New Book: Hollywood Unknowns

Film historian and prolific author Anthony Slide (Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine) has a new book out this month, Hollywood Unknowns: A History of Extras, Bit Players, and Stand-Ins. Hollywood Unknowns is first history devoted to extras from the silent era through the present. 

Slide has compiled an accessible and entertaining history of one of the film industry’s most vital but overlooked aspects. This book pays homage to extras from the silent era through the present, be they celebrity extras, silent stars who ended their days as extras, or members of various ethnic groups. Chapters document not only the lives and work of extras, but also such ancillary subjects as the Hollywood Studio Club, Central Casting, the extras in popular literature, and the efforts at unionization through the Screen Actors Guild from the 1930s onwards.

Director Cecil B DeMille demonstrates to an extra how a yoke of bricks should be carried on the set of the Ten Commandments (1956)
Hollywood Unknowns also discusses the relationship of the extra to the star, the lowly position in which they were held, the poor working conditions and wages they were paid, and the sexual exploitation of many of the female members of these hardworking members of Hollywood society. 

And Hollywood Unknowns does not forget the “bit” players, stand-ins, doubles, who work alongside the extras and have suffered many of the privations of their colleagues. They are mainly anonymous, but many are identified by name and, for perhaps the first time, receive equal billing with the stars in this volume.

(more pictures after the jump)

Slide chronicles such events such as John Barrymore's walking off set in the middle of the day so the extrascould earn another day's wages and Cecil B. DeMille's masterful organizing of casts of thousands in films such as Cleopatra. Through personal interviews, oral histories, and the use of newly available archival material the story of the men, women, and even animals that completed the scenes on the silver screen.  

Hollywood Unknowns reveals the story of the men, women, and even animals that completed the scenes on the silver screen. The book also includes several unusual and original illustrations that have not previously been published.

The entrance to the Central Casting Bureau on Hollywood Boulevard.

In the early 1930s, MGM used a composite of six extras to create the ideal screen figure

Captain Richard von Opel’s Cinema Troop in costume for the Prisoner of Zenda (1937)

Shirley Temple with her stand-in, Mary Lou Islieb