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|Volume 3 Number 4||
One of the biggest Vitaphone mysteries has finally been solved, thanks to the chance discovery by BMG archive researcher vince Giordano. While BMG still has large number os metal stampers for Victor commercial and private recordings from 1901 - on, only 12 inch metal parts from soundtrack discs have ever been found. The size of soundtrack discs were reduced from 16" to 12" by 1930 through slightly finer grooving, so none of the discovered smaller stampers represent elements needed for estroation. They myster of why no 16 inch soundtrack stampers were ever found has an understandable, but sad, explanation; World War II. As the memos below explain, all the vitaphone, Warner Brothers and First National metal parts were melted for scrap in 1941. At the time, it was understandably believed that these elements had no commercial value. The sound-on-disc system was completely dead by this time, with the last discs issued by studios around 1936. The films themselves also were felt to have no reissue value by 1941, and no one foresaw television or home video giving new life to these old films. The main hope of location sound portions for the ~100 shorts for which picture only exists is with actual shellac discs that may still turn up. The metal stampers - despite rumors to the contrary - appear to be gone forever.
Since our first issue in 1991, a considerable number of Vitaphone shorts have become restorable due to the discovery of discs or, in a few cases, mute nitrate picture elements. For the Benefit of our readers (and possible under writers of restorations), here is a reasonaly complete list of shorts which have BOTH disc and picture, and are candidates for restoration:
This list does not include the ~25 operatic shorts now being restored by The Library of Congress and UCLS with a generous donation from J. Paul Ghetty 3rd, or "The Seven Little Foys" (1928), which is to be restored shortly by UCLA with funding from film buff Dudley Heer.
Two recent Vitaphone restoration/preservation efforts raise the question of who is the oldest surviving Vitaphone shorts performer. Candidates include miramba player Clare Omar Musser, whose 1928 Vitaphone short currently exists only in picture. Dana Kimble of West Point has funded the striking of a safety print to be screened in Mr. Musser's presence at the Miramba Festival in 1998 and a convention.
Author Armand Fields ("From The Bowery To Broadway") is currently writing the biography of vaudevillian Eddie Foy, Sr., whose children comprised the legendary Seven Little Foys. Armand recently interviewed the on remaining "little Foy", Irving Foy, in Alburquerque. we hope he can attend the screening of the soon to be restored 1928 Vitaphone short, "The Seven Little Foys in 'Chips Off The Old Block'", funded by film buff Dudley Heer. Irving is 89.
Bando player Nelson Hall (~92) can be seen in all three restored Gus Arnheim vitaphone band shorts filmed in Burbank in late 1927 and early 1928. Two of these shorts are in the MGM/UA laserdisc Collection "A 70th Anniversary Celebration". Nelson is the moonfaced banjo player and vocalist who croons as one of the The Three Ambasadors (including Russ Columbo in the two 1928 shorts).
Our friend, singer Sylvia Froos, made two vitaphone shorts in 1927, and currently lives in Manhattan. She's in her early eighties, looks sixty, and is a joy to spend time with. Film buffs will remember her from the "Broadway's Gone Hillbilly" number in "Stand Up and Cheer" (Fox/1934) and Vitaphone shorts "eddy Duchin and His Orchestra" (1933), "Soft Drinks and Sweet Music" (1934, with Georgie Price) and a "Rambling 'Round Radio Row's" (1932), all of which are on laserdisc.
Another loyal Project pal is Thelma White, who celebrates her 87th birthday in Panorama City, CA soon. Thelma did a dozen vitaphone shorts in 1930-31, being teamed first with vaudevillian Billy Wayne and then with rotund comedienne Fanny Watson in an attempt to create a female Laurel and Hardy before Hal Roach tried the same thing months later with Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts.
Bob Hope, 95, made six vitaphone shorts in Brooklyn from 1934-37 which, coupled with a short each at Educational and Universal (both 1934) gave him excellent experience before the cameras.
That makes "Baby" Rose marie still the baby of this group. In her early seventies, her first vitaphone short was "The Child Wonder" (1929) followed by two "Rambling 'Round Radio Row's" in 1933 and 1934. A clip of her 1929 short was included in the PBS American Masters special, "Vaudeville". Still the kid of this group.
Sadly, 1996-97 has seen the passing of several vitaphone performers. Arthur Tracy, "The Street Singer", died in October 1997 at the age of 97. He appeared in a 1933 "Rambling 'Round Radio Row". Banjo player roy Smeck appeared in the viery first vitaphone program of shorts in September 1926, and passed away in 1996. Red Skelton began his film career at the Brooklyn studios in 1939, shortly before that studio closed.
And few buffs realize that James Stewart began his movie work not at MGM, but at the Brooklyn Vitaphone studios as the butt of Shelp Howard's slaps in the 1934 comedy short "Art Trouble" also with Harry Gribbon. He was paid $50.
Music conglomerate BMG acquired the complete holdings of the pioneering recording company Victor some years ago. Victor began recording 78's in 1901, and the BMG archives contain all the original, handwritten ledger books chronicling every recording session in the company's 9 decades of operation. The vitaphone connection is of real interest to the Project, as Victor pressed virtually all soundtrack discs beginning in 1926. It was not until 1930 that other record companies (like Brunswick, bought by Warners in 1930, and Columbia) began to press soundtrack discs for studios. Because Victor pressed soundtrack discs for all studios, their ledger books reflect all of that activity.
Among their discoveries so far:
Since our last issue just a few months ago, we've learned about more than 200 more discs in private hands. Many of these finds were due to contacts via the Internet, and the kind posting of the Project's efforts on "78L" a record and phonograph enthusiasts web page. One Birtish collector wrote to say he had over 90 soundtrack discs; another upstate New York collector, who has early sound film equipment, has about 20; and J. Paul Getty III has a substantial number. All will be providing the Project with titles of each disc so they may be added to our database. We'll report them in our next issue. Remember that there are roughly 100 Vitaphone shorts for which film, but no discs, exist.
We're frequently asked about certain films by anxious fans or relatives of performers. Despite the ravages of time and misguided studio disposals, many films from the 1926-30 sound film revolution still exist, even if in fragmentary form. Some films, however, seem tohave vanished entirely. Nevertheless, as our regular "Disc-Overies" column proves, material is still turning up regularly.
Here are some films which seem not to exist (except for a few discs) at the moment:
Professor Roy Leibman will soon be using his three month sabbatical to scour USC's Warner Brothers archives for the holy grail of The Vitaphone Project: the complete list of every known Vitaphone short made. As reported earlier, only partial listings of produced shorts are currently known. The 1931 exhibitors' catalog lists all the shorts available since 1926 that were still available to theatres in 1931. Many deletions and gaps exist, representing titles that had been removed by 1931. Even Jolson's 1926 short "A Plantation Act" is missing. Vitaphone shorts received a numerical assignment for each reel. The 100-1999 series represented New York produced shorts, while the 200 series was allocated for shorts made in Burbank. The exhibitors list is missing about 30% of all shorts made through 1931.
A 1957 AAP television release catalog lists hundreds of mainly post-1930 shorts, complete with plots, casts, and songs. However, 1926-30 shorts are almost entirely missing.
Since someone at Warner Brothers HAD to know which number was to be assigned next, it is believed one of the 3000+ Warner file boxes at USC contains the master list. Leigh Adams, now of Warner Brothers and in charge of the studio museum, has also located some documents there which may help close the gaps. Discs have occasionally turned up for vitaphone shorts that are not on any lists. And reviews of tantalizingly titled shorts like 1930's "Babe Eagan and Her Hollywood Redheads" aren't in any list but were definitely released to theatres. Keep your fingers crossed for Roy.
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 is now over 400, with many newsletters going overseas at over $1 each.
Contributions are not decuctible, but are appreciated nonetheless. Checks should be made out to RON HUTCHINSON (Not The Vitaphone Project). Thanks!
The following films are currently in the pipeline at UCLA and The Library of Congress for restoration:
The Vitaphone Project is proud to have helped out on the American Masters PBS special "Vaudeville", which aired the day before Thanksgiving. By all indications, it was a big hit, and was appropriately selected for "sweeps" month. Producer Rosemary Garner, writer Greg Palmer, and production assistant Sue McLaughlin deserve high praise for a tight, entertaining, and long overdue production which has introduced vaudeville to a much wider audience. We helped over the last 15 months on suggesting film clips, providing contacts on surviving performers, and, in post-production, helping on music identity. Making documentaries on such vintage subjects can be incredibly costly. Consider that just to use Harry Rose's rendition of "Frankfurter Sandwiches" cost $15,000. And the cost to use the essential Vitaphone vaudeville footage approached three figures. Songs written after 1922 are still in copyright, and therefore require payment for video releases.
Let your local PBS outlet know in writing that you loved "Vaudeville", and want to see a sequel!
Via word of mouth, the Internet, letters, and phone calls, the Vitaphone Project has been contacted by many relatives (usually one generation removed) of performers who appeared in Vitaphone or other early shorts. Some of their particular "wants" are listed elsewhere in this issue, however these relatives include Larry Rubenstein, grandson of songwriter Milton Ager. Larry has assembled a big collection of recordins, films, and sheet music of his grandfather's tunes. Ager wrote such standards as "Happy Days Are Here Again", "Crazy Words, Crazy Tune", "You Can't Pull the Wool Over My Eyes", and "Ain't she Sweet". Larry seeks any film performances of Ager's hundreds of tunes.
Brian Gari, grandson of Eddie Cantor, is still looking for Cantor's early Paramount talkies "that Certain party" and Midnite Frolic" (1928).
Josh Palace's grandfather was half of the comedy team of Freda and Palace, who made one Vitaphone short of their act in 1928. Picture, but no sound, exists. Does anyone have the disc?
Pat Timberg's father Sammy, wrote countless tunes for Betty Boop and other Fleischer cartoons. Her uncle, Herman, made one two-reel Technicolor Vitaphone short titled "The Love Boat" in 1930. Again, film but no sound exists.
Relatives of The six Brown Brothers, including Tom Brown, Jr., (son of the leader of this saxophone act) seek both elements to the act's 1928 vitaphone short.
Songwriter Larry Conley's daughter, Hope conley Lang, seeks information on two pathe early talkies that feature his songs. They are "So This Is Marriage" and includes Conley's song "After I Say I Love You" and "Fancy That" with William Frawley (later Fred Mertz of "I Love Lucy") and with the song "Dearest one". Both are 1929 features. The Project has many Pathe discs in its database, but unfortunately not these.
Any reader with any information on any of these wants should contact the Project directly.
The American Museum (at the former Paramount East Coast Studio) screened Georgie Jessel's 1929 talkie "Lucky boy" (Tiffany, 1929) on November 1, 1997. This was part of a "Jews in New York on Flm" series assembled by program director David Schwartz. The screening of this UCLA-restored early talkie was well attended, but few realized this film was completed as a 100% silent in late 1928. Originally titled "The Ghetto", it was shelved as the sound film revolution was heating up, then returned to production in November 1928 in order to add talkie sequences. Per Richard Barrio's wonderful book "A Song In The Dark", the sound scenes were shot on the 11th floor of the RCA Building in Manhattan, and untimately comprised 40% of the final film.
The film was very popular upon its release, but Jessel declined a percentage of the profits. Instead, he opted for a flat $20,000 fee to do the sound sequences.
The Vitaphone Project hopes to work with Mr. Schwartz in assembling a Vitaphone shorts program next year at the Museum.
Many of our readers have asked how they might help underwrite, in whole or part, the restoration of a Vitaphone film. A typical restoration of a sound-on-disc film costs $2500 - $3000 per reel. There are currently about 100 1926-30 shorts for which both disc and picture exist and can therefore be restored. Most of the restorations are done at UCLA, usually in partnership with collectors, archives like The Library of Congress, AFI, or other groups. UCLA can now accept tax-deductible donations to go towards Vitaphone restorations. If you are financially able to underwrite $1000 or more, please contact us for possible titles. For lesser amounts, you may indicate the type of Vitaphone short (jazz, vaudeville, dance, playlet, operatic, or "any") along with the words "VITAPHONE RESTORATION" on the check's memo line. Please send your donation to:
Your generous donations help to keep our Project going. Escalating printing and mailing costs make your support even more important than ever. While not tax-deductible, your donation allows us to continue spreading the word and seeking out disks and film elements for future restorations. Large donations for actual restorations go directly to UCLA Film and Television Archive (where support is tax deductible).
NEW! NEW! NEW! NEW! NEW! NEW!
NEW with this issue – we now are offering TEN new CDs of peppy, hot dance and personality 78s from the early talkie era. If you ordered our “hot and peppy 78s” CD last time there are still nine more new ones now available! You can email us at email@example.com for content. First CD for a $50 donation, $75 for two, $100 for 4 and get all ten CDs for a contribution of $200!
A new BRITISH PATHETONE VIDEO DVD, featuring sound clip of bands and vaudeville. Includes Duke Ellington, Gracie Fields, Sophie Tucker, Casani Club Orchestra, Bert Lahr and Buddy Rogers, the Roy Fox, Jack Payne and Teddy Brown bands, and more. An hour of unseen material.
A CD of hot and peppy 1928-32 78's that will keep your feet tapping. Great tunes from the early talkie era.
Selections from the unique early studio recording disks reported in this issue. Includes actual on-set recordings with studio chatter before and after from early MGM shorts and features, Cliff Edwards, and unissued material from GOLDWYN FOLLIES
A fantastic compilation of 1930-37 Warner Brothers opening titles music, many by musical director Ray Heindorf. Assembled by Peter Mintun.
2012 VITAPHONE ACQUISITIONS - has the newly found audience entrance, exit and intermission music for HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929, MAL HALLETT AND HIS ENTERTAINING ORCHESTRA (Vitaphone, 1929), Vitaphone #427 FRED WARING AND HIS PENNSYLVANIANS (1927) and the Overture disk for WARMING UP (Par/â28) (with Billy Murray).
If you've sent in a donation lately, thanks! If you are receiving Vitaphone News and have not made contribution lately --- or ever -- please consider doing so now. In addition to thank-you audio CDs listed below, we are adding a few new items:
Selected from the 70+ Vitaphone disks acquired earlier last year are two new CDs:
2011 DISK-OVERIES VOL. 1 -includes soundtracks for 1929 shorts by Molly Picon and Dave Apollon, Ruth Etting with Arden & Ohman, Phil Baker and more.
2011 DISK-OVERIES VOL. 2 includes tracks from REDSKIN, a Vitaphone 1929 theatre holiday promo, Charles King in the lost 1929 MGM Colortone CLIMBING THE GOLDEN STAIRS and Al Trahan, plus more.
The above 2 CDs are individually for a $50 contribution, both for $75.
For a $50 donation receive our DVD of twenty band, singing and vaudeville excerpts from 1930-39 British Pathetone shorts. Includes the bands of Billy Cotton, Harry Roy and Jack Hylton (recording at HMV in 1932!), plus Sophie Tucker, two clips with Al Bowlly, and many fun music hall and vaude acts. Just request our PATHETONE DVD when contributing!
For donations of $50, you can choose from one of the listed CDs, or you can receive a great Shaw and Lee caricature T-shirt.
And the following audio CDs are still available as thank-you gifts. These are unique, non-professional (but highly listenable) recordings of rare early talkie material. No fancy notes or packaging, but we are sure you'll enjoy them. Just let us know your choice (number of CDs is in parentheses)
If you wish to send a check (not tax deductible) please make it payable to RON HUTCHINSON (NOT The Vitaphone Project) and send it to:
Friend us on facebook 'The Vitaphone Project'
Movies and books related to Vitaphone can be purchased through Amazon.com by clicking on the items here!
|VITAPHONE NEWS||ISSN 1066-5951|
|Corresponding Secretary & Editor||Ron Hutchinson||5 Meade Court|
Piscataway, NJ 08854
FAX: (732) 463-8521
|Vitaphone Project Web Page Designer||Patrick Pickingfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Vitaphone Project Web Page||http://email@example.com
|Jeff Cohen's "Vitaphone Varieties" Site||http://vitaphone.blogspot.com|
|Leonard Maltin's Site||http://www.leonardmaltin.com|
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