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On Sunday, July 15th the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will screen The Mark of Zorro (1920), starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

As Zorro, a masked champion of the people, Fairbanks displays the athletic prowess, humor, and rakish charm that would propel him to super-stardom. The film is a classic, and in it Fairbanks set the bar high for subsequent action-adventure films in what was his first-ever swashbuckler.

Set to introduce The Mark of Zorro is Jeffrey Vance, Fairbanks scholar and author of Douglas Fairbanks, which was published by the University of California Press. Vance is a film historian, archivist, producer, lecturer and the author of a trilogy of earlier books, each highly regarded, on film greats Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Vance will be signing copies of his books following the Sunday screening The Mark of Zorro.

Recently, I spoke with Vance about Fairbanks, silent film, his work as a film historian, and what he is looking forward to seeing at this year’s Festival.

Jeffrey Vance

Jeffrey Vance in Hollywood

 

Thomas Gladysz: How did you become interested in Douglas Fairbanks?

Jeffrey Vance: I became interested in Fairbanks as a result of my early interest in Charles Chaplin. Fairbanks was Chaplin’s great friend, and a partner in the United Artists Corporation. He was also a Hollywood superstar along with Chaplin and Mary Pickford. I wrote Mary Pickford a fan letter at the end of her life. She responded with an encouraging letter. Fairbanks’s namesake son also provided encouragement later on.

Thomas Gladysz: Fairbanks was more than a popular actor—he was an innovator and pioneer.

Jeffrey Vance: Yes. Douglas Fairbanks was one of the most creative producers in America and one of Hollywood’s great leaders. He came to films as a Broadway star, transitioned to films first as a screen satirist and then, of course, as the great screen swashbuckler. Beyond that, he was a civic leader, an independent producer, the first president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and a developer of America’s first film school, now called the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Fairbanks helped pioneer and popularize Technicolor cinematography and original film scores. And, his film collection was one of the first important film deposits at the Museum of Modern Art; Fairbanks was also a pioneer of film preservation. In short, Fairbanks was at the forefront of many important things.

Thomas Gladysz: At this year’s SFSFF, you’re introducing The Mark of Zorro. What should viewers expect?

Jeffrey Vance: The Mark of Zorro is a landmark not only in Fairbanks’ career but also in the development of the action adventure film. With The Mark of Zorro, Fairbanks was transitioning from comedies to the costume films for which he is best remembered. Instead of reflecting the times, The Mark of Zorro offers an infusion of the romantic past with a contemporary flair. Prior to Fairbanks, most costume films had been largely turgid affairs; Fairbanks’ contribution to the costume film was his winning charm, humor, and athleticism executed in a modern manner.

Beyond re-energizing his career and redefining a genre, The Mark of Zorro also helped popularize one of the enduring creations of twentieth century American fiction, a character that was the prototype for comic book heroes such as Batman. Bob Kane told me that Fairbanks’ Zorro costume, secret lair, and dual identity inspired Batman. And, of course, footage from the original The Mark of Zorro is cleverly interwoven into the Oscar-winning film, The Artist.

Douglas Fairbanks, by Jeffrey Vance

Douglas Fairbanks, by Jeffrey Vance

Thomas Gladysz: Speaking of The Artist, Fairbanks’ persona obviously influenced the film’s lead character, George Valentin. What did you think of the film?

Jeffrey Vance: I think The Artist is a miracle. The fact is it raised a “dead” art form—the silent cinema—like Lazarus. It’s no longer perceived as irrelevant; someone else could conceivably make another silent film and it too could garner critical and commercial success.

Thanks to the Weinstein Company, I was able to attend several screenings and events promoting the film. It was gratifying to hear writer/director Michel Hazanavicius tell me that the creative team behind The Artist had my Douglas Fairbanks book, and that it was the book and all the screenings and events around the book that helped shape the character of George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin. They could have easily modeled the character on John Gilbert or Rudolph Valentino.

Thomas Gladysz: What draws you to silent film?

Jeffrey Vance: For me, a great draw is that the viewer is part of the creative process. The viewer is interpreting the images on the screen. Silent cinema is like opera and ballet; what’s not provided the viewer provides with their imagination. As a result, one is more involved with silent cinema than with other types of films. They mean more to the viewer.

Thomas Gladysz: As a film historian and author, what’s next?

Jeffrey Vance: I’ve done quite a few audio commentary tracks. Recently released, The Gold Rush for Criterion Collection is my best commentary work and my favorite. I’ve also recorded tracks for Fairbanks’s The Thief of Bagdad for the Cohen Collection, as well as the 1944 British comedy On Approval for Inception Media Group. I’m recording another for Warner Home Video at the end of the month.

I’ve also done quite a bit of work in the past year for Roy Export, the Chaplin family organization that controls the copyrighted Chaplin films as well as the Chaplin image. A Chaplin film deposit now joins the Chaplin photographic collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I helped negotiate and arrange that collection. These two important collections will be celebrated by the Academy in the near future. Recently, I took the NBC Today Show on a Chaplin tour, it will air sometime after the Olympics.

I am also working on a book project about Mary Pickford. The late Robert Cushman, a leading Pickford expert and photo curator at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, wrote several chapters for a critical study of Pickford. Robert also conducted interviews with cinematographers Hal Mohr, director George Cukor, and others in the early 1970s. Manoah Bowman, the executor of Robert’s estate, has allowed me exclusive use of these materials to develop into a complete book. I intend to augment Robert’s materials with my own interview materials and research. I believe it will be an important Pickford book.

The Mark of Zorro

The Mark of Zorro (1920), stars the masked Douglas Fairbanks (left)

 

Thomas Gladysz: Besides The Mark of Zorro, which films at this year’s festival most intrigue you?

Jeffrey Vance: For me, there are three must-see films. Mantrap is a comedy gem. With a capacity Castro crowd, Mantrap may very well bring the house down. It’s Clara Bow’s best film. I find we’re still catching up with Clara Bow! She was very much of her time yet ahead of her time. Another is Pandora’s Box. Silent films are all about picture quality. In an inferior print, you’re taking away vital information. Louise Brooks really comes alive in the new restoration. To see additional detail in her performance is to see the film for the first time. And Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box is a performance for the ages!

Finally, I’m keen to revisit The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna. The film co-stars Francis Lederer, and I remember being seated next to him when the film was shown in his honor at Cinecon in Hollywood in the 1990s. It was an amazing film, and Mr. Lederer was flabbergasted at this silent picture he made early in his long career. At the film’s conclusion, he kept repeating, “I can’t believe how good this picture is. That man Schwarz [Hanns Schwarz, the film’s director] was a genius!”

These films are just shells of themselves on home video or screened in museums/archives. They were designed and timed for the big screen, large audiences, and live music. Anything else isn’t the authentic silent film experience. I’m very grateful to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival for the opportunities they provide to revisit and rediscover the very fragile art form that is the silent cinema.

*****

Further information about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival can be found on their website at www.silentfilm.org. The Festival takes place at the Castro Theater July 12 – 15th.

Thomas Gladysz is a Bay Area arts journalist and early film buff, and the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has contributed to books on the actress, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced Brooks’ films around the world. He will be signing copies of his “Louise Brooks edition” of Margarete Bohme’s classic novel, The Diary of a Lost Girl, following the screening of Pandora’s Box at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Museum Holiday Hours

The Douglas Fairbanks Museum will be closed from Nov. 21-27 for the Thanksgiving holiday.

We will close on Dec. 19, 2011 for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and reopen to the public on Jan. 2, 2012.

Thanks for all your support this year and happy holidays!

 

Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s personal copy of "The Mark of Zorro," to be auctioned in New York next week.

 

DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS JR. ESTATE AUCTION SEPT. 13th

Doyle New York will hold a major auction of items from the estate of the late Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on September 13th at 10 a.m. Eastern time.

In addition to rare personal items of Doug Jr.’s, the auction catalog also contains several pieces that once belonged to his father, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

One interesting example is Doug Sr.’s own personal copy of the novel that inspired one of his most famous films: The Mark of Zorro (1920). This leather-bound volume was personally inscribed to Fairbanks by the author Johnston McCulley in 1925, at around the same time Fairbanks was producing the sequel Don Q. – Son of Zorro.

Doug Sr.'s copy of "The Mark of Zorro," with a heartfelt tribute by the author.

 

The book remained at Pickfair after Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford divorced in 1936. Fairbanks Sr. died on December 12, 1939. Many years later in 1951, Mary Pickford gave Doug Sr.’s copy of this book to his son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.,  as a Christmas present. Her Christmas card and personal note to “Jayar” (Douglas Jr.’s nickname) are included as part of this auction lot.

Mary Pickford gave this book to Fairbanks Jr. at Christmas, 1951

 

This is just one of hundreds of must-see (and for many classic film collectors, must-HAVE) items from the Fairbanks Jr. estate that will be auctioned Sept. 13th. A pre-auction exhibit runs Sept. 9-12 for viewing and inspection of all items. Admission is free and open to the public.

For more information, visit the Estate of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. auction page at Doyle New York.

MUSEUM RE-OPENS IN SPITE OF HARDSHIPS

By Dr. Laura Murray, museum volunteer

Despite of the national economic recession, a mold infestation in the museum’s former building, and a burglary that resulted in the loss of hundreds of rare artifacts last year, the Douglas Fairbanks Museum is finally back open again.

On what would have been the 128th birthday of the great silent film star, the museum held a Grand Reopening celebration and once again welcomed visitors into the museum’s new home.

“This is such a happy day,” museum curator Keri Leigh told the assembled group of volunteers, supporters and guests. “We’ve had more than our share of challenges over the past few years, and sometimes we wondered if this moment would ever come. Thanks to your support and the hard work of our dedicated volunteers, we are open to the public again.”

Overcome by emotion, at one point Leigh broke down in tears while describing the holiday 2010 burglary that resulted in the loss of hundreds of rare photographs, three-dimensional artifacts, and a sizable portion of the museum’s film and periodicals collections.

“Several of these items were more than 100 years old; many were one of a kind and simply cannot be replaced,” she said. “We’re trying our best to re-build the archives, but it will take many years to ever get back to where we were before the burglary.

“Funding needed to acquire new artifacts just isn’t there.” Leigh explained. “Since the economic downturn of 2008, the gifts and endowments that used to sustain us have dropped dramatically. This is true for museums and libraries everywhere, but it hit us especially hard in light of all these tragedies. Insurance only covers the fair market value, not the historic value of collectibles such as these. In many respects, we will never be made whole again because there’s just no way to replace many of the items that were stolen. They were the only ones known to exist in the world.”

Although the museum offered a cash reward and a 90-day amnesty period for return of the stolen artifacts, no one ever came forward. To date, these hundreds of rare photographs, periodicals, films, and three-dimensional items have not been located. The thieves remain at large. Private investigators are working pro bono hoping to crack the case.

“I’m just grateful for what we still have.” She said. “By the grace of God, we are here today to share what’s left of our collection with you all. We’ve been here since 1998 and we have always triumphed over tragedy. We’re not going away as long as I still have breath in me. We’re not going to let a recession, mold, or thieves get the better of us. We believe that is in keeping with the message of Douglas Fairbanks; to never give up, to fight on in the face of adversity and injustice.”

Leigh’s remarks brought wild applause and a standing ovation from the assembled group. She pointed to a poster of Douglas Fairbanks in a typically bold swashbuckling pose, ready to take on the bad guys with his rapier: “See that fellow right there? He’s our inspiration. He’s the reason we carry on.”

Fairbanks in "The Black Pirate," 1926.

GUESTS TRAVELED MANY MILES

Visitors traveled from as far away as Dallas, Oklahoma, Colorado and California to attend the reopening. Leigh also read aloud cards, letters and emails of congratulations and well-wishes from museum supporters who could not attend in person. Among them was an email she recently received from one of Fairbanks’ great-great-grandsons in England, who just penned a school term paper about his great-grandfather.

“I’m just thrilled to see kids taking an interest in Douglas Fairbanks again,” Leigh said. “It made me beam with pride when I read young Fairbanks’ final report about his great-grandfather’s vast contributions to the Allied war effort in WWII. He should be proud of his family’s legacy.”

The Campisi family traveled from California to attend the reopening celebration. While browsing through a “look book”  documenting the stolen artifacts, Mr. Campisi tried to help his 7 year old son understand why the items were not available for him to see and touch. “This makes me so sad,” Mrs. Campisi said solemnly, “but it also makes me angry. What kind of people steal a child’s education? A thief’s greed denied my son and future generations the opportunity to learn about a great pioneer of the film industry.”

Mr. Campisi added, “if the thieves should ever meet up with the ghost of Douglas Fairbanks one dark night, they had better watch out! I’m pretty sure old Doug wouldn’t be very happy about what they’ve done. That’s all I can say.”

A rare 1920s photo of Fairbanks' "Rancho Zorro," stolen in the burglary.

ALL FOR ONE, ONE FOR ALL

Visitors enjoyed refreshments, guided tours of the museum’s new exhibit and library space, and a screening of Fairbanks’ 1921 classic, “The Three Musketeers.” As a show of solidarity at the end of the movie, guests, staff, and museum volunteers raised a toast and exclaimed a hearty, “All for one, and one for all!”

A homemade birthday cake was served and every museum visitor was presented with a gift bag containing a complimentary copy of the book Douglas Fairbanks: In His Own Words, a museum button, coffee mug, and a commemorative postcard to remember the occasion by. Kids got a D’Artagnan-style hat complete with feathered plume so that they could play the hero in a Three Musketeers game.

As the sun was setting and the last guest departed, the remaining staff and volunteers began cleaning up. Before locking up for the night, we took a moment to survey the new gallery space one more time. Someone said all the hard work to rebuild had been well worth it. We all just stopped in our tracks and nodded an “amen!” We saved the candles from Doug’s birthday cake and each volunteer took one as a special souvenir to remind us all of this very special day. We will never forget it.

BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOS

Stage 1: Moving the boxes in

Stage 2: Cleanup and preparation

Stage 3: Planning and design of gallery spaces

Stage 4: Unpacking and setting up audio/visual systems

Stage 6: Starting to fill the bookshelves

Stage 7: Hanging the posters

Stage 8: Building exhibits

Stage 9: First exhibit ready to go!

MUSEUM RE-OPENING ON SCHEDULE

 

We are pleased to announce that the Douglas Fairbanks Museum will re-open to the public in May of 2011 as scheduled.

Our doors will open Monday, May 23rd, on what would have been Mr. Fairbanks’ 128th birthday.

The museum’s hours of operation are from 2-6 p.m, Monday through Friday. All tours are by appointment only.

Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children, students with ID, and seniors.

Just a short drive from Austin, we are conveniently close to many Central Texas tourist attractions and are always happy to help you plan a special and event-filled vacation while you’re in the area.

We invite you to visit, learn more about Douglas Fairbanks and the silent film era, and take a tour of our beautiful new gallery space. We’re very proud indeed and eager to have you as our guest!

As the museum is located inside a historic private residence, advance registration and a prior confirmed appointment is required for all visitors.

If you would like to tour the museum, you may schedule an appointment via email or by phone at (830) 444-0523.

Also, please take the time to review our “VISIT” page to familiarize yourself with the museum’s policies and guest etiquette before you arrive.

Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who assisted with our relocation and volunteered their time/effort/sweat to help rebuild the gallery, library, and exhibit spaces. We simply could not have done it all without you!

 

 

 

Our sincere appreciation and thanks to the Cinefamily for featuring an entire month of Douglas Fairbanks’ classic films at the Silent Movie Theatre, a Los Angeles landmark.(611 N. Fairfax Ave.)

All throughout the month of February, Fairbanks films will be playing every Wednesday night in this vintage Art Deco  movie house. All screenings are open to the public. For more information on this special series, show times, and ticket prices, see below or visit Cinefamily’s website.

Douglas Fairbanks / Silent Wednesdays in February

 

In this age of constant celebrity culture bombardment, we forget that once upon a time, there were only a handful of superstars that could truly galvanize the entire world — and that list was headed by silent film legend Douglas Fairbanks. His universal appeal lied in his astounding ability to be almost all things to all people: a man’s man, a ladies’ man, a lithe acrobat, a charming rogue, a ceaseless adventurer and a jaunty comedian. Within just a few years of his movie debut in 1915, Fairbanks rocketed to becoming the highest-paid Hollywood actor next to Chaplin, and is still known today as one of the greatest swashbucklers and stunt masters ever filmed. Join us in some of Fairbanks’ most stirring leaps into fantasy, which, over the course of almost an entire century, haven’t lost a speck of their ability to whisk us away to far-off lands.

2/2 @ 8:00pm / Series: Douglas Fairbanks
His Majesty The American

Co-presented by The Silent Treatment

Silent superstar Douglas Fairbanks’ greatest asset was his boundless energy, his ability to bounce off the walls with an unlimited supply of daring-do — and the frothy 1919 romantic comedy/actioner His Majesty The American is one of the greatest showcases of this charismatic gift! Setting the stage for his slate of famous swashbuckling pictures to come in the ‘20s, His Majesty finds Fairbanks as an independently wealthy and bored young man in Manhattan; after putting in time as an amateur firefighter for kicks and heading off to Mexico to upstage Pancho Villa(!), he travels to a fictional European kingdom with an amazingly manic exuberance to single-handedly restore order to a riot-ridden landscape. The first feature produced under the United Artists banner (a company jointly formed by titans Fairbanks, Chaplin, Pickford and Griffith), His Majesty is one of the most rip-roaring romps ever created for our beloved “fire-eating, speed-loving, space- annihilating, excitement-hunting thrillhound!” Showing before the feature is Fairbanks’ notorious 1916 drug comedy/detective spoof The Mystery Of The Leaping Fish — and author/historian Jeffrey Vance will provide opening remarks on Fairbanks’ wild ‘n woolly career!
His Majesty The American Dir. Joseph Henabery, 1919, 16mm. (Archival 16mm print courtesy of The Douris Corporation)
Mystery of the Leaping Fish Dirs. Christy Cabanne & John Emerson, 1916, 35mm, 25 min. (Archival 35mm print courtesy of The Douris Corporation)

Tickets – $12/free for members

 

2/9 @ 8:00pm / Series: Douglas Fairbanks
The Three Musketeers

“When Alexandre Dumas…said to himself ‘Well, I guess I might as well write a book called The Three Musketeers, he doubtless had one object in view: to provide a suitable story for Douglas Fairbanks to act in the movies.” – LIFE Magazine

1920’s The Mark Of Zorro established Douglas Fairbanks as the biggest action star of his day, and truly set the tone for the rest of his career — but it was in The Three Musketeers that he pulled off, with consummate ease, possibly his most fantastic stuntwork. Even though he was 38 years old at the time, Douglas Fairbanks makes for all-time the role of D’Artagnan (the hot-headed young turk who joins the titular troika of rapier-wielding 17th-century soldiers), and employs a tongue-in-cheek style that has remained a constant in the swashbuckling genre, all the way up through today’s Pirates of the Carribbean. Watch for one of the most stunning stunts in early film, as Fairbanks does a one-handed handspring while reaching for a sword!
Dir. Fred Niblo, 1921, 16mm, 120 min.

Tickets – $10

 

2/16 @ 8:00pm / Series: Douglas Fairbanks
Robin Hood

After the successive successes of the spectacular The Mark of Zorro and The Three Musketeers, Fairbanks’ ambition became as bottomless as his physical prowess — and so naturally, the production of 1922’s Robin Hood was destined to become a staggeringly opulent action extravaganza! Rather than covering the usual time-honored origin story touchstones, Fairbanks’ version instead gives us an opening act where he plays the chivalrous Earl of Huntington, who is a participant in the sword-heavy Crusades. Only upon returning back to England does he find that Prince John has turned a once-idyllic empire into a Dante-esque sty of corruption. Executed on a herculean scale, the film’s sets were erected by an army of five hundred carpenters and towered ninety feet in the air, covering ten acres of land — historically accurate to the smallest detail. Add to that Fairbanks’ trademark gravity-defying stuntwork, and you’ve got one of the most joyous tellings of the beloved Robin Hood myth!
Dir. Allan Dwan, 1922, 35mm, 127 min.

Tickets – $10

 

2/19 @ 6:30pm / Series: Douglas Fairbanks
MEMBERS-ONLY SCREENING, SPECIAL SATURDAY SHOW:
The Thief of Bagdad
(“re-imagined” by Shadoe Stevens, w/ score feat. the music of ELO, world premiere!)

One of the most rousing, lavish and extraordinary film adventures of the 1920s comes to the Cinefamily in a version never before heard! Over the past 30 years, broadcasting legend Shadoe Stevens (the Federated Group’s “Fred Rated”; television shows like “Hollywood Squares and “Dave’s World”; the voice of “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” and so much more) has been obsessed with Douglas Fairbanks’s masterful fantasy The Thief Of Bagdad — and throughout the years, has been privately perfecting the ultimate lush, dreamlike soundtrack to accompany this favored silent. Tonight, we proudly present the world premiere of Shadoe’s “re-imagined” Thief of Bagdad, scored entirely to the legendary music of the Electric Light Orchestra, which inexplicably complements and enhances the action! It’s an exceptional experience, as if the music was written for the movie.

This eye-popping odyssey features Fairbanks as a street thief who, in order to prove his worth to a princess paramour, transforms himself and is whisked away through a variety of storybook scenarios. Leapfrogging from undersea kingdoms to cloud cities and lunar outposts. With a winged horse, magic crystals and flying carpets, it’s a film of breathtaking innovation and magic. Gorgeous art deco larger-than-life setpieces, thousands of extras, the best SFX of its era and Fairbanks’s physical mastery all meld with the timeless music of Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra to produce a once-in-a-lifetime viewing experience!
Dir. Raoul Walsh, 1924, digital presentation, 140 min.

Tickets – free for members (first-come, first serve)

NOTE: you must have a current Cinefamily 3-month, 6-month or yearly membership to gain admission to this show — and we’ll have staff on-hand at the box office for you to re-up your lapsed membership, or sign up for a new one (hint-hint!)

 

2/23 @ 8:00pm / Series: Douglas Fairbanks
The Black Pirate

Photographed in early two-strip Technicolor, The Black Pirate is, by design, nothing but pure entertainment, as it’s crammed to the gills with swordfights, gallivanting about, pretty maidens, underwater chases and sweet revenge! Fairbanks had been itching to do a pirate picture for years, after being beaten to the punch by the big smashes of both The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood — and this film tops them both with its tale of a shipwrecked young man who finds that the pirate enemies who killed his father are also on the same island, burying the treasure which they stole from him. Going undercover, Doug infiltrates their ranks, in an attempt to explode them from within! With exteriors shot on location at sea, this is one of Fairbanks’ most satisfying efforts, blending whimsical comedy, startling nautical realism, romance and violence into a rollicking ball that will leave you grinnin’ from ear to ear, arrrrrgh!
Dir. Albert Parker, 1926, 35mm, 94 min.

Tickets – $10

 

Douglas Fairbanks in "The Mark of Zorro," coming to Austin's Long Center for the Performing Arts

ZORRO SLASHES INTO AUSTIN!

 

Rick Benjamin’s PARAGON ORCHESTRA

plays the original score to Douglas Fairbanks’

‘The Mark of Zorro’

January 30, 2011

4 PM

Long Center for the Performing Arts, Austin, TX

 

“Listening to a full band perform the complete scores, written and timed to the action, became a surprising delight…The audience chuckled along, as much to the music as the films.”

– The Washington Post

 

The MARK of ZORRO (1920) Together again at last – the swashbuckling silent classic with its original, Spanish-flavored score! Played by Rick Benjamin’s Paragon Orchestra.

Old Spanish California is the setting in which Douglas Fairbanks creates the prototype of the modern action-adventure hero, with surprising humor and athleticism, as “Senor Zorro.”

Slashing his trademark “Z” on the consciousness and sometimes the posteriors of the corrupt administration of Governor Alvarado, Zorro leads the way to “Justice for all!”

Rick Benjamin and his Paragon Orchestra reunite the zesty original score with the cinema classic as they have for 20 years with the films of Chaplin, Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

Return to Full Season Listing

 

Buy Subscription Tickets

Buy Tickets

 

For more information, visit TheLongCenter.org

Fairbanks and Marguerite DeLaMotte in "The Mark of Zorro." Photo from the collections of the Douglas Fairbanks Museum.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 10, 2011

CONTACT:

THE DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS MUSEUM

(830) 444-0523

Email

Original 1926 photo from "The Black Pirate," stolen in Dec. 2010 burglary.

BURGLARS NAB RARE FAIRBANKS FILMS, PHOTOS,

ARTIFACTS IN HOLIDAY HEIST

Items dating back to the early 1900s and valued at more than $10,000 (USD) were stolen from the museum’s collections during a late night burglary over the New Year’s holiday.

Original one-of-a-kind photographic prints, negatives and slides, autographs, promotional materials for Fairbanks’ films, the star’s handwritten correspondence, vintage newspapers and magazines, and other rare silent film memorabilia were stolen from the archives.

Fortunately intruders did not gain access to the museum’s most valuable artifacts, which are housed separately in a secure storage facility off-site. However, the crooks did manage to make off with a goodly portion of the museum’s photo, video, and periodicals collections. These are the items most frequently requested by the public, media, filmmakers, other libraries, museums and galleries for reproductions, research and exhibition loans.

Items stolen include five archival binder boxes containing photographic prints, negatives and slides; two large archival albums containing film posters, playbills, programs, vintage theater tickets and other rare film memorabilia; two archival boxes containing newspapers, magazines and film periodicals nearly a century old, as well as copies of films by Fairbanks and other silent cinema stars on VHS tape and DVD from the museum’s circulation library.

The most valuable artifact the burglars got away with was (ironically) an original brass urn dating to approximately 1923, a set piece for the film The Thief of Bagdad. This urn has been a centerpiece of exhibits since the museum acquired it from a Los Angeles movie prop house in 2005. The object stands appx. 2 feet tall and features ornate lifting handles in the shape of two cobra snakes on each side. The rare prop urn was in the process of having a broken handle repaired at the time of the burglary; normally it would have been stored offsite.

1924 prop urn used in "The Thief of Bagdad"

UNHAPPY HOLIDAYS

The burglary took place at the domicile of museum curator Keri Leigh, who was out of town over the holidays. Leigh co-founded the small private museum in 1998 and for many years housed the collections inside her family residence. A lifelong silent film enthusiast, Leigh always enjoyed sharing her rare film memorabilia collection with other Fairbanks fans, filmmakers, researchers, students, and historians, welcoming visitors from all around the globe.

“We never really worried too terribly much about break-ins or petty theft because as a private museum, we’re not readily accessible to the general public. Our tours are by appointment only. We don’t have a location that people can just walk into off the street. ” Leigh explains. “So we avoided a lot of would-be thieves casing the place for valuables with that added layer of security.”

While the museum’s policy limits admittance and access to the collections only to those with a bona fide research or scholarly need, curator Leigh says “actually, we’ve never denied admittance to anyone over the years,” a decision she does not regret even in light of the burglary. “The whole point is to share the collections with people.”

“Silent film fans respect the historical value of these artifacts,” she stresses. “They would never want to deprive future generations of the chance to see and learn about Douglas Fairbanks. They’ve always treated the museum and the home with great care when they come to visit us. They are as upset as we are about this theft, because these collections rightfully belong to the people – to Doug’s fans; to history.”

The most distressing aspect of the theft, according to Leigh, is that “the people who stole these artifacts were probably unaware of their cultural value and importance. They probably just thought they were robbing a well-stocked private residence, maybe looking to make a quick buck by selling the contents. They likely had no idea they had stolen property belonging to a museum.” Leigh shook her head in sad disbelief. “It would not surprise me at all if they didn’t even know who Douglas Fairbanks was.”

Such a burglary is not at all uncommon: according to the Art Loss Register, 54 percent of art thefts occur in domestic dwellings. However, the next three highest areas of theft occur in museums and galleries (12 percent each) and in churches (10 percent.) For this reason, institutions housing valuables have set up organizations to combat and prevent art thefts. These include the Univeristy of Cambridge’s Illicit Antiquities Research Centre, which monitors and reports on the international trade of stolen antiquities, and MuseumSecurity.Org, which has a mailing list that provides regular reports on stolen museum items.

Other major law enforcement agencies have their own databases of stolen artwork, including the Interpol database of stolen art. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is also devoted to International Cultural Property Protection.

The problem has become so prevalent that in 1991 the art and insurance communities jointly began the Art Loss Register in an attempt to fight art thefts around the globe. The register allows major auctioneers, collectors and art buyers to check their catalogues to determine whether a valuable piece is stolen property. The ALR lists about 1,200 new items each month and has a total of more than 120,000 stolen paintings, sculptures, furnishings and other valuable artifacts on file.

A rare image of Fairbanks with his custom Cadillac, circa 1928. This photograph, along with hundreds of others, was stolen in the Dec. 2010 burglary.

A RUDE AWAKENING

In the early morning hours of December 30th, museum curator Leigh was awakened in her hotel room miles away by a phone call from her neighbors. They had witnessed the bandits driving away in the middle of the night and alerted police.

When a panicked Leigh returned home, she discovered that the front door lock had been cracked. Her home surveillance cameras were of no use, either — electrical lines to the house were cut before the looters entered. Inside, she found a ransacked mess of her personal possessions strewn about the floor; all drawers, closets, and cabinets were picked through by the criminals. Everything of value in the home had been taken.

Leigh (who is also a renowned musician, recording artist, writer, and radio personality) lost an invaluable collection of rare tapes, photographs, concert posters and music memorabilia documenting her 25 year music career in the heist. Leigh has previously authored biographies of Douglas Fairbanks and blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, her late friend and musical mentor.

Items taken from the home include Leigh’s original onstage costumes; many were handmade custom designs given to her by fans and friends through the years. She also lost master tapes for her band’s studio albums, a treasured 1940s Stella acoustic guitar, as well as her collection of her band’s live recordings, radio interviews and broadcasts, demo tapes, notes, song lyrics, notes, research and chapters for a book she was writing at the time of the break-in. While the actual cash or replacement value for these items exceeds $20,000, Leigh says their practical and sentimental value is incalculable: “You just can’t put a price tag on things like that.”

“”They took the deepest part of me – my music.” She says. “Songs I wrote, recorded, mixed and produced. They took my demo tapes and a 20-year archive of recorded performances of the band in concert, in the studio and on the radio. That’s a lifetime of work – my whole heart and soul – was in there. And they took it all. I could write an album’s worth of blues songs about how I feel right now, but don’t even have a guitar left to write them on.”

Hundreds of CDs, DVDs, 45 and 78 rpm records were stolen from Leigh’s sizable music collection. Designer clothing items were also pilfered; medicines and nutritional supplements nicked from her kitchen pantry. (“Seriously — what kind of burglars steal your vitamins?” Leigh mused.) The peckish prowlers also helped themselves to food items in her pantry. To make matters worse for Leigh personally, the burglars found her spare sets of keys and copped two cars. Until the stolen property is recovered and returned, Leigh is without even the basic necessities of daily life. “They totally cleaned me out,” she says.

“About the only thing they didn’t take were my books,” Leigh sighed. “I guess they weren’t very literary burglars.”

So far, no arrests have been made in the case.

TO CATCH A THIEF

Leigh’s friends, family, fans, and Fairbanks museum supporters have organized an online community watch effort to catch the crooks. They scour web auction and classified sites such as Craigslist looking out for her stage clothing, guitars, master tapes, personal effects, and museum artifacts to emerge. (Many of Leigh’s stolen stage costumes can be seen in the photo galleries of her band’s Official MySpace and in her music videos on YouTube.)

Music and film memorabilia dealers, auctioneers, other museums, and the general public are being urged to keep their eyes peeled for these items and to report any suspected stolen property to their local police or the FBI. Leigh has also retained a private investigator to help track down her stolen property and locate the thieves.

“These things nearly always wind up on eBay sooner or later.” Leigh says. “Art thieves routinely approach museums, galleries and memorabilia dealers trying to sell stolen goods. With the eyes of the public watching them, they are far less likely to succeed. Most art thieves are caught by one person who recognizes a piece of cultural property offered for sale as stolen and reports back to the rightful owner.”

Perhaps the only consolation for Leigh is that most of the items stolen from her home are unique and one-of-a-kind, and thus easily identifiable. “For the most part, these are not the typical sorts of items that can be sold off to pawn shops, such as TVs, computers, stereo equipment and electronics.” She explained. “It would take a very sophisticated fence operation that deals in stolen art and cultural property to handle them on the black market. I rather doubt these thieves are that clever or that connected.”

The museum is offering a 90-day “no questions asked” amnesty period for the safe return of the property. Should the burglars — or anyone currently in possession of the stolen items — return them to the museum, the band’s management, or to Leigh personally before March 30, 2011, they will not face criminal prosecution.

“The most important thing is getting the items returned promptly,” Leigh says. “The museum is scheduled to re-open in May 2011, and I can only pray we will have this substantial part of our collections back in time for that. Otherwise, our ability to present exhibits and fulfill research requests will be greatly diminished. To say the least.”

An alert and vigilant public will play a crucial role in recovering both Leigh’s own musical treasures and the Fairbanks Museum artifacts taken from her home.”Working together, I hope and pray that we can catch the thieves and get these rare items returned to the museum, so that the public may continue to have access to them for hundreds of years to come.” Leigh says. “This collection was intended to survive well past my earthly lifetime. I built it for the education, enjoyment and cultural enrichment of future generations. To think that all that time, effort and expense was in vain absolutely breaks my heart.”

Signed Fairbanks photographic print, circa 1920. Stolen.

BE OUR EYES AND EARS

Anyone with information about the burglary or reports of artifacts from the museum’s collections being offered for sale is encouraged to contact the museum immediately via email or phone at (830) 444-0523. Tips leading to an arrest and/or return of museum property may also qualify for a cash reward.

As the inventory of stolen property contains hundreds of items and is too extensive to include here, 100 images and descriptions of artifacts taken in the Dec. 30th burglary are sampled below. Please take a few moments to familiarize yourself with them.

Many more of the stolen photographs, posters, and museum artifacts can be seen in the 2005 documentary film Douglas Fairbanks: The Great Swashbuckler. You can watch this film on the museum’s official YouTube Channel.

If you spot the same or similar item(s) being offered for sale and suspect these may be museum property, please contact the museum to confirm provenance via catalog/accession numbers and identifying tags/marks on the object(s) right away. Time is of the essence in reclaiming these historic museum artifacts before they are lost forever.

Samples of property/objects stolen from the museum’s collections:

 

The Douglas Fairbanks Museum recently provided research materials to the History Channel for an upcoming  documentary about the use of language in film.

Vintage news articles from the museum’s newspaper and magazine archives were requested by the network specifically pertaining to the 1916 Douglas Fairbanks comedy, The Habit of Happiness – reportedly the first Hollywood film to contain a curse word. And this was in the silent days before spoken dialogue!

Although there are no swear words in the printed title cards, Fairbanks reportedly swore up a blue streak in one particular scene, sparking a nationwide lip-reading movie controversy.

 

 

From the 1917 book "Laugh and Live" by Douglas Fairbanks. Original in the museum's library.

 

 

Fairbanks fans may already be familiar with the story of Sunny Wiggins, the film’s central character. He’s convinced that laughter can cure any ailment and to prove his point, he conducts an experiment: find the saddest, sickest characters on earth and heal them with happiness. He decides to test his theory on a group of street-hardened “bums” at the local homeless shelter.

Douglas Fairbanks (always a stickler for authenticity) decided to make the scene as realistic as possible, hiring actual direlects from skid row instead of professional actors.

Things didn’t quite work out as planned, however; despite Doug’s many attempts to crack them up with his best gags, the men weren’t at all amused. At wits’ end, Fairbanks thus began to tell some extremely ribald and off-color stories – only this got the sad sacks to elicit a genuine chuckle before finally erupting into all-out belly laughs.

When the film was initially released by Triangle Pictures in 1916, complaints from deaf lip-readers who could grasp the flurry of Fairbanks’ profanities caused the offending scenes to be re-shot and distributed anew to theatres.

“It’s a hilarious story,” museum curator Keri Leigh says, “and I always enjoy telling it to our visitors. Although I still maintain that no one could tell the story better than Doug himself.”

Fairbanks did write his own version of the now-infamous event in an article called “Combining Play With Work,” which originally appeared in the American Magazine for July 1917.

A complete reprint of the 1917 article appears in the book Douglas Fairbanks: In His Own Words, a literary collection of Fairbanks’ writings published by the museum in 2006.

 

Leigh says that consulting with the producers on this documentary film was “a wonderful opportunity for the museum to further our mission of educating a younger generation about who Douglas Fairbanks was. We want kids especially to learn of his importance to the history and development of the cinematic arts.”

The educational documentary, which is geared towards school-age children, will be broadcast in early 2011. Stay tuned to the museum’s blog for further announcements as the air date nears.

Dominick Fairbanks, grandson of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., great-grandson of Fairbanks Sr.

LONDON — A £75 million ($120 million) movie based on Baroness Orczy’s classic “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is front and center of seriously ambitious production plans for Fairbanks Productions, the U.K.’s newest and big-talking filmmaking banner on the block.

Dominick Fairbanks, the great grandson and grandson of Hollywood legends Douglas Fairbanks and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., plans to bring his famous Hollywood family name into the 21st century with his production banner upstart.

His team for the launch includes cult British writer and director Michael Armstrong, who takes the role of head of creative development, and executive producer James Black.

On hand at an extravagant old school launch for the next generation of Fairbanks’ royalty at a private function held here in the famous Dorchester Grill in the central London hotel, the third generation Fairbanks unveiled his team and plans.

The company aims to launch a slate of productions in early 2011 but Black told The Hollywood Reporter a remake of “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” starring upcoming Brit actor Neil Jackson, whose big screen credits include a turn in “Quantum Of Solace,” is front and center.

“We want to try and do to the story of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” what Guy Ritchie did to ‘Sherlock Holmes’ [for Warner Bros],” said Black.

Plans are to shoot the picture sometime in the latter half of next year, “somewhere in Eastern Europe,” according to Black, with a host of “high profile cameos” in the movie.

But the production banner is not all about big-budget dreams.

Black, Fairbanks and Armstrong are all committed to the family dynasty’s commitment to nurturing and creating talent behind the camera for the future.

The upstart banner has already committed to make “Kill The Dead,” an original script from award-winning short filmmaker Shaune Harrison, its first fully-financed picture.

Harrison’s script, which he will direct, is set in the near future and details a reality TV show where contestants kill people recently brought back to life for that purpose.

With a budget of a moderate £5 million ($8 million), “Kill the Dead” will set out the company’s stall for supporting fresh talent and storytelling. Harrison said he has just delivered the second draft of “Dead” to Fairbanks and hopes to make it next year. Harrison’s day job is as a prosthetic make up artist of repute whose credits include “Captain America” and the “Harry Potter” movies.

The company has backing from a “tapestry of high-networth individuals,” according to Black and also has commercial relationships with U.S. bank Metro Bank, whose Anthony Thompson was on hand to talk up the proposed launch of the U.K.’s latest retail banking enterprise and HSBC.

Fairbanks Productions has also engaged U.K. legal eagles Harbottle and Lewis to add gravitas to the ambitions.

Douglas Fairbanks starred in a myriad Hollywood productions and was one of the founders of United Artists in 1919. His son, Fairbanks Jr., a decorated soldier on both sides of the Atlantic after serving in PT boats and gunboats in WW2 followed in his father’s footsteps carving out a successful career in movies also.

From The Hollywood Reporter

If you’re already shopping for the perfect Christmas gifts for the silent movie fan on your list, The Douglas Fairbanks Museum is  offering a great holiday special in our online gift shop.

Right now, you can take 15% off all orders of $60 or more if you use the code word “HALLOWS” at checkout.

Whatever you’re looking for: t-shirts, hats, clothes for baby and pets, tote bags, accessories, coffee mugs, clocks, wall calendars, posters and photographic prints from the museum’s archives, you’ll find it all in our virtual gift shop.

Hurry, this great deal won’t last long! Sale ends Oct. 13th, 2010.

Doug Fairbanks' Santa Monica beach house

 

The 1922 house has ocean views and is nestled in Santa Monica’s ritzy Gold Coast area.

 

The former Santa Monica beach house of silent film star Douglas Fairbanks Sr. has sold for $6,862,000.

In an area that became known as the Gold Coast after Hollywood stars and industry giants built homes there in the 1920s, the neighborhood included such titans as MGM head Irving Thalberg and his actress-wife, Norma Shearer, oilman J. Paul Getty and comic actor Harold Lloyd. The street where Fairbanks’ home sits was nicknamed Rolls-Royce Row.

The ocean-view Mediterranean, built in 1922, has formal living and dining rooms, three bedrooms, 3 1/2 bathrooms and 3,817 square feet of living space. A wide brick terrace extends the living area off the back of the house and steps down to the swimming pool and spa, which are flanked by lawns lined with mature trees. There is a paddle tennis or sports court and a fire pit.

The property previously sold in 1994 for $1,815,000, according to public records. It came on the market less than a year ago at $7.9 million.

The hit “The Mark of Zorro” (1920) established Fairbanks as a swashbuckling leading man. His natural athleticism was put to use in films such as “Robin Hood” (1922) and “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924).

Jeffrey Hyland of Hilton & Hyland, Beverly Hills, had the listing. Chad Rogers of the same office represented the buyer.
 

 

Story by Lauren Beale, The Los Angeles Times.
lauren.beale@latimes.com

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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On May 23, 1883, a ray of Colorado sunshine was born in Denver. He grew up to become our swashbuckling hero of the silent silver screen and everyone’s favorite all-American boy!

 

Happy Birthday, Mr. Fairbanks…and *thank you* for all the smiles you’ve given the world.:)

Douglas Fairbanks as D'Artagnan from "The Three Musketeers" as featured on the cover of Motion Picture Magazine, September 1921. From the collections of the Douglas Fairbanks Museum.
Douglas Fairbanks as D’Artagnan from “The Three Musketeers” as featured on the cover of Motion Picture Magazine, September 1921. From the collections of the Douglas Fairbanks Museum.

Mold: The Whole Picture, Part 4: Effect of Mold on Schools, Homes, & Human Beings

by Ellen McCrady
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
 
Ellen Ruth McCrady, publisher of Abbey Publications and editor of the Abbey Newsletter, Alkaline Paper Advocate, and The Mold Reporter passed away on March 5, 2008.

 

When Pasteur demonstrated in the late 1800s that bacteria caused disease, it took a long while for the public to get a clear idea of what bacteria were and how they did what they did. In the 1930s, many people thought you could catch conjunctivitis by looking at someone who had an infected eye, and even today most people do not know the best way to avoid infections in general.

Still, most people agree on the basics: You catch an infection from other people, because a germ invades your body through broken skin, the digestive system, or lungs. If it makes you very sick, you go to a doctor, who will diagnose you and maybe take a blood sample to confirm his diagnosis. Then he will treat you with drugs or a shot of antibiotics and other therapeutic measures. He may have to operate. You go to bed, and if you do not die, you will get well, though you may carry scars (smallpox) or be otherwise disabled (polio).

When people are made sick by mold, it’s a whole new ball game. You do not catch mold spores from other people the way you do germs. You catch them from buildings, or the materials you work with. The longer or more intense your exposure, the sicker you get. What makes you sick is usually not the organisms themselves, but the airborne toxins and allergens they produce. You may become so sick that you have to go to bed, but your doctor will probably not know how to diagnose you and you may look healthy to your friends. Even if you do get diagnosed, your medical insurance will probably not cover your treatment expenses. If you lose your job and your health, and sue the landlord to get the money for medical expenses and loss of income, chances are very small that you will win in court, because it is virtually impossible to prove to a jury that your health was damaged because of mold in the building. Juries need the equivalent of a smoking gun, and so far, there is no foolproof way to connect a moldy building with a sick person.

Even after you think you have recovered, you have not gained immunity, as you do after you have had chickenpox or measles; in fact, you may be more vulnerable to future exposures than you were to start with, just as you would be after exposure to other common toxins, such as lead.

(Gary Frost, in a recent letter about his own experience with mold, concluded by saying, “Mold is certainly smart. It is stunning to realize how opportunistic ‘primitive’ organisms are and how they maximize any benefits from change in their environments. These organisms don’t need evolution…. They are responsive enough as is.”)

Besides the responsiveness, or adaptation to different conditions that Gary mentions, they mutate with relative ease, and they associate with other microorganisms in proportions that change as the conditions change—i.e., as a location grows moister, the proportion of Stachybotrys species will increase, and so on. So it is hard to tell what you are dealing with.

In the tropics, the situation is even more serious. J. David Miller, in his excellent paper, “Fungi as Contaminants in Indoor Air,” says,

In the cold climate of Canada, very few people encounter someone who dies from a fungal disease. This is not the case in tropical countries where diseases caused by fungi are common. There are a number of invariably fatal systemic infections as well as skin and nail mycoses and lung infections. Diseases caused by ingestion of fungal toxins [i.e., eating spoiled food] are leading causes of death in tropical and subtropical countries, especially liver cancer induced by the ingestion of aflatoxins, esophageal cancer caused by some Fusarium toxins and deaths caused indirectly by the excessive consumption of immune system depressors such as the trichothecenes (1).

Reports of Mold-Infested Schools and Homes

Papers given at conferences may give statistics on moldy homes and schools as part of a larger picture, but somehow personal and newspaper reports of individual schools and homes are better at showing how mold can affect peoples’ lives.


In a suburb of Dallas about six years ago, according to a 1997 report in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, health officials were puzzled by the illness of a suburban woman, who had suffered from flulike symptoms for two weeks after she moved into a condominium. A regional industrial hygienist with the health department was quoted as saying that “the neighbors found her crawling around on her hands and knees complaining of earthquakes.” Health officials investigated her case and found that her illness was caused by fungus in the air-conditioning ducts of her condo. The industrial hygienist was quoted as saying, “She was totaled. Her system was overwhelmed. She was in the hospital for 60 days before they got her cleaned out.”

The news report goes on to say that public knowledge of fungi does not reach far beyond mushrooms, athlete’s foot and yeast infections, despite its deadly potential. Michael Rinaldi, a mycologist at Audie Murphy Veterans Affairs Hospital in San Antonio, is quoted as saying that in the last 10 years mycology, the study of fungus, has become one of the most critical in all of medicine.

Susceptibility to fungus varies, it says. Infants, the aged, asthma patients who are being treated with steroids, and people with weakened immune systems are most susceptible. (The author failed to mention one other important group: women. In some occupations they are several times more likely to be affected than men.)


CNN Interactive, a website, had a story in November 1997 on a post-flood case of Stachybotrys growth in West Bloomfield, Michigan. The 14-month-old granddaughter had developed breathing problems, and the grandmother was getting headaches and often felt ill, especially when she was in the basement. These troubles came after the spring rains that flooded the basement, bringing on the growth of Stachybotrys, visible only as a small round black circle on the wall.

Dr. George Riegel of Healthy Homes commented on this incident, saying that few people who clean up after a flood do a professional job and contain the area (with tape and plastic sheeting), with the result that the mold spreads to other parts of the house. To remove it safely, he said, would cost that family close to $10,000. He also said that most black molds are not Stachybotrys. Stachybotrys grows only on wood and paper products, and can be found in only about 2 to 5 percent of American homes.

The grandmother said the news was rather unnerving. “I am ready to move, but where am I going? This is my home. I can’t afford to just pack up and leave.”


Hill Elementary School in Austin, Texas, was closed down at the beginning of March and students assigned to other schools when mold (a lot of Penicillium and a small amount of Stachybotrys) was found in the outer rooms in the main building. Further investigation revealed that the annex buildings and portables also had mold.

As usual, in cases like this in which a thorough investigation is done, several conditions were found to have contributed to the overgrowth: a spring in the crawl space beneath the building after rains (not a big problem); poor ventilation (air pressure higher outside the building than inside—a big problem, because this draws in contaminated moisture); condensation from cool roof beams, which dripped into the school walls (since the moisture barrier at that interface no longer was able to stop it); skylights (always potential sources of water troubles); and (as in most schools), outer walls lined on the inside with moisture-impermeable chalkboards, bulletin boards and cabinetry, all of which tend to trap the moisture within the walls.

Since the demolition is not complete yet, more pockets of mold and decay may come to light. The outlying buildings (annex and portables) have been found to have mold contamination too. The school board has authorized the schools superintendent to spend a million dollars to correct the problem. No one can be sure that the building will be ready for the fall semester, four months away.

The children were getting sick and parents were complaining last fall, months before the condition of the school was recognized as a problem.

The local paper ran a letter to the editor recently from someone who has been through this kind of crisis before. It says, in part:

Stachybotrys was found in a Bryan school building in 1996. I know because I was the principal. I requested environmental studies be conducted by a biologic hazards company. Instead, the district hired an industrial company unfamiliar with mold problems. Two environmental specialists reviewed the findings and found dangerously high levels of Stachybotrys as well as other molds. My health deteriorated, and I was granted disability retirement by the medical board of the Texas Teacher Retirement System because of the effects of toxic exposure to Stachybotrys.

My heart goes out to the staff and students who are still in the Bryan building.


A story about mold contamination of hospitals was sent to the Aspergillus discussion list. It was from a subscriber in Finland, replying in sympathy to someone who had observed water damage to ceilings in five hospitals she had been in. The Finnish subscriber said, “In my country too we have many mold-contaminated hospitals (at least 3 central hospitals), unfortunately.

 

“One of my friends has been diagnosed with occupational allergic alveolitis; she had been working in a mold-contaminated library, which was closed later and the staff was moved to another building. She complained that she got bad symptoms whenever she was in her central hospital. All the staff, even doctors, denied mold problems and said she was wrong. Now 3 wards of this hospital have been closed for mold reparation!!!”

[To find information about Aspergillus diseases, the Aspergillus web site, e-mail group moderators, the e-mail archive, FAQs and e-mail list commands, go to http://www.aspergillus.man.ac.uk/listinfo.htm].


Another subscriber to the aspergillus mail list, Danitza Shanahan, contributed the following story to the list March 9. She saw it on page 24 of the Arizona Republic for March 5:

New Home Becomes a Horror

Mold Endangers Children’s Health
A Mother’s Dream
by Beverly Ford

When Michelle Harless finally scraped up the money for her first house, she thought she was prepared for the rigors of home ownership. But within months, her Glendale dream home became her worst nightmare. The stuff of that nightmare: mold fed by a leaky pipe.

Four months after moving into the three-bedroom house, Harless’s 7-year-old son, Thomas Fuller, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, had to be hospitalized. Two months later, he was hospitalized again. Doctors said Thomas had lost 33 percent of his lung function because of a common but sometimes toxic mold, called aspergillus.

“When it came back aspergillus we were blown away,” said Harless, 26. Her 2-year-old son, James Hatley, wasn’t immune, either. He lost his appetite, developed red, cracked skin and began coughing and sniffling. Doctors thought he was suffering from seizures. Harless knew otherwise: It was aspergillus mold.

Then, she said, things went from bad to worse. Harless’s insurance company told her that her policy didn’t cover mold infestation. “I thought I did everything right,” she said, “I had a home inspection. I had homeowners insurance, I had a home warranty. But it’s a nightmare.”

For weeks, Harless tried to convince the company that the mold was caused by a leaky pipe, which was covered under her policy. But the company stood firm. And despite her son’s health problems, the company refused to reimburse the family for moving into an apartment, she said, or to pay to clean up the mold that had by now permeated the home.

“I felt trapped,” Harless said. “Mold affects healthy people, but for my son it was a life-and-death matter.”

The insurance carrier, Century National Insurance Co., declined to comment on Harless’s claims. It was only when an insurance adjuster put up the money that Harless and her family were able to move into a nearby apartment. Soon, both children’s health improved, although Thomas’s lungs remain permanently damaged, she said. Harless and her husband continue to make payments on the $91,000 home while they wait to see whether their insurance company will pay for repairs. The firm has sent inspectors to examine the home and recently offered to work out a settlement.


A case similar to Michele Harless’s, only worse, was reported in USA Weekend for Dec. 3-5, 1999. It starts out this way:

“It started with a series of leaks. Within a year, Melinda Ballard’s 11,500-square-foot Texas dream home was quarantined; her 3-year-old son, Rees, was on daily medication to treat scarred, asthmatic lungs; her husband, Ron Allison, had lost his memory along with his job; and the family was living out of suitcases and locked in a seemingly endless battle with their insurance company. The problem? Household mold [Stachybotrys].”

This family is not poor: the house sits on a 72-acre estate in Dripping Springs, west of Austin. She is described as an heiress. But now she has to put on a HEPA mask in order to enter the house, which she does once a week to check the air conditioning. The men who are cutting out the moldy timbers have to wear moon suits. David Straus, a mold expert with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, spent just 30 minutes inside the house, but was throwing up hours afterward, and now has severe hearing loss in one ear from the mold. The family suffered from headaches, dizziness and fatigue, then respiratory and sinus problems, in addition to profusely bloody runny noses and coughed-up blood.

The family is suing their insurance company (Farmers Insurance) for $100 million, and the County District Attorney has initiated a grand jury investigation to consider criminal charges against the company.

Given the Usual Course of Events, What Options Do We Have?

If you suspect your building has a mild or moderate mold problem, try to identify its source or sources so you can avoid them, or do something about them, or direct the attention of technical people to them. If you have been affected, your own reactions may be the best indicator available. Take notes on the date, area, presence of moisture (especially after a rain), any apparent mold growth, and effect on you. Forget about setting out petri dishes or measuring the humidity of the air.

Early recognition of a mold problem, and identification of its cause and remedy, can keep the mold from getting a head start if you have done your homework, provided the financing and approval for assessment and remediation can be found. The above instances show that residents and staff in a moldy building have no good options left if the mold gets a head start. This situation may eventually change when buildings are built and maintained to prevent moisture accumulation, when doctors learn to recognize the effect of mold exposure, when lawmakers require insurance companies to cover people affected by a mold disaster, and when mycologists are able to make an airtight causal connection between the presence of indoor mold and the health of people who inhabit the same space. Any change from the present situation will be an improvement. At present, though, rich and poor alike have only one good option: preparedness.

1. Maintain a list, compiled from references if possible, of all the experts you may one day have to call on (an informed doctor, a consultant who can assess the mold problem and advise on cleanup, someone who is knowledgeable about construction of houses and management of HVAC systems, etc.). The nearest one may be in another town.

2. Gather information: Buy books on the topic, visit informative websites, talk with informed people, get friendly with the building engineer and competent local service people who specialize in duct and carpet cleaning, join organizations that have mold prevention and recovery on their agendas, e.g. C.U.R.E. (Citizens United for Responsible Environmentalism, Inc., an international nonprofit education and research organization based in California, focusing on educating doctors and the public about mold diseases and toxicoses—tel. 408/268-4085, fax 408/476-8552).

One book that everyone should have access to has just appeared in print: Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments, available on the Internet at http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/doh/html/epi/moldrpt1.html (2) Future revisions to it will be posted there too. For more information, contact the New York City Department of Health at 212/788-4290. An expert panel was convened in 1993, originally to develop policies for medical and environmental evaluation and intervention in cases of Stachybotrys atra [chartarum] contamination. This revised guideline covers all fungi.

3. Follow developments in research and make contacts. Go to a mold conference now and then, or read in the professional literature on current research, to be sure your information is up to date. This will also make people more willing to talk to you; you can put yourself on a grapevine if you have recent news to swap. (As far as I know, there are no extension or college courses on coping with mold, except perhaps in the historical preservation field.)

4. Study real situations. Even if there is no leak to be found, water can enter a building through porous building materials, including concrete. It may enter as water vapor and condense and collect in hidden places. There are many esoteric ways for water to enter a house and feed mold. They are hard to understand without some kind of hands-on experience or a good teacher or a couple of really good books. So study is unavoidable.

5. If you have to leave your home or job despite everything, it helps to be on good terms with family members and friends who might be able to put you up in an emergency. A good savings account may be more use to you than medical insurance.

Picking Up the Pieces

If the mold problem is not too bad, or if the source of the problem is on neighboring property rather than inside your house, you could do as several C.U.R.E. members have done: install freestanding HEPA air filters in the office or bedroom, or even in every room in the house. Central HEPA filter units, with their own fan and air supply, can be installed as part of the central air conditioner. They work best if you have a good air return system. A good air filter large enough to handle a small or average bedroom can be had for $150-190. It will not work, however, if you set it on a deep carpet full of dust. This will just blow the dust up into the air. Set it on a stool or chair.

If you get really sick from mold, the first thing to do is to avoid further exposure (i.e., leave home or take extended leave from your job). Then ask your friendly local mycologist to recommend a good doctor. Or find an Internet list of doctors who can treat mold, and be prepared to travel, because there may not be one in your town. There are medicines nowadays that are effective against a fairly broad range of mold species.

References

1. Atmospheric Environment Vol. 26A, No. 12, pp. 2163-2172, 1992.

2. Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments, available on the Internet at http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/doh/html/epi/moldrpt1.html. the printed version, 14 pp. long, is issued by the New York City Dept. of Health, Environmental & Occupational Disease Prevention, 125 Worth St. c/n 34C, New York, NY 10013. It is intended for use by building engineers and management, but is available for general distribution to anyone concerned about fungal contamination, such as environmental consultants, health professionals, or the general public.

Mold Websites & Listservs Related to Health

  • aspergillus-on@mail-list.com (A listserv for people diagnosed with Aspergillus infections. A minor source of usable information; mainly serves as a support group.)
  • http://www.aspergillus.man.ac.uk/ (A technical website which offers an impressive variety of information, including the full text of a large number of medical papers. Registration is needed if you want to have access to all sections.)
  • http://www.chem.umd.edu/organic/jarvis.html (Analysis of 4 toxins, esp. tricothecenes, a kind of toxin produced by many species of mold)
  • http://isiaq.org/ (International Society for Indoor Air Quality. Good on buildings and air handling, but not on mold itself, or on health.)

Mold: The Whole Picture
Pt. 3, A Neglected Public Health Problem

by Ellen McCrady
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Ellen Ruth McCrady, publisher of Abbey Publications and editor of the Abbey Newsletter, Alkaline Paper Advocate, and The Mold Reporter passed away on March 5, 2008.

There have been so many stories in the news media lately about mold-infested schools and residences that I decided to skip the installments on remediation, buildings, and preventive measures for the time being, and go right to the personal narratives of people whose lives or health had been affected. In the next issue I will try to suggest ways to recognize the danger and describe some of the options available to victims. -Ed.
 

The first story appeared in the January 2000 issue of the WAAC Newsletter, in the Health and Safety column:

My name is Kim Harper. Seven years ago, I was exposed to mold. I worked in a small historical museum where I managed the archival collection and, later, the operations of a twelve-building museum village.

I absolutely loved my job working with artifacts and researching family history. Much of the archival collection was housed in a 100-year-old school house. For several months I sorted through water-damaged ledgers and artifacts. Many were covered with a black soot-like dust. After a few months, I noticed I was losing my balance, my short-term memory was failing, and I began dropping things. Sometimes, it almost felt like I had been drinking. These symptoms led doctors to believe I had multiple sclerosis. My health was deteriorating rapidly.

My asthma, which was previously mild, began to bother me daily. I was taking up to 14 doses of Ventolin a day at work. My asthma became so bad that after ten months of working at the Museum, my doctor ordered a lung function test. This test showed my lung function had dropped almost 20%.

I went on to develop intense joint pain and fatigue. At first, I thought I was just coming down with the flu, but it never went away … never. This unusual flu-like illness caused confusion, extreme fatigue, and joint pain. I recall asking my board members to write down any requests because I would forget what they wanted by the time they left the building.

Slowly, I was forced to cut back extra volunteer work at the Museum. I left my Trustee position with the School Board and eventually had to leave my part-time job, and finally my work at the Museum. I went on sick leave for two months. My asthma and cognitive symptoms improved almost 90%. But this all changed when I returned to work.

After two weeks back to work in the archives, my breathing, fatigue and joint pain began to worsen. I was asked to clean a damp, 100-year-old furnace room that had chronic water problems and mold. Within two months, my lung function had dropped another 20%. I was taking several pain medications to get through the work day and up to 20 puffs of Ventolin. After two severe asthma attacks where I could not breathe, I was forced to leave work permanently. I realize now, I should never have returned to work after my sick leave. Since starting work at the Museum three years earlier, my lung function had dropped a total of 36%. My lungs were working at only 44% capacity.

After leaving work, my asthma did not get better as it did with the first sick leave. Over the next year away from work, I spent many days in hospital to help my breathing. In order to stay out of the hospital, I was forced to take large doses of medication to manage even the simplest of tasks. Doctors prescribed 38 puffs of medication a day along with Prednisone.

I have never been well enough to return to work. You see, we realized too late that work was causing my health problems. I now know that I should never have cleaned the old furnace room without proper protection.

My health has improved slightly since leaving the Museum. But without medication, my lungs are still bad. Since 1992 I have never been pain free. I have trouble managing daily activities and was forced to move from my two-story home to a home with fewer stairs.

Mold is everywhere, but if you have to work with it, take a few extra minutes to learn about it and make educated choices to protect yourself. If workers are having problems, they should stop working in the contaminated environment immediately. I would encourage them to go to an occupational health specialist experienced in the effects of mold. By knowing exactly what is making them sick, they can take the necessary protective steps. You should know that some workers will never be able to work in a contaminated environment once they have been sensitized. I only hope that everyone will understand a little protection and knowledge goes a long way.

We know many of us would never want to stop working in our exciting field. There is no need to panic, we just need to take a practical approach and take the time to get informed and protect ourselves. This way we can continue to work with the artifacts that we love so very much. Someone has to preserve our history.

If anyone would like to learn more, or would like to share their experience, they can contact the Harper Archives at mkharper@netcom.ca.

Regards, Kim Harper
Whitby, Ontario, Canada

[On March 16, Ms. Harper sent an e-mail message saying, in part, “I am happy to learn you are getting the word out to others…. We have spent years learning how to remove and protect our artifacts from the ravages of mold. I’m glad it’s time for us to spend some time on protecting staff. Every week I see an increased concern in dealing with the toxic effects of mold.”

[She recommended that interested people contact her at mkharper@netcom.ca, where she can provide feedback, suggest websites and literature, and discuss how to approach your employer or Health and Safety Committee. She also suggested looking into the following sites:

  • http://www.envirocenter.com/ENYOHPto review research by well-known expert in this field: Dr. Eckardt Johanning of the Eastern New York Occupational and Environmental Health Center in Albany, New York. He has helped museum workers exposed to Stachybotrys in Soho, New York. This site includes several resources to help identify and remediate molds. Early in March he discussed the health hazards of mold on the television program “48 Hours.”
  • http://www.radio.cbc.ca/programs/quirks/archives/98-99to listen to a 20-minute broadcast on “Librarian’s Lung.” The show interviews a few archivists and museum workers who share their experiences with mold and how it affected their health. You can also contact the radio station staff by e-mail at <<>quirks@toronto.cbs.ca>. Maybe they will do a follow-up.

[In the absence of clear guidelines from the government, she recommended that workers should understand how important it is to identify the suspect mold as soon as possible. “It can be as simple as taking a scotch tape sample,” she said, “and mailing it to a mycologist familiar with Stachybotrys and Aspergillus for identification. This way staff will know if they are dealing with a mycotoxin that needs more careful consideration. A photograph of the area also helps.”]

See also the Aspergillus Web Site

“This site is designed to provide information on pathogenic Aspergilli for clinicians and scientific researchers. The site includes DNA sequence data, a comprehensive bibliographic database, laboratory protocols, treatment information and discussion groups. The Aspergillus Web Site is sponsored by Alza Corporation and Ortho Biotech Inc. and the sponsors have access to the Web Site address book–as do all other Aspergillus Web Site users. The European Science Foundation has also made a contribution to the maintenance of the site.”


Robert J. Milevski, Preservation Librarian at Princeton University Libraries, related a personal experience with mold in 1994 on the Conservation DistList.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS AUTHOR:

Mold
Part 1, Mold: The Whole Picture
Part 2, Assessment of Mold Problems
Part 3, A Neglected Public Health Problem
Part 4: Effect of Mold on Schools, Homes, & Human Beings

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ellen Ruth McCrady, publisher of Abbey Publications and editor of the Abbey Newsletter, Alkaline Paper Advocate, and The Mold Reporter passed away on March 5, 2008.