|William Beaudine: From Silents to Television
by Wendy L. Marshall
The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series No. 116
Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland, 2005
387 pages, Notes, Photos, Filmography, Bibliography, Index
Wendy L. Marshall was an award-winning journalist when she wrote this book, but its genesis is something more than dispassionate interest. William Beaudine was her grandfather, and though she tries to maintain an objective viewpoint throughout the work, it is obvious to the reader the selection of material presented favors the subject.
In her introduction the author describes working with her "Poppa" as a child actor on an episode of Rin-tin-tin. She mentions her efforts to overcome familial feelings while researching and writing the book, and at the same time her desire to expose and debunk some of the unfavorable stories surrounding her famous grandfather.
"Tales of him "being a brute" to actors or not caring about the quality or artistic merits of his work had become legends I knew to be blatently false."
This a priori certainty does not bode well for an objective evaluation of William Beaudine, but the author's passion for her subject rewards the reader with a thoroughly researched and documented biography and history of his filmmaking. The vast majority of the book deals with Beaudine's early career, from his start on the East Coast in 1909 on up to the advent of talkies and his last major successes in American cinema Penrod and Sam (1931) and The Old Fashioned Way (1934). His British triumphs with Will Hays and sudden ejection from the United Kingdom, returning to America in the late thirties as a forgotten, or at least ignored, former giant of directing are also well covered.
The second half of his career, spanning some thirty more years directing Grade B films and doing television for Disney and other production companies flies by in the book's last seventy pages. It is understandable that these pot-boilers and small screen efforts don't arouse the author's interest as much as his earlier films, but fans of his work at the Disney Studio might have hoped for more than the ten pages granted to this part of his career. Kevin Corcoran was a major informant for this section, as was the author's uncle, Bill Beaudine Jr, who was his father's primary assistant director during his Disney tenure (and indeed, throughout all his television work).
The author's childhood acting experience was hardly unique for members of the Beaudine clan. Besides employing his son, William Beaudine brought his younger brother into the film business and used his children and grandchildren as extras and bit players in several of his projects. The ethical propriety of this paternal nepotism and its effect on other cast and crew members isn't touched upon in this book.
Nor are there any first hand interviews with people who might hold unfavorable views of William Beaudine or his work, though in fairness to the author most of these would have been long gone by the time she did her research. Still, it might have made a bit of difference in her dismissal of the nickname "One Shot", posthumously applied to Beaudine in reference to his obsession with keeping to schedule. For example, Beaudine's work for "Circus Day" episodes of the Mickey Mouse Club is replete with continuity goofs and at least one case where the camera kept rolling despite a minor injury suffered by a performer.
However, the majority of Beaudine's efforts for that television show were of the highest quality (The Adventures of Spin and Marty, Corky and White Shadow, Adventure in Dairyland), and his Disney films, if not quite as memorable, also displayed his skills in the best light. So too with his grand-daughter's book, which despite the quibbles raised here is well worth reading for anyone interested in the man and his work.