I’m actually very annoyed with myself right now. I was sent the gorgeous book a few months ago to review and I am just now finishing the book and sitting down to tell you all about it! A little off my reading and reviewing game, but in defense of myself, I never review a book before reading every word. To me, that’d be like reviewing a meal without ever taking a bite. If you look at the picture below, showcasing the thickness of this literary masterpiece, you’ll understand why this one took a while to read.
The thickness is a sign of just how much dedication and work the author, William M. Drew devoted to his fascinating subject.
When I finish reading a book, one of the things I ask myself is, “Was this a definitive work? Would there be any reason another author should write a similar book on this subject?” Sometimes I answer myself with, “Definitive… possibly but, frankly, another author could take a crack at the subject.”
This time, however, I had to answer, “This is the very definition of a definitive work and another author would be crazy to even try!”
(Review Continued Below…)
The author of The Woman Who Dared (Amazon link), William M. Drew, is a film historian who has written quite a bit about early cinema. After reading this extraordinary book, I’m now in the process of collecting ALL of his old Hollywood books, including Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen, At the Center of the Frame: Leading Ladies of the Twenties and Thirties, and The Last Silent Picture Show: Silent Films on American Screens in the 1930s.
Quite frankly, if he has written it, I need it in my personal library.
Depending on how deeply in love you are with old Hollywood OR how long this love has existed, you may or may not have heard of Pearl White (come on, is that a great name or what?). Pearl was born in Green Ridge, Missouri 1889. From 1914-15 she was the most popular female silent film star, for a time even topping Mary Pickford’s popularity at the box office!
Unimaginable – and yet, very true. She made so many “shorts” that you’d need a whole afternoon to count them. While her wonderful film career spanned from 1910-1924, sadly many of her films are lost. Lost films make my heart ache so deeply.
Pearl White wasn’t just loved and celebrated in the States, she was a star the world over.
The facts I just sprinkled? Before opening this treasure trove of a book, that was the full extent of my knowledge about Pearl White, which is why I was so anxious to meet her.
Book Description From Amazon:
In the early days of motion pictures―before superstars, before studio conglomerates, before even the advent of sound―there was a woman named Pearl White (1889–1938). A quintessential beauty of the time, with her perfectly tousled bob and come-hither stare, White’s rise to stardom was swift; her assumption of the title of queen of American motion picture serials equally deserved.
Born the youngest of five children in a small, rural Missouri farm town, White first began performing in high school. She would eventually make the decision to cut her education short, dropping out to go on the Trousdale Stock Company. A bit player in the early years of her career, she was eventually spotted by the Powers Film Company in New York. She made her film debut in 1910 and soon set herself apart from her female colleagues with her reputation for fearless performances that often involved her own stunt work.
It was that same daring attitude that would put her on the map internationally as an actress. From flying airplanes to swimming across rapid rivers, to racing cars in serials like The Perils of Pauline (1914), White was undaunted by the demands of her onscreen career. She went on to star in popular serial classics such as The New Exploits of Elaine (1915), The Iron Claw (1916), The Fatal Ring (1917), and The Lightning Raider (1919). As active socially as she was professionally, White would also lend her audacious spirit to activism as she took part in the early feminist movement. Her bravery and mastery of her craft made her a positive role model for suffragettes who battled for women’s rights in the United States.
The Woman Who Dared: The Life and Times of Pearl White, Queen of the Serials, is the first full-length biography of this pioneering star. In this study of film history and female agency, Drew delves into the cultural impact of White’s work and how it evolved along a concurrent trajectory with the social upheavals of the Progressive Era. (Read more on Amazon…)
My Top 6 Favorite Things About The Woman Who Dared:
- The author isn’t just a very knowledgeable film historian, he also happens to be an excellent author. If I can be frank for a minute, not all film historians are.. but let’s not tell them that, okay?! I mean, it’s not like they’re alone, is it? Some historians sit down at the keyboard and somehow manage to drain the excitement right out of the American Revolution. Having a wealth of information doesn’t necessarily mean you have the gift of presenting it in a way that’s entertaining and enjoyable. William M. Drew does just that – and, trust me, when I saw the full scale of the book, I was very much hoping he was a gifted author!
- Pearl White was a fascinating woman, often full of contradictions. As I said, I knew very little about the beautiful actress before opening this fascinating book. So, as I got to know her along her exciting journey, it was like meeting someone for the first time. Sitting down and soaking in all of their eccentricities, quirks, loveliness, and, yes, even the demons they fought.
- Pause to Reflect. Whether it’s an Agatha Christie mystery, an old Hollywood biography, or a historical non-fiction… I have a special affinity for a book that makes me “pause to reflect.” A book that makes me temporarily put the book down and spend a quiet couple of moments with the information it just gave me. It’s actually one of my favorite things about reading and also one of the true signs of a great author. This book, author, and subject (Pearl White) made me do this multiple times. The moments of reflection often (quite often!) made me wish she had had a stronger network around her, made me sad that she somehow was often her own worst enemy, and made me wish desperately her story had gone another direction.
- Many Reasons to Admire Pearl White! While Pearl White’s story (like every human’s story) involves mistakes and disappointments, make no mistake about it – she was a fighter and she is worthy of respect for multiple reasons. While she was born into poverty in 1889 in Green Ridge, Missouri, she went on to become quite a shrewd businesswoman. She invested in a successful Parisian nightclub, a Biarritz resort hotel/casino, and owned a profitable stable of thoroughbred race horses! As an animal lover extraordinaire, the last one is reason enough to celebrate this daring woman.
- You Meet Fascinating People Along the Way. One of my favorite things about old Hollywood biographies and autobiographies is seeing who you meet along the way – names you know as well as those who are completely new to you. You’ll encounter both in this wonderful book and I know you’ll find them as fascinating as I do.
- Completely, Completely, Completely Entertaining. Not only is this biography the very definition of a flawlessly researched book, it’s wildly entertaining and fun to read. It would make an extraordinary movie, actually but I’m at a loss for a current star who could rise to the charismatic station of Pearl White…. though Jennifer Lawrence comes to mind
As always, whether it’s with movies OR books, I want you to discover everything for yourself, so I am overly cautious about what I give away. It’s simply more fun to discover things on your own, without even the hint of a spoiler. I simply want to say that I very, VERY much recommend The Woman Who Dared (Amazon link) by William M. Drew.
Now, if you’ll forgive me, I’m on my way to Amazon to find every other book this excellent author has written. Hmm, I think I’d better “follow” his author page as well so they can let me know whenever he has a new book coming out!
Reviews from the Back Cover:
“I hadn’t expected such intensive research. It is an astonishing story and should lead to the revival of the Pearl White films many of us thought had been consigned to the vaults for evermore.”―Kevin Brownlow, film maker and film historian
“Amazingly well researched The Woman Who Dared is a most welcome addition to the growing body of literature devoted to women’s participation in film production during the 1910s and 20s. It is the first full-length biography of Pearl White and an astonishing document following White’s life trajectory from her early career, the glamorous days of serials, the years after she left the film industry until her early death and even continues discussing her legacy in the years to come. Even though the volume provides much material of Pearl White as a star persona, the commitment of the author does not cease when White’s days of stardom are fading but rather keeps the full focus at every step of her career, even when it comes to projects that were not realized. Apart from extra-textual materials the volume also includes analysis of films that are difficult to get hold on and even those that have not survived. The background/context of White’s career gives a detailed account of the first decades of the American film industry and as such an invaluable contribution to Cinema Studies.”―Marina Dahlquist, Professor of Cinema Studies, Stockholm University
“A fascinating study of a fascinating woman who virtually defined the era of silent serial motion pictures. Comprehensive in its scope, meticulous in its research, accessible in its style, and immensely entertaining throughout, William M. Drew’s masterful examination of serial queen Pearl White’s life and times offers insights into an exciting period of American cinema history.”―Barbara Tepa Lupack, author of Silent Serial Sensations: The Wharton Brothers and the Magic of Early Cinema
“It is time that the contributions of the silent-era serial queens are fully recognized, and William Drew’s thoroughly researched and wide-ranging study of Pearl White’s life and career helps cement White’s legacy as a groundbreaking action heroine and international film star. Film fans and scholars will find the details fascinating―everything from translated Soviet booklets about Pearl to the practicalities of filming her serials, to their reception and distribution. The Woman Who Dared captures the magic and mayhem of cinema’s early years and the global influence of the new medium.”―Radha Vatsal, co-editor, Women Film Pioneers Project