Irene Fleming Interview
May 17, 2010
the author of The Edge of Ruin
Visiting the blog on May 17, 2010, was Irene Fleming, author of the very funny mystery The Edge of Ruin, about a movie-making couple in 1909 New Jersey.
I had no idea movies were once made in New Jersey! How long did the heyday of New Jersey film-making last?
The heyday, I guess, lasted from about 1903, when "The Great Train Robbery" was filmed around Patterson, to 1918 or so, about the time of World War I. The early Westerns were made in the hills around Fort Lee until audiences began to recognize the same old rocks and trees and complained about it. California offered better weather. American Biograph, among other film companies, migrated to California and back every year. Eventually nearly all of them settled in the West. During the twenties a few of the old studios in Fort Lee continued in full production, but they made films for special audiences: African-American audiences, Yiddish-speaking audiences and so on. The studios were like huge greenhouses, all glass to let in the light. Most of them are gone now. The Fort Lee Film Commission has a good site on the subject.
For most of the last century, Thomas Edison's reputation has been as glowing as his light-bulbs, but in your mystery, he's quite threatening. How did you find out about his shadier side?
Movie scholars have always known about Edison's dark side. I read actual reports written by one of Edison's detectives in film scholar Dr. Richard Koszarski's Fort Lee: The Film Town of how he spied on the independent producers. And of course Edison sank as low as he could go in his campaign to persuade the American people of the terrible dangers of alternating current, the kind of electricity purveyed by his business rival, Westinghouse. See YouTube for the electrocution of poor Topsy the elephant. The stories I used about the way he abused his employees came from the biography Edison: His Life and Inventions written by his great admirer and legal representative, Frank Lewis Dyer, who thought they were quite funny.
Very few novelists have your genius for humor. What's your secret?
Thanks. If I have a secret, it's that the people in my family have always coped with trouble and grief by finding something to laugh about. Since there's always plenty of trouble and grief around, finding things funny comes naturally.
Review of The Edge of Ruin by Irene Fleming
See listing for The Edge of Ruin at Powell's Books
See listing for The Edge of Ruin at Amazon.com
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