King Baggot: A Biography and Filmography of the First King of the Movies (2010) – By James L. Neibaur
The late Sally Dumaux came upon her subject for this thorough, fascinating biography when an inquisitive descendant of King Baggot came to the library where Sally worked as a research librarian. Little had been written, so for the next several years Sally investigated the life and work of this unfairly forgotten actor from cinema’s infancy.
The resulting book not only provides complete information about Baggot himself, but allows us a really solid look at the very first moving pictures, just as the medium was advancing to more thorough narratives and grooming its first movie stars. Baggott was one of those stars, entering films in 1909 and enjoying his greatest success during the teens. While still acting, by the 1920s he had also moved into directing, exhibiting an unprecedented virtuosity by helming films in which also appeared as several different characters. His direction of the Wiliam S. Hart western TUMBLEWEEDS was a perfect culmination of the genre during the silent era.
By the 1930s and the advance of sound on film, Baggot settled into character actor status, remaining active until his death in 1948.
Baggot’s comparatively long and varied career during the entire first half of the 20th century motion picture’s history allows us to see, through his life and career, the development of a medium from storefront novelty to art form.
This outstanding book is an absolute must for libraries or anyone interested in film’s impact on American cultural history.
But it is important to me personally for another reason.
Sally Dumaux was a friend of mine, one of those friends I never met in person that the internet age has provided for each of us. Sally was constantly encouraging, respectful, informative, and personable in my many online dealings with her, offering insights on my own projects about silent film with a keen eye for historical detail. Sally died several years ago, and when I received a review copy for this book, it reminded me how much her friendship meant. One look at the acknowledgements, and I saw the names of two other, similar film buff friends who helped on this project – Gene Vazzana and Richard Braff – both also gone.
But this is Sally’s book, her finest achievement, one that she worked hard on for five years. Crediting our mutual friend, Annette D’Agostino Lloyd, a film historian and author whose books on Harold Lloyd are a quintessential part of anyone’s library, Sally was able to offer an outstanding look at early cinema through one of its forgotten stars.
I don’t usually go on about the author in my book reviews, but this is a special case. So special that I have asked Annette D’Agostino Lloyd to conclude with some words about Sally:
“When I think about Sally Dumaux – which I do seemingly daily – I’m reminded of a classic Beatles song called In My Life. In particular, one line from that song that declares, ‘There is no one compared with you.’ Of all the tremendous people I have known and do know in the world of cinema scholarship, Sally was, is, and forever will remain a standout. Her dedication to her work – which she and I often referred to as film archaeology – was inspiring to behold, and her generosity – be it with an encouraging word or a gesture of help – aided countless numbers of colleagues. What I miss most about her is her truthful and unabashed enthusiasm for all things film – and most particularly, of course, King Baggot – but her ability to cheer us all on in our individual pursuits was not only kind, but a shining example of true camaraderie. Sally was a dear friend to film scholarship, its practitioners, and its fortunate subjects. Her loss is still keenly felt – I feel her presence personally and professionally on a daily basis – and she will never, ever, be forgotten.”