25 September 2007

"It Doesn't Have To Be Lobster"

A new season of "Vitaphone Varieties" posts --- and one which will feature a more prolific posting schedule --- must begin with apology for the delay, due entirely to file server outages that did not permit uploads, curbed downloads and refused inquiries as to why. (Indeed, if any reader can recommend a reliable file-server, do let me know?)

Kicking things off, two of the finest recordings of two melodies from a film that should seem an old friend, if not a close acquaintance, by now.

Here's Jean Goldkette & His Orchestra letting loose in richly spirited and lush renditions of: "Painting the Clouds With Sunshine," and "Tip Toe Thru the Tulips," from -- need you ask? -- "The Gold Diggers of Broadway."

Captured here by the camera lens as it looked on a random day in 1919 --- a neatly arranged and sedate phonograph store window --- at a time when the owner would be hard pressed to imagine a day when his shop, it's product line and likely the entire structure that the shop inhabited wouldn't exist as even a living memory.

It's curious then that the contents of the shop --- phonographs and recordings, should linger on so persistently, albeit in forms and in use far removed from their original purposes. Vintage phonographs are, in the best circumstances, rescued, salvaged and collected, restored, lovingly tended to and played often.

Then too, and alas, a good many of these survivors sit sadly in the corner of rooms serving as little more than a visual curiosity or decorating accent --- their wooden and iron frames silently aching to again vibrate with the music they were designed to play but instead left to harbor dust and termites --- their bodies turned into a lifeless husk that once, long ago, pulsated with music and rhythm. With life.

To kick off this new season of blog entries, and to ease our way into what I plan (or at least hope!) to be a considerably more prolific positing schedule, we have both an artist and a recording that defy the passage of time. Behold Irene Bordoni (right) jauntily perched atop an ocean liner deck fitting, circa 1927 or thereabouts. Fashions of the period, so alien and yet oddly familiar at the same time to our eyes, are here taken to new heights --- with an elaborately stitched design serving as a cryptographic monogram ("eye" + "bee" = I.B.) and stockings imprinted with both Bordoni's visage and one of another gentleman I'm hesitant to guess the identity of. Any thoughts, readers?

The tune, "Let's Misbehave" is from Cole Porter's "Paris," the 1928 stage production that would, in time, reach the screen in somewhat altered musical form as a similarly titled 1929 Warner Bros. part-Technicolor production which survives today only via Vitaphone disc sound elements.

An image, word and audio "reconstruction" of the lost 1929 film "Paris" is in preparation for these pages, and it promises to be one of the more interesting posts of this sort --- watch for it! But, in the meantime, here's Miss Bordoni accompanied by Irving Aaronson & His Commanders:

"Let's Misbehave" (1928) Irene Bordoni

"You could have a great career, and you should.
Only one thing stops you dear, you're too good!
If you want a future darling, why don't you get a past?"

Now, for some old business. An earlier post, "A Summer Idyll" (13 August 2007) lightly explored the abandoned Metro revue "The March of Time" and its participants, and focused upon the equally stirring and melancholy "Father Time" finale in particular. But what of the rest of the film? Do we know what and whom it would have contained? What it all would have looked and sounded like? Cautiously, yes --- yes we do.

Scheduled for release in September of 1930 (it was originally designed as MGM's "Hollywood Revue of 1930,") "The March of Time" would have had the interesting construction of being divided into three sections -- The Past, Present and Future. While documentation is sketchy at best --- and verification nearly impossible, "The March of Time" may have unspooled thus:

The Past:

Joe Weber and Lew Fields: "Pool Hall Sketch"
Louis Mann: "Chicken Routine"
Fay Templeton: "My Dusky Dixie Rose"
Albertina Rasch Dancers: "Hippodrome Spectacle"
Marie Dressler & William Collier: Sketch

Also appearing: DeWolfe Hopper, Barney Fagan and Josephine Sabel.

The Present:

The Dodge Twins:
"The Lock Step"
Ramon Novarro: "Long Ago in Alcala"
Albertina Rasch Dancers: "Devil's Ballet"
The Duncan Sisters: "Graduation Day"
Raquel Torres: "Clocks"
"Poor Little G-String" (off-screen vocal by Bing Crosby)

Also appearing: Cliff Edwards, Benny Rubin, Gus Shy, Lottice Howell, Polly Moran, Karl Dane and George K. Arthur, and David Percy.

The Future:

"Gus Edwards Kiddie Revue"
Meyers & White "Dogville" troupe
"Robot" & "Steel" themed dance numbers
"Here Comes the Sun"
"The Merry Go Round"
"The March of Time" Finale

Surviving complete sequences and fragments such as "A Girl, A Fan and A Fellow" (which exists in the 1933 2-reeler "Nertsery Rhymes") and glimpses of a gigantic violin and snowball fight (in the 1933 feature "Broadway to Hollywood") were, I suspect, elements of the "Hippodrome Spectacle" featured in "The Past" segment --- but that, like most everything else we know about "The March of Time," is limited to conjecture, opinion and interpretation of the barest clutch of facts.

The immensely composed and comfortable looking fellow seated to the right is musician Marlin E. ("Whitey") Kaufman, who --- within a scant few years from this portrait date --- would form a moderately successful East Coast band, "Whitey Kaufman's Original Pennsylvania Serenaders" that lasted into the mid/late 1930's. It's an evocative and interesting photograph --- a lone chair pulled into the center of an empty dance-floor a short while before a performance (Kaufman is too perfectly groomed and arranged for this to have been after playing for two hours!) and there's a marvelous air of confidence and satisfaction about Kaufman that's hard to describe. He just seems so right --- so firmly attached --- to this moment in time. Unfortunately, Kaufman's banjo is difficult to discern in the following 1925 recording, but we can't move along before allowing him this chance to be heard from across a great distance indeed...

"Paddlin' Madelin' Home" (1925)

There's little I can tell you about this next offering, but items of this sort don't flit through these pages often so it's deserving of a bit of background. Provided by blog reader Gary Scott, what we have here is an excerpt of a Tri-Ergon synchronized disc transfer of the optical soundtrack for the 1930 German musical film revue "Delikatessen," these discs presumably prepared for theaters solely wired for the Vitaphone style sound-on-disc system.

The melody (which starts out sounding much like the American tune "My Blackbirds are Bluebirds Now") is titled "Es Muss Nicht Hummer Sein," which translates to "It Doesn't Have To Be Lobster."

As performed by Daniele Parola (left) it's a sprightly enough number and although my German is more than rusty, clearly the gist of the piece is that for (at least) some girls, the simple pleasures are the ones most heartily appreciated and that the need to impress is unwarranted.

The tune was popular enough at the time of the film's release ("Delikatessen" still survives, incidentally) gain recording and 78rpm release by a few German dance bands of the period and even without knowledge of the language it's easy to get caught up in the spirit of the number today. So here, sans crustacean (or mayonnaise) is:

"Delikatessen" (1930) -"Es Muss Nicht Hummer Sein"

Follow Up: The much anticipated DVD release of "Alibi" (1929,) "The Lottery Bride" (1930) and "Be Yourself" yielded not entirely unexpected results.

On the positive side, all three titles look and sound better than we'll ever likely see and hear them (and kudos to Kino Video for that!) but beyond that they're all problematic in terms of content and presentation which, for the most part, is utterly bare-bones.

"Alibi" is as it was on it's TCM airing (re-created opening titles and stray remaining frames indicating missing footage) but despite Kino's claim of restoration of the original soundtrack ("which had been recorded on disc and edited in a primitive manner") the end result is simply overly aggressive noise-filtering which clips off all highs and lows and leaves a muddy middle range where dialogue, music and sound effects all do constant battle. The film itself reigns supreme however, and "Alibi" won't disappoint on that count despite the minor imperfections and stark presentation.

"Be Yourself" is, unfortunately, the familiar truncated print that's been in circulation many a moon now (Brice is seen costuming for --- but never performing "I'm Sascha, the Passion of the Pasha") but the image and audio sparkles as never before, the latter happily escaping any attempts at "restoration."

An earlier post that explored the announcement of these titles (see: "Big Whoopee Show" - 14 July 2007) had high hopes indeed for "The Lottery Bride," but the absence of missing footage and Technicolor is compounded by careless mangling of facts in the disc's supplementary material. ("The Lottery Bride" is the only title to feature an "extra" of any sort, and here it's simply notes.) According to the DVD, the title's Technicolor footage amounted to a few frames depicting the arctic Northern Lights and a "tableau of the actors was matted into the shot." In actuality, the second half of the film's final reel was originally in the Technicolor process, and the footage (which survives intact) was made available for screening at London's British Film Institute a few short years ago.

To Kino's credit however, they do acknowledge the film's much abbreviated length for this DVD version, and the Notes section offers up the same fanciful press-release regarding the film's (seemingly only proposed) Technicolor finale that appeared in these blog's pages long before the release of the DVD itself.

In all, these are minor and ultimately unimportant quibbles. The fact remains that DVD release of material from the early sound era is, in of itself, cause for celebration and admiration for Kino's ongoing efforts to make available titles we wouldn't otherwise have with us on the DVD format. Now, where's "Puttin' On the Ritz?"

You wouldn't think it to look at him, but the youthful fellow pictured left is musician, composer and bandleader Roger Wolfe Kahn --- a name that'll be more than familiar to 20's & 30's disc collectors. What you may not know is that Kahn formed his own orchestra at the age of sixteen, in 1923. Over the coming years some of the most important names in music would be featured in Kahn's recordings, including Red Nichols, Joe Venuti, Artie Shaw and Eddie Lang --- to name just a few.

Here's Kahn's orchestra in 1928 performing "Dance Little Lady" from the Noel Coward/Charles B. Cochran revue "This Year of Grace," which had a run of 157 performances at New York City's Selwyn Theater between November of 1928 and March of 1929. (Oddly, I see that the day of this posting also marks the anniversary of Charles Cochran's 1872 birth.) The vocalist is Franklyn Baur, who's a bit lost in the swirling orchestration, don't you think?

"Dance, Little Lady" (1928) Roger Wolfe Kahn

Before moving on to our next selection, let's give Mr. Baur a bit more of a showcase for his vocal talent, this time in the form of the melody he introduced in "The Ziegfeld Follies of 1927." Accompanied by Ben Selvin & His Orchestra, Franklyn Baur steps forth with:

"Ooh! Maybe It's You!" (1927)

Klaxon voiced Irving Kaufman is seen here circa 1919, seeming quite the domestic soul and at a point in his career when he was frequently teamed on recordings with his brother, Jack. Specializing in dialect and comic songs, the pair frequently came off seeming like dime-store versions of Jones & Hare or Van & Schenck, but every now and then they'd strike out and produce a recording that's supremely original.

One such disc is the team's relatively minor but oh-so-integral vocal contribution to the Waldorf Astoria Dance Orchestra's 1919 recording of "The Vamp" --- a wildly popular tune that was recorded by just about every name band of the day. It's all pure joyful nonsense this, and the words mean even less --- but when all combined it's a musical time capsule of a nation teetering on the brink of a coming decade that would welcome and embrace such
unbridled glee as never before.

"The Vamp" (1919) Waldorf Astoria Dance Orchestra

From 1929 press material:

"It is unnecessary to travel to New York or Paris to see the dazzling stage revues that have made these cities the outstanding theatrical centers of the world."

"Those who attend Colleen Moore's newest dialogue picture, 'Footlights and Fools,' will see a brilliant revue, presented in Technicolor, with captivating melodies, as well as many of the same actors and actresses who formerly appeared in the world-famous extravaganzas."

"Max Sheck, until recently creator of the elaborate dance numbers and spectacles for the Ziegfeld Follies and the Folies Bergere of Paris, directed the stage numbers in 'Footlights and Fools' in which 72 chorus girls and men participate."

"Colleen appears in her last production for First National in the role of a plain girl who assumes a French accent and becomes the star of a musical production called 'Sins of 1930.'"

The only sin attached to "Footlights and Fools" as of this writing is that the film has seemingly vanished without a trace, with even the disc sound elements remaining elusive. Despite lukewarm critical reviews, the public turned out to hear Moore speak (and sing) in her dual role and once having done so, swiftly turned their attention elsewhere. Then too, prints supplied by the then hugely over-burdened Technicolor corporation seemed to be problematic too, as suggested by the New York Times' summary of the title as being "a film filled with scenes in color in which the characters appear as red as Indians."

The film did sport at least one popular melody, "If I Can't Have You," but by the time of the release even this featured melody was nearly a year old --- and that couldn't have helped.

"If I Can't Have You" (1928)
The Gerald Marks Tuller Hotel Orchestra

Removed from their pianos, stage and recording studio, we see Victor Arden and Phil Ohman on a crisp overcast day in the mid-1920's --- (they unofficially became a performing team in 1921) --- both doing their best to ignore the photographer and busily pretending to enact a day's outing.

The team would flourish during the decade, leading pit orchestras for such Gershwin musicals as "Lady Be Good," "Tip Toes," "Oh, Kay!" and "Funny Face" while maintaining a steady recording schedule for Brunswick, Columbia and others, with at least one Vitaphone short subject ("The Piano Dualists") lensed and recorded in 1927. Two representative examples of their fine work:

"Lucky Day" (1926)

"Dancing the Devil Away" (1930)
From the RKO musical film "The Cuckoos"

Arden & Ohman also figure in this next selection, which dates from March of 1924 but the real focus is upon the impeccably attired lady seen at the right who provides the vocal, Marion Harris. Looking vastly unlike someone who'd generate such emotion and heat on recordings like "I'm a Jazz Vampire," Miss Harris' plaintive expression here is perfectly suited though to "It Had To be You," an instantly familiar melody that is somehow difficult to equate with 1924 due to its timeless quality and use in countless films (and Warner Bros. cartoons) over decades.

Stripped of booming orchestration and instead locked into 1924 acoustics it seems quite a different melody and a product of a distant day indeed. Harris pauses to allow Arden & Ohman's pianos to emerge for a chorus, and the effect is charmingly plaintive.

(When you tire of examining Miss Harris, note instead how unbelievably clean this building entryway is!)

"It Had To Be You" (1924) Marion Harris, Arden & Ohman

Popular music of the late 'teens and early twenties ventured into foreign (or at least, "exotic") realms as often as not, and two of the biggest hits of this sort were "Dardanella" (1919) (discussed many times in these pages) and "Song of India" (1921) which would result in blockbuster recordings for, respectively, Paul Whiteman and Ben Selvin.

It's interesting that both tunes would prompt unofficial sequel or "answer recordings" of a sort --- one taking the curious position of praising the original and the other seeking to bury the omnipresent melody as swiftly as possible!

Vocalist Charles Harrison underestimates his own efforts and urges anyone within earshot of 1922 to "Play That Song of India Again," while Billy Murray and Ed Smalle point out from 1920 the various improvements contained within "The Dardanella Blues" (even though "the bass is just a little hard to play.")

Luckily, Ed Smalle (pictured right) doesn't seem the sort to harbor hard feelings, but I hasten to apologize nonetheless for not identifying his presence in a photo appearing in the previous post --- in which he can be seen at the piano in the company of Billy Murray and Aileen Stanley.

He's owed, then, this prime position of closing out this entry!

When not appearing on discs on his own, Smalle would be comfortably teamed with some of the most prolific recording artists of his day and no matter whom his partner --- Billy Murray, Vaughn DeLeath or Jerry Macy (to name but a few) it always seemed the perfect pairing --- a credit to his uncanny knack of being able to fall into step with whomever he shared a microphone with, neither overpowering them nor relegating himself to the shadows. There's not much room within a 78rpm groove, but Ed Smalle always seemed to intuitively know just how much was enough --- and that's not an unremarkable feat by any means.

One of my favorite of the many Billy Murray & Ed Smalle parings dates from 1923, but the melody took on a second life of sorts during the brief period in which it was utilized as a signature tune in Hal Roach's "Our Gang" comedies.

Heard (usually in the closing moments) of such two-reelers as "Bear Shooters," "A Tough Winter" and "When the Wind Blows" (all 1930) it becomes clear why the tune was selected when the lyrics are heard to "That Old Gang Of Mine," which laments the passage of time and mourns the changes which come to us all as we pass from youth to maturity.

1930 audiences wouldn't have been puzzled by the use of the tune, and now neither are we.

"That Old Gang of Mine" (1923) Murray & Smalle

While Smalle may seem uncharacteristically stiff on "That Old Gang of Mine" (it seems, for all the world, more like an initial run-through than a final recording) he and Murray are in perfect union --- spiritually and melodically --- on our next selection.

"Home In Pasadena" (1924) is one of many acoustic recordings that seem to cry out for the extra elbow-room that the soon-to-arrive electrical process would allow.

Despite the sonic limitations, there's so much to marvel at in this disc that to pine for improvement is quite beside the point. The voices of Murray and Smalle alternately link as one unified whole and then accent one another, while the flawless orchestration serves as a silver platter upon which to dish it all up.

Once heard, this one will linger with you long and often...

"Home in Pasadena" (1924)

The arrival of electrical recording would bring new shading and nuance to old familiar voices and it's oftentimes remarkable how startling the illusion of immediacy is within these early electrical discs.

Here, teamed with Vaughn DeLeath, is Ed Smalle in as dreamily romantic a realm as he would venture (which wasn't often) and the end product positively purrs along --- benefited by DeLeath's mellow pipes.

"Together We Two" (1927) Vaughn DeLeath & Ed Smalle

"Don't Get Up!" thoughtfully advises the armchair ensconced lady in this clever ad illustration for the Victor Orthophonic phonograph (kindly provided by blog reader Thomas Rhodes) and you're advised to take up her suggestion as well for the duration of this post's final selection.

Here, Ed Smalle is paired with Jerry Macy for a melody you've previously heard mastered by Billy Murray and Aileen Stanley. Neither better nor worse, it is --- certainly, decidedly different!

"Whadya Say We Get Together?" (1927)

Until We Get Together Next Time!


Poster Art - "The Desert Flower" (1925)

Can the Dodge Kiddies be far behind?

"Footlights and Fools" attempts to cheer a glum theater - Late 1929

News Oddities - Early 1930

Hope Springs Eternal

Come for the short subject - stay for the feature!

"The Vamp" - Sheet Music - 1919

"Everybody do the vamp,
Vamp until you get a cramp,
Grab your tootsie, hold her tight,
Shake a wicked knee,
she will fall for it!

Vamp all night and day,
Keep vamping till you vamp
your cares away.
Vamp the little lady,
vamp the little lady,
vamp the little lady,
vamp the little lady,

While they're playing,
just keep swaying,
Do a little 'what-not,'
do a little fox-trot,
When you cuddle up don't fight,
Vamp and swing along,
keep a doing it!

Vamp and sing a song,
don't you ruin it,
Do a nifty step,
with lots of 'pep,'
and watch your reputation!

Do a 'bumble bee,'
buzz a round a bit,
She will like it, maybe,
she will like it, maybe,
she will like it maybe,
oh, you pretty baby,

Make it good and snappy,
make it good and snappy,
make it good and snappy,
make it good and snappy,

Guess I got to go now,
guess I got to now,
everybody happy,
everybody happy,
everybody happy,


Harold Aherne said...

Dear Jeff,
As always, love your posts--my knowledge of this era is always enriched after having read them.

As far as I can tell, Whitey Kaufman lived from 5 Sep. 1899 to March 1984. The former date comes from the 1920 census where, in January of that year, 20 year old Marlin is shown as living with mother Nora and sister Grace in Lebanon County, PA. But try as I might, I cannot make out what's listed under "occupation". The latter date comes from social security records. In the census he's the only "Marlin Kaufman" listed and in the Social Secuity records he's the only one who was of adult age in the 20s.

Thanks for including the Ed Smalle photo! I always wondered what people like him and Gladys Rice looked like.


east side said...

While burning my VHS tapes to DVD, I made a deliberate decision not to include "Puttin' on the Ritz" (I taped it off AMC several years back). As a fan of old movies, it takes something really awful for me to get rid of one, and, sad to say, "Puttin' on the Ritz" took the prize. As an actor, Harry Richman makes Al Jolson look like Harvey Keitel, and his singing voice could wake the dead (who would probably object to being disturbed in such a way). I'd hate to think I erased the last copy in existence, but, believe me, it's no great loss.

Joe said...

Jeff: It was great to see and hear a new post. I enjoyed the many areas you covered. I have to say that Colleen Moore did not look like Colleen Moore in that poster.

Joe Thompson ;0)

Jeff Cohen said...

Harold: Much appreciate the additional info on "Whitey" Kaufman, and am glad you enjoyed seeing Ed Smalle. It's remarkable how a photograph --- a large, clear crisp one that's detailed enough to reveal all the beautifully human physical aspects --- can instantly change a disembodied voice attached to a name into someone we can almost expect to see suddenly emerge, breath and speak. A bridge across time, these images.


Jeff Cohen said...

East Side: Ah, but it's that very combination of awesome badness and sheer madness that makes RITZ such a joy! Richman's shmaltz laden style and Bennett's somnambulistic "not quite in the moment" presence are tempered by the Berlin score, the sets, the photography and the delightfully vitriolic Lilyan Tashman. No, I have to disagree -- RITZ belongs on DVD, and Kino is just the guy to do it! ;)


Jeff Cohen said...


Ah, but it wasn't Colleen Moore, it was Moore impersonating that French chanteuse in "Sins of 1930!" ;)

Er, yeah --- that's it!


Spencer Gill said...

Re: The Vamp

I would be surprized if I was the only one who noticed that the tune "The Vamp" (it is a lot of fun) was reworked by the Fleischers for the great cartoon BIMBO'S INITIATION. The lyrics became:

"We're all members of the group ...
Do you want to be a member?
Do you want to be a member?"

Spener Gill (opticalguy1954@yahoo.com)

Jeff Cohen said...

Spencer: Take comfort --- you're not alone in knowing that bit of trivia, and indeed its the rare animation buff who can listen to "The Vamp" >without< hearing "'wanna be a member? 'wanna be a member?" as it plays. The tune lent itself to free adjustment of the lyrics, and I recall hearing one wonderful version --- long ago, wherein Billy Murray (I believe) chanted "dig a little deeper, dig a little deeper" throughout much of it, turning the vamp into not only a vamp but a gold digging vamp too!

Thanks for writing!