Sparked by Stage and Screen
Bernard Dick, professor of English and communication, has a passion and a gift. His passion films and theater. His gift the ability to offer a unique and enlightened perspective on a film, a play, an actor, a genre and even the business of making movies.
Dick is a major voice in American film criticism and history. From his widely acclaimed Anatomy of Film, he has created an impressive body of work, including The Star-Spangled Screen: The American World War II Film, lauded for its meticulous research of archival materials, and Radical Innocence: A Critical Study of the Hollywood Ten, called a heroic study by The New York Times. He also has written books on directors Billy Wilder and Joseph Mankiewicz, actress/screenwriter Lillian Hellman, Columbia Pictures and Paramount Pictures.
It thus comes as a surprise to learn that Dicks background is in classical languages; he graduated with a PhD in Latin and Greek from Fordham University in New York. Dick came to FDU in 1970 to teach English and comparative literature, but he was asked to develop and teach courses in film history and criticism. I was hesitant but Ted [Chesler, then head of the communication department] was very persuasive so I finally agreed, thinking that theres probably a reason for this.
Teaching film history proved providential because it led to the creation of Anatomy of Film. I couldnt find a satisfactory textbook so I decided to write my own, he says. Anatomy of Film, first published in 1978, is now in its fourth edition.
In his writings, Dick offers fresh insights based on previously untapped archival materials, a subjects personal papers and interviews. In The Merchant Prince of Poverty Row, he presented a radically different portrait of Harry Cohn, former president of Columbia Pictures, a man who had been called White Fang and who was often perceived as a vulgarian. [I was surprised] how intelligent Cohn was, he says. Seeing his memos was a revelation because in them he talked about structure and narrative. He knew what he was talking about.
Dicks favorite films are classics such as The Godfather, Some Like It Hot, Purple Rose of Cairo and Casablanca, and they are staples in his classes. Students often enjoy the experience of watching black-and-white films. He teaches a film course on the studio years (19301960), one on writing for film and television and specialized courses on directors such as Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford. He sometimes brings his collection of old movie magazines to class because it is one way for students to see how important movies were. At FDU, Dick also helped establish an impressive collection of films from Columbia Studios.
The opportunity to do what he loves to do may have been the result of chance, but it was Dicks mother and grandmother who first ignited his passion for film. From his Lithuanian grandmother, who spoke little English, Dick learned the universality of film as a language. I used to love watching movies with her because she understood it in a very basic way just from the visuals.
With his mothers support, Dick regularly traveled by bus from Scranton, Pa., to New York City to see live theater. He was enthralled. Whenever I can, I like to look at projects that will involve me in theater, he says. Dick is now starting a biography of Rosalind Russell, which was commissioned by the University Press of Mississippi. I liked that she did a lot of films based on plays, he says. Dick also is eager to write one on Ethel Merman, who had always fascinated him, or Mary Martin. I also plan to do a book on the Broadway and the Hollywood musical.
The amount of research that goes into every book is daunting, but Dick looks at it differently. To me this is leisure, he states. It is a vacation to go to L.A. and to the Academy Library, USC or UCLA and work. Its wonderful! It is an experience he shares with his wife, Katherine Restaino, an adjunct instructor at FDU who holds a PhD in English literature from Fordham University. She helps me in my work. I couldnt do this without her, he says.
Among his many honors, the University presented Dick with the Distinguished Faculty Award for Research and Scholarship. More than such recognition and rave reviews, however, it is the joy of simply doing what he loves to do that continues to inspire his extraordinary achievements.