Friday, August 30, 2013

Movie stars among us

Prof. Picerni emcees a fund raiser.
From 1951 Mount yearbook.
WE FIELDED AN INTERESTING research request from an alumna the other day. Is there any evidence that a Sister of St. Joseph on the Mount faculty was a good friend of a particular Italian-Cuban-American entertainer in the 1960s?

Alas, the archives turned up nothing on the gentleman in question (we have to be mysterious here because of confidentiality issues). But as we were poking around the archives, we found a future movie star, right there on the Mount faculty.

Paul Picerni was a decorated World War II Army Air Corps veteran and recent graduate of Loyola University when the Mount hired him in 1949 to teach speech and drama. In addition to producing and writing plays -- his musical "Everybody Goes to College" was staged with Mount and Loyola students in 1949 -- he continued to audition for film roles. He started hitting it big with parts in "Twelve O'Clock High" in 1949 and "Breakthrough" in 1950.

Paul Picerni shows up on page 16 of
the 1950 Mount yearbook (upper right).
Picerni continued to teach as his career picked up speed -- nine pictures in 1950 alone -- and even after he left the faculty he continued to emcee Mount events well into the 1950s.

Picerni went on to a long, productive career, with 200 film credits and 455 TV episodes to his name, including a long run on TV's "Untouchables." A devout Catholic, he and his wife raised eight kids in Tarzana, and he still managed to find time to emcee halftime for the NFL Football Rams for 30 years. He passed away in 2011.

Over the years, siblings and daughters of Hollywood denizens came to the Mount to study. And movie stars, especially Catholic movie stars, were were among the Mount's most generous supporters.

When the Mount held a major fund raising gala in 1964 for a new Fine Arts Building after the 1961 Bel Air Fire, stars like Jose Ferrer, Rosemary Clooney, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Bobby Darrin, Sandra Dee, Lucille Ball, and Bob Hope purchased tickets, and the honorary event committee included Ralph Bellamy, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, Irene Dunne, and the wife of the late Clark Gable.

Yes, indeed, the CSJs had some very good friends in Hollywood.

Mount St. Mary's College and Loyola University students in the 1949
production of "Everybody Goes to College"  at the Wilshire-Ebell Theater,
written and directed by faculty member Paul Picerni. (Mount Archives photo.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Digital Spearman

A page from the Frank Spearman website.
WE'RE THE FIRST TO ADMIT that the name Frank H. Spearman didn't ring a bell when we showed up for work our first day on the job in the Mount St. Mary's College Archives in 2008. Since the archives room is named after the guy, we figured we'd find out sooner or later.

So it is beyond gratifying to see what our Digital Humanitarians have accomplished with just three boxes of archives material and a shelf or two of novels by western author Frank Hamilton Spearman. There is a website devoted to Spearman and his legendary hero Whispering Smith, Twitter feeds at #FrankSpearman, #WhisperingSmith,  a Facebook page, annotated online analyses of the novel and information about more than 50 years of film and television treatment of the hard-ridin', railroadin' champion of Spearman's most successful novel.

We've never quite gotten around to explaining Spearman's relationship to the Mount. A businessman as well as a prominent author of Western-themed short stories and novels, Spearman moved to Hollywood in the early 20th Century ("Whispering Smith" was produced several times as a motion picture, both silent and talkie). He was a convert to Catholicism after his marriage to Eugenie Lonergan and took on religious and moral subjects for the Catholic magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. As a well-known Catholic writer and intellectual, he was a regular sight around Mount St. Mary's College, giving the occasional lecture and being interviewed by the campus newspaper (which can be read in full in our online repository). Spearman passed away in 1937.

One of his sons, Arthur Dunning Spearman, became a Jesuit priest and librarian at Loyola University. Father Spearman was also a well-known presence at the Mount, conducting regular retreats and celebrating masses in the 1940s and 1950s. After his parents died, Father Spearman donated not only many of his father's books, papers and photographs to the Mount library, but also furniture, antiques and oriental rugs from "Beausoliel," their former estate in Hollywood. When the Charles Willard Coe Memorial Library was built in 1947, the first Frank Spearman Room was set aside for his archives and artifacts. It moved once or twice before settling in its current location in 1995 on the first floor of the Coe.

The Digital Humanitarians of MSMC have demonstrated the power of archives to bring an author to life -- even a comparatively unknown one -- 75 years after his death, using the amazing tools of social media. Dr. Jennifer Tran Smith's creativity and innovation in developing the Mount's first Digital Humanities course was fun to watch from the vantage point of the Spearman Room. She ran it like a business, not just a learning environment, and the results are the first-rate websites and webtools noted above.

And there was one more surprise. Whispering Smith (1906) is a really good book. It's not just another pulp Western novel, but real literature, full of neat turns of phrase, three-dimensional characters and vivid images of the empty Wyoming ranges of a century ago. Digitization makes this all possible; the book is freely available in many forms both physical and electronic, and thanks to the DigHum crew, not just a good read but a digital experience.

Friday, August 16, 2013

We are ready to party!

The MSMC Digital Humanities Team, Summer 2013:
Back Row: Dee Bakker, Lauren Lees, and Dr. Jennifer Tran Smith. 
Front Row: Lynnel Bryson-Davis, Rosemary Irvine, Lauren Buisson (teaching 
assistant), Veronica Guardado, Breanna Bello, Elizabeth Goumas 
(teaching assistant), and Jessica Record.
And you’re invited!

The Humanities Graduate Summer Session has come to an end. We will officially launch our digital project this Sunday, August 18, 2013, 5-7 p.m., in the Donohue Conference Center, located on the Doheny Campus at Mount St. Mary’s College. (No. 15 on the map)

It has been a wonderful adventure working alongside Dr. Jennifer Tran Smith, her two teaching assistants, and my fellow students. All of us in HUM 249E,  Digital Humanities: Finding, Manipulating and Creating Electronic Texts, were deeply involved in this, our project.  Each student put in 100% effort toward the design and implementation of a digital resource for the western novel Whispering Smith by Frank H. Spearman.

Dr. Smith conceived of this ambitious project, one that had never been tried before at the Mount. She organized the work around specific job functions which we all were responsible for “owning.” The end result is a truly collaborative realization.

There are really too many parts to capture in a blog but, for example, I worked on the archival portion; Lauren Lees designed the website, and Dee Baker employed her professional editing expertise to ensure quality control.

What makes this project so unique and fulfilling, however, is that each student will retain copyright ownership of the work they contributed to the site.  This sense of genuine ownership, and ultimately, responsibility, drove us all to excel in our individual roles. Our project is the sum of all our participation.  I can’t tell you how much fun I had with such a dynamic group of women on this exciting adventure!

We invite the Mount community to come and support the students’ work.  I guarantee you will be amazed by what we’ve been able to accomplish in so brief a period of time.

All Whispering Smith Team members will be on hand at computer stations to discuss both how the project developed and to demonstrate how to navigate the website.

Come join us!  Light refreshments will be served. Please RSVP at
Archivist's note: We have been privileged to take part in this exciting project in the College Archives during the Summer Session. This is the third and final guest blog by Breanna Bello, the team's social media manager, with contributions from Teaching Assistant Lauren Buisson. The Mount Archives are open daily and by appointment for qualified researchers and all members of the Mount community. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Digital Humanities Saved My Academic Life

A "word cloud" of the text of Frank Spearman's novel Whispering Smith.
The graduate humanities students of Dr. Jennifer Smith have learned
to use the software WordSmith and the digital tool WordCloud.
Students learned how to manipulate text while operating the programs.
Archivist's note: We have been privileged to be participating in a brand-new initiative at the Mount, a Weekend Format course in Digital Humanities. These master's degree candidates have been working with the Frank H. Spearman Collection in the College Archives under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Tran Smith. This is the second guest blog by Breanna Bello, the team's social media manager. 
THROUGH THE USE of digital humanities, my academic career has improved. You know that moment, when everything becomes inexplicably clear. That is exactly how I have been feeling this summer.  There are not enough words to express how the last seven years of my collegiate life have been under a rock.

Every day, we use our smart phones, iPads, tablets, computers, etc.  Everything seems to be at the touch of a screen so take a moment and ask yourself, are you taking advantage of all the digital mediums out there?  Before I enrolled in HUM 249E, Digital Humanities: Finding, Manipulating and Creating Electronic Texts, a graduate course led by Dr. Jennifer Smith in the Humanities program, I considered myself a digital illiterate.  I’m not ashamed to admit my lack of technological savvy because I enjoy the process of learning a new skill set that will assist my education.

What I have learned is that the digital world provides tools, software and websites that can help produce documents, improve organization, and create remarkable presentations.  While studying the subject matter of the digital humanities I learned about  Adobe Pro, Gephi, Google Docs, Dropbox, MeoGraph, Prezi, and Scrivener.  Each of these applications function differently such as providing aid for research, digital storage, and presentation software.

I challenge all of you to take the time to explore the digital media out there.  Next paper, project, or presentation use a new digital program.  Don’t be a digital Luddite, get out there and explore.  Take it from me, you won’t regret it!