30 September 2007

"Ne Plus Ultra"

It's always fun to explore early talkies that are lost or obscure, and here we have one that's both lost and obscure, the RayArt production "The Heart of Broadway," which seems to have bowed sometime in very early 1929 and skittered across a handful of screens before vanishing --- apparently forever --- by spring of that year.

As described in a Connellsville, Pennsylvania newspaper:

"Bobby Agnew, always a favorite with film fans, certainly holds up his record in 'The Heart of Broadway,' the new Rayart drama of night life which opened at the Paramount Theater today. He has the role of Billy Winters, a 'hoofer' in a cabaret, who, because he believes the girl he loves has killed a man in self protection, confesses to the crime himself to save her from the Tombs. She is innocent of the crime as well, and how the whole tragic affair is straightened out and those two youngsters find their happiness affords splendid fare."

"Above all, the picture is realistic, and to those who enjoy the study of modern life and its complexities, we recommend a visit to the Paramount Theater during its run. Pauline Garon is the girl, and she plays her part admirably, as she always does. Others in the excellent case include Wheeler Oakman, Duke Lee and Oscar Apfel. It was produced and directed by Duke Worne, from an original story."

Odd that a film with so solid (if not earth shattering) clutch of working talent should have fallen so completely off of film history radar. Director Duke Worne had some 70 films notched in his belt by 1928 (and had previously been a film actor from 1914 onward,) while Pauline Garon had recently appeared in Paramount's well received "Redskin" and Warners' "The Gamblers" that same year. Why, even our old friend Wheeler Oakman is here too --- and this talkie business must have seemed old hat indeed to the gentleman who had the misfortune of uttering "Take him for a ride" in Warners' "The Lights of New York" of 1928. Interestingly, the leading man of "The Heart of Broadway," Bobby Agnew ("always a favorite with film fans") appears to have had a stint as a dance director, most notably on "Gold Diggers of 1933" if online film databases are to be considered accurate.

Particularly interesting is mention of the sound for "The Heart of Broadway" being provided via the services of "The Synchrophone," a device that doesn't seem to have been associated with any other contemporary production than this one.

But, the Syncrophone --- like "The Heart of Broadway," remains a mystery for at least now. Lost technology and a lost film.

The 1928 synchronized "Show Girl," also a lost film, was described thus in prepared press materials utilized for a November 1928 run in San Antonio, Texas:

"Alice White comes into her own as a full-fledged star for First National in 'Show Girl,' which is showing this week at the Aztec Theater. Not only does she justify the judgment of her producers in selecting her for this role, but she delivers a very entertaining screen play. 'Show Girl' is a story of Dixie Dugan, a world-wise chorus girl, and was written by J.P. McEvoy, and enjoyed a wide circulation in a national magazine. It is filled with the wisest of wise-cracks, and clever situations, and revolves around this girl whose ambition is to become the toast of Broadway -- but not without the aid of a go-getting newspaper reporter. How this chap keeps her on the front pages is a scream, and all the time she is falling in love with him -- but his love making is confined to one sentence, 'S'long, I'll be seein' you.'"

"After she is kidnapped by a hot-blooded Chilean and after she has been publicized to such an extent that she is rushed to the star role of a musical comedy and after all that and more -- she does the truly feminine thing and goes into a tantrum because Jimmy, the newspaper fellow, doesn't even come to the opening performance. But all ends well when he admits he wrote the show, and has loved her all along."

"It is good entertainment and is enhanced by synchronization by Vitaphone. This score differs from the average inasmuch as it is done by a jazz band, and plays the entire picture with a clever arrangement which includes many comedy characteristic numbers which makes the comedy scenes between Kate Price and James Finlayson much funnier than they would be silent. Donald Reed, Charles Delaney and Robert Tucker are chief among the supporting cast."

Although the press release describes the musical accompaniment as being provided by a "jazz band," and the print ad laying claim to a "symphony of 110 pieces," it's likely that the reality was somewhere in between the two and that the score (with incidental sound effects) was much like the one that accompanies Colleen Moore's 1928 "Why Be Good?" --- which suggests it was a magnificent score indeed.

Audiences arriving to see "Show Girl" in a late October screening in Waterloo, Iowa were urged to stay for the late night run of Warners' "The Haunted House." With audience members invited to come as they were --- costumes included, that's one destination I'd dearly love to visit via a time machine. Worked into the score for "Show Girl" were two melodies which enjoyed moderate success on 78rpm disc, and here they are --- as performed by Ben Pollack & His Park Central Hotel Orchestra:

"She's One Sweet Show Girl" (1928)

"Buy Buy For Baby (Or Baby Will Bye-Bye You)" (1928)

Pausing a moment in this realm of Broadway, show girls and the broken hearts that can't be far behind, we have three audio fragments from the 1929 Columbia musical film "Broadway Scandals," which (unless I've been misinformed) survives in intact form within vaults as the studio's first entry into the screen musical genre yet, typically, remains kept out of view. Having encountered the film only via a set of very battered sound discs its difficult to form even so much as a sense of how the film looked and moved, but it appears to have featured at least one very elaborate musical set piece, "The Rhythm of the Tambourine," which can also be heard here.

Left: Columbia Phonograph Co. sound disc for the first reel of Howard Hughes' "Hell's Angels"

"Broadway Scandals" (1929) - Opening Title Theme

"Rhythm of the Tambourine" (1929) - Orchestra & Chorus

"What Is Life Without Love" (1929) - Jack Egan

In equally glum, although not unnecessary, limbo is "Chasing Rainbows," the 1929 Metro musical that re-teamed Bessie Love and Charles King (of "Broadway Melody" fame) and then went one step further by adding such stellar supporting players as Marie Dressler, Polly Moran, Jack Benny and George K. Arthur --- as well as some flash and sparkle insurance in the form of an eye-popping Technicolor finale and a string of tunes that included "Happy Days Are Here Again," "Lucky Me - Lovable You," "Love Ain't Nothin' But the Blues," "Do I Know What I'm Doing?" and "Everybody Tap"--- along with two comic specialty numbers for the grand Marie Dressler.

Surviving today without the final color reel, a situation which presents seemingly insurmountable presentation problems for cable schedulers, "Chasing Rainbows" (along with 1930's screen version of "Good News" which is also missing its prismatic tag end) is --- for all the intrigue surrounding it --- a dismal affair. The following honest-to-goodness film review (as opposed to press release) by Wood Soanes, which appeared in newspapers in March of 1930, puts it all plainly and clearly:

"'Chasing Rainbows' lived up to its title in a way yesterday. A troupe of competent performers chased the rainbows of entertainment up and down back alleys until they were breathless, the audience was exhausted, and when the pot of gold did appear, it was full of counterfeit nickels."

"The story of this newest backstage yarn is not only formula but it is excessive length. There are such saps as the one portrayed by Charles King in the small time, of course, but there's no good reason why their thick wits should be paraded outside of their own dizzy element."

"Here is King impersonating with a good deal of success an egotistical ham named Terry who has been waited on hand and foot by a cute little partner, played by Bessie Love, for a matter of five years. A blind man could see that she is head over heels in love with him, but Terry is so wrapped up in himself, so gullible and so fat-headed that he doesn't wake up until the last foot of the last reel."

"The amusement to be had from 'Chasing Rainbows' is not to be found in the story although it possesses a number of excellent individual performances. Jack Benny, for example, turns in a capital performance as the harried stage manager of the troupe; Marie Dressler does one comedy song that is excellent and contributes some other scenes with Polly Moran that are laughable."

"Scattered throughout the picture are scenes containing chuckles and had it not been for the profusion of back-stage yarns, there might have been some interested in the pictures behind the footlights. But, 'The Broadway Melody' and the others that have followed have taken all the snap out of this business and the story of 'Chasing Rainbows' is forced to rise or fall on its own ingeniousness. It falls with the well-known d. and s. thud."

"Several of the scenes in 'Chasing Rainbows' are done in colors and the workmanship here is of a high order. 'Happy Days Are Here Again' is used as a sort of theme song and it has a good bit of spirit to it. 'Lucky Me - Lovable You' is also worked in and out of the tale with harmonious effect. But there the matter ends. 'Chasing Rainbows' is... well, chasing rainbows."

To be sure, portions of "Chasing Rainbows" seem so closely duplicates of similar moments in the earlier "Broadway Melody" that the effect is surreal --- not least of all a reprise of Bessie Love's crying-laughing-crying jag that is extended to such a length that it almost becomes uncomfortable to watch. But, as with most problematic films, there are moments and performances that soar. Charles King is in fine voice, the photography and settings always entertain the eye, and all is well with the world whenever Dressler is in view.

"Lucky Me - Lovable You" (1930) Alfredo's Band

"Happy Days Are Here Again" (1930)
The Frisco Players, with vocal by Irving Kaufman

"Love Ain't Nothin' But the Blues" (1930)

Frankie Trumbaur & His Orchestra

"Lucky Me - Lovable You" - Charles King

An entire string of posts, if not a full length book, could (and should) be written about Mae Murray --- dancer, silent film and talkie actress --- a fascinating, clearly troubled, larger than life character who's unceasing cascade of personal misfortunes and scandals would be right at home on this week's television entertainment "news magazines."

But, the world was a different place when Mae strutted across it --- and instead of finding herself increasingly adored, revered, cheered and emulated with each speed bump she hit (as she certainly would be today) she was instead gently but unmistakably shoved further and further back into the shadows of obscurity until she herself became little more than a painted shadow, a grotesque distortion of Mae Murray circa 1925 imprisoned in an aging and bloated form that was mercifully invisible to her alone.

For this post, a glimpse at Murray's first talking picture, "Peacock Alley," a Tiffany-Stahl production of 1929, as a close examination of the film isn't easily accomplished owing to the film's current status of existing largely in the form of incomplete and horrendously battered prints bereft of the film's most intriguing (and notorious) moments, a solo vocalization of the film's theme song by Murray and the final Technicolor reel. (There does seem to be a recurring theme to this post after all, it seems!)

Although sharing the same title as a 1922 Mae Murray silent feature, the 1929 "Peacock Alley" is, in sum, a great deal of melodramatic hand-wringing about, when you come right down to it, an uncomfortable but hardly shattering misunderstanding. Having said that, I'll add that it's precisely the sort of absurdly tangled circumstance you'd expect to see Mae Murray (and her character) involved in, and if you can view the film (it's readily available via numerous public domain DVD distributors) try and mentally blur the line between fiction and reality and you'll be in for a dainty cinematic thrill ride of the sort where a dip of but a few inches is treated as a careening plunge --- uniquely the sort of cinematic experience that can only usually be found in product of the early sound years.

Contemporary press material assumed that the similarly titled 1922 version was still clearly a topic of conversation among 1930 audiences, and describes the plot and on-screen action neatly:

"'Mae Murray in Peacock Alley.' You have heard that before, but you have never seen such a resplendent and dazzling Mae Murray, nor have you seen THIS 'Peacock Alley,' with an entirely new story, a new background and the last word in modern settings and witty, sophisticated dialogue. 'Peacock Alley' is the ne plus ultra of smart productions, recorded by RCA Photophone, and deserves your attention."

"Mae Murray never photographed more gorgeously. Her blonde mop of hair has been restrained into satiny smooth undulating waves that give her a serious air that belies the roguish witchery of her eyes and lips. Her voice is appropriate to the vividness and vitality of her, and she puts over in a charming scene at the piano, a plaintive song called 'In Dreams You Still Belong To Me.' And she dances too -- dances a splendid tango with a partner and then gives a solo comic performance interpretating a bull fighter. Her costumes are stunning, their vivid colors and the beauty of the stage setting being reproduced by Technicolor photography."

"Carey Wilson wrote the story and dialogue for the new Tiffany All-Talking production of 'Peacock Alley' and laid the entire action in the span of twenty-four hours in a fashionable New York hotel. He properly provided the star with the role of a dancer, but also gave her some character. 'Claire Tree' does not pout - she goes after what she wants with straight-from-the-shoulder tactics."

"She wants to marry - 'I'm running away from the doubt and uncertainty and problems of a woman who isn't married,' she tells Stoddard Clayton, whom she is trying to argue into including marriage with his proposition. Clayton thinks nuptial bonds old fashioned, a stupid tradition, fatal to romance! Clarie declares that any woman who says she doesn't think the marriage ceremony important is lying!'

"Neither will give in, so Claire marries a sweetheart from home - a Texan, who doesn't know the ways of New York, and accepts a detective's interpretation of Claire's actions in staying in a man's hotel suite alone with him until dawn. Forgotten is his vow of a few hours before to honor her - he can see her only as an immoral woman and leaves her. Such an abuse of the marriage oath acts as a challenge to Clayton to see if he can't do better, and the picture ends on his declaration that, when that day's ceremony has been annulled, they will make a success of marriage because they are 'different.'"

Random Thoughts:

The film's title presumably refers to a long stretch of luxuriously appointed passageway within New York City's old Waldorf-Astoria hotel, (and much is made of the fact that the famed walkway was replicated at great expense in press materials for the film) and yet the film opens with an art card setting the location not as being the Waldorf, but the fictional "Park Plaza" hotel.

Despite that, newspaper readers were informed that "the massive sound-proof door between stages at the Tiffany Studio had to be thrown open to allow room for the massive set used to reproduce the famous hotel's peacock alley. This set is over 200 feet long, and the exquisite Oriental rugs, beautiful crystal chandeliers, valuable paintings and rare tapestries and drapes to furnish this massive set were alone valued at over $50,000.00."

The long tracking shot down Peacock Alley that opens the film is visually exciting --- with the camera slowly working down the passage towards a street entrance --- dodging hotel patrons and turning the lens right and left by turn, focusing on bits of business being enacted by the extras --- the naturalistic effect heightened by a soundtrack barren of everything except the murmur of voices of those the camera passes (and a symphony of noise upon the ravaged soundtrack of most circulating prints!)

Two of the film's musical selections are heard within the first few opening moments. Over the titles, (following the grandiose Tiffany-Tone logo theme) we hear "In Dreams You Still Belong To Me" (for the first and last time, as Murray's later vocal at the piano is jarringly excised from the print I viewed.) Shortly thereafter, in a hotel club setting, "She's Everybody's Gal" is played by the on-set orchestra and vocalized by The Biltmore Trio (right) who also provide the opening title off-screen vocals. Curiously, the participation of this popular period vocal team in "Peacock Alley" appears to have been wholly overlooked by those who keep such lists. Nothing to be ashamed of here, as they acquit themselves adequately in the two Abner Silver composed tunes.

"Peacock Alley" (1929) - Biltmore Trio & Orchestra
Opening Titles, "She's Everybody's Gal" and Closing Titles

"Peacock Alley" (1929) - Dialogue Excerpt #1
Here, the hotel house detective positively ruins Murray's first day of marriage by accusing her of being a... well, a hotel whore in front of her new husband. (No charge for the soundtrack noise!)

In our last audio selection from "Peacock Alley," Mae's luck has turned from bad to worse. While visiting her ex-boyfriend in an attempt to have him explain the whole mess to her new husband, said new husband arrives on the scene and the ex-boyfriend amuses himself by refusing to admit that Mae's overtures were anything but what they appear to be. Exit new husband, while Mae casts eyes heavenward in weary, weary misunderstood disbelief.

"Peacock Alley" (1929) Dialogue Excerpt #2

Sadly, I've nothing of the film's Technicolor finale to offer aside from my own faint memory of seeing an abbreviated version of the reel many moons ago, and the first hand account of a friend who was treated to a screening of the entire Technicolor reel at the British Film Institute a few years ago. What's worth mentioning however is that when seen intact, and as evidenced by press material of the day, Murray's infamous bullfight dance sequence was intended as a comic parody. There's been more than once instance where footage has been lifted from the reel to illustrate just how bad a film it is, or just how bad an actress Mae Murray was, or just how bad early musicals were in general. Misleading and destructive, and precisely the sort of "anything goes" treatment that films of the early sound period have been treated to for decades.

"Peacock Alley" is uneven, technically primitive, and probably a misfire from the get-go. But, it is what it is --- a time capsule moment in cinema history and a surviving record of an actress already well along in her headlong plummet from silent film stardom. Surely it doesn't require further sensationalistic embellishments --- especially imagined ones!

No matter that Mae Murray's realm is primarily considered that of the silent screen, her name and face can't easily be thought of without musical accompaniment. To be sure, the melody that would mark the height of her career and also her death (it would be played at her funeral) was "The Merry Widow Waltz." Here, from 1926 is a simple arrangement rich in period charm:

"The Merry Widow Waltz" (1926) The Utopia Salon Orchestra

While there's no clear evidence that the 1922 melody "Suez" was ever associated with the actress, I find the tune's use (and performance) by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra for the score of 1919's "Delicious Little Devil" (included as an "extra" feature on the Milestone DVD release of the turgid 1922 Gloria Swanson & Rudolph Valentino feature "Beyond the Rocks" when it can be considered just as entertaining if not as an "important" film as the one it accompanies.)

Utilized to score Mae Murray's incredible "peacock dance" in the film --- it's a perfect union of image and music, with one complimenting the other rather than doing battle, which is so often the case with newly scored silent films. Although the sequence is poorly photographed and edited (Murray's queer gyrations and postures seem an almost nightmarish jumble at times) the insane pseudo-oriental music ("a fox trot romance") rescues the moment magnificently.

"Suez" (1922)

"In old Suez, under mystic sky,
near the old Red Sea, where ships go by;
There where the palm trees sway,
Your lips and eyes plead with me to stay -- in...

Su-ez, wond'rous Su-ez,
Where I was captured with your love sigh,
All day, and through the night,
to be with you I cry!

When you enfold me in your sweet loving arms,
I feel the thrill of all your charms dear,
Su-ez, wond'rous Su-ez,
I lost my heart to you!"

"Suez" - Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

"Suez" (1922) Clyde Doerr & His Orchestra

And here is Mr. Clyde Doerr himself, circa 1920, looking eerily much as you might expect him to look after hearing his orchestra's strident arrangement of "Suez" which still managed to work in a tinge of playfulness in the form of a slide whistle. Clyde Doerr pretends to light a cigarette on an unlit decorative candle --- neatly wrapped holiday gifts (poinsettia blooms mark the season) sit on the table (are they from or to him?) and the man himself is the Arrow Collar ad personified. Crisp and clean from his razor cut hair to his pince-nez and down to his manicured fingers, he's quite a fellow, don't you think?

Now, if only we could discover what's in those packages. Handkerchiefs? Sensible woolen underwear? We'll never know... and I suspect he wouldn't appreciate our curiosity either.

To round out this post, the second and last for September of 2007, we have a bit of music and then some visual oddities.

"Chirpy" aptly describes "Swanee Bluebird," a 1922 melody performed by the Benson Orchestra of Chicago ("under the direction of Roy Bargy" I feel compelled to add) and if the title seems a bit off-putting, give it a try. It's exceptionally lively, it doesn't sound like four dozen other tunes of the period, and the addition of "whistling variations by Master Billee Osborn" elevates it from the typical to the unique.

"Swanee Bluebird" (1922)

Flip this 78rpm disc over, and we're with Victor's "All Star Trio," pictured right, which consisted of saxophonist Wheeler Wadsworth, xylophonist George Hamilton Green and, lo and behold, pianist Victor Arden --- soon to rise to greater success as part of a team of dual pianists. (See previous post for further information on Arden & Ohman.)

Here, the Trio performs "Just Because You're You," and it's a pretty enough tune as far as these things go. If "Swanee Bluebird" pleased you, so will:

"Just Because You're You" (1922) All Star Trio

As a follow up to this blog's previous post which highlighted the 1919 melody"The Vamp," it's nice to learn that the melody was still being trotted out as late as 1932 by Phil Harris & His Orchestra, and as you'll hear, sounds none the worse for its advancing age.

"The Vamp" (1932) Phil Harris & His Orchestra

To close --- before entering the gallery that lines the passageway leading to the exit --- here's a video montage of curious fragments of Technicolor footage, which looks to be circa 1928 or so, that would seem to have been originally produced with the intention of advertising seasonal fashions at an unknown retail establishment while also promoting various starlets of the day. Alice White and Marion Nixon are easily spotted --- but the others? Perhaps you, the reader, can identify the others.

Until Next Time!

Late in the Season but: "Beach Babies"
A 1929 Pathe Short Comedy

Last seen in the vicinity of Appleton, Wisconsin
25 October 1929

The Biltmore Trio, Circa 1930

Lobby Card for "The Haunted House" (1928)
Thelma Todd and Montague Love
(You can learn more about this lost film in this earlier post)

Selections from the Mae Murray Scrapbook of Woes

21 May 1930

14 June 1930

16 April 1931

8 July 1931

2 August 1931

6 August 1931

17 August 1931

For now at least, a happy ending...

17 October 1931

"Vitaphone Talk #2"
Coshocton, Ohio, 27 October 1927

Vitaphone Talk #3
Coshocton, Ohio, 28 October 1927


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,