|Volume 1 Number 4||
One of the goals of The Vitaphone Project is to help in any way possible to get the early sound films seen again. Little in the way of early Vitaphone shorts, or productions of contemporary studios, has ever been issued on home video. Jazz and opera aficionados have been particularly vocal on this score. We're happy to report that some exciting releases on home video are out, and more are on the way. Your support in purchasing them, and in "spreading the word", will send a clear signal to producers to release more of this stuff from their vaults.
If you don't have a laser disc machine, you'll get one after you see MGM/UA's "Dawn Of Sound" boxed set series, now in its third volume. The price of laser disc players continues to come down, and we recommend one of the units that will play audio CD's, as well as 5", 8", and 12"5 video laser discs. Packaged in beautiful boxed sets containing up to 7 hours of incredible early sound material, "The Dawn Of Sound" series mixes full, restored versions of early musicals like "Sally" (Marilyn Miller), and "They Learned About Women" (Van & Schenck MGM feature, 1930), with clips from many others -- and loads of shorts unseen since 1928-29. Here's a sampling from Volume 3:
Elsewhere in this issue, you'll read about the discovery and release of the holy grail of jazz film by Shanachie Entertainment. This discovery will be released on videotape along with over an hour of other jazz, hot dance and pop performances unseen since their initial release. When was the last time you heard of a DeForest Phonofilm being released for home consumption? These restorations cost a lot, and are clearly not in the same league as "Home Alone" when it comes to revenue potential. So it's up to all of us to encourage these daring producers!
Some detective work which rivaled the best work of S.S. Van Dine (Vitaphone, 1932-33), led to the location of the fortress-like Vitaphone/Vitagraph film vault not far from the East 14th Street studios. The outside brick walls are still emblazoned "Vitagraph" but the "Warner Brothers" was recently painted out to lower the site's profile in the community. We are honoring the studio's wish not to disclose the exact location of this still-imposing facility. All of the nitrate film (including 1930 Bosco Cartoons) was shipped from Brooklyn to Warner's new state-of-the-art film vaults in Burbank last year. The facility is now used to store non-film material. We have leads on some vault "old-timers" who might be able to tell us what happened to discs which must have accompanied otherwise mute prints. We'll keep you posted. We're also investigating the rumor that a tunnel once connected the Brooklyn studio on the old Vitagraph side of East 14th Street to the 1929 soundstages (now NBC-TV) across the street. Maybe the tunnel is full of film.
Noted collector Ken Crawford is disposing of his 30 year accumulation of 16mm jazz films covering 1928-1970. It consists of 700 films on 400 ft-2000 ft reels, and includes all types of jazz, swing, blues and even jazz-related cartoons. Asking price is $125,000 or best offer. You may contact Ken at (412) 531-5167.
We thank all of you who have sent us $5, $10, and even larger contributions to help keep this growing project going. Most of the money is used to defray postage costs for our expanding Vitaphone News mailings. If you are able to contribute to the cause, please send a check (must be payable to Ron Hutchinson, not the Project) to 5 Meade Court, Piscataway, NJ 08854 USA. Again, many thanks for your moral and financial support.
We were honored this March to visit with the daughter, son and son-in-law of Vitaphone singer/comedian Georgie Price and learn more about this wonderful but forgotten performer. He made shorts in the late twenties for Vitaphone (about making a short in Brooklyn), MGM and Columbia. In the thirties, he made a series of elaborate musical two-reelers for Vitaphone and at least one for Universal. Peter Price, Penny Price Larsen and John larsen regaled us with stories of the performer, whose career began with Gus Edwards and continued through vaudeville, Broadway, radio, cabarets and television... Ed DuPar was the cameraman on virtually every Vitaphone short (as well as the virst all-talking picture, "Lights Of New York") from 1928-35. We've sent both his daughter and son dubs of some of the shorts he filmed, and they are scouring their memorabilia for a future issue... Bob Hope celebrated his 90th birthday in May, and we were honored to have received a call from his office. In preparation for his 3-hour NBC birthday special, his staff was seeking information on his thirties shorts. He did over a half a dozen two-reelers for Vitaphone, one Educational, and an elusive Universal short titled "Soup For Nuts" (1934) which also had his future wife, Dolores, in the cast. That short, sadly, is only 75% complete in the Universal City vaults, but our inquiry prompted interest on the part of Universal to consider the home video potential of their long-unseen thirties shorts... Sam Sax was the Brooklyn Vitaphone studios' head from 1931 until it closed in 1939. Wonderman Bill CAppello traced the convoluted trail of relatives until he tracked down the wife of Sam's nephew, Carol Sax. We're now in contact with Carol to determine what Vitaphone material may still exist. Still being sought: the survivors of Vitaphone director Roy Mack, who specialized in musicals.
Sam Sax has signed fourteen girls, selected from 450, who will henceforth be known as the Vitaphone Beauty Chorus and who will be seen in all forthcoming Vitaphone musical films made in Brooklyn. They have just completed a two reeler called "20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang."
The Project can send you a copy of our full listing of soundtrack discs located to date (minus collector's names) for $3.00 to cover copying and postage, $6.00 if outside of the United States. Just let us know if you'd like a copy.
The following elements are being sought by individuals, archives, copyright
holders, or researchers. Please let us know if you have any of these in
your collection, or know someone who might:
Our latest sound search yet: the sound element to a 1937 MGM color short starring Charlie Chase.
Rumors have persisted for years that legendary jazz cornettist Bix Biederbecke may have appeared in a sound film before his untimely death in 1931. Biederbecke influenced such jazz greats as Red Nichols and Louis Armstrong and played with the Jean Goldkette and Paul Whiteman orchestras in the twenties. An announced 1927 vitaphone short by the Goldkette bank has yet to surface if, in fact, it was even made.
Database guru Sherwin dunner finally tracked down a minute and a half sound film clip in the Movietone archives despite a perhaps deliberately removed index card. The nitrate was immediately transferred to Beta video. On its second pass, it broke apart into strips just as the part where Biederbecke begins to play "My Ohio Home" with the Whiteman band. Shot in April 1928 by Fox-Movietone News, the clip represents an awesome find to jazz aficionados throughout the world. As head of home video for Shanachie Entertainment, Sherwin will be issuing the clip, along with rare DeForest, Fowler Studio and other 1925-33 jazz films, most never seen since their initial release.
This production, along with the outstanding MGM/UA "Dawn Of Sound" laser disc series, marks the beginning of what we hope will be a steady flow of early sound performances on home video.
The University of Southern California (USC) has a huge, comprehensive Warner Brothers archive shich contains much Vitaphone material. As an example, when Ed Watz researched his upcoming book on the comedy team of Wheeler & Woolsey, he checked the USC/Warners collection for data on Bert Wheeler's one-reel Vitaphone, "Small Timers" (1929). He found nearly two dozen pages of inter-office memos, script info, royalty data release and music cues, and more. And this was just one of perhaps 2,000 Vitaphone shorts made! Going through similar data for all Vitaphone shorts would be tedious and time consuming -- but immensely valuagle to the Project. Anyone who lives near USC and who might be willing to undertake the task of reviewing and copying the shorts material in the collection is urged to contact us!
Discs for the following films have turned up since out last issue: Ben Bernie and His Orchestra (Vitaphone, 1929)... Clyde Doerr and His All Saxophone Orchestra (MGM, 1929)... all discs to otherwise silent '29-'29 features "The Big Parage" (MGM, 1925, 1929 reissue), "Bridge Of San Luis Rey (MGM, 1929), "The Iron Mask" (UA, 1929), "Evangeline" (UA, 1929)... lesser studio shorts disks for Toytown Tale" (Pathe), "Flinching Feet" (Castle, 1930), "Some Night" (Telefilm Pictures, 1929), "Rough and Tumble (Pathe), "Ex-Plumber" (Educational, 1930)... discs for early Mascot serial "King Of The Congo"... 1926 Vitaphone operatic short disc VA198-2 "Pagliacci" by Martinelli... "Vitaphone Varieties" discs for 1929 shorts starring Jack & Flo Haley and Trixie Friganza, found in Jerry Lewis' collection of radio transcriptions (apparently filed there by Mr. Lewis because the soundtrack discs are the same size as 16-inch radio airchecks!)... the most interesting film element find during the past few months (besides the Bix Biederbecke clip reported elsewhere in this issue) was some tinted and toned jazz, blues and vaudville material by the independent Fowler Studios used to keep theatre-goers' attention while local commercial announcements appeared on the bottom of the frame!
The Library is the prime source for the film researcher as it is also the copyright office where films are deposited. This was not always the case. Due to the difficulty of handling nitrate film, the Library retained only descriptive material relating to motion pictures during the 1912-1942 period. A decision was made to resume collecting the actual films in 1942, which has remained in force. Today, the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division, acquires, catalogs, and preserves film, videotape, and videodiscs.
The film and TV collections contain over 75,000 titles with several thousand titles added each year. These include copies of all films acquired by the American film Institute. The AFI has also been actively encouraging deposits of films by major film companies, especially those produced between the 1912-1942 period when the Library did not keep film. The Library participates in preservation of film through its preservation and restoration facilities at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Old nitrate film is cleaned by an ultrasonic process, repaired, and trainsferred to acetate stock.
There are many other film related items available to the film researcher including 300,000 stills, reference books, complete runs of trade magazines, yearbooks, and reviews. The Library permits on-site viewing of films in 16 and 35mm, as well as videotape and disc, but not for public projection, rental, or loan. viewing times must be scheduled well in advance. Inquiries should be sent to the Libary of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division, Washington, DC 20540. The location is the James Madison Memorial building, Room 336. Telephone: 202-707-1000. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Some very helpful people at the Library include David Parker, James Cozart and David Francis. Turner Entertainment's Richard May sits on the Library's Film Preservation Board.
In the last issue of Vitaphone News, we listed the soundtracks of the first six Charlie Chase Hal Roach talkies of 1929 as being anxiously sought. While the mute film element for all of these Chase shorts exists, no sound elements were believed to exist - that is until collector John Johnson responded with a list that included both reels from one of these two-reelers: "Snappy Sneezer". Arrangements are now underway to get the discs from Michigan to YCM Laboratories in Los Angeles where a state-of-the-art restoration will be made. Technically, this is the Vitaphone Project's first successful match-up being taken to completion. It will edge out the 1929 Baby Rose Marie restoration by just a few weeks.
The soundtracks for the remaining Chase talkies are still avidly sought by Richard Bann, whose books on Laurel and Hardy and, more recently, the Little Rascals, make this Roach restoration particularly meaningful. If you come across any Hal roach - MGM discs, please be sure to let us know!
Many thanks to John Johnson for his generosity and responsiveness in making this restoration a reality.
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