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|DVD - Vitaphone Varieties Volume 1 - Notes|
THE REVELERS (1926) This quartet had a prolific recording career at Victor under their own name, and at many other companies using synonyms. They made two Vitaphone shorts at the time, and may be the first pop singing group to make a talkie. They served as inspiration for Germany’s Comedian Harmoniists, and appeared regularly on radio into the thirties.
MORRISSEY & MILLER NIGHT CLUB REVUE (1927) Will Morrissey and Midgie Miller here recreate what a west coast night club floor show would be like. Made in early 1927, the short includes several gags about high cover charges and tough business conditions. The team was paid $1200 for this short.
CONLIN AND GLASS in ‘SHARPS AND FLATS’ (1928) One of the wildest and freeform Vitaphone acts ever, the married team of Jimmy Conlin and Myrtle Glass almost seem to be making it up as the went along. But they weren’t. In vaudeville, this routine was titled “Morning, Noon and Night”, the tune Myrtle unsuccessfully tries to sing. Conlin became a prolific character actor in movies, and was in most of Preston Sturges’ features.
EARL BURTNETT, COLLEGIATE JAZZ ARTIST (1927) This is the first of four Vitaphone shorts made by bandleader Earl Burtnett, whose musical aggregation was based at Hollywood’s Biltmore Hotel. Band shorts rapidly evolved photographically, and this band’s 1928 appearance adds many closeups. As with most orchestra Vitaphones, this one follows some sedate tunes with a rousing finish, this time “Miss Annabelle Lee”.
VAL AND ERNIE STANTON in ‘CUT YOURSELF A PIECE OF CAKE’ (1928) One of two shorts made by this popular British team . After performing in music halls, they worked regularly in American vaudeville. They were working the west coast circuit when seen by someone at Warner Brothers. During the 1930’s, each worked mainly separately doing bit parts in features. Ernie’s last screen credit is “YANKEE DOODLE DANDY” (1942) made shortly before his death in 1944. Val seems to have left the business around that time, following one of his more interesting assignments as the voice of the courier in Disney’s “THE RELUCTANT DRAGON” (1942)
BROWN AND WHITAKER in ‘A LAUGH OR TWO’ (1927) Fast-talking, wise cracking Russ Brown maintained that persona from his beginning in vaudeville, through dozens of movie shorts and features, and finally on Broadway in “DAMN YANKEES”, for which he won the supporting actor Tony Award. His singing of “You Gotta Have Heart” brought down the house, and is preserved in the 1958 film version. Here, the personality is polished, even if some of the jokes bounced off partner Jean Whitaker aren’t.
JIMMY CLEMONS in ‘DREAM CAFE’ (1927) Eccentric dancer Jimmy Clemons toured the world in vaudeville, revues, and in a few rare film appearances. In this, his first film, he makes the contortions look easy. Clemons was frequently called upon to enliven features with his drunk dancer routine, and can be glimpsed in “A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS”, “SYNCOPATION”, and Abbott & Costello’s” “IT AIN’T HAY”. His daughter, Mary Ellen, appears in Charles Laughton’s “THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER”.
BERT SWOR in ‘A COLORFUL SERMON’ (1928) Swor began performing as a blackface female impersonator in minstrel shows in Texas around the turn of the century. For awhile, he teamed with Charles Mack, before deciding to go out as a single. Years later, the team of Moran and Mack made two features for Paramount, and Swor found himself supporting a team he had actually helped form years earlier. When Moran and Mack had a falling out in 1930, Swor actually subbed as “Mack”, unbilled, in Paramount’s “ANYBODYS WAR’ (1930) with hardly anyone noticing. He was one of the few who continued to work in blackface through the 1930‘s.He appeared in many 1929-30 Sennett shorts as well. Swor’s last film appearance was in the 1938 Vitaphone “RAINBOW’S END” which included other minstrel and vaudeville legends Eddie Leonard and Gus Van.
GLADYS BROCKWELL in ‘HOLLYWOOD BOUND’ (1927) Brockwell appeared in over one hundred silent films, and she made the transition to talkies smoothly. Here in her first sound effort, she comfortably acts the vamp and seems comfortable with the microphone. Sadly, her career was cut short after completing her sixth talkie feature, “THE DRAKE CASE” (1929). She was severely injured when the car driven by her boyfriend plunged over a cliff, and she died a few days later.
JAY C. FLIPPEN in ‘THE HAM WHAT AM’ (1928) Known mainly as the crusty character actor in countless westerns, police and military dramas, Flippen began his show business career as a light comedian and singer. He recorded many 78’s in the twenties, and in vaudeville frequently doubled as MC. This short was made only a few months after he stopped performing in blackface. Despite this short’s very brief running time, Flippen is still able to fill this short subject with plenty of double entendres.
HARRY J. CONLEY in ‘THE BOOK WORM’ (1927) This is a very early example of a talkie ‘playlet’, told in just one reel and similar to acts included on vaudeville bills of the era. Conley had an extensive career on Broadway, in vaudeville, and towards the end of his life, in burlesque. This short shows how Vitaphone had already transitioned from a single continuous take to multiple scenes shot at different times, then edited together. Conley’s position in vaudeville was reflected by his $1100 salary for this entry.
DORA MAUGHAN with WALTER FEHL in ‘SONG IMPRESSIONS’ (1928) British music hall star Dora Maugham was touring in vaudeville in the US when someone at Warner Brothers caught her act and decided to film it. Her only other film appearance seems to be in an Educational two-reeler in the late 1930’s.
HENRY B. WALTHALL in ‘RETRIBUTION’ (1928) Perhaps best known as “The Little Colonel” in D.W. Griffith’s epic “THE BIRTH OF A NATION” (1915), Walthall transitioned from star to character actor, a role he comfortably plays in this short. He continued working in dozens of talkies right up to his death in 1936. “RETRIBUTION” marks his first appearance in talkies, and it was made immediately after completing the now-lost Lon Chaney feature, “LONDON AFFTER MIDNIGHT” (1927).
DICK RICH AND HIS SYNCHO SYMPHONISTS (1928) It’s a mystery why Rich is billed as “Dick” in his two bizarre Vitaphone band shorts, since his real name was Larry. His big claim to fame was discovering The Andrews Sisters and including them in his touring vaudeville act beginning in 1930. In his two Vitaphones, Rich plays on his resemblance to ‘King of Jazz’ Paul Whiteman, and chastises his band for not being masculine enough. A great performer and MC, Rich was not really the band’s leader. It was banjoist Sid Austin, who can be seen in the front row.
MONTAGUE LOVE in ‘CHARACTER STUDIES’ (1927) Love had a prolific and distinguished career in film, beginning in 1914. He appeared in the very first film with Vitaphone, “DON JUAN” 1926), dueling with John Barrymore. This short allows Love to demonstrate his versatility, and also marks one of the first double-exposure scenes in talkies. His final film was Olivia DeHavilland’s “DEVOTION” (1946), appearing three years Love’s death. The actress’s lawsuit against Warners had delayed its release.
KJERULF’s MAYFAIR QUINTETTE in ‘A MUSICAL MELANGE’ (1928) An example of a classier Vitaphone, often shown on the bill with its operatic and classical shorts. Three harpists, a violinist and a singer perform several numbers, including ‘Sextette from Lucia di Lammermoor’. The group was paid $500 for this Vitaphone appearance, presumably split five ways.
VAL HARRIS AND ANN HOWE in ‘THE WILD WESTERNER’ (1928) Although only in his forties when he made this filmed record of his vaudeville act, Val Harris was already specializing in playing old codgers with a yen for flappers. He was still playing the same kind of role when he appeared in the 1935 Andy Clyde Columbia two reeler ‘OLD SAWBONES”.
EDDIE WHITE in ‘I THANK YOU’ (1928) A wonderful example of a forgotten known vaudeville act rediscovered through the restoration of a Vitaphone short. White has a charming and easy demeanor which blends pop tunes --- expanded with ‘special material’ --- and typical ethnic jokes of the period. He punctuates each song’s close with his catchphrase, “I thank you!”. He does not seem to have made any other films.
MARLOWE AND JORDAN in ‘SONGS AND IMPRESSIONS’ (1928) Here is a typical second-string vaudeville act likely seen by Warner’s west coast talent scouts and signed to a single Vitaphone short contract. During this period, the studios’ Hollywood sound stages were being used to film hundreds of shorts as well as sound sequences of part-talkies. In this entry, Marlowe delivers songs and patter while accompanied by her partner.
VAL AND ERNIE STANTON in ‘ENGLISH AS SHE IS NOT SPOKEN’ (1928) Here is the second of the Stanton brothers’ Vitaphone shorts. Fast, tuneful and polished through hundreds of performances on the vaudeville stage. The team continued to work on both sides of the Atlantic, including radio appearances on Rudy Vallee’s “THE FLEISCHMANN HOUR”.
JACK WALDRON in ‘A BREATH OF BROADWAY’ (1928) Reportedly the originator of ‘one-liners’ and fast patter, Jack Waldron briefly became Shemp Howard’s partner in 1925 when he left his brother Moe’s act with Ted Healy. While this seems to be his only film appearance, he continued working regularly on Broadway in such shows as “The Pajama Game” and “Pal Joey”. His act in this Vitaphone is a delightful blend of fey humor, nut songs, and even a nice dance for the close.
FLORENCE BRADY in ‘A CYCLE OF SONGS’ (1928) A true “personality singer”, Brady’s picture appeared on countless pieces of sheet music for songs she introduced, such as “Lovin’ Sam, The Sheik of Alabam”. In addition to touring in vaudeville, she also appeared in the 1926 edition of “Earl Carroll’s Vanities”. After what appears to be a tentative start in this Vitaphone, she quickly warms up and closes with an animated version of “Here Comes The Showboat”. She made a second Vitaphone, “CHARACTER STUDIES” for which film but (so far) no soundtrack disk is known.
EARL BURTNETT, COLLEGIATE JAZZ ARTIST, AND HIS BILTMORE HOTEL ORCHESTRA (1928) Made just a few months after his first Vitaphone, Burtnett’s next band short boasts much more fluid camera work. Sadly, Burtnett died at age 39 in 1936 after complications set in after an appendectomy. Reportedly, he had delayed the operation believing his appendix had been removed twenty years earlier.
MITCHELL LEWIS in ‘THE DEATH SHIP’ (1928) A veteran of over 200 films, character actor Mitchell Lewis usually played the villian because of his bulk and demeanor. He also appeared in the early Warner Brothers part-talkie, TENDERLOIN (1928). In 1924, he became one of the first members of the MGM stock company, and remained there for 32 years until his death
AL LYONS AND HIS FOUR HORSEMEN (1928) Lyons led a popular west coast band for several decades, usually emphasizing comedy and his own accordion skills . His orchestra can also be seen in beautiful 3-strip Technicolor in the 1937 MGM all-star short “HOLLYWOOD PARTY”, hosted by Charlie Chase. Ironically for a performer who debuted in a Vitaphone short, Lyons’ 1937 film was missing its soundtrack for over 70 years until it was recently located in Australia.
ROBERT EMMETT KEANE in ‘GOSSIP’ (1928) A popular monologist in vaudeville, Keane went on to appear in nearly 200 films, often as a crook or attorney. He easily made the transition to television in 1949. This is an unusual two-reel Vitaphone short, allegedly written by Keane, but quickly tied up in a copyright infringement suit. Keane was paid $2000 for his performance, but it is unclear if any of the money was garnished due to the lawsuit.
BORN AND LAWRENCE, THE COUNTRY GENTLEMEN (1928) Popular enough to have made four Vitaphones in 1928 (only 2 survive), Born and Lawrence seem to have evaporated as a team by 1930. They have an odd semi-professional delivery that is nevertheless engaging and well-received by modern audiences. This one needs to be seen with a group. Probably the first sound film in which milk is imitated.
THE RANGERS in ‘AFTER THE ROUND-UP’ (1928) Vitaphone shorts were the first to present country, western and hillbilly acts on the talking screen. In addition to the 1929 short “The Original Hillbillies” is this earlier short set at a desert cowboy camp. The double male quartet practices songs for their shindig.
ARTHUR ‘PAT’ WEST in ‘SHIP AHOY’ (1928) Frequently used in features by director Howard Hawks, and seen as the assistant director in “THE BANK DICK” (1940), Pat West worked in vaudeville alone as well as with his wife Lucille. His fast delivery bears a second listen on this short, and is a great example of how vaudevillians had to hone their act into a very tight 7 or 8 minutes. As vaudeville faded, West regularly appeared in bit parts in nearly 150 features, often as a waiter or bartender.
BORN AND LAWRENCE in ‘PIGSKIN TROUBLE’ (1928) The second restored short by this team. They made two other Vitaphones around the same time, but neither seems to have survived. “PIGSKIN TROUBLE” is likely the very first talkie performance of the old “splitting the money” routine, later used by The Three Stooges, Abbott & Costello and others. Also watch for the nervous straight man, who seems flustered more than once. But stopping those three Vitaphone cameras would have meant starting all over again.
FRANK WHITMAN, THE SURPRISING FIDDLER (1928) Only vaudeville could have created a risque violinist! Whitman clearly had perfected this act well, with every leer, wink and eyebrow rise perfectly timed. His big finish likely would have ben banned after the 1934 Production Code.The June, 1906 Dramatic Mirror shows Whitman as “The Dancing Violinist”, and by 1926 his Loew’s Circuit billing was “The Fiddler of Infinite Surprises”
ANN CODEE AND FRANK ORTH in ‘A BIRD IN THE HAND’ (1929) Codee and Orth were among the most prolific of all Vitaphone acts, making at least 19 shorts for the company. Being multi-lingual, they made a number of shorts in French and German as well. This short was also re-filmed for the emerging German market. This husband and wife act was married for 50 years. Following vaudeville, Codee took bit parts in films, often as French women.
BUD HARRIS AND FRANK RADCLIFFE in ‘AT THE PARTY’ (1929) Here is a rare look at a black comedy team, preserved thanks to the discovery of the Vitaphone soundtrack disk. Directed by Bryan Foy, who was one of The Seven Little Foys and who ran the west coast Vitaphone studio, this short reveals a highly polished and entertaining act. Radcliffe wrote the first song, “She’s Mine”. When vaudeville died due to the combined body blows of radio, talkies and the Depression, Harris turned to bit parts in films, sometimes as “second witch doctor” or “black porter on train”. A sad waste of a talented performer.
HARRY FOX AND HIS SIX AMERICAN BEAUTIES (1929) Alleged (and self-professed) inventor of the Fox Trot, Harry Fox had a long career on Broadway, in vaudeville, and as a recording artist for Columbia. He made several Vitaphones, invariably interpolating his bizarre whistling technique in each song. With the demise of vaudeville, his career rapidly waned, he turned to film work. His final screen appearance was in a bit in MGM’s “EASTER PARADE (1948).
FRED ARDATH in ‘THESE DRY DAYS’ (1929) Ardath had an extensive Broadway career, appearing in”The Passing Show of 1917” and Ed Wynn’s 1921 production of “The Perfect Fool”. He was still on stage in the late 1940’s revival of “Showboat”. A veteran of five Vitaphone shorts, his fist talkie appearance was actually in a 1924 DeForest Phonofilm two reeler, “HIS NIGHT OUT”
JACK WHITE AND HIS MONTREALERS (1929) A frequent vaudeville MC with a decidedly wild and bizarre demeanor, Jack White kept the gags coming at a fast pace, frequently throwing in inside showbiz asides (listen closely). This short makes absolutely no sense, which seems to be how White liked it. A favorite at Vitaphone, he made five shorts there, including some 1930 musical two reelers. He later appeared in Paul Whiteman’s “KING OF JAZZ” (1930) for Universal
DOOLEY AND SALES in ‘DOOLEY’S THE NAME’ (1929) Francis Dooley and Corrinne Sales are seen here in a typical vaudeville act that blends comedy patter, songs, wild dancing and the inevitable catch-phrase (here it is, predictably, “Dooley’s the name --- Dooley”). Bob Hope recalled when starting out his own two-act that “we knew our material had to be more sophisticated than the slapstick stuff that headliners Dooley and Sales were milking audiences with.” Sophisticated, Dooley and Sales was not. The couple was teamed at least as far back as 1914, but does not appear to have done much after then end of vaudeville.
OKLAHOMA BOB ALBRIGHT AND HIS RODEO DO FLAPPERS (1929) The non-PC jokes aside, Albright headlines a three-act with a peppy dancer and a pianist (on the right) who worked for Irving Berlin. As the girls listed neither have the last name of Albright, it makes Oklahoma Bob’s somewhat uncomfortable familiarity with his “daughter” a little more palatable.
CHARLES C. PETERSON, BILLIARD CHAMPION OF FANCY SHOTS (1929) This Vitaphone is reflective of the wide variety of shorts the studio tried to provide to theatres during this period. Producing up to three new sound shorts per week, the content went beyond vaudeville, comedy and operatic content. Subjects included playlets, musicals with midgets, and puppet acts. Here, famed billiard ace Charles C. Peterson performs some of his trick shorts, with not every one being flawless for the one-take Vitaphone cameras.
SYMPATHY (1929) Here is a one reel playlet of the kind often included on vaudeville bills between jugglers and comedians. Character actors Hobart Cavanaugh and Harry Shannon made their talkie debuts in this short and went on to separately appear in over 300 features, often for Warner Brothers. In support is actress Wynne Gibson, who later had a long career in ‘B’ movies and was the longtime partner of actress Beverly Roberts.
MEL KLEE, THE PRINCE OF WAILS (1929) As with many blackface acts, Klee’s was not a black caricature at all, but simply a white performer using this greasepaint for effect --- particularly the eyes. Records indicate this short was shot twice for reasons unknown, but the first version was released. In 1925, future Stooge Larry Fine, along with The Haney Sisters, joined Klee in a vaudeville act titled “At The Crossroads”.
HARRY FOX AND BEE CURTIS in ‘THE FOX AND THE BEE’ (1929) For his second Vitaphone, Fox teamed with his then-wife Beatrice Curtis. He had married his first wife, Jenny Dolly of “The Dolly Sisters” in 1914. After divorcing Beatrice in 1934, he married film actress Evelyn Brent. While performing on Broadway in Ziegfeld Follies and other revues, Fox had starred in the 15 episode silent serial “BEATRICE FAIRFAX” (1916) opposite Olive Thomas.
COLETTA RYAN AND DUKE YELLMAN in ‘SONGOLOGY’ (1929) Ryan was a mezzo-soprano who recorded and also appeared on Broadway, including a stint in George White’s Scandals of 1922 with W.C. Fields. Yellman was a bandleader, pianist, and recorded extensively for Edison and other labels in the 1920’s. He worked regularly on radio and well into the forties was working in nightclubs in New York. This short was directed by Bryan Foy of The Seven Little Foys.
THE GOTHAM RHYTHM BOYS (1929) Playing pop tunes with Spanish, steel and tenor guitars, The Gotham Rhythm Boys were formed by a split-off group of the frequently recorded Four Aristocrats. That group made many 78s for Victor and even filmed a 1927 Vitaphone short. They stopped recording in 1928, so this short represents the first appearance of the reconstituted group. Following the opening of “My Wild Irish Rose”, the trio plays two contemporary pop tunes: “Building A Nest For Mary” and “Alabamy Snow”
POOR AUBREY with Franklin Pangborn (1929) Pangborn made a career as a supporting comedian in over 200 films, and was a favorite foil of W.C.Fields. This short is a two-reel adaptation of of “The Show Off”, written by Pulitzer Prize winning George Kelly, uncle of Grace. Pangborn plays the role of the braggart straight, and does a fine job. He is supported by Clara Blandick, who was later ‘Auntie Em’ in “THE WIZARD OF OZ” (1939).
BILLY ‘SWEDE’ HALL & COMPANY in ‘HILDA’ (1929) This Vitaphone short is a verbatim record of Hall’s vaudeville act which he began performing at least as early as 1926. Men in drag were popular in vaudeville and Vitaphone also filmed the top exponent of the art, Karyl Norman, “The Creole Fashion Plate” in two 1928 shorts. Hall used his stage company for this short, and it is clear that they had performed this skit hundreds of times by the time it was committed to Vitaphone.
REVIVAL DAY (1930) This is one of the last blackface acts to be made by Vitaphone, and it captures Timblin’s preacher act. While blackface rapidly waned, he was still performing his act as late as 1950 at New York’s Palace Theatre with their attempted revival of vaudeville. Timblin worked regularly on the radio and in theatre presentations such as the New York Paramount. There he shared the stage with an elephant in 1937.
NIAGARA FALLS (1930) This is a tight little playlet starring two veterans with nearly 500 films behind them when this Vitaphone short was made. Helen Jerome Eddy and Bryant Washburn both began working in motion pictures in the mid-teens, and continued working through the forties. “NIAGARA FALLS” holds the distinction of being one of the very few shorts that were also shot in a widescreen format before the Depression killed the idea for two more decades.
JOHN T. MURRAY AND VIVIEN OAKLAND in ‘SATIRES’ (1929) The married team of Murray and Oakland frequently performed playlets and two-acts in vaudeville. Appearing separately or together, they were in films beginning in 1924, with Vivien appearing in many short subjects. She is the Sheriff’s wife in Laurel & Hardy’s “WAY OUT WEST” (1937).
JANS AND WHALEN, TWO GOOD BOYS GONE WRONG (1929) This brash comedy team toured extensively in vaudeville, and even made a Victor 78 of much of the material contained in this short. Jans was, at one time, Irene Castle’s dancing partner.They made few film appearances, however they did do one Technicolor MGM short, WILD PEOPLE (1932). A year after making this short they were appearing on Broadway with singer Harry Richman in the short-lived “The International Review”, The team split in the mid thirties, with Jans briefly appearing with Bert Wheeler in 1935 for theatre engagements. Harold Whalen died in 1940 while his ex-partner made bit appearance in features for years.
CARLENA DIAMOND, HARPIST SUPREME (1929) Literally following in the footsteps of her father, Jack, Carlena Diamond combines outstanding harp playing with dancing in order to make her act unique. Surviving Vitaphones of the period feature other multi-tasking vaudevillians, such as Sol Violinsky who plays the piano and violin simultaneously. To set themselves apart from the more than 30,000 acts in vaudeville at the time, performers had to have a gimmick, and Carlena certainly has one.
TRIFLES (1929) One of the last filmed Vitaphone playlets, this two-reeler boasts a cast headed by Jason Robards, Sr., Sarah Padden and Blanche Friderici. Friderici made over 60 films, almost always playing severe or overbearing women. She died only 4 years after this short was completed. Robards was a respected actor and transitioned smoothly from leading to character roles in score of films and later on television. His son carried on the acting tradition. Born in England, Padden made over 150 films often playing landladies, maids, or kindly mothers. She too transitioned easily to television
ANDERSON AND GRAVES in ‘FISHING AROUND’ (1929) A precursor of “The Bickersons” and “The Naggers”, which both featured endlessly arguing spouses, this act by Anderson and Graves was there first. It combines wisecracks, slapstick, and lots of props guaranteed to create chaos. All were readily transported from the team’s theatre appearance over to the Vitaphone studios. Howard Anderson was particularly bitter about how talkies killed his livelihood, and by the mid-1930’s he left show business to go into business for himself.
SURPRISE (1930) Comedians Tom Dugan and William Irving are teamed in this plotted, multi-scene Vitaphone one-reeler. Ironically, Barbara Leonard, who plays the feisty wife, reenacted that role in real life in 1935. She was beaten and robbed in her home by two men posing as door-to-door salesman. The newspapers soon ran pictures of her toting a revolver and daring the theives to return. She was fluent in five languages and appeared in many features, including a scene with Maurice Chevalier in “PARAMOUNT ON PARADE” (1930). Irving’s career waned as the thirties progressed, and shortly before his death in 1943 he was appearing in ‘Soundies’, 3 minute musical films show in tavern visual jukeboxes.
WHAT A LIFE (1930) Beginning in 1929, Vitaphone created a number of musical shorts, some in color, based on different themes.Their “MODERN BUSINESS” (1930) focused on a musical clothing store, and this one addresses making prison more enjoyable. It was a way to squeeze several unrelated acts into a single short with the slightest of plot lines. The idea was later expanded to two reels in “TWENTY THOUSAND CHEERS FOR A CHAIN GANG” (1933). This short was directed by John Adolfi, who helmed nearly 75 films, including seven George Arliss features.
THANKSGIVING DAY (1928) The west coast Warner Brothers studios were wired for sound just prior to the making of “THE JAZZ SINGER” (1927), as up until then all of the talking shorts had been filmed in New York. Quite of few of the California Vitaphones were playlets, drawing on vaudevillians who worked the western theatre circuit. Set in a doctor’s office, two young physicians complain about how healthy everyone in town seems to be, and they enlist the help of an undertaker to boost business!
PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES (1929) While jazz bands and brash vaudevillians were extremely popular far for Vitaphone audiences, the studio made it a point to offer a variety of acts that theatre owners could draw upon in order to provide a “balanced” program before the feature. In addition to continuing to produce classical and operatic shorts as late as 1931, Vitaphone also featured serious singers like Patrick Stanbury, backed here by The Lyric Quartette. Stanbury had a following on the radio, and the wartime France set provides a nice background for a number of sentimental songs of The Great War.
SHE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1930) This is a west coast Vitaphone and again teams comedians Tom Dugan and William Irving. Irving is best known as the aggravated radio announcer in Our Gang’s MIKE FRIGHT (1934). The plot device of keeping one’s wife in line by slapping her is decidedly non-PC, but the payoff softens the shock. Compared to the 1927 shorts in this set, this short shows how Vitaphone had progressed to multiple scenes, outdoor shooting, and an overall more cinematic approach. Within months of making this short, Warner Brothers abandoned sound-on-disk recording for the more flexible and mobile sound-on-film process.
BETTY AND JERRY BROWNE in ‘LET’S ELOPE” (1930) This is a very late filmed Vitaphone vaudeville act. By now the studio had moved away from “canned” acts, basically filmed versions of acts with little or no cinematic intrusion. The trend was towards plotted shorts with multiple scenes which might pause to let the performer do one of their ‘bits”. This couple seems to have ended their show business career with this short. Betty Brown appeared in a number of late twenties Sennett silent shorts.
JOE FRISCO in ‘THE SONG PLUGGER’ (1930) Frisco was in the top tier of vaudevillians, frequently playing revues and the Palace and getting top dollar. An outstanding eccentric dancer, Frisco also did a stuttering act which he seems to have tempered when talkies arrived. An inveterate gambler, Frisco was frequently broke in later years, with friends like Bing Crosby throwing him radio work. An entire book on Frisco was recently published, overflowing with anecdotes of the witty performer’s adventures. He made several talkies, including THE HAPPY HOTTENTOTS (1930) contained in “THE JAZZ SINGER” 3 DVD set. His feature, THE GORILLA (1930), seems to have vanished.
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