Publication Date: June 1, 2015
Published By: Woodstock Arts
Format: Hardback (I received a PDF copy)
Price: £30.50 (Amazon.co.uk)
Living Large: Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason, by noted silent film historian Joseph P. Eckhardt, is by turns a rollicking dual biography and a sweet love story. Wilna Hervey—a six-foot-three-inch, three-hundred-pound heiress—won the role of “The Powerful Katrinka” in the Toonerville Trolley comedies of the early nineteen-twenties through her impressive size. Her evocation of Katrinka was so successful that it became a permanent part of her identity.
Wilna’s movie work brought her something else that would long endure—a partner for life. While filming on location in the Philadelphia suburbs, Wilna Hervey met Nan Mason, the surprisingly tall daughter of her Toonerville co-star, Dan Mason. Wilna and Nan became close friends and ultimately life partners.
I received a PDF from the author in return for an honest review
I received an email in July from Joe asking if I’d be interested in reviewing this book. I haven’t had a chance to get to it until recently, but once I sat down to read I couldn’t put it down. This book is deftly written and clearly shows the author’s passion for the history of silent cinema and for the subjects of this biography. Photographs and reproductions of Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason’s work over several decades adds extensively to the narrative and illustrates their changing emotions and circumstances in a way that words alone cannot manage.
The chronological approach to biography works well for this couple, with the focus on the life of Wilna Hervey. I would be interested in Nan’s years before she met Wilna in 1923; from the mentions of her early life I think it could be an interesting study of the lives of entertainers and their families in the first decades of the twentieth century.
Anyway, back to Living Large.
The book follows Wilna Hervey from birth to death, through her unusual, isolated childhood, as a very tall child who grew into a six foot three, three hundred and fifty pound adult, an artist and actress who decided to become a farmer but didn’t like the cold so went off to California and Florida in the winter, a woman who didn’t expect to have friends and found a lifelong partner and a close collection of friends and confidantes in an artists colony. The writing is easy to read and comprehensively covers their life and times, changing circumstances, foibles and failings, as well as their successes.
If you’re interested in silent film history, the artists colony of Woodstock, these particular artists or their friends, or an example of an LGBT couple living through the majority of the twentieth century before LGBT people were widely accepted, then I recommend this book.