In Theda Bara's Tent

In Theda Bara's Tent

by Diana Altman


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In Theda Bara's Tent follows the adventures of a spirited orphan who makes his way into the burgeoning movie business in the days when the screen was silent and the moguls were just small-time theater owners. Harry Sirkus is so brave and lovable everyone wants to help him including a struggling theater owner named Louis B. Mayer who, at age 22, living in Haverhill, Massachusetts, is years away from being studio head at MGM. Harry runs away from Haverhill at age 13 and must make his way in the world alone. After many adventures and heartbreaking struggles he goes to New York to work for the avaricious William Fox, founder of Fox News, a newsreel company. In his search for love and prosperity, Harry encounters screen stars, Tin Pan Alley song pluggers, bootleggers, dare-devil cameramen, movie moguls, and a young gossip columnist who steals his heart. Rich in historical context, with a cast of characters real and imagined, this page-turner follows Harry Sirkus as he makes a mark in the flourishing film industry and goes on to become a famous news broadcaster. Harry's personality is so captivating and vivid readers will be hard-pressed to remember that the author made him up. Written by Diana Altman who grew up in the movie business, this is fictionalized history at its best.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780615343273
Publisher: Tapley Cove Press
Publication date: 10/25/2010
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.73(d)

About the Author

Diana Altman is the daughter of the late Al Altman, the MGM talent scout who discovered Joan Crawford, Jimmy Stewart, Ava Gardner, Celeste Holm, Franchot Tone, Dean Stockwell and dozens of other unknown actors who became stars. Altman's first book, the non-fiction Hollywood East: Louis B. Mayer and the origins of the studio system (Carol Publishing '92) continues to be quoted if books of film history and movie star biographies. In Theda Bara's Tent feels so authentic because it is based on the research Altman did for her first book and it reflects all that she learned growing up in the movie business. Altman's work has appeared in ForbesWoman, Yankee, New York Times, Boston Herald, American Heritage, StoryQuarterly, Chronicle of the Horse, and many other places. She is the past president of the Boston chapter of the Women's National Book Association and current member of the New York Chapter. She was the first married woman in Massachusetts to retain her maiden name without going to probate court, and was the co-founder of BirthDay, an organization responsible for legalizing midwives in the 1970's. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and can be contacted at

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In Theda Bara's Tent 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
FeatheredQuillBookReviews More than 1 year ago
In Theda Bara's Tent begins on a sidewalk in New York City where the main character, Harry Sirkus, witnesses a fire that kills both of his parents. In a scene that will remind readers of the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, workers, mostly young women, jump from the burning building. I was immediately wrapped up in Harry's story. The book is written in the first person, and author, Diana Altman assumes Harry's perspective flawlessly. The first part of the story is told, convincingly, by a child. We are not allowed any more information than a child would have about the deaths of Harry's parents or about the characters, places, and events that follow. Altman's ability to get inside Harry's head allows us to do the same. Harry is honest, kind, and intelligent. Readers will want to identify with him. In Theda Bara's Tent was hard to put down. It was also one of those books that stayed with me throughout the day. Scenes from Harry's life would come into my head like remembered dreams, and I found myself telling people, "I'm reading this book..." Absorbed as I was in Harry's life, this was one of those times when I was sad to reach the end of the novel. I am still looking around for the next book that will allow me to disappear into another world. Altman brings to life a snapshot of New York City shortly before World War I. As the book progresses readers will become immersed in the culture of the period, seeing it through the eyes of Harry Sirkus, the child of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. Race and class issues, the politics of World War I, the Spanish Influenza epidemic, the struggle for women's suffrage, and prohibition are pieces of the vivid historical backdrop to Harry's coming of age. Harry discovers early that he is interested in film, and this passion drives him throughout the book. He finds ways to work in the industry, beginning by sweeping the floors of a theater and then working his way up. Harry's intelligence, courage, and good luck keep him safe, clothed, and fed, affording him the opportunity not only to work, but to work in film, while he is still too young even to fight in the war. The men who recognize Harry's abilities, and their wives, help him find places to live while giving him respect and the experience of family, as well. Harry, the orphan, has complex relationships with the men who become his mentors. Harry combines the strengths he admires in these men with his own native intelligence and sense of ethics while rejecting what he sees as immoral behavior. Harry's difficult life has given him perspective and an ability to identify with the underdog. Readers will admire Harry and feel connected with him throughout the story. Readers will find In Theda Bara's Tent absorbing as a novel even if they come to it with no prior interest in the history of film. As I became caught up in Harry's story, however, I could not help sharing some of his enthusiasm. Readers will look at the producers, the film stars, and the theaters through Harry's eyes, experiencing the sounds, colors, and personalities behind the old silent movies. Diana Altman weaves history and politics into a compelling story about human relationships. In Theda Bara's Tent is a novel that is memorable and enjoyable on many levels. Quill says: Vivid, memorable, and absorbing in a rich historical context.