Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Richard J. Anobile 1947 - 2023


Film writer and producer Richard J. Anobile, who was known for his large-format books that, in the pre-VCR days, transcribed motion pictures with stills and text (like Frankenstein and Casablanca) as well as his volumes on the great comedians like The Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello, passed away. No cause of death was given.

For a lot of people who grew up in the pre-DVD and VHS era, his books were vital for film fans back in the day when actually seeing a particular old movie was a rare event. I grew up reading a couple of his books, checking out of my local library at least once a year. For me, it was an introduction into the lore of classic movies.

My friend and colleague, Abrams ComicArts Editorial Director (and editor of the best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney) Charlie Kochman, posted a wonderful remembrance of Anobile on his Facebook page. Here's Charlie:

Long before cable TV, VCRs, LaserDiscs, DVDs, DVRs, and streaming services, there was Richard J. Anobile.
In the 1970s and early ’80s, Anobile wrote close to fifty books on classic movies. These hardcovers were comprised of frame blowups taken directly from 35mm prints, arranged in sequence and captioned with dialogue, each film meticulously laid out on paper. Here, for the first time, we could pause and study a film in detail—the sets, costumes, and makeup, scene by scene, as they appeared on screen.
With clips and movies now easily available on all manner of devices and apps, these “photonovels” are pretty much obsolete, but at the time they were invaluable, and the only way to “see” some of these classics without scouring the TV GUIDE and waiting until they were broadcast on TV—more often than not, late at night, and all with commercial interruption. These books allowed us to pause on a frame before there was a button on our remotes that enabled us to do so with ease.
To me, Anobile’s books on the Marx Brothers—WHY A DUCK?, HOORAY FOR CAPTAIN SPAULDING, and THE MARX BROTHERS SCRAPBOOK—were essential reading, as were those on W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, and Abbott and Costello. In some instances, his Film Classic Library was how I first “saw” THE MALTESE FALCON, CASABLANCA, PSYCHO, and FRANKENSTEIN. 
In 1973, Anobile was sued by Groucho Marx for publishing THE MARX BROTHERS SCRAPBOOK. Apparently, Groucho did not realize that the interviews he and his brothers gave were going to be transcribed and published verbatim, with profanity and degrading comments on every page.
I have a copy of the scrapbook with Groucho’s handwritten notes annotating his objections, and it’s interesting to see what the great comedian objected to and wished he could have rescinded from the public record. Anobile prevailed, and the book remains one of the most candid records of the Marx Brothers, vulgarity aside, even if Groucho and Gummo and Zeppo conflated facts with impunity.
Growing up and hanging out with my friends, these books adorned our bedroom shelves, and the posters of their covers (some of which were by Al Hirschfeld and sold at head shops at the local mall) hung on our walls. In addition to the records we listened to, these were the books we read along with our comic books and MAD magazines.
Anobile remained active in film over the years, working for Paramount and as a producer and production supervisor. As recently as a month ago, he graciously provided research for an upcoming Marx-related project.
Thanks, Richard. Your books may be artifacts of a bygone era, but you are one of the unsung heroes of cinema, and your passing deserves that we hit pause and honor you for making movies accessible and bringing them into our homes.


Orang Basikal said...

I have Anobile's book on the 1927 Buster Keaton movie, The General. It is one of my favories, as it was Keaton's. Anobile wrote that it required more frames than the ones he did on sound movies. The General has fewer intertitles than many silents, the action being nearly all Keaton's pantomime. There are only a few dialogue exchanges and some scene-setting titles. These books still offer something for close studies of the movies.

Mike Lynch said...

The fact that you can sit and stare at the image and take it all in at your leisure is great. It still amazes me that today so many of these great movies are easily accessible.