Novel tells tale of silent-film era

When we think of early silent film, we think of sunny Hollywood and Charlie Chaplin, and maybe pioneering Western star “Broncho Billy” Anderson. But Chaplin got his start at Chicago’s Essanay Studios, a company co-founded by Anderson in 1907, and Chicago Movie Girls, a novel by D.C. Reep of Akron and E.A. Allen, brings to life this early period before California was the center of filmmaking.

It starts one hot morning in 1914, when Maxie Kelly walks out on his daughters and a gambling debt, leaving them unable to pay the rent. Rae, the youngest, is 16, but can easily pass for 12, and her only option is to pick a pocket. The wallet she steals contains no money, but is of fine quality and a friend suggests that she sell it to crime boss Lukas Krantz, who runs gambling circles as well as a brothel.

Not all of Krantz’s enterprises are illegal: He also controls RidgeW Pictures, and suggests that Rae go over to the studio, where she can earn three dollars a day working as an extra. Rae brings along her beautiful older sister Lily, because “men lost their minds when they saw Lily,” and she, too, becomes an extra.

Soon, the Kelly sisters are rising stars, with Rae the tomboyish lead of a Perils of Pauline-type serial and Lily the glamorous leading lady, and even older married sister Delia leaves her husband and his Wisconsin onion farm to appear, scantily clad, in risqué costumes. The sisters find love, danger and rags-to-riches providence. A catty gossip columnist fills in some of the blanks.

Chicago Movie Girls (374 pages, softcover) costs $14.99 from online retailers. D.C. Reep is a former university professor; E.A. Allen is a former middle school teacher and high school teacher. They also wrote the teen novel The Dangerous Summer of Jesse Turner, about a young man who volunteers for Col. Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and Kiss’d, a paranormal romance about a girl who kisses a ghost and wakes up in World War I-era Belgium.

Enjoy a trip with a rescue dog

Leashed dogs are allowed in many areas in America’s national parks. That’s good news for Denali, a Stow rescue dog who likes to travel with his owner, Chris Weiss. Denali Visits the National Parks is a children’s book by Weiss’s parents, Carla Weiss, about visits to 11 national parks. There are photos by Weiss’s father, Dan, and illustrations by Anita Souders.

The adventure begins close to home, at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where Denali’s narration says he “helped the conductor collect tickets” on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The photos of fall foliage, with a cartoon dog inserted walking across a field, and of an old canal lock, are gorgeous. There are drawings of Denali snowboarding and bicycling.

From Ohio the trip jumps to Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Arches National Park in Utah, with photos of rock formations. More of the most popular parks are included on the adventure, with Redwood National Park, Olympic, Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Denali advocates environmental protection and an outdoor lifestyle.

Denali Visits the National Parks (60 pages, softcover) costs $13.49 from online retailers. Carla Weiss is a registered nurse at Akron Children’s Hospital; Dan Weiss is a retired school counselor; Anita Souders is an elementary school art teacher. Chris Weiss is co-owner of Live Intense, a Kent-based T-shirt company.

Dan and Carla Weiss will sign Denali Visits the National Parks from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Summit County Historical Society’s Family Fun Day at Perkins Stone Mansion, 550 Copley Road.


Loganberry Books (13015 Larchmere Blvd., Shaker Heights) — Charles Duane Todder signs his debut novel Entelechy and Book 2, a multigenerational story of Kentucky homesteaders, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Rocky River Public Library (1600 Hampton Road) — Cleveland native John Vanek reads from his debut novel Deros: A Father Jake Austin Mystery, about a crime-solving Oberlin hospital chaplain, 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Visible Voice Books (2258 Professor Ave., Cleveland) — Poets Steven B. Smith (Where Never Was Already Is) and John Burroughs (Loss and Foundering) read from their work, 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

— Barbara McIntyre

ABJ/ correspondent

Send information about books of local interest to Lynne Sherwin, Features Department, Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309 or Event notices should be sent at least two weeks in advance.