1998.
“Losing and Finding SERGEANT RUTLEDGE,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television 17:2 (March 1997):245-59.
Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot,’” Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television 17:1 (March 1997):137-143.
“The Man who Made the Stars Shine Brighter: An Interview With Woody Strode,” Black Scholar 25:2 (Spring 1995):37-46.
“A Reel Witness: Steven Spielberg’s Representation of the Holocaust in SCHINDLER’S LIST,” Journal of Modern History 67 (March 1995):83-100.
“What About Jack?: Another Perspective on Family Relationships in Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING,” Literature Film Quarterly 23:1 (1995):68-78.
“Cultural Confusion: A Look Back At Delmar Daves’ BROKEN ARROW,” Film and History 23:1-4 (1995):57-69.
“How To Win A Peabody,’ PEABODY (Athens: University of Georgia George F. Peabody Awards, 1990)
27 entries on film and television personalities for American Academic Encyclopedia (Princeton: Arete Publishing Company, 1980)
“Remaking a King’s Image,” Subject and Strategy, ed. by Paul Eschholz and Alfred Rosa (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1978), 180-193.
“A War Over Justice: An Interview with Marcel Ophuls,” Film Literature Quarterly 6:1 (Winter 1978)
“Reading the Script,” Easy Going: The Merrill Linguistic Reading Program (Columbus: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, 1975)
“Dickens and the Film,” Exercise Exchange (Fall 1974)
“The Afro-American in Hollywood Films, Part II,” Bulletin of Black Theatre 5 (Spring 1974)
“The Afro-American in Hollywood Films, Part I.” Bulletin of Black Theatre 5 (Fall 1973)
“Film Literacy Bibliography,” Journal of New England Reading Association (Fall 1973)
“For Us and By Us,” Journal of New England Reading Association (Spring 1973)
“Movies and Man’s Humanity,” Readings in the Humanities, ed. by Sheila Schwartz (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1970)
“Seeing and Perceiving,” The Rhode Island English Journal (Fall 1969)
“Reversing the Process,” The English Leaflet (Fall 1969)
“The Tired Critics,” The English Leaflet (February 1969) Republished in The Rhode Island English Journal (Spring 1969)
“Volunteers for La Mancha,” The English Leaflet (September 1968)
“Study Guide for The Hustler,” Screen Education (March/April 1968)
**”The Archetypal American,” Media and Methods (April 1968)
“Teaching Dr. Strangelove,” Media and Methods (December 1967)
*”Teaching Nothing But A Man,” Media and Methods, (October 1967)
“Film Education in Our Time,” Screen Education(July/August 1967)
*”Film Images of the Negro,” Media and Methods (April 1967)
“Evaluating Motion Pictures: 1966,” Greater Hartford Forum, 1966
“The Universal Classroom,” Screen Education (January/February 1966)
“The Film and the Book,” English Journal (March 1964)
* Reprinted by ERIC
** Reprinted in The Compleat Guide to Film Study, ed. by G. Howard Poteet, (Champlain, I11.” The National Council of Teachers of English 1972)
Projecting the Holocaust into the Present: The Changing Focus of Contemporary Holocaust Cinema, Journal of Popular Film and Television, 34:1 (Fall, 2006):47.
Mishegoss: Schindler’s List, Holocaust Representation and Film History, Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television18:3(1998): 431-436.
Peckinpah: The Western Films–A Reconsideration, Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television 18:1(1998):151-152.
Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life, Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television 15:3 (1995):448-450.
Making Movies Black: The Hollywood Message Movie from World War II to the Civil Rights Movement, Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television 14:3 (1994):345-47.
Hitchcock: The Making of a Reputation, Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television 13:3 (1993)
Richard Burton: So Much, So Little, Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television 13:2 (1993)
The Cinema of the Sea, Journal of Popular Film and Television (Summer 1990)
Chaplin and American Culture, Journal of Popular Film and Television (Summer 1990)
Indelible Shadows, Journal of Popular Film and Television (Spring 1986)
Film: The Democratic Art and Movie-Made America :The Social History of American Movies, The Journal of Aesthetic Education (Summer 1978)
Film Music and Cinema Booklist Supplement I, Film Heritage (Spring 1975)
Four References…. Cinema Journal XIII:I (Fall 1973)
Greed, Film Heritage (Spring 1973)
English Education and the Electronic Revolution, Elementary English (April 1971)
Hollywood in the Thirties, Film Society Review, (March 1969)
An Illustrated History of the Horror Film, Film Society Review (February 1969)
Luis Bunuel, Film Society Review (January 1969)
Sight, Sound and Society, The Journal of Aesthetic Education (April 1971)
Saint Cinema, The Film Journal (Summer 1971)
Towards a Visual Culture, Elementary English (March 1970)
The Lubitsch Touch, Film Comment (Fall 1969)
Evil, The Journal of Aesthetic Education (July 1969)
Suspense in the Cinema, Film Society Review, (May 1969)
Fellini, Film Society Review (April 1969)
Private Screenings, The Journal of Aesthetic Education (January 1969)
The Cinema of Joseph Losey, Film Society Review (December 1968)
The Moving Image: A Guide to Cinematic Literary, Film Society Review (November 1968)
Pare Lorentz and the Documentary Film, Film Society Review (October 1968)
The Disney Version: The Life, Times, Art and Commerce of Walt Disney, Film Society Review (September 1968)
Jeffersonianism and the American Novel, Journal of Aesthetic Education, (July 1968)
Roundup, Film Society Review (May 1968)
Man and the Movies, Journal of Aesthetic Education (April 1968)
LA MANCHA PLUS TWO (Burlington: University of Vermont 1970)
Reprinted by Eric in 1971
LA MANCHA PLUS ONE (Burlington: University of Vermont 1969)
THE LA MANCHA PROJECT (Burlington: University of Vermont 1969)
FILM COURSES TAUGHT
- The Development of the Motion Picture: The Silent Era
- The Development of the Motion Picture: The Sound Period
- The Contemporary Cinema
- The Horror Film
- The Western
- The Science Fiction Film
- The War Film
- Women on the Screen
- Blacks in American Film
- The Concept of the Hero
- Film Theory and Criticism
- Film Comedy
- The Films of Charlie Chaplin
- The Films of Alfred Hitchcock
- 1939: The Greatest Year in Hollywood History
- Hollywood and the Vietnam War
- The Jew in Film
- Hollywood and the Jewish Connection
- Film Genres
- The Films of John Ford
- The Films of Orson Welles
- The Films of David Lean
- The Films of Stanley Kubrick
- The Films of John Huston
- The Films of Woody Allen
- The Films of Robert Altman
- The Films of Steven Spielberg
- The Films of Francis Ford Coppola
- The Films of John Kilik
FELLOWSHIPS, GRANTS, NATIONAL SERVICE, AND ACADEMIC HONORS
Recognized by Film and History as a Pioneer in Film Studies, Fall, 2006.
Honorary Degree of Humane Letters (L.H.D.). Burlington College, June 7, 2003.
Dean’s Lecture Award, Spring 2000
Inducted as an Honorary Member of Phi Alpha Theta, April 9, 1999
University of Vermont Graduate College University Scholar in Social Sciences and Humanities for 1997-1998
Arts and Sciences Faculty Award to do book on African-American Films, 1992
George Foster Peabody Advisory Board, 1982-1989 (Chairperson, 1985-1987)
Review team for Photography and Cinema Department, Ohio State, April, 1983
Convocation speaker, Earlham College. Topic: The Evolution of Woody Allen’s Comedy. January 22, 1980
Program Director, 1977-1978 Vermont Seminars
Program Chairperson, 1976 annual Society for Cinema Studies convention at the University of Vermont
Faculty Research Award to update FILM STUDY, 1975-1977
American Library Association, Outstanding Film Reference Book, Foreign and Domestic, 1973-1974, FILM STUDY: A RESOURCE GUIDE, 1974
MOVIES AND HOW THEY ARE MADE, published in Portuguese edition, 1974
Participant in American Jewish Committee’s 1974 Seminar for Academicians in Israel
Junior Literary Guild Selection, CAMERAS WEST, 1972
“Ambassador Book Selection,” English Speaking Union, CAMERAS WEST, 1972
Faculty Research Award for Study of Black American Films, 1971-1972
Director of La Mancha Project in Composition (cooperative program with Vermont High Schools), 1968-1972
Simmonds Foundation Grant for Research in England, 1971
Junior Literary Guild Selection, TERRORS OF THE SCREEN, 1970
Director of Vermont’s National Writing Achievement Award for the National Council of Teachers of English, 1970
National Committee for Innovating Practices in the Teaching of English, 1968-1969
Participant in the New York State Institute for Teachers of English, 1964
Editorial Board, FILM AND HISTORY, 1996-present
Editorial Board, JOURNAL OF POPULAR FILM AND TELEVISION, 1977-present
Manuscript Consultant: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1974-1977; Associated University Presses, 1974-1977
Editorial Consultant, THE JOURNAL OF AESTHETIC EDUCATION, 1971-1973
Book Editor, FILM SOCIETY REVIEW 1967-1970
Memberships in Professional Societies: (with offices held)
American Federation of Film Societies (Council Member, 1968-1974), (Chair, 1974-1976)
British Film Institute (1967-2000)
Society for Cinema Studies (1967-2000) (Treasurer, 1971-1976), (Council Member, 1977-1980)
University Film and Video Asso. (1970-2000) (Film/Video Rep. on Constituencies Comm., 1982-1984)
University Film and Video Asso. (Comm. on Accreditation, 1984-1985)
Biographical Reference Books
CONTEMPORARY THEATRE, FILM & TELEVISION: A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE
DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SCHOLARS
DICTIONARY OF INTERNATIONAL BIOGRAPHY
DIRECTORY OF INTERNATIONAL SCHOLARS
INTERNATIONAL AUTHORS AND WRITERS WHO’S WHO
MEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR
INTERNATIONAL WHO’S WHO IN EDUCATION
WHO’S WHO IN AMERICAN EDUCATION
WHO’S WHO IN ENTERTAINMENT
WHO’S WHO IN THE MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS
WHO’S WHO IN THE EAST
THE WRITER’S DIRECTORY