Jay Leyda

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Jay Leyda
BornFebruary 12, 1910
Detroit, Michigan, United States
DiedFebruary 15, 1988(1988-02-15) (aged 78)
New York City, United States
Spouse(s)Si-lan Chen

Jay Leyda (February 12, 1910 – February 15, 1988)[1] was an American avant-garde filmmaker and film historian, noted for his work on U.S, Soviet, and Chinese cinema, as well as his collections of documentation on the day-to-day lives of Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson.

Life and work[edit]

Leyda was born on February 12, 1910, in Detroit, Michigan. He was a member of the Workers Film and Photo League in the early 1930s. He travelled to the Soviet Union in 1933 to study filmmaking at State Film Institute, Moscow, with Sergei Eisenstein. He participated in the filming of Eisenstein's lost film Bezhin Meadow (1935–37).[1] When he returned to the United States in 1936 to become an assistant film curator at the Museum of Modern Art, he brought the only complete print of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin. In the 1940s he translated Eisenstein's writings.

His The Melville Log (1951) was a day to day compilation of documents which he had painstakingly collected on the life of Herman Melville.[2]

Leyda’s wife, Si-lan Chen, a ballet dancer of international reputation, was the daughter of Eugene Chen, a colleague of the Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen. Leyda was invited in 1959 to work at the Film Archive of China in Beijing, where he stayed until 1964. His account of Chinese film history, Dianying, was the first full length treatment to appear in English. Although he could use the basic (and now outdated) Chinese scholarship only in summary translations, Leyda’s knowledge of film gave him still useful insights into individual films and techniques.[3]

He was awarded the Eastman Kodak Gold Medal Award in 1984. He taught at Yale University (1969-1972), York University (1972–73) and New York University from 1973 until his death in New York on February 15, 1988, of heart failure.[4][5] He was professor and dissertation advisor to noted film historian, Charles H. Harpole (creator of the ten volume History of American Cinema, dedicated to Leyda); leading film theorist, Tom Gunning; and scholar-practitioner Charles Musser. In 1981 he was a member of the jury at the 12th Moscow International Film Festival.[6] He co-curated (with Charles Musser) Before Hollywood: Turn of the Century American Film (1987) for the American Federation of Arts, a six-part touring program of American films with an accompanying catalog, which the New York Times called "A fascinating look at the cinema that flourished between 1895 and 1915 in America, before movies could be mentioned in family newspapers." [7][8]

Selected filmography[edit]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Leyda, Jay; Bertensson, Sergei (1947). The Musorgsky reader; a life of Modeste Petrovich Musorgsky in letters and documents. New York: W.W. Norton. OCLC 885379.
  • Leyda, Jay (1951). The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819–1891. New York: Harcourt, Brace. OCLC 174510154.
  • —— (1952). The Portable Melville. New York: Viking Press.
  • Leyda, Jay; Bertensson, Sergei; Satina, Sophia (1956). Sergei Rachmaninoff, a Lifetime in Music. New York: New York University Press. OCLC 344823.
  • Leyda, Jay (1960). The Years And Hours of Emily Dickinson. New Haven: Yale University Press. OCLC 479248174.
  • —— (1960). Kino: A History Of The Russian And Soviet Film. London: George Allen & Unwin. OCLC 468224244.
  • —— (1964). Films Beget Films: A Study of the Compilation Film. New York: Hill and Wang. OCLC 186247574.
  • —— (1972). Dianying/Electric Shadows: An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-12046-3. OCLC 241457.
  • —— , "Herman Melville, 1972," in Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed. (1973). The Chief Glory of Every People; Essays on Classic American Writers. Carbondale,: Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0809306158.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • ——; Voynow, Zina (1980). Eisenstein At Work. Pantheon Books. ISBN 978-0-394-41262-7. OCLC 8493672.
  • ——; Eisenstein, Sergei (1986). Eisenstein on Disney. Methuen Paperback. ISBN 978-0-413-19640-8. OCLC 19256739.
  • Spark, Clare L. (2006). Hunting Captain Ahab : Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. ISBN 0873388887. Includes Leyda's role in the "Melville Revival."
  • Si-lan Chen Leyda, Footnote to History (New York: Dance Horizons), 1984 ISBN 9780871271341


  1. ^ a b David Stirk and Elena Pinto Simon in Christie, Ian; Taylor, Richard (1993). Eisenstein Rediscovered. Routledge. p. 41. ISBN 0-415-04950-4. OCLC 252972811.
  2. ^ Leyda, Jay (1951). The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819–1891. New York: Harcourt, Brace. OCLC 174510154.
  3. ^ Jay Leyda, Dianying: An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1972), xii
  4. ^ Andrew L. Yarrow, « Jay Leyda, Film Historian, Writer And a Student of Sergei Eisenstein », 18.02.1988 The New York Times
  5. ^ Guide to the Jay and Si-Lan Chen Leyda Papers TAM.083 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York, NY.
  6. ^ "12th Moscow International Film Festival (1981)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 2013-04-21. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
  7. ^ Leyda, Jay; Musser, Charles; et al. (1987). Before Hollywood: Turn of the Century American Film. New York: American Federation for the Arts. ISBN 978-0933920910.
  8. ^ Burnette, Peter (June 7, 1987). ""IN SHORT: NONFICTION; Faking It on Film,"". New York Times. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  9. ^ Jay Leyda (1931). "A Bronx Morning". Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2010-02-12.
  10. ^ Sidney Meyers and Jay Leyda (1937). "People of the Cumberland". Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2010-02-12.
  11. ^ Barsam, Richard Meran (1992). Nonfiction film. Indiana University Press. p. 148. ISBN 0-253-20706-1. OCLC 24107769.

External links[edit]