There are a number of nostalgia notables celebrating birthdays today: actress Peggy Cummins, star of such cult classics as Gun Crazy (1950) and Night of the Demon (1957), turns eighty-eight today…and December 18 also marks natal anniversaries for the likes of directors Jules Dassin and George Stevens as well as OTR scribes Abe Burrows and Hal Kanter and silver screen icon Betty Grable. (There are, of course, many more.) But the man who played an important role in my classic film education also celebrates another trip around the sun: film historian and critic Leonard Maltin is sixty-three today.
I’ve always loved cartoons, and when my parents gifted me with a copy of Leonard’s Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons one Christmas I became almost as dedicated a disciple to the animated arts as Brandie at True Classics. My exposure to the Columbia comedy shorts in my youth, where I was first introduced to funsters like Buster Keaton, Charley Chase and Harry Langdon, fueled my desire to learn more about these precious two-reel comedies…and Leonard Maltin’s The Great Movie Shorts (also known as Selected Short Subjects: From Spanky to The Three Stooges) was just the fix to satisfy that jones. Movie Comedy Teams, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Great American Broadcast and Our Gang: The Life and Times of The Little Rascals (co-authored with historian Richard Bann)—all of these books have occupied space on the movie bookshelf here at Rancho Yesteryear one time or another, and I would recommend without hesitation any one of them to the budding classic movie enthusiast.
The first copy that I can remember buying was the 1979-80 edition (on your left), and I remember that updated editions were a necessary purchase in the House of Yesteryear (when they were eventually published every year) and that the wait for such was almost as bad as that for Christmas. I didn’t always agree with many of Leonard’s ratings—I’ve seen more than my share of movies that he’s overrated, and an equal amount that I believe he’s given short shrift—but my preference in comedy films matches his more often than not, as well as animated features (though again, he thinks a lot more of the recent Disney releases than I).
Happy birthday, Mr. Maltin…from one classic movie fan to another.
*Lyric supplied by Merle Haggard’s “Leonard”—an ode to his friend, singer-songwriter Tommy Collins.