|Volume 5 Number 3||
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We are extremely grateful to all of the readers (both hardcopy and on the web) of VITAPHONE NEWS for financial support of our efforts. Large donations are redirected to UCLA for specific restorations. But your contributions of $20, $50, etc. are used to pay for the printing and distribution of this newsletter, and for stationery, postage and supplies. As each issue costs us about $700 to print and distribute, you can see why all of the donations go into this important networking activity. If you have contributed already, THANK YOU! If not, please consider doing so.
If you are able to contribute $50 or more, we want to thank you with a gift of a custom CD of Vitaphone soundtracks. We are NOT selling these, and they are home made transfers (good quality) and not slick professional products. We’re sure you’ll enjoy them, though. Choose from 4 CD’s from 1926-31 shorts and features, or the just-added full track to just rediscovered WHY BE GOOD? (‘29), Colleen Moore’s last silent with hot, peppy performances by Jimmy Dorsey, Eddie Lang and other jazz greats.
Checks (not deductible) should be made payable to Ron Hutchinson (NOT The Project) and sent to 5 Meade Court, Piscataway, NJ 08854.
As announced in our last issue, The Vitaphone Project is assisting in the production of Turner Classic Movies’ documentary on sound short subjects. Peter Jones Productions (which also made “GLORIOUS TECHNICOLOR”) is producing this 90 minute look at comedy, music, vaudeville and other shorts. Filming of interviews with Vitaphone veterans Sylvia Froos, Thelma White, Baby Rose Marie, and Sanford Green has been completed, and other interviewees include Lois January (Columbia Musical Novelties), Richard Bare and Phyllis Coates (Joe McDoakes), the late Toby Wing (Paramount and Vitaphone shorts), Peter Benchley, Peter Bogdonovich, 95 year old RKO shorts director Sam White and many others. Producer John Griffin and co-producer Helen Scheer are now assembling shorts clips from the major studios. At our suggestion, John requested and obtained tapes of four long-unseen 1933-34 Columbia Musical Novelties which star Betty Grable, Art Jarrett and Vitaphone monologists Lou Holtz (in the risque SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL) and Jack Osterman (in the tunefully bizarre UMPA).
A rough cut of the documentary has been screened for Turner and Warners and they are pleased with the results, “especially the Vitaphone section,” says John.
The documentary will now air on TCM some time in early 2002, in order to better coincide with still WB developing plans to begin marketing short subjects on home video. We will, of course, keep you posted!
A continuing trend in the restoration and interest in early Vitaphone short subject is our hearing from relatives of the performers themselves. In December, Count Robert Deiro contacted us after a friend saw his father’s 1927 short on the “awaiting restoration” list on our website. Within days, Robert had a check on its way to UCLA to cover the restoration of GUIDO DEIRO, AMERICA’S FOREMOST PIANO-ACCORDIONIST.
We have also recently heard from relatives of Vitaphone shorts performers VAL & ERNIE STANTON, BILLY JONES (of JONES & HARE), GEORGIE PRICE (his 3rd wife, youngest son and neice contacted us separately and unbeknownst to each other within a month’s time), bandleader EMIL COLEMAN, and Steve Freda of FREDA AND PALACE. We continue in regular contact with singer Vera Van, Sylvia Froos, Sandy Green, and Rose Marie. And the sons of HORACE HEIDT and TAL HENRY funded the restorations of their respective father’s 1929 shorts.
We had forgotten that a 1928 Vitaphone short by legendary comedian Chaz Chase is still looking for funding. Chase (no relation to Charley) performed one of the strangest acts in vaudeville, wherein he ate everything --- glass, lit matches and matchbooks, flowers (stem and all), paper --- without a hint as to where it all went. Chase is briefly glimpsed in the PBS documentary VAUDEVILLE, using a clip from a 1934 Vitaphone vaudeville reel. UCLA’s Bob Gitt feels this hilarious short deserves to be near the top of the restoration list, and we agree. Let us know if you have any ideas.
Maurice Zouary is selling his library of over 335 two-reel Educational short subjects (including fine grains, master prints, rights) with an eye towards an organization that could appropriately broadccast and market these comedies worldwide. Zouary had donated his collection of DeForest Phonofilm masters to the Library of Congress in the late 1960’s. He had acquired the massive group of Educational shorts three decades ago. The library includes the entire run of long-unseen 1929-33 Mack Sennett talkiing comedies, shorts starring Buster Keaton, Bert Lahr, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Imogene Coca, Moran & Mack, Charlotte Greenwood, Willie Howard, and many vaudeville and musical acts.
Zouary recently published a book on DeForest, which includes a complete list of surviving Phonofilms. DeForest: Father Of The Electronic Revolution (1st Books, ISBN 1-58721-449-0) is highly recommended, and include a detailed history and many stills of Phonofilms.
The Project is assisting Maurice in finding the best buyer of this unique library. Please contact us if you have any ideas.
Paul Gierucki, who is finishing work on the definitive book on Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (including lots of info on the Vitaphone period) has offered --- with associate Andy Coryell --- to underwrite $1000 for the opening and re-sealing of the recently discovered tunnel connecting the Brooklyn Vitaphone studio facilities. We reported in our last issue that we pinpointed the exact spot the 15 foot wide tunnel emerges from under East 14th Street. The basement tunnel was used during the studio’s heyday to allow the transport of props, sets, and costumes from the old “Vitagraph” side of the facility to the larger 1928-39 soundstages.
We have contacted the Shulamith School’s Rabbi Zwick to arrange an acceptable time that the breakthrough could be scheduled. If we can pull this off, we will videotape the event and bring you details in an upcoming VITAPHONE NEWS.
Gary Lacher continues to restore and issue Pathe 1929-30 shorts from his find of 30 Show-At-Home films in Portland, Oregon a few years ago. He has done an excellent job at re-synching the 16 inch soundtrack discs with the 16mm original films. Volumes Four and Five have just been added. Here is a rundown on what is available for purchase:
Documentarian Ray Pointer has alerted the Project about the need to restore and preserve five 1924 DeForest Phonofilm Fleischer SONG CARTUNES. These are the first sound cartoons ever made, and are part of the popular Max Fleischer “follow the bouncing ball” series. The picture and track negatives all have a 7% shrinkage, and restoration requires striking new fine grains through wet gate step printing. Restoration of each cartoon would run $3,000 - $3,500. The titles requiring restoration are:
OK, all of you early talkie film buffs! A friend of the Project who is a film executive seeks to prove that the lyrics to the song “Happy Birthday” are in public domain (the music has already been proven to be so). To do this, they need to show that a pre-1935 printed or film version of the lyric exists. Those claiming copyright ownership of the first lyric stand to collect royalties until 2030, Considering how often the tune is used in films and in recordings, proving this lyric is in public domain would save the entertainment industry a considerable amount of money (some of which can be diverted to restorations if we can prove the case).
So, check your collections and memories! Let us know of any pre-1935 sound film that uses the traditional first lyric of “Happy Birthday”. Whether in newsreels or entertainment films, we know it’s out there somewhere.
Film Forum will host its third program of restored Vitaphone shorts during three programs on June 24th. In addition to a ninety minute program of Vitaphone treasures, Film Forum’s Program Director Bruce Goldstein has arranged with Columbia’s Mike Schlesinger to secure new 35mm prints of four 1933-34 “Musical Novelties”. These two-reel musicals (most all in rhyme) have not been seen by the public since their initial release, and are delightfully entertaining and bizarre. Stars include Betty Grable, Thelma White, Art Jarrett, Lou Holtz, Jack Osterman, and Lois January.
These programs sell out quickly, and the enthusiasm of audiences to the last Vitaphone show brought UCLA over $15,000 in donations for restorations.
Here’s the planned June 24th program:
Professor Richard Kozarski invited the Project’s Ron Hutchinson to speak to his Rutgers University film class in February. Ron discussed the coming of sound and showed film clips from short subjects of the transition period. Biggest hits were Eddie Cantor, Georgie Price and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle...
The Philadelphia Inquirer contacted us when a vaudevillian native of Philly passed away. Her family claimed she appeared in Vitaphone shorts and the reporter wanted to confirm this. The deceased was Alice Murphy, a heavy set comedienne who appeared in at least four Vitaphones we could trace. These included SOFT DRINKS AND SWEET MUSIC (‘34) with Georgie Price and BRING ON THE GIRLS (‘37) with Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy. In the latter, she leads a group of five corpulent hoofers as “Alice Murphy’s Quintuplettes”, kidding the recently born Dionne’s...
Toby Wing, the decorative platinum blonde of countless 1930’s musicals and shorts, passed away in February. The previous month, she had been filmed for the TCM documentary on short subjects. Her shorts credits include RHYTHMITIS (‘35) with Hal Leroy and “ANSON WEEKS AND HIS ORCHESTRA” (‘34) with Bob Crosby...
Professor Roy Liebman reports that his book covering every Vitaphone short made is to be published next year by McFarland. The Project is assisting by providing stills...
John Carpenter’s LATE TO LUNCH recreation of a late-twenties comedy short continues to gain accolades. Now sporting a synchronized Vitaphone-like score, the short has received praise from Peter Mintun, Joe Franklin, two-reel veteran June MacCloy and author Brian Anthony, who called it “an impressive debut by its first time filmmaker. Carpenter has gone to great lengths to create a period feel for his film. Where to go next, talking pictures?” John is selling the short on video at $40 ppd. Write to John at 55 Broadway, Massapequa Park, NY 11762...
Veteran record collector (and savior of over 100 Vitaphone discs) Jim Bedoian has produced a great two CD set featuring the top names in vaudeville. Available on his Take Two label, the set includes a large full color booklet. Contact Jim at email@example.com His CD of Sophie Tucker, featuring previously lost discs from HONKY TONK, is also available...
And while in a CD mood, we again urge you to get Alex Hassan’s wonderful album of Vitaphone shorts tunes. “Kickin’ Up The Dust” is available from www.maestosorecords.com......
Singer Janet Klein says she’s heavily influenced by such Vitaphone shorts performers as Herman Timberg, Hal Leroy, Jane Green and Baby Rose Marie. There are great tunes on her several CD’s by Janet Klein and Her Parlor Boys. For more info, contact her at JKDarling@aol.com...
The Nicholas Brothers made three Vitaphone shorts in the 1930’s, then headed for Hollywood to appear in countless musical features. On March 29th, the late Harold Nicholas was remembered and celebrated in an evening at St. John The Devine in NYC. Clips from the shorts were shown to the over 1,500 attendees, and Harold’s contemporaries and modern tap performers appeared. The program closed with a touching tribute from Harold’s brother, Fayard Nicholas, who even danced a bit.
There are currently more Vitaphone shorts restorations in the pipeline at UCLA than ever before. This is thanks in large part to the generosity of indivudual funders like Dudley Heer, Scott Margolin, Tony Ponaras, Robert Deiro and Larry Rubenstein. Here’s a quick rundown of shorts expected to be restored during the next few months:
We say it in every issue, but it is still true. The discovery of soundtrack discs in private hands still continues unabated. About 75% of the finds are the result of folks surfing the internet looking to find info on the discs they have. Here are the discs (and some nitrate) that have turned up since our last issue:
A long time film collector recently found and purchased an itinerant projectionist’s cache of nitrate film, soundtrack discs, and even the converted 35mm projector. The collection included forty 16 inch soundtrack discs (see DISC-OVERIES) and six Fowler Varieties shorts with matching original nitrate film and soundtrack discs. These shorts were made in the old Buster Keaton studios in 1929 and released independently by producer Herman Fowler. Each “Voice of Vaudeville” short featured 3-4 acts, and were well recorded and photographed. Clips from several are included in Yazoo’s VHS tapes “Times Ain’t Like They Used To Be” and “At The Jazz Band Ball”. Many of the discs are of music and effects only for 1929 features and may have been used by the projectionist as mood music for other features.
Incredibly, the collection also includes old posters and even the 1907 converted handcranked Monarch 35mm projector which had been adapted with a geared synchronized turntable. Film and sound for a 1929 two reel DeForest comedy, CALL ME A DOCTOR, was also part of the find.
Jim Cozart at The Library of Congress recently remembered a back issue of VITAPHONE NEWS mentioning some discs for Paul Robeson’s 1933 feature THE EMPEROR JONES had been found. While this feature was made and released in sound-on-film format, separate disc versions of films were still being issued at this late date to accomodate the nearly 3,000 theatres that could still only show talkies in the disc format. The Library of Congress began working on a reconstruction of this film in 2000 and Jim realized that some discs might contain dialog cut out by various state censors during its many reissues. Checking our database, we learned that the discs for reels 5 through 9 were held by our own Dave Goldenberg, who gladly loaned them an audio tape for review. It was discovered that the reel 6 disc contained otherwise missing dialog, and it was shipped for transfer at UCLA. It will be used in the final reconstruction. The finished product will be pieced together from many different sources: multiple 35mm and 16mm prints as well as the soundtrack discs. The Vitaphone Project was happy to assist the Library in this prestigious restoration.
Long on our restoration “wish list” has been Willie & Eugene Howard’s 1929 Vitaphone short, THE MUSIC MAKERS. Set in a Victor record shop, this two reeler is hilarious, and we’ve listened to the discs for both reels many times. The Library of Congress checked to see what film it had on this short and found only one can. Apparently, only reel two had survived. As a half short was not likely to garner any funders, we were able to arrange for a video dub of reel two to be synchronized by Gary Lacher to produce a new sound and picture viewing copy on tape. Gary completed the work in April and now at least the second half of this short can now be enjoyed. The comedy team blend fast one-liners (“What have you in the shape of a Victrola?/The cashier, but she just stepped out” and Willie’s imitations of Jolson, Cantor, and Gallagher & Shean. Perhaps one day, the first reel of this short will turn up.
In June, 1991, the idea of The Vitaphone Project was hatched at an annual record collectors show in North Brunswick, New Jersey. Ten years later, we are proud of all the Project has been able to accomplish in partnership with private collectors, major studios, UCLA, The Library of Congress, and film archives throughout the world. The original concept was simple: do a worldwide inventory of early talkie soundtrack discs in private hands, then share that information with studios and archives to see what restorations were possible. At its inception, there was no Internet, so the powerful value of that medium in tracking down discs couldn’t be imagined. Also not anticipated in 1991 were the many Vitaphone performers we’d eventually meet and learn from. We’ve become friends with “Baby” Rose Marie, Sylvia Froos, Sandy Green, Vera Van, relatives of studio head Sam Sax and cameraman Ed DuPar, among others. While restoration was always a goal in the early days, we did not foresee the number of private collectors we could encourage to personally fund them. In addition to well known film buffs Hugh Hefner and David Packard, funding for Vitaphone restorations has also come from private enthusiasts like Dudley Heer, Scott Margolin, Tony Ponaras, and Larry Rubenstein.
Perhaps most surprising has been the number of soundtrack discs that have been uncovered in the last ten years: nearly 3,100! The Vitaphone Project is proud to have worked closely with Dick May at Turner and WB, George Feltenstein at Turner Entertainment, Bob Gitt at UCLA, and Jim Cozart and David Francis at The Library of Congress on nearly 35 restorations of Vitaphone shorts and features. A developing sideline for the Project has been assisting on documentaries. Our first big opportunity in this area was on the 1997 PBS American Masters special, VAUDEVILLE. This program used the largest (over 20 minutes) amount of Vitaphone footage ever in a documentary, and showed other producers this was an untapped resource. We have since assisted on documentaries on the “Women of Tin Pan Alley”,”The Irish”, Ken Burns’ “JAZZ”, WGBH’s series on censorship, and Betsy Baytos’ current project on eccentric dancing. The Turner documentary on short subjects is our latest assist.
But getting these restorations seen again continues to be our key goal. Film retrospectives at NYC’s Film Forum of restored Vitaphone shorts draw packed houses and long lines. Two Vitaphone laserdisc sets containing over 80 shorts now claim bids of over $250 on eBay. And plans by Warner Brothers to begin issuing shorts on home video is being applauded by collectors everywhere. We can’t predict what the next ten years of The Vitaphone Project will bring. But if this issue of our newsletter is any indication, it should be an even more exciting decade. Thanks to all of you who have supported us!
Al Jolson’s 1930 Warner feature, MAMMY, will be restored to its original glory, including long-lost Technicolor musical sequences, thanks to the discovery of color footage in The Netherlands. Typical of early talkie musicals, MAMMY sparingly used two-strip Technicolor for key musical numbers. The color footage was long lost, and only the black and white version survived. Recently, a nitrate print of MAMMY with all of the color sequences intact was found by the Nederlands Filmuseum in Amsterdam. But this print had its own problems. In every scene with dialog, Dutch title cards were spliced into the nitrate print. This creates a jarring effect when viewed today. Fortunately, the majority of the musical scenes were not marred in this way, and are essentially intact and in color.
The plan is for a new master black and white print to be struck from the Warner vaults. Where the color musical number scenes occur, the color material from the Dutch print will be inserted. This approach allows elimination of the title cards, which exist almost exclusively in the black and white non-musical scenes. The parts of MAMMY which use Techncolor are a big minstrel production number, Jolson singing “Let Me Sing And I’m Happy” and the finale. The color footage totals about 20% of the running time.
Warner Brothers is funding the majority of this restoration, with additional funds coming from Nederlands Filmuseum. Bob Gitt reports that “the sound on the black and white US print was transferred in the 1930’s. It is likely that new transfers from the original discs will yield even better quality.” MAMMY discs are held by Jim Bedoian and John Newton (who also has the audience entrance music and intermission medley discs.
|VITAPHONE NEWS||ISSN 1066-5951|
|Corresponding Secretary||Ron Hutchinson||5 Meade Court|
Piscataway, NJ 08854
FAX: (732) 336-2603
|Newsletter, Advertising, Publicity||David Goldenberg||840 Winter Road|
Rydal, PA 19046
|John Newton||P.O. Box 7191|
Wilmington, DE 19803
|Vitaphone Project Web Page||http://firstname.lastname@example.org|