Volume 4 Number 3
Winter/Spring 1999


Bruce Goldstein, Artistic Director for Film Forum 2 in NYC has scheduled "Another Night At The Palace" Vitaphone shorts program for September 12, 1999. Following the success of showing vaudeville shorts to recreate the experience of attending a Palace vaudeville program, Bruce has worked with Bob Gitt of UCLA, Dick May at Warners, and The Vitaphone Project, to assemble a second two hour program of shorts. The program will include many recently restored Vitaphone shorts which have not yet been seen by the public. The tentative program includes:

As of this writing, Bruce is planning three identical programs on Sunday, September 12th. We strongly suggest that you order tickets in advance for what will surely be soldout performances. Call 1-212-627-4035.

UPDATE: September 16, 1999!! - The Film Forum "ANOTHER NIGHT AT THE PALACE" on September 12th was an absolute smash! Three totally sold out shows, lines around the block, and 30-50 turned away at each show. It was wonderful to see such a great to see such a great turnout for this show of twelve 70 year old Vitaphone shorts!!


An historic discovery on the west coast by record collector and auctioneer Tom Hawthorn promises to shed light on one of the earliest sound-on-disc systems ever developed. Tom recently acquired fourteen acoustically recorded soundtrack discs for early (c.1908) Oskar Messter sound shorts. Messter patented an operator-adjusted disk system in 1905, and he improved it further with patented devices in 1906 and 1909. Around 1908, Messter partnered with inventor Alfred Duskes to constuct a united disk system using synchronous motors to eliminate operator adjustments. During 1908-10, Messter produced hundreds of sound shorts, some in this country.

Little remains to document the sound shorts Messter produced during this period. German archives have some mute picture elements, and the Project has heard from Martin Koerber of the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin who hopes that "a German sort of Vitaphone Project" might be done if disc/picture matches are found. Martin is also contacting his counterparts at the Austrian and other European film archives in hopes of tracking down picture elements for the discs Tom has acquired, Here's a list of the Messter soundtrack discs he recently picked up:


This discovery confirms that Messter produced American subjects during this period, with the last two particular titles being particularly tantalizing. Rumors have circulated for years that he filmed Scott Joplin in sound at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, and the last two titles show Messter at least covered the broad genre of ragtime. There is also a range of over 250 record numbers covered in this acquisition, reinforcing the fact that his production of sound shorts was quite prolific.

Tom has kindly shared a copy of one of the Messter disc labels with us. It contains two striking similarities with Vitaphone (and other) soundtrack discs of twenty years later. First, consecutive number boxes are placed around the perimeter of the label. These were to be crossed out in sequence after each play. To maintain sound quality, the number of recommended plays was limited to 20 or 40. Cross-out boxes appear on virtually all 1926-30 soundtrack disc labels. On Vitaphones, there is a grid of numbered boxes; on Columbias and others, the system is almost identical to Messter's. Also note the large white arrow pointing downward. This told the operator where to place the needle for the start of the performance. Vitaphones and others used an arrow drawn into the "wax".

We are extremely grateful to Tom Hawthorn for generously sharing news of his discovery with us, and our readers. We also thank Patick Stanbury of Photoplay Productions in England for putting us in touch with Martin. Tom has told us that he will make the recordings available should film be discovered to make a restoration possible.



Since our last issue, even more soundtrack discs have turned up in private collectors1 hands. Nearly 50 were found by Gary Lacher of Oregon, who saw one in a local antique shop and was told that someone had been in earlier to buy all the others. Through excellent detective work, Gary was able to track down the buyer and obtain a complete list of all the discs he'd purchased.

Next group found by Gary Lacher in Oregon:

Found by collector Bill Birtles in an antique shop in New Hampshire:

Also see article on the recently discovered Oskar Messter pre-1912 talkie discs.

Disc for a Show-At-Home version of a 1930 Brox Sisters Universal short, AT THE NIGHT CLUB


Left: "THE MOVIE MAN" (1928) with Charley Rogers
Right: Huge Vitaphone theater sign

Left: Georgie Price in recently restored 1929 Vitaphone short, "DON'T GET NERVOUS"
Right: Bernie Cummins & His Biltmore Orchestra (1929)


The nitrate film vaults on Glenwood Avenue and East 43rd Street were used by Vitagraph several years before its 1925 acquisition by Warner Brothers . The heavy brick building is notable for its fortress-like appearance and multiple stacks (which would vent explosions). The outside wall of the building still showed faint signs of an early "Vitagraph" sign. In recent years, the facility had been used by Warner Brothers to store master videotapes and original art for DC Comics. Rumors that five truckloads of 35mm nitrate film were removed in the late 1980's (to destination unknown) have never been substantiated.

Individuals who were actually inside the vaults in the 1970's have stated that there was floor-to-ceiling storage of nitrate film, including Vitagraph, First National, Vitaphone and Warners titles from the O-teens through the 1950's. We have been unable to confirm where any of this material went. Of interest to The Vitaphone Project would be any mute titles, previously unknown, which might match existing discs.

The vault is now being closed by Warner Brothers, which uses more modern facilities for archival storage. A recent pre-move check of existing inventory did not reveal any soundtrack discs or film.


Songwriter Sanford Green began his professional career working at the Brooklyn Vitaphone studios in 1934 for studio head Sam Sax. The 19 year old would be handed the completed script for a two-reel musical for Hal LeRoy or Georgie Price. Reading down in the script, he would see "SONG HERE", which is where he came in. Green's name appears on over 35 Vitaphone musical shorts from 1934-38, including the Academy Award nominated 1936 Phil Harris short "Double Or Nothing".

Checking the CD-ROM phone listings for "Sanford Green"'s only a few turned up. Using the freqently successful practice of sending form letters to each (asking if they were a relative of the Vitaphone personality), one phone call was received at Ron Hutchinson's house. "I'm sorry I'm not a relative of Sanford Green," the caller said. After a pregnant pause, he added "I AM Sanford Green!" During an ensuing series of phone conversations, we learned that 85 year old Sanford had been looking for copies of his Vitaphone shorts for years (we supplied 8) and was thrilled to again see the Vitaphone flag trademark on our letterhead after over six decades.

Green provided original songs for musical shorts with Morton Downey, Mitrzi Mayfair, Hal LeRoy, Bernice Claire, Phil Harris, The Yacht Club Boys, Olga Baclanova, and countless others. His occasional partner (on the Price song "I'd Love To Dance The Whole Night Through", among others) was an equally youthful Mack David. Green's tunes include "Bingo Crosbyana", "Bermuda Buggy Ride", "Do It For The Girl You Love" and "Do I Know What I'm Doing" (sung by Sylvia Froos, who lives just blocks from Green in NYC). Sandy initially commuted to the Brooklyn studio each day from New Haven, often arriving at 10:30AM. Studio head Sam Sax didn't care for this, and told him he knew he was getting in late every day and that 10AM was starting time! Avoiding the guard at the front desk, Sandy eventually found a way to sneak in the back.

We'll be having lunch with Sanford soon, and will report his recollections of working at the Brooklyn Vitaphone studios in the 1930's.



Novelty pianist Alex Hassan is working on a new CD which will exclusively feature songs from Vitaphone shorts. Using transcriptions from several dozen 1930's shorts with Hal Leroy, June Allyson, Georgie Price, Mitzi Mayfair, Arthur & Florence Lake and others, Alex has already transcribed many of the peppy original tunes in cases where sheet music no longer exists. A test performance on piano was recently performed over the phone for the Project, and we can't wait for the finished product! Imagine hearing "I Haven't Got A Hat", "I'd Like To Dance The Whole Night Through", "Put A Top Hat On The Moon", "Swing For Sale", and countless other tunes originally written for Vitaphone shorts!

Alex recently made a trip to the Library of Congress and dug out at least one piece of sheet music for fifteen more Vitaphone O-thirties shorts. Tunes from "Operator's Opera", "Seasoned Greetings", "School Daze", and others were located.

We'll let you know as soon as the CD is available.


Thanks to Leith Adams of the Warner Brothers Museum in Burbank, the Project received a voluminous (300+ pages) copy of a 1926-32 Vitaphone shorts catalog. This was copied from a catalog used internally at Warner Brothers, and has many notations ("Withdrawn", "Don't Release In England", etc.). Many gaps will be filled with this valuable document. Throughout this copy, though, many entries are rubber stamped with "SOLD P.R.M." (see sample below). The frequency increases as 1932 is approached, but even early titles are stamped selectively. Both disc only and sound on film productions are stamped.

While Leith does not know what the letters in PRM stand for, he said it was for an entitiy that acquired television sales rights to the Vitaphone shorts in the 1950's. Catalog entries stamped "PRM" were to be mastered for television (presumably 16mm) prints. Two mysteries remain to be solved: First, what does "PRM" stand for? Second, where are the very early sound-on-disc titles (about a dozen) that are stamped "PRM" and were supposedly transferred to sound on film for television, but which today aren't known to exist?


Film collector and businessman Murray Glass recently restored two previously lost 1929 shorts which had been found in a San Francisco garage by Peter Mintun. Both were part of a cache of early sound shorts for "Show-At-Home" projectors which used mute 16mm safety prints and a 16" soundtrack discs. Pathe, Universal and Columbia were the major studios which provided shorts to the home market simultaneously with their theatrical release. The 28 Pathe shorts found by Gary Lacher several years ago in Oregon similarly included many lost title which survived only because the film was 16mm safety, and not 35mm nitrate.

At a personal cost of over $2,000, Murray performed the restorations of two 1929 shorts, "POP AND SON" (Universal, w/Benny Rubin) and TONY SARG'S MARIONETTES in "In The Orient" (Columbia).

Murray is making these and other restored shorts available on videotape. In addition to these two shorts, other titles on the tape are:

Cost is $59.95 plus shipping. Titles are also available on 16mm for $103.95 each. Contact Murray Glass at Glenn Photo Supply, 6924 Canby Ave. Suite 103, Reseda, CA 91355. 1-818-881-8110.


Getting the word out about The Vitaphone Project inevitably leads to finding more discs, film, and related early sound materials:


The Smoot Theatre in West Virginia recently contacted the Project via the internet. They reported that they had found the faint remnants of the c. 1928 original 40 foot square painted sign on the outer wall of the theatre which advertised VITAPHONE TALKING PICTURES. While such signs were usually unique to a particular theatre, restorationist Felice Jorgeson is nevertheless sending us a photo of what remains in order to assist on some of the details. It is expected that the Vitaphone logo and other standard elements may have been used. The Smoot plans to fully restore the original sign.


We mourn the recent loss of several individuals who supported the Project or were otherwise connected with Vitaphone. TONY MILLARD, husband of Vitaphone and Earl Carroll star THELMA WHITE (still going strong at 88) passed away in May. Tony worked as a dancer and female impersonator in vaudeville, later joining Olsen & Johnson. Thelma & Tony were featured in the 1997 PBS documentary VAUDEVILLE. Thelma starred in over a dozen 1931 Vitaphone shorts, often paired with heavyset Fanny Watson (a la Laurel & Hardy, but before Pitts & Todd) and Billy Wayne... MEL TORME was a long friend of the Project, and died in June following his stroke in 1996. Mel had been searching for the missing picture portion of the 1929 Vitaphone short "BUDDY TRAPS in SOUND EFFECTS" starring pre-teen Buddy Rich. Mels bio on Rich illustrates his intelligence and brilliance beyond song ... singer LEAH RAY began her career sing with Phil Harris in the early 1930's. She appeared in the 1936 Academy Award-nominated short "DOUBLE OR NOTHING", whose songs were written by Sanford Green. She also teamed with Bob Hope in his first short, GOING SPANISH (for Educational)...BOBBE BROX, the last of the Brox Sisters, died in May 1999 at the age of 98. The Brox Sisters made three Vitaphone shorts, as well as several for MGM and Universal...... ROSE MARIE (star of the 1929 Vitaphone, "THE CHILD WONDER", is seeking several of her lost short subjects. They include a c. 1933 Lamb's Club short and one made around the same time which was produced by bandleader Meyer Davis for Van Bueren/RKO... the Project is assisting A&E in their two hour documentary on Irving Berlin. One segment covers the transition to sound and its impact on Berlin's career... Relatives of showman Gus Edwards ("School Days") and opera star Marion Talley have contacted us, seeking films of them....Professor Roy Liebman continues digging throgh copies of Vitaphone shorts files from USC. He has already discovered numbered shorts which were missing in the previously available exhibitors' catalogs. These start in the 400's. Some are marked as "not released":... sound restorations Graham Newton continues to chip away at the huge 1928-30 Victor Pict-Ur-Music discs transfer reported in earlier issues. These discs (over 450) were issued by Victor beginning in 1928 to allow theatre owners to provide appropriate mood music and sound effects with silents. This was clearly a shortlived venture, and the need for these discs in theatres evaporated by 1930. Many discs were then sold to radio stations. Graham is cleaning up each disc (including 150 loaned by the Project) in order to create a CD library that can be used to score silents today....Several "Pict-Ur-Disc"'s and other vintage recordings were used to provide Film Forum2 in NYC with a Vitaphone-like score for its screening of Harold Lloyd's 1920 short HAUNTED SPOOKS...Vitaphone shorts posters do not turn up often. When they do, there is considerable demand for them. A recent west coast poster auction listed nearly a dozen posters for 1930-37 Vitaphone shorts. Included were generic posters for the "Broadway Brevities" and "Pepper Pot" series, shorts by Hal LeRoy. Ripley, and Phil Harris, and even early Looney Tunes. Posters averaged $475 - $600, with a few reaching higher.


With the Project's success has come increased expenses, largely for the printing and mailing of VITAPHONE NEWS. Our mailing list is now over 450 per issue, with roughly 10% going overseas at around $1.00 each. We will soon have to pare down our distribution list, so it's important that if you are receiving this issue and have not written or contributed to us in over a year, that you do so as soon as possible. It's important for us to know that you are still interested in our efforts and in receiving the newsletter.

If you've already written in the last year or donated, no need to contact us. Otherwise, please write now. Thanks! Checks should be payable to RON HUTCHINSON (not the Project). While not deductible, they are appreciated!

Please Help Us........

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 owners.

To contact The Vitaphone Project write to:
Ron Hutchinson
5 Meade Court
Piscataway, NJ 08854
Phone 1.732.463.8521
FAX 1.732.336.2603
or email Ron at medusashaircut@erols.com
or project member Bill Cappello at billcapp@ix.netcom.com 

Corresponding Secretary Ron Hutchinson: 5 Meade Court
Piscataway, NJ 08854
Data Base Rich Markow & Sherwin Dunner: P.O. Box 1992
New York, NY 10013
Newsletter, Advertising, Publicity David Goldenberg: 840 Winter Road
Rydal, PA 19046
and John Newton: P.O. Box 7191
Wilmington, DE 19803
Vitaphone Project Web Page: http://www.picking.com patrick@picking.com

This web site is maintained by:  Patrick@Picking.com