Book Reviews -- in Public Houses: Drink and the Revolution of Authority in Colonial Massachusetts by David W. Conroy
Browne, Ray, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)
They Still Call Me Junior: Autobiography of a Child Star; with a Filmography. Frank "Junior" Coghlan. Jefferson: McFarland, 1993. 330 pp. Library binding, filmography and index. $32.50.
The fate of the McFarland Publishers is secure if this fine publisher continues to produce books like the recent autobiography of Frank "Junior" Coghlan. Mr. Coghlan's story is the story of twentieth century America as it emerges from first the Jazz Age, and then enters the Great Depression, the romantic years of World War II, and the second half of the century. The book is a compendium of mass media history as it pertains to America of the past seventy-five years, tracing Coghlan's involvement with the golden ages of movies, radio, and television.
The depth and breadth of Mr. Coghlan's real-life and acting experiences are tremendous. It seems as if the star is at every major event that transpired in Hollywood history during the height of story radio and during the emergence and growth of network television as we read accounts of his early exploits as a child actor in the 1920s, his maturation to a teenage star--epitomized by his movie serial role as Billy Batson (a.k.a. Captain Marvel), his war pictures and dramatic roles, and much more. The list of people with whom and of whom Coghlan works is staggering, from directors like Cecil B. DeMille, to real-life personalities like Babe Ruth, to movie stars like Warner Oland (the definitive screen Charlie Chan). The stories which comprise the larger story are fun, and, in a manner which exceeds the excellent autobiography of Charlie Chaplin, serve as a documented case of the validity of the American Dream, the possibility of moving from "rags to riches." (Incidentally, Coghlan's biography is a little better written, a little more positive in tone than Chaplin's biography.)
Highlights of the book include an extensive filmography and index, numerous photographs and a foreword by movie serials historian and expert, William C. Cline. The market for this book is multifaceted. Fans and scholars of biography, Hollywood and mass media history, America in the twentieth century and healthy, wholesome, stories of success and the good life will embrace Mr. Coghlan's book as a classic.
Garyn Roberts Northwestern Michigan College
In Public Houses: Drink and the Revolution of Authority in Colonial Massachusetts. David W. Conroy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
The tremendous importance of liquor and places to drink it as a social occasion should come as no surprise to students in popular culture studies. But the details of the development of this importance are of great interest and enlightenment. Conroy gives as detailed an analysis and coverage as the scantiness of records of drinking establishments in Colonial Massachusetts allows. The early taverns in colonial America, following the models of the English, were buildings where public policy was carried on by the elite. But since such buildings were open to the public, the good citizens of those who were not elite were also present. And demanded to be heard. Thus the flash points of conflict were set up. Commercial drive suggested that all people with the price should be served. Religious leaders and those whom Increase Mather called the "best men" increasingly found opposition in the common folk. Taverns which at first had few chairs and many benches for all to sit on communally increasingly found chairs more comfortable, and any and all could occupy them. Rum, the common drink, was augmented with various kinds of wine. Women increasingly found entry into the commercial world by becoming tavern owners, workers and hangers-on. The significance of the tavern can hardly be overstated. Conroy's evaluation is probably accurate: "From the vintage point of taverns and the popular culture of drink, it was the subversion of Puritan ethics that laid the foundation in Massachusetts for the rise of a new political configuration eventually taking the form of a Republic. …