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  • Writer's pictureNina Di Salvo

Norma Zierold's "Sex Goddesses of the Silent Screen"


With over 163 films mentioned throughout the course of this book and 5 chapters anchored around 5 iconic stars of the silent era, this piece of nonfiction is a treasure.


While in between gigs in 2019 NYC, I stopped by Mast Books (a beacon of surprise film, art, architecture, and culture selects) for some casual browsing. While on display, this silver dame from the silent era stared at me, and I stared back. With a sense of narrative and forgotten history, this book carried itself with specificity from chapter to chapter as it detailed the origins, theatrical beginnings, break into the film history, Hollywood stardom, and how each siren's story pressed on. With stunning archival photos, this book provided a pathway into a different time.


I unfortunately left without her that day, though later regretted it and returned to Mast Books several days later, and to great luck that no one had swiped up this classic.


The book begins with the story of Theda Bara, whom the author titled 'the wickedest woman in the world', and discusses the film, the lore, the gossip, and more behind the Cleopatra star. We then continue into the world of Barbara LaMarr, the 'too beautiful girl', Pola Negri, 'the wildcat', Mae Murray 'the girl with bee stung lips', and Clara Bow 'the IT girl.' With a great amount of depth, detail, and research, this 1973 cinema history gem had a closeness of resources that, I feel, has become quite lost now that that this history stretches 100 years. This period in cinema history is unhinged, wild, groundbreaking, and testy, something cinema has been lacking commercially in this area of immense risk aversion and endless revamps, sequels, world-building, and limited new IP. It was a real treat to take a dip back in time while reading this book, I won't spoil any of the details for you should you take the opportunity to let this written history unfold before your eyes and into your imagination. Should you have the opportunity to read it, reach out so we can share and discuss!


For a comprehensive list of films featuring these vamps, sirens, and snakes, feel free to check out my list on Letterboxd below for your own viewing/watchlist pleasure:







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