2017 Capitolfest: Fay Wray, short films and much more

Presented from August 11-13 this year, Capitolfest is upstate New York’s annual showcase of rare silent films and early talkies, many of which are screened via recently discovered and/or restored 35mm film prints.  Fay Wray was the featured star at this year’s Capitolfest, and audiences were delighted to learn that her daughter, Victoria Riskin, would be the festival’s very special guest.

A highlight of this year’s event was “The Countess of Monte Cristo” (1934), a comedy in which Wray expertly portrays a struggling film extra given the royal treatment at an expensive hotel and after despondently driving off a film set – in a limo, and in costume – is later mistaken for a Countess.  Another standout was “The Coast Patrol” (1925), if only due to its starring a very tomboyish Ms. Wray at 18 years old.

In total, Wray appeared in 14 of more than 30 features and shorts presented at this year’s event.  Riskin introduced a couple of the films, at least one of which she had not seen.  She also met with attendees during a break for a Q&A during which she spoke lovingly of her mother, as well as her father, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Robert Riskin.  She explained that – at 14 years old – Wray’s parents allowed her to be taken to Hollywood by a 22-year-old photographer who believed he could make her a star. To learn more about this relationship, she encouraged the audience to seek out her mother’s autobiography (On The Other Hand: A Life Story), or her own soon-to-be-released book about her parents, Roses in December.

Other highlights of the festival included the short films “Hunting Trouble” (1933) and “There It Is” (1928). A fabulous ensemble comedy, “Hunting Trouble” features the wonderful Louise Beavers (TV’s Beulah), who awkwardly gets her biggest laughs serving as the target for much of the movie’s slapstick.  Actor, director, writer and animator Charley Bowers takes most of the abuse upon himself in “There It Is” (1928), an incredible and highly imaginative achievement mixing live action with stop-motion animation.  Do yourself a favor and seek this one out online!