23 May 2007

Banj-O-Reno

To open this entry, a musical prologue of sorts to set a mood, a pace and firmly chase away any lingering wisps of gloom that might still be clinging about!

"Banjoreno," performed by the Dixieland Jug Blowers, dates from late December of 1926, and it's entirely unlike the sort of tune you're probably now imagining. Nearly impossible to describe, it's as cheering as it is haunting --- and tuneful as it is deceptively simple. Try it.

"Banjoreno" (1926) The Dixieland Jug Blowers

Seeming an old friend by now, Irving Kaufman returns to put over "That's Why I Love You," precisely as he did in August of 1926 --- his unmistakable voice in beautiful form and, while dainty little melodies often suffered when paired with Kaufman's thundering pipes, this one is a love match!

"That's Why I Love You" (1926) Irving Kaufman

An early glimpse of Colleen Moore's 1928 First National film "Happiness Ahead" can be had in the following studio generated publicity placement from early May of that year, at a point when the film was still wavering between two titles, "Heart To Heart" and "Happiness Ahead":

"Having spent an entire afternoon in synthetic New York traffic without traveling more than ten feet, Colleen Moore has decided that she much prefers the real Forty-Second-and-Broadway variety. Director William A. Seiter reproduced the rush-hour traffic of Manhattan, securing autos, trucks, taxis and pedestrians by the score to hurry along a specially constructed street at the studio representing the confusion of a big city."

"This remarkably realistic setting is one of a variety of backgrounds which will be seen in 'Happiness Ahead,' formerly titled 'Heart to Heart,' a story written especially for Miss Moore by Edmund Goulding and Benjamin Glazer. A small-town hardware store, a New York banker's office, a home in the rural district, a lavish Park Avenue apartment, a simple church, and the cold, unsympathetic background of a state prison --- these are among contrasting settings in which Miss Moore enacts her starring role in 'Heart to Heart.'"

Ads for "Happiness Ahead," which arrived in theaters in June of 1928 --- and would find bookings around the country as late as December of 1929 --- left little doubt that audiences were in for an emotional wringing:

"Heartaches to the right of her! Sorrow to the left of her!"

"Shattered dreams, a broken heart, but a spirit born of love that sent her laughing, fighting, ever onward to the happiness she knew was just around the corner."

In actuality, Colleen Moore's trouble didn't amount to much more than landing a husband who's a habitual gambler of so smooth a sort that he can successfully explain away a looming prison stretch as a "business trip" to Buenos Aires. Circumstances that wouldn't matter a bit today, but which --- if it was 1928 and you were Colleen Moore, was serious business indeed.

A review of the film ("real" reviews, as opposed to prepared cut and paste jobs supplied by the studio, aren't as common as you might expect) from a Davenport, Iowa newspaper of June 17th of 1928 is refreshingly honest, if not especially well written:

"Colleen Moore is cast in a story considerably better than any we can remember since her straight bobbed hair and heart-shaped face winked its first way across a screen. She settles in pretty well too as the wife of a man who has a past, who is caught up by one of the women in his history, and is forced to spend a six month term in the D.A.'s rooming house. Incidentally there is a very rude skeleton outline of a picture that is full of good acting, some careful direction for the most part, but is a bit lengthy despite pleasing simplicity and straight forwardness."

"Edmund Lowe you'll scarcely recognize, but he does some of his best work since his appearance in 'What Price Glory.' His change from slick gambler to an honest office worker in a stock broker's office as well as a good husband is not so sudden that it shocks the nerves though he suffers no relapse. These two (Moore & Lowe) are the backbone of the picture but that calculating blonde Lilyan Tashman who has had years of movie experience as such, is credible very as Kay Sears the chorus girl."

"Plenty of laughs will place in where the drama grows too tense as for instance when Mary as played by Colleen remarks 'Babe, let's get a bee and have honey every morning for breakfast.'"

Although "Happiness Ahead" was released only in standard silent form, the film was typically paired with a small clutch of sound short subjects --- Vitaphone and Fox Movietone News products, typically. Accompanying the film for it's Davenport, Iowa run were three Vitaphone items, for which the same reviewer struggled to explain his thoughts: The Brook Sisters ("young harmony girls who'll get your applause if you treat the talking pictures that wash for the way they have and the voices",) The Death Ship ("short powerful drama, but as if the director hadn't figured they were playing to a bunch of comic strip readers and so had to explain their character's actions"and Night At Coffee Dan's ("another mixed musical business with a night club for a background. Good.")

A Brunswick recording from late 1928 (released early in 1929) shared the same title as the Vitaphone short "A Night at Coffee Dan's," (which featured William Demarest) and any early talkie fan worth his or her shellac is likely now nodding in vague recognition of the name "Coffee Dan," so we'll let the copy from a Brunswick ad of March 1929 fill in the blanks for us, even if it twists a few facts a bit:

"Every tourist visiting Frisco goes to Coffee Dan's. It has a national reputation. Here gather stage folks, movie stars, concert artists, celebrities of various kinds. You will remember the cafe scenes in 'The Jazz Singer,' where Al Jolson makes a hit as a singing waiter. Those were made at Coffee Dan's."

"This remarkable Brunswick record brings you the music and laughter of Coffee Dan's as if you were at a table yourself! In come the Big Shots from Little Rock, Pittsburgh and other towns, and you should hear Frank Shaw kid them. Then, of course, there's "I Wish I Was In Peoria," and Frank Shaw does plenty to that tune. Any Brunswick dealer will let you hear 'A Night at Coffee Dan's.' Stop in and hear it today. Its number is 4100."


While the photo of the original "Coffee Dan," (right, circa 1890) isn't likely to conjure up thoughts of Al Jolson, tin plates laden with sizzling ham and eggs or mugs of steaming coffee --- neither will Frank Shaw's 1928 Brunswick recording. Instead, what we have here is a male variation of Texas Guinan, seemingly wearing one of Robert Woolsey's molted skins, and doing quite well too.

Assisted by Les Poe, pianist, Frank Shaw brings you an evening's "typical entertainment from this bohemian rendezvous." The humor is frequently ribald and raw --- just the way it should be --- and if you can warm up to Shaw's unique style and delivery, you're in for a good time. Most surreal moment: Soprano, Madame Ivan AwfulItchie's strangled rendition of "Annie Laurie." Get your wooden table mallet ready!

"A Night At Coffee Dan's" (1928) - Side 1

"A Night At Coffee Dan's" (1928) - Side 2


One month following the premiere of Colleen Moore's "Happiness Ahead," the 1928 edition of George White's Scandals opened at New York City's West 42nd street Apollo Theater and, as was typical for productions of the Scandals, it was treated by the press as the somewhat uneducated, under-dressed, poor second cousin to Ziegfeld's Follies. According to Time magazine:

"Producer White has often been regarded as a reckless exponent of exposure, his entertainments as lowly though attractive limbos. As he grows older, White grows cautious. The thigh is his limit now and the Scandals, though not wholly civilizes, are this year less natural and rugged in their charms, more universal in appeal. What is tuneful is combined with what is funny, what is stimulating is added to what is ennobling."

"The courses of the revue were uniformly delectable and served in dishes that were not too conspicuously dirty."

"Ann Pennington, a little older than she was at first, flung herself here and there in the motions of a new dance called 'Pickin' Cotton.'"

All of 33 years old in 1928 --- a mere slip of a girl by today's standards, we can listen to this rousing Australian cinema organ recording of "Pickin' Cotton," and wonder if indeed the beaming girl depicted on the sheet music cover is Pennington or not. The dimpled knees suggest it is. What say you?

"Pickin' Cotton" (1928) Australian Cinema Organ recording

And, for no other reason than I happen to have it handy, and that it's a great little recording despite some odd sonic qualities, here's a 1928 Australian cinema orchestra recording of "Totem Tom Tom" from "Rose-Marie," which also incorporates "Pretty Things" (Friml) from Act II of the musical production. (Thanks to Joseph Rubin, of the Canton Comic Opera Company, for identifying this piece!)

"Totem Tom Tom" (1928) Australian Cinema Orchestra


A Rose Marie by any other name is still... Ok, so it doesn't work, but a segue like that doesn't present itself often! Of course, I'm speaking of Baby Rose Marie. It's 1930, and in the fascinating piece that follows, the Child Wonder is visited by Central Press staff writer Alma Sioux Scarberry. It all rings very true too, for better or worse:

"For two years we have heard Rose Marie on the air, have seen her in vaudeville, and occasionally in a talkie short. Her voice and manner in her act are totally unlike that of a child. Deep, hard boiled, coon-shouting, uncanny, so pathetically unlike a little baby girl that, in a woman's heart at least, it stirs a maternal resentment."

The other day, Rose Marie played hostess for an interview. We met her with curiosity, prepared to find that she was a child several years older than she was billed. But she isn't. She is a little slip of a five-year-old, with dark brown hair, almost black. Latin eyes, kiddish teeth, wide apart and, like the average healthy, mischievous child, always stirring like a busy bee."

"At first she sat primly in a chair as she had no doubt been told to do, and confided: 'I got a little brother Frankie, nine months old. Gee, he's a swell kid. I was only three when I started to sing. Frankie sings now -- honest he does. You know where I live? Why, on the Lower East Side between Avenue B and C. I got about a hundred kids to play with. I like to play out on the street. Once I went to kindergarten for a day, but Mama had me all cleaned up and a bad kid stepped on the back of my shoes and I went home and I said I don't want to go back to that dirty school and Mama says she guesses I'm right -- and I ain't gone back neither.'"

"She showed that she could write 'Baby,' but the Rose Marie stumped her and she printed it laboriously. That is all she knows of her three R's. She does not read at all. However, she knows the words and music of more than 70 jazz songs, and can sing them with all of the 'It' and come-hither motions of a warbling Clara Bow. She never forgets a song once she has learned it."

"Her father is Frank Curley, an Italian, formerly a hoofer and banjo player in vaudeville. When asked what she was going to do with all the money she is earning, the child looked surprised. 'Buy dresses, of course. What else is there for a woman to spend money on?' 'You might buy an airplane,' it was suggested. But she shuddered. 'Get me up in one of those awful old crates? Not much!' She likes dancing and monkeys. 'Not live ones. Just fakes.' Baby Rose Marie's money will soon take her family out of the muck of the Lower East Side --- into what? It will be interesting to observe the career of this strange little child prodigy. Her repartee is as old as her voice. Somehow, we wish they'd have waited a few years."

The previous year, film reviews didn't have much to say about Jolson's "Say It With Songs," ("The primary fault rests in the story itself. In the obvious attempt to force tears into the audience's eyes, the authors and director have dipped liberally into the bag holding the old hokum reliables.") but held nothing back in describing the Baby Rose Marie Vitaphone one-reeler that accompanied Jolson's third talkie: "Baby Rose Marie, who has starred in Vitaphone vehicles, is destined to become one of the screen's greatest talkie attractions. Nor need fandom be surprised to find her paired with Davey Lee, in a Warner feature. She sang two numbers last night, with 'Don't Be Like That,' literally bringing the house down."

"Don't Be Like That" (1929) - Baby Rose Marie

While I don't think we can reasonably lament the fact that a screen pairing of Davey Lee and Baby Rose Marie never took place, not so with the early 1930 announcement that the little torch singer would be joining the cast of RKO's oft-mentioned proposed screen version of Victor Herbert's "Babes In Toyland," where she would have joined the likes of Bebe Daniels and Wheeler & Woolsey in what would have surely been a vastly interesting production, to say the least.

A busy year for the child, was 1930. A six month vaudeville tour, an NBC radio contract (which followed a series of local broadcasts from Atlantic City, NJ) and numerous guest spots on other radio shows:


27 May 1930: "Baby Rose Marie, five year old prodigy of radio, vaudeville and motion pictures, will be a special feature of a program ("The Pure Oil Hour") to be broadcast at 7 o'clock from station WJZ over the NBC network. She will be supported by an orchestra under the direction of Vincent Lopez, and will be heard in songs for which she is famous."

31 August 1930: "Gus Edwards, who wrote the most famous school song of all, will present a Back-To-School program on the RKO Radio Hour. With him on the program will be some of the most noted youngsters in the show world, among them Jane and Katherine Lee, Borah Minnevitch and his Rascals, and Baby Rose Marie."

Given the notoriously low survival rate of radio transcriptions dating from 1929 and 1930, we can be a bit forgiving in listening to this problematic audio artifact of "Whispering" Jack Smith and Baby Rose Marie's delightful duet performance of the tune "All I Want Is Y-O-U" from 1930:

"All I Want Is Y-O-U" (1930) Transcription fragment

Also offered, an orchestral rendition of the same melody as utilized in the Vitaphone score recorded specifically for the foreign-release version of Sophie Tucker's "Honky Tonk" (1929.) I've let the excerpt run on, so as to include "I'm Doing What I'm Doing For Love," simply because it's equally fine.

Vitaphone Disc Excerpt from "Honky Tonk" - Foreign Release

It's quite another Rose Marie that we encounter in March of 1938 on the inaugural broadcast of another NBC radio venture that seems a world away from 1930 and we leave Rose Marie here... not as the hard-boiled babbling little girl with an aura of sadness about her, but as a confident young teenager with a magnificent voice leaving the broadcast studio to step out into the brilliant Winter sunshine flooding Rockefeller Center, the brisk wind catching and snapping the myriad of flags surrounding the plaza like so many ties to the past being snipped once and for all --- The Lower East Side, dirty shoes and fake monkeys a dim memory.

The Rose Marie Show (NBC Transcription Disc) - 14 March 1938

Lingering a bit longer with early radio, here's a curiosity worth listening to at least once ---

A fragment of a transcribed music show titled "The Dixie Shoe Steppers," which can be spotted in radio listings from mid-1929 to early-1930, although all 60 or so transcriptions were recorded in New York (by Brunswick) in October and November of 1929. The transcription discs played throughout most of the U.S., and even made it clear to Kingston, Jamaica (right.)

This extremely noisy excerpt from Broadcast Record #53, features spirited renditions of "Painting the Clouds With Sunshine" and "Lonesome Little Doll," was recorded on November 4th of 1929...

The Dixie Shoe Steppers (1929)

Whenever early recording artist supreme, Billy Murray, teamed up with Walter Scanlan in the late 1920's, the results were usually grand --- if not more than a bit unusual, blending vaudeville type patter with popular melodies of the day. Tunes from early musicals were called into play for two such recordings, one being "Big City Blues" from "Fox Movietone Follies" (1929) and the other, which we have with us here, "Painting the Clouds With Sunshine," from "Gold Diggers of Broadway" --- also from 1929.

Incidentally, there's long been a bit of confusion about Murray's recording partner's name, which is alternately listed as either Walter Van Brunt or Walter Scanlan (or even "Scanlon") depending on the source. The back-story to all this is that in 1917, Walter Van Brunt decided to use the professional name of Walter Scanlan (likely to disassociate himself from a Germanic sounding name at a point when WWI jitters had taken hold.) Although he wouldn't revert to the old name following the end of the war, he utilized it (and forgive me if details are vague!) to remain married to Mrs. Van Brunt and --- concurrently --- father a child with a Mrs. Scanlon. By 1925, it all came out into the open --- but somehow Walter managed to avoid having the much publicized incident to do much damage, if any, to his career --- a surprise in of itself.

In listening to the team's rendition of "Painting the Clouds With Sunshine," (I wish I could offer a better sounding version --- but every one I've ever heard all seem to originate from the same poor master) it's fun to ponder, when Scanlan's imaginary wife telephones him, just which one of the two popped into his mind at the time. That aside, it's a beautiful bit of audio --- except for that dreadful closing gag, that is!

"Painting the Clouds With Sunshine" (1929) Billy Murray & Walter Scanlan


Gus Van and Joe Schenck, frequent residents of these pages, are seen here in what appears to be the very late 'teens or early '20's --- participating in a charity benefit of some sort, that required the team to do two things they apparently loved dearly, playing baseball and performing for the public.

Photos that capture unguarded moments such as these are always especially satisfying, for they put the viewer very much in the moment they were taken --- especially when they're of such fine visual quality as these (click to enlarge!)

It's easy to "feel" this moment --- the woolen uniforms, the sun radiating warmth upwards from the scruffy turf, the sound of water sloshing in the galvanized bucket and the crinkling of the wax paper wrapped about the sandwich Joe Schenck is finishing off.

All that's missing are Van & Schenck's voices, and we'll correct that now. While surely dating from some 7 or 8 years later than the day on which these images were captured, the team's "Stay Out of the South," from a late 1920's Metrotone short subject, seems a suitable choice to accompany these sunny, cheerful images.

"Stay Out of the South" - Van & Schenck

The Warner Bros. serio-comic "Dancing Sweeties" of 1930 badly needed a hit tune to carry the melancholy film, and while it did reasonably well with the sickly "Kiss Waltz," it'd likely be a far more fondly recalled film today if someone hadn't seen fit to cut "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes" from the final release print. The excised tune went on to enjoy greater and longer lasting popularity than the film ever did, but it's interesting to try and puzzle out just where the melody would have been used, and who would have performed it.

No matter, we have Irving Kaufman with us now --- backed by the Royal Marimba Band, no less, to divert our attention away from such silly pondering. Irving? It's all yours...

"Dancing With Tears In My Eyes" (1930) - Mr. Kaufman



True, Sammy Fain could never sing with anywhere near the same degree of sensuality that Maurice Chevalier could always muster up effortlessly in his earliest talkies, but we wouldn't have "You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me," were it not for Mr. Fain --- so I'll reserve any and all further criticism as we listen to the "Crooning Composer" put over his own creation --- um, admirably. Great accompaniment here too!

"You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me" (1930)

No connection, no segue either --- but let's make a bit more room before closing this entry to allow The Riverside Dance Orchestra (Harry Bidgood, in actuality) put over "Happy Feet" from Universal's 1930 revue, "The King of Jazz." You'll be glad we did.

"Happy Feet" (1930) The Riverside Dance Orchestra

Rosetta & Vivian Duncan, au natural --- or nearly so, but quite free of the usual blackface or juvenile trappings we're accustomed to seeing.

When Time magazine bothered to take note of such things, Paul Specht & His Orchestra's recording of two tunes from The Duncan Sisters' 1929 film "It's A Great Life" (MGM) received special mention ---

"Best tunes from the cinema's 'It's a Great Life,' in which an expert male quartet assists Paul Specht's horns."

There's little to add to that --- which, for Time magazine, amounts to a gushing rave, so let's listen in...

"I'm Following You" (1930) Paul Specht

"I'm Sailing on a Sunbeam" (1930) Paul Specht

Lastly, since this post had Entrance Music of a kind, it's only fitting to look about for something to serve as Exit Music...

Here then, is a bit of just that from the 1929 Tiffany film "The Great Gabbo," which has been tweaked a bit to re-introduce a sense of theater acoustics --- say, if you were in the third balcony or perhaps out in the lobby waiting for the next show to begin. Imperfect to be sure, but with a bit more presence and "oomph" than exists on the overly cleaned and scrubbed (i.e. drained of highs and lows) soundtrack that now accompanies the otherwise magnificently restored print.

Until next time! (And, thanks for sticking with me, folks!)



Exit Music - "The Great Gabbo" (1929)

###

Baby Rose Marie's Vitaphone subject didn't always
accompany Jolson's "Say It With Songs."
Lima, Ohio - 9 September 1929


Alternate text-heavy edition of
Baby Rose Marie's "Ripley's Believe it or Not" Entry
11 September 1930


Just one of many reasons why
Colleen Moore's 1929 talkie "Footlights and Fools"
needs to be located. (I refuse to say "lost!")


"The Lost World" (1925)
Still being booked into theaters in late 1928


Murray & Scanlan - Radio, 1930's

Walter Scanlan - Kingston, NY - 16 November 1921


Pals...


1930...



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8 comments:

Joe said...

Jeff: Thank you for another interesting article. The Coffee Dan's record was particularly -- I don't quite know what to call it. It inspired me to go at lunchtime and take a photo of the building that used to house Coffee Dan's, at Powell and O'Farrell. Later it housed Omar Khayyam's Restaurant, but had been vacant for many years. Now I see that they are remodeling. The entrance with the slide was on the corner of the building next to the hotel sign. The photo includes Powell Street cable car 9.

http://www.cable-car-guy.com/images/9_powell_ofarrell_070524.jpg

Regards,
Joe Thompson ;0)

Jeff Cohen said...

While writing that piece, I found that there was quite an expansive chain of "Coffee Dan" restaurants, but aside from the name they didn't seem to be of the same lineage. Information was very spotty --- and more than once, it was mentioned as having been a notorious speakeasy that patrons entered via a hidden slide from the sidewalk. Lovely thought, but it didn't ring true.

That aside, thanks for the photo, Joe --- and, as always, for taking the time to write!

Jeff

Anna said...

Can't thank you enough for the 'Banjoreno'. I've wanted to get hold of that song for awhile - ever since I heard it on Radiola (the internet radio show). Haunting and cheerful is about as accurate a description as you can find for such an oddity - I love the violin (fiddle?) part.

Also - have you seen www.colleenmoore.org? Not my site, but it seems someone wants to do a Colleen Moore biography. I really hope it gets off the ground, maybe you'd be interested to follow any progress?

To sum up, thanks for the usual great post and great to see your back! Please keep up the great work - for all our enjoyment!

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeff,

I wanted to answer your question on you most recent blog posting asking what the other song title is in the "Totem Tom Tom" medley recording. The song is "Pretty Things" from Act II of ROSE MARIE written by Friml.

I greatly enjoy all of your updates on Vitaphone Varieties, especially the recording of gems of MERCENARY MARY (a show I have read about, but never found any recordings) and the entire fascinating post about J. Harold Murray, one of my favorite 1920s operetta stars. I look forward to more operetta and musical comedy recordings and content in the future.

Thanks,
Joseph Rubin
Executive Director
Canton Comic Opera Company
www.cantoncomicoperaco.com

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Just discovered your wonderful blog, and am making my way through the archives. If you hear a lot of rattling in the cellar, don't worry. It's just me.

N_Phay said...

One of the stills of Doctor Macro's site shows Corinne Griffith standing in front of the exact same prop that can be seen in your still of "Footlights and Fools":

http://www.doctormacro.info/Images/Griffith,%20Corinne/Annex/Annex%20-%20Griffith,%20Corinne_09.jpg


Your blog is always a pleasure to read, many thanks for all the work you've put into it.

I dream of the day when Ms Moore's extant films make it to DVD. She is a treat. I'm not holding my breath, though.

Jeff Cohen said...

That would surely be from Griffith's LILIES OF THE FIELD (1930), a film I'd dearly love to see --- were it not deemed lost. The NYTimes review is among my favorites, terming Griffith "that sad, sad actress."

Let's hope that when Moore's "Why Be Good?" and "Synthetic Sin" emerge from the restoration process they'll be screened more than twice (one screening per coast of the United States, that is) before being hurried off to points unknown.

Thanks for writing, and it should be noted that anything I >so< enjoy doing could never be considered "work."

Jeff

N_Phay said...

A further bit of prop-spotting - on watching "Female" w/Ruth Chatterton the other night, look what's decorating her swimming pool:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/16804034@N00/3140862475/

(this, on top of the swimming pool itself very obviously being the set from "By a Waterfall"!) You know you got it bad when you start recognising the props....