|Volume 3 Number 3||
The Vitaphone Project is extremely pleased to report that the single largest funding of Vitaphone shorts restorations from an individual has just been confirmed. Mr. J. Paul Getty III has closely followed the fine restorations that have been done in recent years, including last year's jazz shorts. An avid opera fan, the Project advised Mr. Getty that a number of 1926-30 Vitaphone operatic shorts existed only in separate disc and picture elements, and that there was no known support to restore them. William Shaman gave a very comprehensive study of Vitaphone operatics in a 69 page paper published in the Spring, 1991 issue of the ARSC (Association of Recorded Sound Collections) Journal. Bill summarized the current status of each short, including location (if known) of picture and disc. Since their article was published, The Vitaphone Project has uncovered additional discs for opera shorts, as well as discs in better condition than those previously known.
Following a number of letters confirming the scope and need for the restorations, Mr. Getty generously offered to provide funding to re-match the 25+ shorts and produce new sound-on-film prints with the best possible sound. This will be a massive undertaking involving The Library Of Congress, UCLA, the Turner/Warner Brothers organizations, and private collectors. Mr. Shaman has agreed to assist on the project, and notes that the films contain legendary performances. For example, Bill says "the highest of the highlights may be the 1928 "A Neopolitan Romance" with Pascuale Amato, who is still regarded by many as among the greatest operatic baritones of his generation, and who left no other electrical recordings of his voice. His final commercial discs were made in 1924."
At present, The Library Of Congress and UCLA are confirming the elements they have, and where multiple elements exist, determining which is in best condition. David Francis of the Library will coordinate much of the work, as most of the picture elements reside in their collection. The operatic shorts to be restored include:
During the 1928-29 film season, it became clear that talkies were catching on with the public, and that silents - even outstanding ones - were faring poorly against sound films. The studios had already completed many silents, and some would be released with their own customized music-and-effects discs. Examples of these include "Show People" with Marion Davies and "Spite Marriage", Buster Keaton's final silent. However, there were a considerable number of theatres during this period which were still not equipped to show talkies. These theatres had to compete with wired theatres, and were less able than ever to afford musicians to accompany silents. The Victor Talking Machine Company, which also pressed most synchronized soundtrack discs, came out with a line of Victor Pict-Ur-Music discs in late 1928. Over 300 such discs eventually were issued by mid-1929, and provided unwired theatre owners with a wide array of mood music and sound effects to be "matched" with the screen action.
The system involved having a quick-handed operator at a two- or four- turntable unit combine appropriate music and effects and face from disc to disc as the plot dictated. Victor emphasized the need to rehearse the film in advance, using recommended music cues issued by the studios. Columbia, Gennett, and Brunswick soon came out with their own line of film accompaniment discs in 1929. By the end of the year, it was all over. For all intents, the silents were dead, as were unwired theatres. These accompaniment discs were often then sold to radio stations, and they occasionally turn up on vintage record auction lists. Within just a few months in 1997, two very large collections of Victor Pict-Ur-Discs appeared. Nearly a hundred were listed on Kurt Nauck's record auction, and The Vitaphone Project just acquired nearly 150 from a Buffalo radio station. All of these discs will be made available to appropriate organizations interested in authentically accompanying silent films. Bruce Goldstein of Film Forum2 is considering having an actual operator play and change discs for a late-'twenties silent. Special thanks to Phil Carli for braving bitter upstate New York storms to pick up the discs for us in Buffalo.
Thanks to Lou McMahon for the loan of material from his 1929 Victor Pict-Ur-Disc catalog. Lou has successfully accompanied several silents on tape using these discs.
The last six months have been particularly productive for soundtrack disc discoveries, largely due to extensive national publicity on the Project. Record collector Steve Ramm kindly alerted us via Internet of a large cache of Victor Pict-Ur-Discs (see article in this issue) in Buffalo. These 10 inch 78's were expressly made by the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1928-29 to accompany silent films. They were located in a radio station which may have purchased them to provide musical background for broadcasts... Don Schneider at Michigan's Movie Museum reported having two United Artists discs: Reel 5 for Eternal Love (1929) and reels 3 and 5 of The Locked Door (1930)... the disc for reel 8 of the 1828 Warner feature "On Trial" turned up on the wall of a Southern New Jersey collector's home... The Christian Science Monitor article helped us learn of a very large collection of feature discs - all United Artists - in southern California. The collection included most or all discs for City Lights, Lady of the Pavement, This is Heaven, Venus, Evangeline, and The Iron Mask (all 1928-31). A brass spring-loaded spindle weight used to hold the soundtrack discs in place on the turntable was also part of this collection, and is now owned by the Project... Jeff Cohen has special interest in foreign versions of early musical features, as there were often dialog and music changes in other versions. Jeff has soundtracks for over 25 features, including foreign versions of Hard To Get, On With The Show, The Desert Song, Honky Tonk, Careers, Is Everybody Happy, Paris, and Fast Life (all 1929)... a radio transcription disc possibly from The Vitaphone Hour, is held by Jim Doherty. It features two tunes and is labelled as from "National Radio Advertising, Inc."... discs for three MGM Movietone Act shorts, "Roy Evans", "tito Ruffo", and Maria Kurenko" (all 1929) turned up in France... The National Library of Norway reports Vitaphone shorts for classical films Giuseppe Deluca's "Figaro Song", Martinelli's "O Sole Mio", "M'appari", Martinelli & D'Andelo's "La Juive" and Gigli and DeLuca's "Pearlfishers" (all 1926-27)... a major film discovery occurred recently while UCLA's Bob Gitt and Ron Hutchinson were on the phone. Bing Crosby's 1933 two-reel Paramount short "Just An Echo" has inclinable been lost for years. His other paramount short "Please" (1933) turned up only a few years ago. Ron asked Bob to check his printout of recently acquired Paramount shorts, and the first (only) reel of "Echo" appeared. A check of the material revealed it to be unedited but apparently complete sections of the first reel of the short, minus titles. Reel 2 has still not been found. Because of the interest in Crosby, it is hoped that this portion of the short can still be restored in the near future.
The Vitaphone Project's main expenses are mailing and printing costs for this newsletter, and phone and correspondence postage expenses. Many of our readers have generously helped defray some of our operating costs. If you're contributed already, many thanks! If our Project's work is of interest to you, and you're still not sent in a contribution, please consider doing so. All costs otherwise come out of the pockets of the Project's founders. Our mailing list now is at around 400, with many newsletters going overseas at over $1 each.
Contributions are not deductible, but are appreciated nonetheless. Checks should be made out to RON HUTCHINSON (Not The Vitaphone Project). Thanks!
MGM/UA's nearly 10-hour lasredisc boxed-set, "Calvacade of Vitaphone Shorts Volume 2: A 70th Anniversary Celebration" received enthusiastic reviews in countless publications, even Playboy! We reported on the real gems contained in this George Feltenstein-produced set in our last issue. If you aren't yet laserdisc-equipped, this is the best reason yet to make the commitment. Reviewers marvelled at the Al Jolson restoration in 1926's "A Plantation Act", and virtually all zeroed in on "Baby" Rose Marie, Burns & Allen, and lesser known Georgie Price. If you need a list of what the set contains, just check out the article in our last issue The surest way to keep this material coming is for fans to buy it!
The merger of Turner Entertainment into the Time-Warner family occurred during the latter part of 1996, and directly impacts some of the people and organizations the Project has worked with successfully over the past six years. Fortunately Dick May is now responsible for the new combined film archive which adds the Warner Brothers holdings to the previous Turner (RKO, MGM, pre-1948 Warners) library. Sadly, many of the fine members of Turner's Culver City film library lost their jobs during the merger. George Feltenstein, who produced the fine laserdisc sets of Vitaphone and other vintage material at MGM/UA has now joined the Turner contingent at the merged company. Roger Mayer, another friend of restoration, is also still in charge of the overall film library. Because there are understandable differences between Turner and Warner operations, Dick is working closely with the Warners folks to clarify how future restorations and partnerships will work.
Our last newsletter reported the discovery by Bruce Miller of a 12 inch soundtrack disc for "The Rogue Song" (MGM, 1930, Technicolor) trailer. As one of the most sought after "lost" films, the location of the trailer disc was significant in that it followed the discovery of the trailer's nitrate Technicolor footage by only a few years. The film stars opera's Lawrence Tibbett and has Laurel & Hardy in comic support. The trailer includes previously unknown Laurel & Hardy color footage in which Stan swallows a mosquito. The footage came from a cache of American film found three years ago in Australia. Bob Gitt's initial check of the disc against the picture indicates about a minute of missing footage at the beginning lost to decomposition. It appears that some semblance of the original trailer can be recreated, possibly using stills or titles at the beginning. Fortunately, the entire L&H segment exists with both picture and sound.
Armed with a 1930 Film Daily Year Book, the Project used the Cd-ROM PhoneDisc to try to find the relatives of some of the Vitaphone Studios staff. This technology is very helpful in research, as over 92 million names/phone numbers are listed, and by simply inputting a name, it will identify all the "hits" in the country. This is how we located the son of Hal Roach Studios sound man Elmer Raguse. If the name is uncommon, you will get fewer hits to follow up by phone or letter. Obviously, this approach won't be helpful when searching for John Smith.
One name listed in Film Daily for the 1930 Brooklyn studio roster was sound engineer H. Porter Evans. We inputted this name and got one exact "hit". It turned out to be Mr. Evan's son, now living in Connecticut. As with Mr. Raguse, Mr. Evans was surprised anyone even remembered who his father was. The senior Evans set up the Brooklyn studios for sound in 1928 and remained thru the mid-thirties. The Project's Vince Giordano drove up to visit his son, who kindly donated over 100 unique stills of productions, multi-disc dubbing bays, cameras, the construction of the studio, and even the Vitaphone sound truck used for outdoor shooting. Many, many thanks to Mr. Evans!
Dudley and Carol Heer of Illinois have kindly volunteered to fully fund at least one Vitaphone short restoration. After discussing available films with the Project, they've elected to fund "The Seven Little Foys in 'Chips Off The Old Block'" (1928). This is one of two Vitaphone shorts the legendary vaudevillian family made, and is the only one for which both picture and disc exist. This one has been near the top of the Project's wish list of shorts deserving early restoration. The Heer's may fund other shorts in the future. Our friends at KCTS have generously offered to fund a short restoration in thanks for help with their American Masters two-hour vaudeville documentary. Our choice was "Georgie Price in 'Don't Get Nervous'" (1929). This is a particularly deserving film in that it stars the entertaining Price (a kind of cross between Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson) and is set in the Brooklyn Vitaphone studios. In it, Price claims mike-fright to directory Bryan Foy. As his confidence increases, he asks Foy for a raise. He wisecracks that "When I ask for money, the synchronization isn't so good!". We can't wait to see this funny and historically significant film on the big screen again.
As reported elsewhere in this issue, one of our burning goals is to verify if indeed a tunnel was build in the late 'twenties between the old Vitagraph and new Vitaphone studios in Brooklyn. We've repeatedly heard from residents and historians that this tunnel definitely exists, and was used to move scenery and props without disrupting Flatbush traffic. Following the NBC-TV/New York story on the Vitaphone Project in February, we heard from several enthusiastic NBC cameramen who volunteered to check out the tunnel legend. John Pinto actually works on soap operas taped in the 1929 Vitaphone studio (previously used to tape "Cosby"). He and the facility engineer are now searching for prints or physical evidence of a tunnel. As of this writing John has uncovered an empty steel nitrate film cabinet in the basement, which is against a wall that could conceal a tunnel opening. This will be a great mystery to finally solve. We're glad to have insiders on the case!
The 70th anniversary of the first Vitaphone program in August '96 triggered a welcome flood of publicity for the Project. We were frankly amazed at the real media interest in our efforts, and their desire to help fuel our search for discs. around the time of the anniversary itself, the Vitaphone Project received extensive coverage by USA Today and Associated Press, as well as on television on CNBC ("Power Lunch"), Regional News, Network, National Public Radio, the Mutual Network, Westwood One, The Lee Leonard Show and The Christian Science Monitor. In the fall, Classic Images ran two stories on Vitaphone (and Jim Niebauer's book on the shorts) as well as us, as did Vintage Jazz Mart, a record collectors' magazine. In February '97, the NBC-TV affiliate in New York ran a nice feature story on the Project, which triggered numerous calls from former Vitaphone performers and NBC employees now working in former Vitaphone buildings. There are now articles in the works on The Vitaphone Project for Smithsonian Magazine and The Washington Post. The value of this publicity is immeasurable, as it generated leads on discs, performers, and potential donors.
For years, the Project has hoped that someone would do a documentary on a nearly forgotten part of America's entertainment heritage: vaudeville. We were therefore thrilled to get a call from Sue McLaughlin at KCTS/Seattle saying they were funded to produce a two-hour special for the PBS "American Masters" series on vaudeville. It seems just about everyone the KCTS research team spoke to said they must talk to The Vitaphone Project if the story was to be told thoroughly. This flattering development has yielded many months of assistance to producer Greg Palmer, Sue and Rosemary Garner in the form of identifying surviving vaudevillians, film clips, and others who can help. The special will allow the vaudevillians themselves to tell their story, with frequent clips from Vitaphone shorts which, ironically, preserved the waning days of vaudeville. The Project helped KCTS bring Thelma White, "Baby Rose Marie" and others into the production. Marc Fields, great-great nephew of Weber & Fields' Lew Fields is also helping out. Weber & Fields will be used to help frame the special, from their music hall beginnings in the 1880's, through surviving silent footage, an early DeForest Phonofilm of their "Pool Scene" to their last film appearance in 1940's Lillian Russell". Clips from many Vitaphone shorts will be used to tell the story of vaudefille, and show modern audiences how talented many of the performers were. The Project has just uncovered 10 rolls of 16mm home movie film taken by members of the famed Eight Victor Artists vaudeville troupe while on the road in 1927. This unique footage will help show what travelling in the two-a-day was like.
The special is currently scheduled to air nationally as the first "American Masters" entry in the fall of 1997.
The Project is also assisting PBS and The Lennon Documentary Group on a four-part series on "The Irish In America" and Betsy Baytos' documentary on eccentric dancers (of which many appeared in Vitaphone shorts).
LOCATE (PROBABLY AT USC) THE DEFINITIVE AND COMPLETE LIST OF ALL VITAPHONE SHORT SUBJECTS. To date, only a 1931 listing (with about 70% of all '26-'31 shorts) and 90% of post '31 shorts via Motion Picture Herald are known.
DEVELOP NEW AND SUBSTANTIAL UNDERWRITING SUPPORT FOR AT LEAST 10 SHORTS PER YEAR (avg. $3.000 each), WITH AN EMPHASIS ON VAUDEVILLE AND CLASSICAL DURING THE NEXT YEAR. We have already approached George Burns' son, Ronnie, with the idea of underwriting vaudeville shorts, as a particularly appropriate way of preserving this part of American performing history.
OBTAIN PERMISSION FROM NBC MANAGEMENT OF THEIR BROOKLYN STUDIO (originally the 1929 Vitaphone sound stages) TO DETERMINE ONCE AND FOR ALL IF THERE IS REALLY A TUNNEL UNDER THE STREET BETWEEN NBC AND THE OLD VITAGRAPH PORTION OF THE COMPLEX. If there is, the Project would like to check it out to see if it's filled with discs!
Cinefest 17, held in Syracuse, NY in March 1997 by Project Phil Serling, presented an array of rare films including much early sound material. UCLA's Bob Gitt hosted a tribute to his archive's efforts by presenting the just-restored "Weary River" (1929), the restored "Two Plus Fours" (Pathe/1930) with bing Crosby, a short promo with dancing girls spelling out Vitaphone, and much more. Bob also showed a recently discovered Hal Roach promo from 1929 in which Thelma Todd introduces Harry Langdon to exhibitors. Film mavens (and Project friends) Leonard Maltin, Bruce Goldstein, Phil Carli, Jim Cozart and David Francis were also on hand.
Bruce Goldstein presented a "Broadway Brevities" program of musical Vitaphone and Paramount shorts at New Yrok's Film Forum2 on April 9, 1997. The screenings included the rarely seen 1934 two-reel version of "Fifty Million Frenchmen" titled "Paree, Paree", and starring Bob Hope and Dorothy Stone. Great attendance at all five programs.
Phil and Bruce deserve special thanks for making this rare material available to the public on the big screen, the way it was originally intended to be seen.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
or project member Bill Cappello at email@example.com