“Dorin Schumacher’s VANITY FAIR is a deeply researched and deeply moving account of unsung film pioneer Helen Gardner embodying Becky Sharp in Vitagraph’s ambitious 1911 screen adaptation. This book delves us into Gardner’s artistic consciousness, allowing us to hear this extraordinary cinematic storyteller speak between the intertitles in her own voice, as gleaned from copious primary documents.”
— Jacqueline Stewart, Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago and Host, “Silent Sunday Nights” on Turner Classic Movies
ABOUT THE BOOK
Dorin Schumacher masterfully employs creative nonfiction to explore silent-film-pioneer Helen Gardner’s voice and role in Vanity Fair, the first film adaptation of the novel. Schumacher’s recreation of her famous grandmother, the first actor to produce and star in a feature length film in the United States, illuminates the vanguard actor’s pivotal role in early American film. VANITY FAIR (1911) with Helen Gardner as Becky Sharp adds to the growing body of experimental and hybrid literature with its use of Gardner’s real letters, film reviews, and the original Vanity Fair print. Schumacher’s persona of Gardner’s screen presence follows the actor’s history through act-by-act sequences of the film. Schumacher, a Ph.D. in French literature, teacher, scholar and writer, searched worldwide for her absent grandmother’s traces buried in the suppression of women’s contributions to cinema, now shines a spotlight on Gardner’s brilliant movie creations.
“An inventive, untraditional exploration of the life of silent era cinema star and studio head, Helen Gardner, by her granddaughter, written in an elegant style and creating an approach that has the feel of a performance piece.”
— Drake Stutesman, Editor, Framework, The Journal of Cinema and Media, Adjunct Professor, New York University: Cinema Studies, Fashion Studies
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rich family theatrical traditions have inspired Dorin Schumacher. When she was a child, her mother kept her spellbound with racy stories of her grandmother Helen Gardner’s daring adventures in life, silent movies, and bisexual love. Schumacher’s mother and father had met on Broadway in the 1925 Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II musical Sunny, she as a glamorous showgirl playing “Mlle Sadie, A Snake Charmer,” and he a handsome chorus boy who claimed to be a Columbia University student. The first generation, Polish/Lithuanian immigrant continued his act in Sands Point society as a Jew of modest means masquerading as a rich Gentile. Schumacher’s mother was a tenth generation Pell, who, like other intelligent suburban women of her time, drank to drown her boredom. All this became grist for Schumacher’s memoir, Gatsby’s Child: Coming of Age in East Egg (Mastodon, 2018).
Educated in private and public schools in the United States and Europe, Schumacher became a Second-Wave activist while she earned a Ph.D. in French literature, in 1971. An entrepreneurial woman like her grandmother — the first actor in the United States to establish an independent movie production company — Schumacher held executive positions in major research universities and headed a national research consortium.
As the daughter of a three-generation matriarchy of headstrong, rebellious women, all of whom were named “Helen” and all of whom were only children, Schumacher decided, in 1992, to pursue research on Helen Gardner’s life and career. She began writing, publishing and lecturing on what she found in Gardner’s private papers and in archives in the United States and abroad.
Schumacher’s goal then as now was to bring Helen Gardner out of the shadows of history where too many achieving women have been buried and to win her the credit that her courageous, stunning early silent movie creations deserve.