Pawlak (Farmington and Farmington Hills, 2003) charts the establishment of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization best known for its annual distribution of the Academy Awards.
Unfortunately, Oscar fans will find little here to entice them. The author mostly foregoes any discussion of the fabled ceremonies, instead providing biographical sketches of the Academy’s founders. The result is a useful but dull primer on the movers and shakers of early Hollywood, with the familiar histories of such luminaries as Douglas Fairbanks and Cecil B. DeMille leavened with those of less well-known players, including lawyer Edwin Loeb and early special-effects maven Roy Pomeroy. Pawlak has done her homework—most of the profiles include information on the salient figure’s parents, siblings, employment history, marital status and financial standing—but the cumulative effect of all the data, especially as regards the relatively obscure likes of, say, Fred Niblo or Milton Sills, is ultimately stultifying and frustratingly hard to keep straight. The Academy was founded to help settle disputes, act as an educational repository for advancements in film technology and protect the industry’s image amid scandals and public outrage at the extravagance of the movie-star lifestyle. Pawlak largely neglects to report on the Academy’s activities in the pursuit of these goals. Instead, the author uses the founding of the Academy as a seemingly arbitrary matrix for celebrating the careers of Tinseltown’s pioneering artists, technicians and businessmen. Pawlak’s workmanlike prose and journalistic approach fail to elevate the material beyond an admirably detailed historical survey, but the sheer invention of the first generation of moviemakers inevitably results in appreciation.
A serviceable but flavorless history of early Hollywood.