|Volume 8 Number 4||
Even before the new JAZZ SINGER 3 DVD set was released in October 2007, the year was already brimming with 80th anniversary-related events around the world. Countless news articles gave the set glowing reviews, including a half-page story by Dave Kehr in The New York Times and another in The London Telegraph. Upon release on October 16th, the set's initial sales on Amazon.com were unbelievably strong. One would be hard pressed to find any black and white DVD in the top 1000. The set debuted at an awesome #26 --- that's of ALL categories of DVD's including recent features, television series, and everything else. It remained in the top 100 for the first week, and continues to do well as we go to press. This bodes well for future releases of rare shorts and features from "the dawn of sound". Articles on the anniversary as written by the Project appeared in CLASSIC IMAGES and THE MISSISSIPPI RAGE in early fall.
Events celebrating Vitaphone began earlier, with a program of early talkies and Vitaphone shorts at Art Pierce's Capitol Theatre in Rome, NY. Art has included shorts in his annual "Capitolfest" each year and is already planning more in 2008. Over Labor Day weekend, Leonard Maltin hosted a program of the cream of restored Vitaphone shorts at the annual Telluride Film Festival, garnering enthusiastic response from the largely film industry attendees. In September the historic Heights Theatre in Minneapolis was privileged to have Rose Marie appear in person as part of a Vitaphone shorts program arranged by manager Tom Letness and hosted by film collector Bob DeFlores.. See the poster for this wonderful event on our website.
John Newton and Ron Hutchinson were invited to Hollywood to participate in two celebratory events in early October. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, in conjunction with Warner Brothers, held a gala evening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills on October 5th. Introduced by Leonard Maltin, the Academy screening in state-of-the art digital projection, the newly restored THE JAZZ SINGER as included in the DVD. It looked brand new and drew repeated applause and sighs from the packed theatre. Appropriately, the screening was preceded by the original JAZZ SINGER trailer hosted by actor John Miljan. Maltin noted that there were actually more words spoken in the trailer than the feature. Next, BABY ROSE MARIE, THE CHILD WONDER (1929) was screen, and the audience was thrilled when Leonard brought out Rose Marie afterwards to reminisce about her career, crossing paths with Jolson, and the thrill of seeing her Vitaphone short restored decades after Jack Warner had told her (in the 1950's) that it was long gone.
As can be seen on the DVD, the beautifully restored feature reveals much that had been missed or missing in the print that has circulated for the past seven decades. Perhaps most notable was the restoration of two fleeting but important shots. First, at the finale, we see Jolson's "Jack Robin"' 's name in lights in front of the New York Wintergarden Theatre. We have since learned that this was no studio model. Jolson appealed to friend Jake Schubert to change the real marquee at WB expense for this brief shot, and that is what we now see in the restored version. Immediately afterwards, we see in extreme long-shot, Jolson gingerly skipping out onto the stage. Again, this was missing in the version we've all seen for years. The sharpness of the restoration also reveals how loose fitting Jolson's black wig is as he puts on his make-up. And in the history changing scene with his mother when he sings "Blue Skies" at the piano, we can clearly see that actress Eugenie Besserer was missing several fingers when she caresses her son.
We understand that the DVD set only contains 2, rather than 3, discs in the version being sold in England and perhaps elsewhere. This was not the decision of Warners in Hollywood, and we'd encourage overseas readers to get the full 3 disk set fro amazon or other outlets as you'll otherwise miss out on nearly four hours of restored1926-30 Vitaphone shorts.
The day after the Academy show, American Cinematheque held a screening of A PLANTATION ACT (1926) at the EGYPTIAN Theatre in Hollywood. Preceded by a wonderful live program of Jolson song hits by Richard Halpern, the evening also included a panel discussion on the trials and twists of restoring A PLANTATION ACT. Panelists, interviewed by author and musician Brad Kay, included Bob Gitt of UCLA, record repairer extraordinaire Jim Cooprider, Ron Hutchinson and John Newton of The Vitaphone Project, and Jolson biographer Herbert Goldman.
For the balance of 2007, the events and screenings continued. TCM ran the restored JAZZ SINGER and selected shorts on October 16th, triggering large numbers of calls and emails to the Project. Also that month, bandleader Vince Giordano and Ron (who teamed to do the audio commentary track for the feature) hosted a screening of parts of the DVD at the historic PLAYERS CLUB in New York. In November, Ron introduced the screening of THE JAZZ SINGER at the 1929 Loews Jersey theatre in Jersey City, and did an hour of Q&A afterwards. Articles on the anniversary ran in several NJ papers, resulting in the Project being contacted by one man who had four original JAZZ SINGER discs. The daughter of Vitaphone sound engineer George Sattan, who worked at and set up the Brooklyn studios in 1928, also contacted us after reading an article in The Bergen Record. In November, Bob Gitt hosted two Vitaphone programs in England, first "VITAPHONE VARIETIES 1926-30" which is the complete 2006 UCLA restoration program, followed by the restored 1928 Vitaphone part-talkie THE BARKER. On December 1st, The San Francisco Silent Film Festival ran a VITAPHONE VAUDEVILLE program of selected 1926-30 shorts, hosted by Bob Gitt.
Vitaphone-related events will continue into 2008. Ron will host some screenings of shorts at the long running CINEFEST in Syracuse in March and will also host five weeks of shorts screenings at The New York Public Library that month. In April he will host 35mm screenings in Palo Alto, CA as part of the annual Association of Recorded Sound Collectors (ARSC) conference. Bruce Goldstein at Film Form is working on 2008 Vitaphone program planning. And the next issue of MARQUEE magazine, published by the Theatre Historical Society, will be devoted to Vitaphone.
And Sam Warner said "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk??" !
We appreciate the continued support of The Vitaphone Project and like to show our thanks by sending donors of $50 or more their choice of custom made CD's with rare soundtracks.
We've added a few more CD's, so those of you who have contributed in the past may want to consider these:
Remember that these are unique, non-professional (but highly listenable) recordings of rare early talkie material. No fancy notes or packaging, but we are sure you will enjoy them. Contributions, while not deductible, are greatly appreciated and help us continue to get the word out on our efforts. You may go to our website and contribute via PayPal, or send your check (payable to Ron Hutchinson) to 5 Meade Court, Piscataway, NJ 08854.
Checks (not deductible) should be made payable to:
Since the inception of The Vitaphone Project, nearly 90 1926-30 short subjects have been restored through partnerships between UCLA, Warner Brothers, BFI, George Eastman House, The Library of Congress, and of course the private individuals who provide financial support or the loan of discs. To date, all of the restored shorts fall into the categories of vaudeville, bands, and playlets. No one has yet stepped forward, $4500 in hand, to fund any of the operatic and classical shorts. We've received dozens emails on this over the years, often critical of the fact the operatics have not been done yet. However, until --- like vaudeville and other shorts --- someone offers to actually fund one of these shorts, they will remain in limbo. At one point in the 1990's, J. Paul Getty III pledged to fund the restoration of all the operatic and classical shorts. Unfortunately, he died before the funding could be realized.
The titles listed below have both 35mm picture and soundtrack disc, and could be restored and once again seen and heard by audiences. So, if you know of someone who loves this genre and is willing to step up with actual (deductible) funding, please let us know.
For the past 16 years since The Vitaphone Project's founding, the process for getting early sound on disk shorts restored has depended upon funding coming from generous private individuals. The current cost to restore one short is $4,500 (deductible) and paid directly to UCLA. Donors who love this material include Dudley Heer (who has funded more than 15 shorts), Scott Margolin, Hugh Hefner, Robert Lipton, David Stenn and Frank Buxton. Warner Brothers has directed its resources to preserving over 300 Vitaphone short that were on nitrate, as well as extensive restoration and reissue of features.
In an exciting development prodded by WB's Ned Price, the studio is funding the restoration of a block of nearly fifty 1926-30 Vitaphone shorts over the next 18 months. The meticulous restoration work will be done at UCLA Film & Television Archive under the watchful eye and guidance of recently retired Chief Preservation Officer Robert Gitt. The list of shorts to be restored is based largely on one developed by the Project. A few more additions may be made. WB will be covering all costs related to the access and clean-up of both picture and sound elements, the creation of new sound-on-film fine grains and work prints. Funding primarily from Dudley Heer and supplemented by Scott Margolin, will underwrite the making of projectable 35mm sound-on film prints.
WB expects to be able to have several programs' worth of restored shorts ready to show at the Summer 2008 film series at UCLA. Here's the current list of planned restorations to be completed by early 2009:
Following the publicity surrounding the JAZZ SINGER DVD release, the Project heard from a number of people who had soundtrack discs in their possession. Appropriately, the first report came from a man in northern NJ, who had four original discs from the initial release of THE JAZZ SINGER (1927). It is unclear how his late father acquired these, as he worked for the famed show business photographer Apeda in NYC.
Also found since our last issue:
Sanford Green, prolific composer for dozens of 1930's Vitaphone shorts, and later Hollywood features, passed away on August 26, 2007 at the age of 93. The Project got to know Sandy about ten years ago. Ironically, his Central Park South apartment was only a few blocks from where singer Sylvia Froos had lived for five decades. Sandy had written several songs for a Froos Vitaphone, SOFT DRINKS AND SWEET MUSIC ('34). Peter Mintun later put together a reunion luncheon at The Players Club with Sylvia, Sandy, Peter, bandleader Vince Giordano, and Ron Hutchinson.
Peter wrote of Sandy's career: " Many of Sanford Green's songs gave Vitaphone shorts their most memorable moments, and were performed by such stars as Phil Harris, Georgie Price, Bernice Claire, Sylvia Froos, Mitzi Mayfair and Hal LeRoy. Green shorts include SWING FOR SALE ('38), DOUBLE OR NOTHING ('36, an Academy Award nominee), THE POLICY GIRL ('34), SYNCOPATED CITY ('34) and THE LOVE DEPARTMENT ('35). "Sandy composed songs for more than 35 musical shorts between 1934 and 1937. He also contributed incidental and ballet music for several features, including KID GALAHAD ('37), A SHOT IN THE DARK (41) and THE CASE OF THE BLACK PARROT ('41). He worked as an arranger and musical conductor all his life, and has a son who is a theatre conductor. He conducted a touring company of HIGH BUTTON SHOES in which his wife, Loys, appeared. "
Sandy's legacy is also enjoyed by cartoon buffs, as he wrote the title tune of the Warner Brothers carton BINGO CROSBYANA ('36).
Over the years, Sandy's collaborators included Mack David, Irving Kahal, Jack Manus and Harry Ross. He appears on screen in the TCM documentary on short subjects, ADDED ATTRACTIONS (2002) which is now on the Laurel & Hardy DVD for BONNIE SCOTLAND/FRA DIAVOLO.
Sandy's last work for the public to see is his appearance in THE DAWN OF SOUND (2007) documentary that is part of THE JAZZ SINGER 3 DVD set.
Before you checkout Jeff Cohen's unbelievable website, "VITAPHONE VARIETIES: Observations on Film, Music and Imagery Of The Past", be forewarned. Once you connect to the link, expect to be there for the rest of the day! Jeff, a long time friend and supporter of the Project, provides fascinating insights into early talkies, pioneer recording and Broadway artists, lost films, and much more. Many mp3 musical downloads from rare soundtrack discs are also included for your enjoyment. He updates the site several times each month, and recent topics have included deep-digging looks at lost films (MARCH OF TIME, PARIS), performers (Eddie Foy Sr.) and stars of 78's (Franklyn Bauer of The Revelers). But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Once on Jeff's site, you can pick any monthly blog link on the top right, and you're off.
So, plan to spend many happy and informative hours once you click on:
The Project was contacted this fall by Long Island University Professor Michael Hittmann. In the early 1960's, the University bought the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre on Flatbush Avenue, and converted to auditorium into a basketball court. The court floor was installed directly over the seats, and game attendees often wondered why the ceilings and walls were so architecturally elaborate! The theatre is massive, and was one of the first built specifically for the talkies in 1928. Over the years the theatre hosted such stars as Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington on its stage.. Its original Wurlitzer organ is still there and was recently restored. In the 1950's Alan Freed brought the races together with blockbuster shows of rock and roll stars.
Little was permanently removed or destroyed when the theatre was converted. At a program held just feet from the stage in December, shorts made by performers who appeared at the Paramount (Lillian Roth, Vallee, Herman Timberg, Burns & Allen) were screened by the Project's Ron Hutchinson. The University is now consulting with the Project on possibilities for restoring the theatre to its past glory, and perhaps producing a documentary on its storied history.
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|VITAPHONE NEWS||ISSN 1066-5951|
|Corresponding Secretary & Editor||Ron Hutchinson||5 Meade Court|
Piscataway, NJ 08854
FAX: (732) 463-8521
|Treasurer||Alan Cooperman||23 Clover Hill Road|
Willington, NJ 07946
|Co-Founders:||John Newton||P.O. Box 7191|
Wilmington, DE 19803
|Sherwin Dunner||P.O. Box 1992|
New York, NY 10013
|Vince Giordano||1316 Elm Avenue|
Brooklyn, NY 11230
|Vitaphone Project Web Page||http://firstname.lastname@example.org|