So, I did a foolish thing. Following a conversation at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, I flashed on the fact that there had been no biography of Josef Von Sternberg. His magnificent autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, is too idiosyncratic to really count. I proposed the idea to a friend in publishing. And learned that, in fact, there had been a biography just a couple of years ago. Oops.
Of course it’s by John Baxter, who has practically monopolized the field of director bios. I checked it out — it’s not bad.
I was amused to learn that, while Sternberg was making army information films during WWI, his Germanic name apparently causing no problem at all, character actor Gustav Von Seyffertitz underwent a name change in order to be able to get work. What would Gustav Von Seyffertitz consider a reasonable, plausible pseudonym?
The name he went for, G. Butler Clonebaugh, is kind of memorable, I guess. Except that of the three film he used it on, it was spelled correctly just once, the other times manifesting as Clonbough and Clonblough. Which are both clearly far inferior names. Except that I can’t find any evidence that Clonebaugh even IS a name: it hasn’t been attached to anybody on the internet except Seyffertitz. Even the name Seyffertitz is more common.
Fun fact: You never see Gustav Von Seyffertitz and C. Aubrey Smith in the same shot. This is because of the superstitious fear shared by both men that if they met, their profiles would permanently interlock like the mosaic-creatures in an Escher print.
You can buy the Baxter bio: Von Sternberg (Screen Classics)