|Volume 3 Number 2||
Film Forum2, New York City's premiere venue for classic films, ran five packed screenings of The Vitaphone Project's "A Night At The Palace" program of vaudeville shorts on May 14th. Lines were already forming at 1 PM for the 2 PM show, and the crowds continued through the final program at 10 PM. This turnout for early talkie shorts confirms the public's interest and support for these films.
Using titles suggested by the Project, Film Forum2's Directory of Repertory Programming Bruce Goldstein worked directly with Turner Entertainment's Dick May to obtain prints of the early Vitaphone and MGM vaudeville shorts. The goal was to recreate a night at the famed Palace Theatre during vaudeville's heydey, and judging from audience reaction, that goal was met. Only 35mm prints were used, and in two cases ("Josephine Harmon in "Harmonizing" (1930) and "Angel Cake" (1931)), dick May struck brand new prints specially for the show, their first screening in 7 decades!
The program opened with Harry Rose hosting "Metro Movietone Revue #1" (1929). Rose's bizarre rendition of "Frankfurter Sandwiches" was sung by many attendees as they exited. The short also featured child singer Grace Rodgers and the great harmonizing headliners Van & Schenck. "Bubbles" (1930) is a one-reel Vitaphone Variety, originally shot in Technicolor, but now only surviving in black and white. An all-kiddie musical, this short marks the earliest surviving screen appearance of Judy Garland, here seen with her sisters, billed as The Vitaphone Kiddies. "Angel Cake" (1931) was an unknown quantity when selected from the Turner list, but it turned out to be a real gem. A silly plot has teenaged Claire Trevor vamping a phony French aristocrat into funding a musical revue. It's an excuse to trot out great numbers by eccentric dancers, a girl singing team, vaudevillian Cy Landry, a wonderful quartet from "Girl Crazy" called "The Foursome", and even the Albertine Rausch Dancers -- all packed into two reels. A surprise hit was the totally unknown Josephine Harmon in the one-reel Vitaphone Variety "Harmonizing" (1930). A weighty cross between Sophie Tucker and Fanny Brice, Miss Harmon convulsed the audience with wild songs, a comedy monologue, and a hot Spanish dance. This film highlighted how forgotten some of vaudeville's headliners are today. The latest short on the program, "All Colored Vaudeville" (1935), is a one-reel Vitaphone with multiple acts, including The Nicholas brothers (an audience favorite) and Adelaide Hall. This short is part of MGM/UA's "Swing Swing, Swing" laserdisc boxed set. UCLA's masterful restorations followed, with "Baby Rose Marie, The Child Wonder" (1929), "Willie & Eugene Howard in 'Between The Acts At The Opera'" (1926), the incomparable "Al Jolson in 'A Plantation Act'" (1926), and "Burns & Allen in 'Lambchops'" (1929). "Lambchops" closed the program poignantly, following the recent passing of George Burns.
The two hour programs were introduced by the Project's Ron Hutchinson, and were so well received that Bruce Goldstein is already planning a follow-up show. "A Night At The Palace" was in the middle of Film Forum2's month and a half celebration of "Musicals Before The Code", itself a wildly successful series which included rare screenings of such films as "Follow Thru" (1930) (crowds had to be turned away), "Murder At The Vanities" (1934), "Let's Go Native" (1930), "Just Imagine" (1938), and "Diplomaniacs" (1933). This series was programmed by Richard Barrios, author of the definitive book on pre-1935 musicals, "A Song In The Dark" (Oxford University Press). Many of the features were proceeded by musical Vitaphone shorts. Dick May hosted an evening of "Technicolor Treasures From Turner", another standing-room only program, on April 30th.
The Project is indebted to Bruce Goldstein, Dick May, and Richard Barrios for helping us realize one of our earliest goals: to get these great films seen by the public again!
The Project mourns the recent loss of several important figures in film history, performing, and preservation. Film historian emeritus William K. Everson passed away in April, and was an immense influence on many movie enthusiasts through his books, screenings, and personal assistance to countless writers and researchers... Warners star Lyle Talbot died at 94 on March 3, 1996. We were happy to assist in finding his 1928 Vitaphone short, "The Nightingale" (1928 with Pat O'Brien) as a surprise for his 92nd birthday... Lita Grey Chaplin made one Vitaphone short, "Seasoned Greetings" (1933), but couldn't recall it in her correspondence to us. She died on December 30, 1995... another loss was the recent passing of David Packard, founder of Hewlett-Packard and father of David W., a very generous underwriter of many Vitaphone shorts restorations, including "Jack Buchanan and His Glee Club" (1928), "The Opry House (1929), and "Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields" (1926).
Using the amazing CD-ROM phone book on disc as a searching resource, we were able to find Elmer Raguse, Jr., son of the pioneering sound engineer Elmer, Sr. who brought Hal Roach Studios into the talkie era in late 1928. Raguse, Sr. was a Victor Talking Machine Company employee sent to Roach to wire the studio. When Roach realized he couldn't just place an ad in 1928 for an experienced sound film engineer, he made Raguse and offer he couldn't refuse, and he remained through TV's "My Little Margie" and "Amos 'N Andy". Look for memorabilia and photos in our next issue!... another high-tech search find was Nelson Hall, who incredibly appears in the just-restored two 1928 Gus Arnheim Vitaphone band shorts. Nelson was the band's guitar, bass and banjo player, and later worked for Ben Bernie. Nelson is in his early nineties... another show business veteran (she played the Palace in 1927) is Project friend Thelma White. Thelma made nearly a dozen Vitaphone shorts in 1930-31, teamed with Billy Wayne and later Fanny Watson (in an effort to create a female Laurel and hardy before Roach tried it with Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts). Thelma is working on her memoirs of 9 decades in show business, and Dick Bann kindly shared a print of the White-Watson 1931 Vitaphone two-reeler, "Lucky 13" with her. She's also in "sixteen Sweeties", one of the Pathe's with discs found in the huge Oregon collection...Billy Heyes was a child star who made a series of Vitaphone one-reelers in 1931 based on the booth Tarkington "Penrod" stories. He also appeared in Arbuckle's comeback film at Vitaphone, "Hey, Pop" (1932). His friend, "King" Kassel solicited on the internet for info on these films and ultimately connected with the Project. We helped locate prints of all Heyes' Vitaphones, some of which were shown at a surprise party for still-young Billy. King is taping an interview with Billy on what it was like to work at the Brooklyn studios and will share it in our next issue... burlesque star Joey Faye helped create and perform the famed "Slowly I Turn" and "Floogle Street" bits for the Minsky's, and made at least one Vitaphone short. Thanks to the characteristic generosity of Dick May, the Project was able to surprise Joey with a screening of his 1938 Vitaphone two-reeler with Wini Shaw, "Hats and Dogs", in which he performed the Pascooniak (later Susquehanna with Abbott & Costello) Hat Company sketch with Rags Ragland.
(London) - Bob Gitt had just represented UCLA in Pordenone, Italy at the now world-famous Gionarte del Cinema Muto -- a week long festival of silent films from all over the world -- when he came to England in October 1995 to present three shows at the National Film Theatre as part of the London Film Festival. Each year, part of the festival is devoted to examples of preservation, so we were more than pleased to be able to enjoy Bob's newest restorations.
These were the second Vitaphone Program ("The Better 'Ole" plus Vitaphone shorts), Jazz Vitaphone shorts 1927-30, and the restored "Paramount On Parade" (1930). There were good audiences who could not fail to be impressed by Bob's enthusiasm and love of his subject. He also took part in an Archive seminar, also attended by Clyde Jeavons and Hening Schou of the NFTVA, Roger Mayer and Dick May from Turner Entertainment, Erno Patalas, formerly from the Munich Film Museum, and Luca Faranelli from the Cinetecca del Commune di Bologna.
We certainly look forward to having the chance to see more of Bob's restorations in the future!
Editor's note: Malcolm can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com
A house full of nitrate (not highly recommended!) and some discs were found in a recently purchased old home in Jacksonville, Florida. The original owner ran a theatre in Georgia from the '20's-'40's, and also ran tent shows of films at carnivals. We're obtaining a complete list, but already know the cache includes both silent and early sound films... a 12 inch disc for the trailer of the long-lost "The Rogue Song" (MGM, 1930. Technicolor with Dennis King and Laurel & Hardy) just turned up. Rumors that all or most of the reels for this feature exist persist, but still remain just rumors at this point... a Southern California estate sale yielded Vitaphone discs for "Georgie Price in 'Don't Get Nervous'" (1929, and at the top of our "next restoration" list), "Jan Garber & His Band" (MGM, 1928), "The Family Picnic" (Fox, 1928 two reeler) and discs to the dolores Costello Warner feature... a disc for a 1928 British Phototone jazz band short for the German UFA company with Lud Gluskin and His Ambassadonians playing a hot version of "That's A Plenty"... both discs for the 1929 Hal Roach talkie "Madame Q" with Edgar Kennedy (discovered in the projection room at the Loew's Jersey, see article elsewhere in this issue)... John Newton tracked down some discs from a west coast collector whose discs almost entirely burned in the west coast fires a few years ago. A nine-inch high stack of Vitaphone discs survived. Included in this acquisition were ALL discs to Sophie Tucker's 1929 Warner feature, "Honky Tonk" (which assures a restoration if the film is ever found), the disc to Winnie Lightner's one-reeler, "The Song A Minute Girl" (1928), a 1933 multi-track rehearsal disc for "Golddiggers of 1933", and an organ music medley for a Jolson feature... On a non-film and disc front, the contents of a warehouse collection owned by Record Research editor Len Kunstadt was just purchased by Shanachie Entertainment. Len was a real packrat and his cache is jammed with dozens of boxes of stuff everywhere, along with over 70,000 78rpm records. At publication time, only a few boxes have been opened, but one turned up elaborate color souvenir books (15-25 pages each) for "The Singing Fool", "Hold Everything", "Show of Shows", "Say It With Words", "The Better 'Ole", "The Hollywood Revue of 1929", Chasing Rainbows" and many, many more early musicals.
BMG (Bertelsmann Music Group) now owns the massive RCA and Victor recording archives, including historic ledgers and many (but from from all) metal stampers from 1901-on. Bernadette moore and Glen Korman of BMG's archive both attended the ARSC Conference and heard the presentation on the Project. Their meeting with Ron led to a visit to BMG this winter with Dave Goldenberg, John Newton, Sherwin Dunner, and Nighthawks band leader Vince giordano. the reason the archive holds real potential for Vitaphone and other sound-on-disc research is that Victor pressed virtually all soundtrack discs until 1930, when Columbia and Brunswick also became involved. The discs were 16 inch in diameter until 1930, when a reduction to 12 inches was accomplished. Victor pressed the soundtrack discs for virtually all the studios (not only majors like MGM, Warners and Paramount, but also Educational, Pathe, and Roach) using large metal stampers.
BMG is in the midst of a first-ever all out inventory of everything they have. Many stampers no longer exist, but some soundtrack elements have begun to turn up, along with playback discs for musicals, promo discs for Paramount films with Crosby, Mae West and Duke Ellington, and even an apparent rehearsal disc by Wheeler & Woolsey for "Diplomaniacs"! With over 400,000 stampers to inventory, this archive holds real potential. To date, only 12 inch stampers for soundtracks are tuning up, but the search has really only begun. We'll keep you posted.
Our last issue reported the discovery of "Sixteen Sweeties", a 1929 Pathe two reeler discovered with 28 titles in Portland, Oregon on 16mm with soundtrack discs for "show at home" outfits marketed during 1929-31. Because 16mm for the home was always on safety stock, these prints survived while many of their 35mm nitrate counterparts did not. The just-restored (and long-lost) 1930 Pathe "Campus Comedy" with Bing Crosby and The Rhythm Boys, "Two Plus Fours", was part of this important find. The irony is that "Sixteen Sweeties" was apparently the film being photographed when a devastating fire destroyed Pathe's New York Studio, killing ten employees. As a result of the fire, many other New York talkie studios closed, and the few that remained (Vitaphone in Brooklyn and Paramount in Astoria) upgraded their facilities.
The fire gutted Pathe's studio on the corner of Park Avenue and 134th Street (now an open lot) on the morning of December 10, 1929. A piece of glowing carbon arc fell onto a curtain (which is clearly visible as the backdrop in "Sixteen Sweeties"), causing it to burn almost immediately. Pathe had failed to install recommended sprinklers earlier in the year. Contemporary reports describe performers sitting on the curb across from the studio, watching it burn. They are wearing costumes for the "Paul Revere, Ben Hur and Jesse James" Number featured in this short. Thelma White, who sings and dances in "Sixteen Sweeties", recalls being unable to report to the studio that day because of some conflict - which possibly saved her life. This film and a few others were completed by Pathe in leased studio space in Fort Lee, NJ before all short production reverted to the west coast.
The 3,000+ seat Loew's Jersey "wonder theatre" built during the chain's 1928-29 building boom, featured MGM films and vaudeville in it's cavernous auditorium. Baby Rose Marie, Burns & Allen, The Duncan sisters, and Bind Crosby, among others, performed there. But the combination of television and VCR's assured its demise, even as a multiplex, by the last 1980's. Saved from the wrecker's ball by a band of dedicated preservationists, the Loew's is now undergoing a $5 million restoration which will return films and live performances to its hall in a few years. Colin Egan heads the project, and gave the Project a tour in April. The original massive stage lighting panel, orchestra and organ lifts, and eerie dressing room mirrors are all still there.
Project friend Bob Furmanek, co-author of "Abbott & Costello in Hollywood", is also part of the Loew's restoration effort, and called recently to say two vitaphone discs had just been found in the projection booth! The original cast-iron disc cabinet, with 16 inch wide drawers to accommodate 24 discs (feature, shorts, cartoon, newsreels, trailers, etc.) in duplicate, was still there from the theater's 1929 opening. The two discs, both reels of an early 1929 Hal Roach All Star Comedy, "Madame Q" with Edgar Kennedy, were found sitting on top of the cabinet. These discs apparently had been there since the first few weeks of the theater's opening in early 1929. Dick Bann reports that the film elements for "Madame Q" indeed exist, and a restored print might be shown when the Loew's opens to the public.
Needless to say, the Project is now working with the folks at Sony (who own the Loew's chain) to see which other old theatres might be scoured for discs. If any readers know of old theaters in their area, please see if a check of the booth, basement and attic areas can be made! The Loew's Jersey had been undergoing active renovation work for over two years before these discs were found.
Readers who are connected to the World Wide Web should input "vitaphone" on their browser! You'll find a number of interesting "hits". Since our last issue, the internet has become an important research tool. Most of our recent assistance on the upcoming boxed set was done on the web, as was Bill Cappello's search for relatives of obscure but wonderful performers like Zelma O'Neill. It was also via the web that we heard from "King" Kassell who was searching for the Vitaphone films of his friend Billy Heyes, who appeared with Arbuckle in "Hey, Pop!" ('32) and eight Vitaphone Penrod & Sam shorts.
Those of you who cruise the 'net are asked to inquire about Vitaphone films and discs whenever you can fit it into your schedule. You may also reach the Project at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let us know your e-mail address and interests and we'll include them in the next issue.
Dick May of Turner Entertainment and George Feltenstein of MGM/UA Home Video have done it again! Over 40 vintage Vitaphone shorts -- this time with an emphasis on vaudeville and personalities -- are due out this summer on the "Vitaphone 70th Anniversary Celebration" laserdisc boxed set. Imagine over 8 hours of great shorts, including several that the Project had a direct role in getting restored. In early, the Project suggested titles for consideration in this set, and we're pleased to see over 80% have been included here. George also kindly offered to mention the Project in the set.
Many of the titles were featured to great audience reaction at the UCLA and film forum2 shows. Here's the lineup:
The success of the great Vitaphone set "Swing, Swing, Swing" and hopefully this one, should keep these wonderful releases coming. Forget buying those groceries. Isn't it time to finally buy a laserdisc player? They play audio CD's (Like Vince Giordano's "Quality Shout" and Take Two's "Gus Arnheim, 1931") too!
The Project was honored to present a talk on its goals and accomplishments at The Library of Congress last fall as part of the annual Association for Recorded Sound Collectors (ARSC) conference. ARSC represents sound archives and private collections from around the world, and was the ideal venue for discussing the Project. Many strong leads on discs and potential underwriters were obtained from the over 100 attendees. Clips of shorts were shown, and it can safely be said that Harry Rose never sang "Frankfurter Sandwiches" in a more dignified setting.
We gratefully acknowledge the very generous contributions made by many of the recipients of The Vitaphone News to help keep us going. We're now up to almost 350 copies per mailing, a fair number of which go overseas. Our main expenses are postage and printing. If you've already sent us a donation, many thanks. If not, and you enjoy reading of the Project in this newsletter, a donation would be greatly appreciated. Checks should be payable to RON HUTCHINSON and sent to 5 Meade Court, Piscataway, NJ 08854, USA.
UCLA has just restored "Horace Heidt and His Californians" (Vitaphone, 1929) with funding generously supplied by Mr. Heidt's son, Horace, Jr. This is a very hot jazz short that even boasts a tap dancer and dog act! It premiered at UCLA's July 1996 festival. The Project contacted Mr. Heidt about the possibility of funding this restoration, and after hearing a dub of the track (found by Bill Thompson of Novato, CA), he readily agreed. Another just-finished UCLA restoration, funded by Hugh Hefner, is the long-lost Pathe two-reeler, "Two Plus Fours" (1930), which features Bing Crosby and The Rhythm Boys. This film, on 16mm with separate 16 inch soundtrack discs for "show-at-home" units, was part of the great Gary Lacher discovery of 28 films in Oregon. Gary generously loaned elements to Bob Gitt, who bumped the print up to 35mm and resynched the print on film. Laurel & Hardy's 1930 Roach short, "Brats", in which they play both themselves and their own children, has been around for years with a very good 1937 reissue track. But Gary also located the discs to the original 1930 print, with totally different background music. Completion of this restoration, funded by Dick Bann's company RHI, occurred around press time. This is the team's first short with their famous theme,"Dance Of The Cuckoos". There was a false start in restoring the newly discovered Technicolor reel of "Gold Diggers Of Broadway" (Warners, 1929) when the disc dub sent by the Project turned out to be for the wrong reel. It's unclear if the confusion was fueled by the fact this was an Australian print and an American disc. In any case, the right reel has been transferred to DAT and this restoration should be completed soon at UCLA. "Weary River", a 1929 Warner feature which marked a number of firsts (including outdoor disc recording) was just restored with funding provided by Turner Entertainment.
The Project is actively pursuing leads on additional underwriting for more shorts, and has recommended that the next ones be (in order) "Don't Get Nervous" (1929 with Georgie Price, set in the Brooklyn Studio), "The Music Makers" (1929 with Willie & Eugene Howard), "Talking It Over" (1929 with great monologist Jack Osterman), "Chips Off The Old Block" (1928 with The Seven Little Foys), and hopefully some classical/operatic shorts. At press time, we had been contacted by Fred Waring's America regarding some of the Waring band's film appearances. We hope to interest them in restoring the February 1927 Vitaphone short, "Waring's Pennslyvanians", for which outstanding quality picture and discs exist. We even have a still!
Many of our readers have asked how they might help underwrite, in whole or part, the restoration of a Vitaphone film. A typical restoration of a sound-on-disc film costs $2,000-$3,000 per reel. There are currently about 100 1926-30 shorts for which both disc and picture exist and can therefore be restored. Most of the restorations are done at UCLA, usually in partnership with collectors, archives like The Library of Congress, AFI, or other groups. UCLA can now accept tax-deductible donations to go towards Vitaphone restorations. If you are financially able to underwrite $1,000 or more, please contact us for possible titles. For lesser amounts, you may indicate the type of Vitaphone short (jazz, vaudeville, dance, playlet, operatic, or "any") along with the words "VITAPHONE RESTORATION" on the check's memo line. Send your donation to:
Thanks to Phil Carli, archivist of Film Collections, who kindly allowed me to make an appointment with him on short notice to visit the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department for two days in early April, 1996. Phil introduced me to Ed Startmann, Assistant Curator - Film Collections. Ed was in the process of conducting a tour for Peter L. Jones, Director of the Case Research Lab Museum (Auburn, NY) and his staff on a tour of the facility, which we joined.
Later in the day, Ed and I discussed The Vitaphone Project and any restorations with which the Eastman House might need assistance. Among these are:
LONESOME, an early Universal part-talkie, directed by Paul Fejos. Eastman has all the elements and seeks funding to restore the dialogue sequences and music track.
THE DOLL SHOP, an early color Metro musical short, mentioned in an earlier issue. Eastman is seeking one disc.
WHEN A MAN LOVES - Eastman has the film, UCLA (Bob Gitt) has the discs. Funding is needed for restoration.
The second day was spend inspecting and listing two batches of sound recordings. The first, for which films have yet to be found, were "Filmparlant Gaumont" discs which date from 1908-1910, according to Senior Curator, Motion Picture Department Paolo Cherchi Usai. Other soundtrack discs were acquired by the archive with 16mm prints intended for use with the c.1929-30 "Show At Home" sound-on-disc outfits. A small excerpt of these disc holdings accompanies this article.
Also during the second day, I saw a vivid example of why "Nitrate Won't Wait". Paolo unearthed a short roll of nitrate film in a can labeled "Canary Murder Case" (Paramount, 1929. As Phil carefully unrolled it (this took most of the day) it was discovered to be the trailer for the film, which apparently contains a sequence in which actor Eugene Pallette speaks to the theatre audience. Unfortunately, the optical track had completely deteriorated.
Thanks to Paolo, Ed, and Phil, who enthusiastically encouraged the Project and have generously offered to welcome us back for more research. Details on the visit to the Case Museum in the next issue!
August 6, 1996 marks the 70th anniversary of the first public Vitaphone program. Held at the Warner's Theatre on Fifty-second Street and Broadway in New York, the premiere of "Don Juan" and selected shorts attracted such dignitaries as William Fox, Adolph Zukor, Amelita Galli-Curci, financier Otto Kahn, and producer Lee Shubert. The theatre was the only one in the world able to show Vitaphone film, but that would soon change.
George Feltenstein, Senior Vice-President of MGM/UA Home Video has confirmed that the company has definite plans to release some of the many operatic and classical Vitaphone shorts produced during 1926-30. These films have elicited much interest from our readers as well as attendees at presentations on the Project's efforts. We've shared this interest with George, and contributor Bill Shaman (an expert on the operatic Vitaphones) has even summarized the best candidates for reissue. It is hoped that some of this material will be released to the home market in 1997. J. Paul Getty has indicated some interest in possibly underwriting restoration of one or more of the 28 operatics for which separate disc and picture are known.
Many thanks to several individuals who volunteered after the Film Forum2 show to assist the Project with research. Anthony L'Abbate has already photocopied nearly 100 pages of the Film Daily shorts quarterly supplements from 1928 and 1929. These are valuable research tools, as all released and planned shorts by both major and minor studios are listed, often with reviews. Anthony has been copying every page of these supplements for us at the Billy Rose Library at Lincoln Center. Lillian Tudiver & Carol Bradshaw also are helping us in research of vaudeville performers. Lillian is writing a book on Marilyn Miller, and Carol is assisting on a documentary about American Vaudeville. Many thanks to these wonderful volunteers. We still could use assistance to scour and get copied key files from the Warner Brothers collection at USC in Los Angeles. Any takers?
A key Project goal has been to encourage public viewings of restored sound-on-disc films, and that is certainly happening now. Following the appropriate debuts at UCLA's Melnitz Auditorium in Los Angeles, many of the restored shorts have already been seen at New York's Film Forum2 and in London. Upcoming additional opportunities to see these restorations on the big screen include Cinecon 32, August 29-September 2, 1996 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (shorts to be shown include Jolson's "A Plantation Act" (1926). Another chance is at the October 4-6 1996 7th Annual Fall Cinesation in Saginaw, Michigan. The Jolson short, and possible others, will be shown, along with a tribute to Lee DeForest, Father of the Phonofilm sound-on-film system which preceded Vitaphone by several years.
and John Newton:
Do you have film soundtrack discs (Vitaphone, Paramount, MGM, etc.),
production information, stills, or other ephemera on pre 1940 short films?
We urgently need this data for a major film restoration program.
Replies will be kept confidential. Project endorsed by copyright
THE VITAPHONE PROJECT
To contact The Vitaphone Project write to:
5 Meade Court
Piscataway, NJ 08854
or email Ron at email@example.com
or project member Bill Cappello at firstname.lastname@example.org