COLUMBUS, Ohio — One of the film collector friends I used to run into at Cinefest in Syracuse every year was Leonard Maltin. This week, the author, film historian and frequent TCM contributor is a very active participant in Cinevent 50.
Maltin told me Friday that he hadn’t attended this classic film fan gathering since 1985. Back then, he had just made a couple of screen tests for a little series called Entertainment Tonight. He went on to enjoy a 30 year run as ET‘s movie critic.
Besides just enjoying many of the rarely seen gems featured this year at Cinevent, Maltin is here to promote his brand new book Hooked on Hollywood: Discoveries from a Lifetime of Film Fandom (GoodKnight Books). The volume is packed with insider movie lore, with many stories dug out of the Warner Bros. archives, the noggin of many a movie star and other Hollywood vaults. Maltin’s passion for movies and persistent research shines on every page.
On Friday, at a packed session where he spoke about the book, Maltin graciously acknowledged his wife, Alice, seated (and sometimes prompting) from the back of the room. “She tells me that she kept me from a life spent in dark rooms,” he said, “but look what I am doing here.” Those of us who know Alice wondered why she wasn’t given her own microphone — she’s hilarious.
Maltin got the movie bug early. He told the audience his first memory of being in a movie theatre was when his mother took him to see a re-issue of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” This was back in the era of continuous showings, and young Leonard’s first glimpse at a big screen was seeing the prine carry Snow White off at the end of the movie.
By 15 he was the editor of Film Fan Monthly, a magazine that began a few years earlier as a Vancouver publication. I still have, and treasure, several copies. Maltin was savvy and passionate enough to track down some of Hollywood’s more obscure stars and profile them in those pages, including a personal favourite: George O’Hanlon, star of the underappreciated Joe McDoakes comedy shorts of the ’40s and ’50s.
I learned more about McDoakes in one of Maltin’s early books, The Great Movie Shorts. If you find this long out of print volume anywhere, buy it. Richly illustrated, mainly from vintage stills Maltin collected and curated, it is a film fan bible.
Another one of his other early books is Of Mice and Magic: A History of Animated Cartoons. It was, and still is, a delight to read and probably still the best and most comprehensive book on animation in the 20th century.
Maltin will remain at Cinefest Saturday and Sunday, first in conversation with author Scott Eyman and later on Saturday introducing the 1943 Jack Benny feature “The Meanest Man in the World.” That’s a funny and memorable title, but it does not apply at all to Benny — or Maltin.