Kage Baker’s Ancient Rockets: Treasures and Trainwrecks of the Silent Screen

51G4LBG-sIL.SX316Most of you most likely know Kage Baker as the writer of The Company series where immortal cyborgs gleaned treasures for their masters down the long years, but but did you know that she had a deep, loving interest in the early years of Hollywood and the film industry in general? Why she was interested is best answered by her sister, Kathleen Bartholomew, so I asked her:

Hi, Cat. I’ve got pages and pages of anecdotes, but as to the nuts and bolts:

Kage’s love of old cinema was bred in her bones. We were industry brats — Auntie was playing a ghost in the television show Topper when we were born, and Momma had been her stand-in during her movie days; we knew all sorts of painters and grips and lighting guys, who were neighbors and playmates’ Daddies. Momma and Auntie held a lot of parties, too. Kage cherished memories of cocktail parties in the rose garden — in those days, there was a tiny Grecian temple there, liberated from some movie set . . . she’d go out and drift around in her party dresses when she was tiny, like a red-haired fairy, eating fruit on swizzle sticks from people’s cocktails. She said she remembered it tasted funny and made her sleepy: small wonder, considering she was eating fruit from the glasses of people like Dean Martin and Otto Preminger and Leo G. Carroll!

And sometimes, we got onto the sets of Topper and other shows — we were both very impressed to meet Neil, the alcoholic Saint Bernard from the show. We heard all sorts of stories about the old days of the silent films, and who had made it big back then; who’d flopped when sound arrived, and who had made the transition. Momma would point out places like Valentino’s house to us — and the house next door, which was a rental property our family owned, had originally been a bootleg silent movie company headquarters. Back in The Day, they would post lookouts to watch for Edison’s Pinkerton men, coming up the Cahuenga Pass on raids with axes and kerosene . . . Kage loved those stories.

And the early incarnations of PBS used to show silent films late at night, and so did the afternoon cartoon shows. Kage, who could read by the time she was 4, loved them and read out the caption cards for the younger ones.

Really, there was no way she couldn’t have come to love the early films!

Got that? She worked her love into The Company series by setting one novel there, Mendoza in Hollywood, and quite a few shorter works there as well. But it was with her Ancient Rockets column on the Tor website that she really showed her love for these films, and now Tachyon Publications has collected these columns.

And though she had a love for her native Hollywood, she didn’t neglect such important works as Le Voyage dans la Lune, a 1902 film written and directed by French showman Georges Méliès, or 1920’s The Golem: How He Came Into the World by noted German actor and director Paul Wegener.

But Golden Era Hollywood also got its due such as the 1925 silent version of The Phantom of the Opera which had Lon Chaney Sr. in the title role, or her loving and detailed examination of the five versions of The Wizard of Oz that preceded the one popular culture regards as the best version.

This volume collects what was obviously a labor of love by Kage (which I can confirm as we had ongoing email based conversations while she was writing these) and kept them up even as her health declined badly in her last months among us. Kathleen has done us a service by editing this collection of the Tor columns in a volume you can read with considerable enjoyment and actually learn something really interesting at the same time!

(Tachyon Publications, 2011)

Cat Eldridge

I'm the publisher of Green Man Review. I do the Birthdays and Media Anniversary write-ups for Mike Glyer’s file770.com, the foremost SFF fandom site.

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