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He's vocal about a silent-film star

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FRESNO, Calif. -- Ron Genini thought he was the only person who cared enough about silent-film star Theda Bara to write a book about her life.

"What are the odds? No book had ever been written about the lady. Then, at exactly the same time, there was another book being written about her," Genini says of the literary logjam he hit in the mid-'90s. The north Fresno resident forged ahead with his "Theda Bara: A Biography of the Silent Screen Vamp, with a Filmography" that was released in June 1996.

The other biography, Eve Golden's "Vamp," hit bookstores at the same time.

Now, Genini's knowledge of Bara has taken him to the big screen.

He is one of the experts included in the Timeline Films documentary "Theda Bara: The Woman With the Hungry Eyes."

The documentary debuted in June in connection with the King Tut exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which ended last month.

The documentary is the work of Timeline Films, which previously produced documentaries on Clara Bow and Louise Brooks.

Bara, who died in 1955, made 44 feature films. Thirty-eight of her movies were made while she was under contract at Fox Studio from 1915 to 1919. Those films included "Cleopatra" (1917) and "Salome" (1918).

These movies earned the silent-film star the title of "The Vamp."

Timeline's Hugh Munro Neely, who directed the documentary, explains that when the decision was made to put together the look at Bara's life, the research led him to the two books.

"I think he is a passionate scholar in many ways," Neely says of Genini's participation in the documentary. "Anyone who does this much research either ends up liking or hating the subject. Ron enjoyed the time doing the research and put out a valuable book."

Neely says he found that the two books painted different portraits of the actress. Golden's book focuses more on Bara's early years working in films on the East Coast. Genini's book concentrates more on Bara's film life on the West Coast.

The Bara biography is actually the third book Genini has written. He authored a book on 19th- century California Gov.

Romualdo Pacheco and the biography of "Little Rascals" star Tommy Bond, who played Butch in the 1930s films.

Bond, who died in September, had worked at a Fresno television station, for several years. Genini contacted him while researching the Bara book in hopes the pair might have crossed paths in Hollywood. They hadn't. But Bond took the opening to ask Genini to write his biography, "Darn Right It's Butch," in 1994.

Genini actually started his research on the Bara book in 1983 while he still was teaching history at Central High School. He taught history for 34 years, retiring in June 2004. During his last year there, Genini also taught a film studies class that looked at the movies from silent films to present day.

The silent-movie portion of the class was of particular interest to Genini. He developed a passion for the genre as a youngster through seeing the silent films when they were shown on television.

"I thought the women in silent movies were a lot sexier than the ones later on," Genini says.

The decision to write a book about Bara came down to one simple point.

"I liked her," Genini says of Bara. "She was very striking on screen."

Genini's book is expected to get more attention when the Bara documentary is shown at film festivals around the world in 2006. It is also being shopped to a variety of cable channels.

"And we have a home-video company, Milestone Video, ready to release the documentary as soon as we decide the time is right," Neely adds.

c.2005 The Fresno Bee

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