25 February 2007

"Are There Any More At Home Like You?"

An item in Walter Winchell's column of 23 June 1944:

"A Baltimore paper reported an auction sale included a pearl, once owned by a Florodora Girl. The auctioneer stated: 'We are not at liberty to reveal the name, but it is a family that would not care to be listed as part of the Florodora Sextet.' What a story O. Henry could have done on that!"

Although this image of New York City's Broadway is simply dated "1920," let's examine it a bit more closely.

It appears to be early afternoon, judging by the angle of shadows cast by pedestrians and street lamps, and the theaters and signage places us at the corner of East 38th Street --- looking uptown along Broadway.

The Knickerbocker Theater is featuring "Listen Lester," a forgotten musical comedy featuring Gertrude Vanderbilt and Clifton Webb, and the Casino Theater is home to "A Lonely Romeo," an equally obscure production that starred Lew Fields amidst a large cast that included his son, Herbert --- who'd eventually turn from performing to writing the books for an impressive string of Broadway musical successes.

Just around the corner from the Casino Theater, on 39th Street, is the Maxine Elliott Theater (an illuminated sign with a pointing hand indicates the way), then featuring the play "39 East," with a cast that included Henry Hull and Allison Skipworth --- while the Winter Garden Theater gamely lures audiences uptown to it's 50th Street location, where "Monte Cristo, Jr." was playing again after being suspended for a month due to an Actor's Equity strike. Described as a "Musical Extravaganza," with melody supplied by Sigmund Romberg and Jean Schwartz, the massive cast contained but a few names recognizable today --- among them, Charles "Chic" Sale and female vocalist Esther Walker.

The productions in place at the time this photograph was taken suggests that it's date of origin is 1919 --- specifically July or August of 1919, and not 1920, as indicated on the photo itself.

By 1930, both the Knickerbocker (1893) and Casino (1882) Theaters would be demolished, and thirty years later the Maxine Elliott (1908) would vanish too --- the last remaining Broadway house below 41st street --- after serving duty as both a radio and television studio for CBS. It's ironic that out of all the theaters represented in the photo, only the Winter Garden --- once thought to be oddly placed, so far uptown as it was, is the only survivor --- and still thriving today.

The Casino Theater, seen here in a much earlier view which reveals its graceful yet majestic East 39th Street side, it's cupola already blackened with the city's coal soot after only fifteen or so years, would --- in time --- be forever linked with the musical production that opened there on November 10th if 1900, "Florodora," as well as the women --- girls, really --- that made up The Florodora Sextet.

Back in 1900, on that November night, New York City was very much excited. A new show was opening at the Casino Theater. A long line of fashionable carriages were heading for Broadway and 39th street, where the playhouse stood. Silken ladies and gentlemen in dinner clothes and spats were filling the house.

The curtain went up. The show began, and before it had ended, six girls had stolen the show. They had been rehearsing for eight weeks, and they slipped into their roles of half a dozen unsophisticated maidens easily.

It wasn't hard to do. Only two of them had been on the stage before. They all came from quiet, cultured families. There was nothing of the madcap, gallivanting show girl about them. They were sweet --- and the Broadway of 1900 wanted them sweet.

Indeed, on the same December 1900 page that featured a glowing review of "Florodora," (image detail of which is offered right) is a review of a production that opened the same week (at the Criterion Theater) "The Gay Lord Quex," which made "Florodora" seem almost a religious experience by comparison. The astonishing sputtering, apoplectic review is worth excerpting here:

"One of the most uncompromisingly filthy plays ever seen in New York, and it is a shame that its representation is permitted by the police. Not one of the low burlesque theaters, which no decent person would think of visiting, would dare present such an unblushingly bawdy work for fear of clashing with the police. One redeeming feature of this festering mess is that its power for harm is limited to the theater, as it would be simply impossible to discuss in the drawing room. It is dull, soggy nastiness, pure and simple. Its basis is immorality, its development is immorality, its atmosphere is immorality and its sequence is immorality. There is not a single wholesome character in 'The Gay Lord Quex,' and, if we except the aged dowager, not a single really decent one."

Starring John and Gilbert Hare, along with Irene Vanbrugh, "The Gay Lord Quex" closed after a furtive sixty-seven performances, but would attempt a revival --- seventeen years later to the day, in 1917 with John and Louise Drew in the leads this time --- that performed even more poorly, closing after forty performances.

I'm sure you're wondering, as I was, just what "The Gay Lord Quex" was all about and what so infuriated critics and public alike, aren't you? Proving just how vast our distance from 1900 is today, a synopsis of the show reads like simple and bland fare indeed: "Sophy Fullgarney is a manicurist who learns that her foster sister Muriel is to be married, apparently much against her will, to the Marquis of Quex, a professedly reformed roue who is known as 'the wickedest man in London.' She determines to prevent their union and in doing so spies upon the titled gentleman and one of his ex-flames, a married woman, thereby getting herself into compromising situations with Quex and the younger lover of Muriel, who turns out to be the greater rascal of the two."

Reverting our attention to "Florodora," a portion of it's December 1900 review is very much in order here:

"At the outset, it may be said that 'Florodora' is one of the best works of its kind that this city has seen during several seasons. While the libretto is not startlingly original or unusually brilliant, it is clean always, even interesting at times and on the whole thoroughly acceptable. The music is bright, jingly and yet of the musical quality which composers strive after and so seldom achieve. There are any number of airs which are certain to become popular, if not with the street urchins, at least with the lady who occasionally 'favors' at the piano when company calls. The stage management was something to marvel at for the reason that the effect of constant movement was produced without the slightest apparent effort. The costuming was in excellent taste, and some of the color schemes were really unique and exceptionally effective. A rather novel feature of 'Florodora' is that it was devoid of tights with the exception of a single pair worn by the prima donna, Miss Johnston, which by reason of the fact that they were not compelled to vie with scores of others, were all the more effective."

As the review suggests, it took "Florodora" a few weeks to click, but when the tide turned the Florodora Sextet girls were largely responsible for the production turning from modest entertainment to a world wide phenomenon. New York society fawned over the girls, and at once everyone wanted to hear them, see them and meet them. They were invited to teas on Fifth Avenue. Affluent males of all ages, attending performances at the Metropolitan Opera House kept track of the time --- and a few minutes before the sextet was scheduled to sing, they would slip away, just long enough to witness their showcase number, "Tell Me Pretty Maiden," and then return to their wives, girlfriends and families at the Metropolitan --- oddly flushed and exhilarated, seemingly by whatever beefy contralto was then holding reign on stage.

In truth, there were many Florodora Girls. As the original six left the show, they were replaced. Their successors, going on to other shows or marriages, had to find substitutes as well. Then too, managers of several theaters obtained permission to book their own Sextets as the "Original Six." All in all, thousands of girls would profit by the name.

But, the six who opened the show were Marjorie Relyea, Daisy Greene, Margaret Walker, Vaughn Texsmith, Marie Wilson and Agnes Wayburn.

Marjorie Relyea, pictured left circa 1900, was the first girl hired for the sextet, and recalled in a 1933 interview, "I had played in 'Mam'selle 'Awkins,' which was my first stage venture. In August I was engaged for the sextet, and the play opened in November."

"All the girls in the sextet were ladies in the real sense of the word. The movie produced several years ago ("The Florodora Girl" - a 1930 MGM film starring Marion Davies) was centered around the sextet, wasn't true at all. We have all been indignant over it. We were never that type of girl!"

Marjorie Relyea was married before she entered the play, to William D. Holmes, a handsome young heir of an aristocratic family and relative of Andrew Carnegie. Money and looks aside, Marjorie Relyea discovered he was an alcoholic as well, and welcomed the opportunity to escape the poisonous atmosphere at home. "He was willing to support me," said Relyea, "but I couldn't stay at home under the conditions. That's why I went onto the stage. On the night we opened in New Haven, my husband fell over dead." Eventually moving on from "Florodora," Marjorie Relyea would appear in three additional productions before being wooed and won by Albert Stokes, a Wall Street broker, in 1905. At the time of her 1933 interview, Mrs. Albert Stokes and her husband had a luxurious New York apartment and a home in Saratoga, and claimed she "never missed the stage at all."

Agnes Wayburn was also married at the time "Florodora" premiered, albeit unhappily, to dance instructor Ned Wayburn. Appearing in "Florodora" for a mere two weeks, she suddenly left the show, and dodged in and out of three other shows between 1901 and 1902 somewhat frantically, and then divorced her husband and hopped a steamer for England to continue her career there. In short order, she hooked up with a wealthy fellow from Johannesburg, South Africa, married him and went home with him to his plantation where, in 1933, she still was.

Daisy Greene was the youngest member of the Florodora Sextet, just fifteen when she joined the show, but remaining longer with the production than any of the other girls. She would continue to perform on Broadway through 1909 --- which included an appearance in "The Ziegfeld Follies of 1908," before being wed to a wealthy mining man from Colorado named Waterman, to whom she was still married in 1933, with the pair living happily in Denver.

Marie Wilson, too, had been married at the time she joined "Florodora," to a fellow named Harry Wimsatt. When "Florodora" skyrocketed, Marie left Wimsatt --- all the better to play up the reputation as the most glamorous member of the group that the press had bestowed upon her. Chumming up to various Wall Street types resulted in a number of lucrative stock market tips that eventually netted her some $750,000.00 in profits. Not surprisingly, she retired soon after that (following an appearance in the 1904 musical "Glittering Gloria") and married the well known playboy Fred Gebhardt, who spent money --- both his and hers, spectacularly. Upon Gebhardt's death, Marie Wilson moved to Washington, where she still lived in 1933.

Also privy to inside stock tips was Margaret Walker, who earned a tidy sum in Wall Street profits, and then went abroad to "study music" after leaving "Florodora." She too was reported to have married a millionaire, but a divorce followed and in the 1920's she was revealed to be the companion for an unnamed wealthy and elderly woman on Long Island, New York. When the dowager passed away, she left Margaret Walker enough money to make her independently wealthy. At this point, after a twenty-two year absence from the stage, Walker suddenly turned up in the aptly titled 1925 stage play "Lucky Break," and then continued to perform --- primarily in revivals of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, until 1935.

The final member of the original Florodora sextet, Vaughn Texsmith (actually Vaughn Smith, but show managers tweaked it to incorporate the name of her birth state, Texas) caught the eye of one Isaac J. Hall, a silk manufacturer from New Jersey. Hall would later admit that he paid keen attention to Vaughn because he believed a girl from Texas would be seen carrying a knife or sporting a sombrero. Ignorance aside, Hall enchanted Vaughn, and by the end of the first month's run of "Florodora," Texsmith had left the show and made the hop to New Jersey with her new husband. When Isaac J. Hall passed on in the 1920's, Vaughn took over the management of her husband's silk mills and greatly increased their output. By 1933 she was considered a social leader in the East, and a much admired and established female business executive.

After concluding it's run in 1905, during which "Florodora" moved from the Casino to the New York Winter Garden Theater (not to be confused with the 50th Street Winter Garden) and then to the Broadway Theater (demolished in 1929) before being left to repose as a cherished memory --- a 1900 violet corsage pressed between the pages of a book of another day and time in entertainment history.

A 1920 revival was staged at New York's Century Theater --- an advertisement for which lurks within this photograph of the Atlantic City boardwalk (can you spot it?) but uprooted from 1900, it couldn't and didn't survive --- expiring in the unfamiliar 1920 air after sixty-four performances before skulking away to comforting isolation, removed from the glare of close inspection and critique by audiences the production was never intended for.

The 1930 M.G.M. film that was said to so irk members of the original "Florodora" sextet is agreeable enough entertainment, although best viewed with the understanding that virtually nothing it represented in connection with the show (and to a lesser degree, the period of the show itself) has much to do with reality.

Starting with the opening sequence itself, in which a huge illuminated sign for both the theater and production is seen (electrical signs of this sort wouldn't arrive until after "Florodora" had closed) the 1930 film never really manages to create a sense of period authenticity, and the florid period in which the film is set is presented as if within a vacuum sealed bell jar containing tiny porcelain figures --- stiff and unreal as they are delicately pretty.

The settings are dull and oddly claustrophobic by MGM standards and the film never "opens up" in the way it should have, allowing the richly costumed performers (the studio did get it right in that aspect) to move and seemingly live within expansive sets other than the unimaginatively lit and photographed overly obvious mock-ups that the film offers. Even the few outdoor location sequences, that include a city park, a beach and a racetrack, seem inordinately staged and unreal --- tiny slices of real locations that don't feel as though they exist beyond the borders of the film's frame.

(Pictured right, the lobby of Hollywood's Pantages Theater, during the run of 1930's "The Florodora Girl.")

Never finding the same magical spark in Marion Davies that others seem to (and perhaps that's my fault) she strikes me as just another capable performer amidst an equally capable cast that really isn't given much to do once dressed up prettily and put before the camera. The film never misses a chance to point up the difference between 1900 and 1930 whenever it can, all obvious differences that should have been left to speak for themselves rather than be underlined time and again in a tiresome, poke to the ribcage manner.

As it is, the entire length of the film seems a build-up to the expected re-creation of the famous "Tell Me Pretty Maiden" Florodora Sextet number, moving along in fits and starts until this sequence arrives in the film's final Technicolor reel. Even here, artistic liberties are taken. In addition to never being given a full, uninterrupted presentation, the sequence is set upon a fairly expansive stage that while faithfully duplicating the backdrop seen in period photographs, is considerably larger than the Casino Theater's surprisingly small stage, which can be glimpsed in the 1901 photograph offered here. (Note the close proximity of the performers to the orchestra pit!) Despite that, it's within this imperfect final reel that the 1930 film blossoms and pays off, with the still beautiful, slightly muted early Technicolor tints rendering what seems to be a lovingly hand tinted 1900 postcard view of "Florodora" as it existed, and continues to exist, in our imagination --- or perhaps only in our imagination.

The original Florodora Sextet would receive scattered mention in newsprint over the coming years and decades, during which they slowly fell away, one by one. All still very much alive in 1933, they were all supposedly approached by Broadway theatrical producer Dwight Deere Wiman with an eye towards featuring them in a new production, but they all politely declined the offer. Acting as spokesman for the group, Marjorie Relya --- then Mrs. Albert Stokes of New York, said "Of course we won't. We are scattered to the four corners of the world now, and we have achieved happiness and success. There wouldn't be any reason at all for coming back to the stage."

As the 50th Anniversary of "Florodora" approached in November of 1950, the two surviving members of the sextet were sought out. Vaughn Texsmith (Mrs. Isaac Hall of Paterson, New Jersey) and Marie Wilson (Mrs. Fred Gebhardt of Washington, D.C.) --- both elderly but surprisingly active widows, were understandably reluctant to comment on the events of fifty years hence. "I'd rather be forgotten," stated Mrs. Hall to reporters. "I was in the show for only six weeks and it was a very small part of my life. I can't have any sentiments about those days. I'm much to busy taking care of my varied interests."

Mrs. Gebhardt was a bit more kind to the show that had, whether they chose to admit it or not, allowed them to live the lives that they all enjoyed. Admitting she "enjoyed every minute" of her involvement with "Florodora," she still felt compelled to add "it's all in the past now, and I would rather forget about it --- and I hope the public will too." Will we? For the most part, we already have --- but like all beautiful dreams, even those half remembered, it's lovely to reflect upon them every now and again, and give sigh for their passing... far too soon, and far too long ago.

Given the vintage of "Florodora," there's understandably little of it that survives in the way of period recordings, and those recordings that do survive often sound incredibly harsh to modern ears, given the still primitive recording techniques available. While not exceptionally notable music-wise, it's surprising nonethless that a period authentic audio re-creation has never been attempted --- but perhaps it's just as well, for any such attempts of the 1950's through the 1970's are invariably grotesque distortions.

Two surprisingly clean and (comparatively) rich cylinder recordings of 1902 are offered here, representing the production's two biggest successes --- although only one still manages to defy time and convention to sparkle nearly as brightly as it did one hundred and seven years ago. I had to pause just now while writing that, as it's genuinely remarkable to contemplate listening to voices of 107 years ago, a remarkable feat we ought not take for granted as we do, really.

The lesser known of the two, "The Shade of the Palm," is performed here by Frank C. Stanley:

"In the Shade of the Palm" (1902)

And then, of course, there's "Tell Me Pretty Maiden," as performed here by The Edison Sextet --- and while still a bit rough going, audio wise, it's a far richer recording than is usually heard of this tune, with a bit of cello and the piping of a piccolo adding an attractive fullness to it all.

"Tell Me Pretty Maiden" (1902)

"Florodora" or the visualization of the Florodora Girl would figure heavily in films of the early sound period, ripe as it was for parody by that time in much the same way we now hold the music and styles of the 1970's up to ridicule.

"Tell Me Pretty Maiden" is parodied by Rosetta and Vivian Duncan in 1929's "It's A Great Life," with Rosetta adjusting the lyrics to comic effect ("Tell me, painted oil can," she begins the song) while Vivian struts about in a grotesquely large bustle leaving Vivian to wonder if it is, or isn't actually part of her anatomy.

Warner Bros. asked "What Became of the Six Original Florodora Boys?" in their 1929 revue "Show of Shows," as valid a question then as it is now (although a doubtful prospect for an entry in these pages) and it was suggested that they all returned to perfectly ordinary workaday lives --- which is probably true, if not precisely as comic as the revue suggested. Presentation is everything here, for the most unlikely candidates for Florodora Boys are utilized in the number, which included the likes of Ben Turpin, Lupino Lane and Bert Roach.

Fannie Brice introduced "I Was A Florodora Baby" in an early 1920's edition of "The Ziegfeld Follies," and would re-create the performance for the 1928 Warner Bros. film "My Man," an excerpt of which is offered next --- interestingly, with no alteration to the lyric that refers to the show of "twenty years ago," accurate in 1920 --- less so in 1928.

Casting herself as the only (imaginary, of course) member of the sextet to escape fame and fortune, Brice's unique self-depreciating style allows us to laugh at the hapless victim of circumstance, left to live happily --- albeit sparsely, on 17 Delancey Street --- forever, bringing up her own sextet ("five I've got, the other one I'll get yet.")

"I Was A Florodora Baby" (1928)

Set in the seamstress shop where Brice works, "Florodora Baby" is performed to entertain her co-workers, but her antics outrage the shop's owner, who threatens her with immediate dismissal. Also present however, is an elegantly European accented theatrical producer who only caught the tag end of her performance and prompts her to do another. Brice obliges with "I'm An Indian," a tune she first recorded in 1921. Both the original recording, and the version performed in the 1928 (mostly talking) "My Man" are offered here, as it's likely the best opportunity to do so.

"I'm An Indian" (1921)

"I'm An Indian" (1928)

This blog's next post will be typically more diverse than this entry may have seemed, but I didn't want to attach too many ornaments to a topic that I felt worthy of standing alone --- after so many years of barely standing at all.

So, watch this space for the next entry, currently in progress and expected to post within 24 hours!


View of the Casino Theater, 1920

Theater Review, December 1900

Miss Ada Reeve, Florodora Girl, UK Production

Cross Promotion Ad for "The Florodora Girl" (MGM-1930)

"Florodora" proved to be an early 20th Century
marketing bonanza, with the production's name licensed
for use in connection with countless products between 1901 and 1905.

"Florodora" Shoes, Illinois - 1903

"Florodora" Cookies - Fort Wayne, Indiana - 1902

"Florodora" Chocolates - Mansfield, Ohio - 1903

Contest held by the "Florodora Tag Company," - 1904

"Florodora" Suits - New York, NY - 1901

"Florodora" Scarves - Atlanta, Georgia - 1901

"Florodora"Sextet Patent Medicine Endorsement - Syracuse, NY - 1901

The British web site, "Victorian and Edwardian Shows," is utterly unique
in that it contains the entire scores to what looks to be well over a hundred
popular musicals of the period --- all carefully transcribed and converted to
the MIDI format. The following link will direct you to the page for "Florodora,"
where you can download both the score and an exceptionally fine MIDI player (both surprisingly small files) that will allow you to not only listen to the score, but also to see the lyrics --- properly timed to the music --- while you're listening. The effect is as startling
as it is effective, and will please the merely curious as well as the serious student
of this largely overlooked period in musical theater history.

"Florodora" - Colin M. Johnson's Victorian and Edwardian Show Transcriptions

It's an astounding example of one man's devotion.
Be sure to explore his entire web site!


An .mp3 transfer of the MIDI file for "Tell Me Pretty Maiden" is
offered here --- as well as the complete lyrics, as a convenience.
The seldom heard second chorus, in which the the girls
"turn the tables" on the boys, is especially interesting,
and rather jolting for a 1900 production!

"Tell Me Pretty Maiden"


Tell me pretty maiden, are there any more at home like you?
There are a few kind sir, but simple girls, and proper too.
Then tell me pretty maiden, what these very simple girlies do.
Kind sir, their manners are perfection, and the opposite of mine.
Then take a little walk with me,
and then I can see,
what a most particular girl should be.
I may love you too well
to let you go
and flirt with those at home you know.
Well don't mind little girl,
You'll see -- I'll only want but you.
It's not quite fair to them
if you -- told them that you were true.
I won't care a pin for your sisters if you love me.
What would you say if I said I liked you well?
I'd vow to you...
On bended knee?
On bended knee!
If I loved you -- would you tell me what I ought to do,
to keep you all mine alone,
to always be true to me?
If I loved you -- would it be a silly thing to do?
For I must love someone...
Then why not me?
Yes I must love someone really,
and it might as well be you!


Tell me gentle stranger, are there any more at home like you?
There are a few, sweet maid, and hotter boys you never knew.
Then tell me gentle Sir, the things these very rakish fellows do.
Dear maid, they flirt with girls too freely,
and it's not the same girl twice.
Then take me round and let them show for an hour or so,
how far such fellows can really go.
I never introduce them to a girl I intend
to be my most particular friend.
I won't mind what they do, no man would ever flirt with me.
It's not worth risking it,
I know with them you won't agree.
I don't want to know them,
if you will do the flirting.
Of course, I will try, for we're doing very well.
I'll vow to you...
On bended knee?
On bended knee!
If I loved you, would you tell me what I ought to do,
to keep you all mine alone,
to always be true to me?
If I loved you, would it be a silly thing to do?
For I must love someone...
Then why not me?
Girls and Boys:
Yes, I must love someone, really,
and it might as well be you!



17 February 2007

Magic Casements

As the Christmas holiday season of 1920 swiftly yet almost imperceptibly dissolved into the New Year of 1921, readers of newspapers across the country had been following --- with steadily increasing interest --- a story that had begun with complete absence of attention, on December 13th of 1920 in Rockaway, New York.

On the afternoon of December 13th if 1920, an experimental naval balloon arose from the Rockaway Naval Station. Planned as a casual overnight training mission, the 35,000 cubic foot capacity balloon held ten day old stale and impure gas that carried at it's base an open "basket"which carried three men, eight sandwiches, two thermos bottles of coffee and four carrier pigeons.

The passengers consisted of Naval Lieutenants Stephen Farrell and Walter Hinton, and Navy Reservist and Lieutenant Louis Kloor, the youngest of the three and affectionately dubbed "the kid" by the elder Farrell and Hinton.

A carrier pigeon released from the balloon arrived at the Brooklyn Naval Yard in the evening hours of the day they left, indicating all was well and that the trio expected to arrive in Northern New York State sometime the next morning --- and then, to the world at large, the balloon and its contents appeared to vanish from sight, seemingly forever.

As days passed and turned into weeks following the disappearance, the story was picked up by the news syndicates and by the third week it was a media event of national importance and the basis for scores of articles, essays and letters which filled news pages across the country. This, despite the fact that by the eighth day, many newspapers carried stories that allowed little room for hope of any sort, headlined "Airmen Believed Dead in Hills."

On January 3rd of 1921, three weeks after leaving Rockaway, New York, the telegraph wires fairly crackled with the astonishing news that the three "aeronauts," had been found alive in the snowy wilds of Canada, twenty miles from Moose Factory, Ontario. The trio's savior was a lone Indian trapper who had spotted human footprints amidst animal tracks and lost no time in investigating their source. Nearly starved from hunger, and without protective gear or clothing of any sort, news of the trio's discovery was relayed via foot messenger to the nearest telegraph office and then flashed outward to a disbelieving world.

In a day when one would expect to be plucked upwards and away from a remotely similar ordeal within moments and guesting on television news shows the following day, the half dead trio would have to travel --- by foot and then dog-sled, --- guided by their rescuer, through twenty miles of frozen woodlands before they'd reach the trading post of Moose Factory, Ontario and then, amazingly, they'd have to trod on for another fourteen days in sub-zero weather before reaching Mattice, Ontario!

Met by throngs of reporters in Mattice, Ontario upon their arrival, and still not entirely in control of their faculties, the weeks of resentment that had been building between the two elder Naval men --- with each blaming one another for the disaster --- exploded when details of a letter sent by Hinton to his wife upon his arrival in Moose Factory were made public, in which he claimed that Farrell had crumpled in the days before their rescue, and begged his companions to slit his throat and utilize his body as food. Farrell denied to reporters that any such occurrence had taken place, and when Hinton tried to pull him from the wide-eyed reporters, he pulled back and delivered a blow to Hinton's chin, knocking him to the ground.

At the moment Farrell delivered the punch, the news stories shifted focus from the trio's miraculous survival, and instead reveled in tales of insanity, proposed cannibalism, and all manner of sensational but vastly unimportant details. In other words, they behaved precisely as journalists have always done, and continue to, to this day.

But what of "The Kid," Lieutenant Louis Kloor? Overshadowed by the drama enacted by his two elders (who were both quickly signed by newspapers for "exclusive" interviews --- one of which is on display at the close of this post) the quiet and unassuming young man would find himself on the front pages of newspapers in July of 1921 --- and for reasons having absolutely nothing to do with his late ordeal.

For now however, we'll leave Lieutenant Kloor right here, and rejoin him a bit further along after exploring other matters first. It'll be well worth the wait.

Before comfortably settling ourselves into position from our usual vantage point that looks out upon the entertainment mediums of the late 1920's and early 30's, we've a view here instead of the New York City of 1908 --- which you'll want to see at full size, by clicking here.

It's a Spring or Autumn Sunday of 1908 and we see Fifth Avenue at midday, almost free of carriage traffic while throngs of residents walk to or from unknown destinations. How crisp and new everything seems in this image! The grand buildings haven't developed the patina of age that the coming decades would bring before most would vanish, and everything is awash in the near blinding, brilliant sunshine that has always struck me as peculiar to New York City at certain times of the year.

To me, most striking of all is how quiet this street must have been, despite the number of pedestrians. The street traffic is entirely limited to horse-drawn vehicles save for one lone motorcar (can you spot it?) and surely the only sounds that could be heard were limited to the low mummer of voices dotted with occasional laughs and coughs, the clip-clop of hooves and mellow rolling of carriage wheels upon the pavement, the sharp snap of banners and flags caught in the wind and ruffled, the sound of the wind itself whistling through the ornamentation of the buildings, the swish of the movement of fabrics that clothe the pedestrians and, surely the tolling of church bells and clocks --- both close and distant --- marking the hour.

It's not impossible to imagine any number of these people carrying a melody within their head as they walk --- perhaps some humming or even gently whistling to themselves. If so, chances are that one or more of the melodies in the following audio offering is what they carried with them, for this was the music of their day --- and it's via music that we can join them, if only for a moment and from a great and insurmountable distance.

Turn of the Century New York City Medley

Heard within this meticulous, spot-on period re-creation: "The Bowery," "The Sidewalks of New York," "Rosie O'Grady," "Daisy Bell," "Comrades," "Little Annie Rooney," "And the Band Played On," and "After the Ball." Just try not to smile, however wistfully, while listening!

A leap ahead now from East to West Coast, and from 1908 to 1929 where we see a wonderfully silly publicity photo heralding the release of Brunswick phonograph recordings of tunes from MGM's "The Broadway Melody." The film's three major players (Bessie Love, Charles King and Anita Page) can be seen here, surrounded by Earl Burtnett and his Biltmore Hotel Orchestra, but front and center is a beautifully crafted gigantic mock-up of a Brunswick disc that likely made the rounds of theater lobbies and retail stores alike, designed to fold at the center for easy transport and storage.

Earl Burtnett's orchestra would go on to record an impressive number of tunes from early sound musicals, one of which was "Low Down Rhythm," from Metro's "Hollywood Revue" of 1929. In addition to a great orchestration, the recording is unique in that the vocal is provided by the same dark haired lady that performs it in the film, June Purcell. If you've ever wondered who she was, and why she was called upon to present the tune in a film otherwise chocked full of recognizable stars, well... I've wondered too, and I'll share my findings with you.

Our earliest view of June Purcell (born 1903 in Indianapolis, Indiana) is in December of 1924, where she could be heard singing on the very new medium of radio, first for WKNX and WFWB, out of Hollywood, California, either as a soloist with piano accompaniment, or on the "Little Symphony" show, where she was a featured performer in 1925. By 1927, she was apparently popular enough to enter into vaudeville, where she toured the West Coast and the Midwest --- prominently billed as "June Purcell of K.N.X. - The Voice of Hollywood." Radio work and sporadic vaudeville tours continued throughout 1927 and 1928, and she effortlessly entered the medium of talking films with a Vitaphone short titled "Songs and Styles," in which she was credited as "June Purcell, Hollywood's Radio Girl."

Early in 1929, a little news item announced that Purcell had won a contest as "The Most Popular Radio Entertainer in the West," and was rewarded --- in additional to invaluable publicity, a trip to Hawaii.

Given her wide popularity and name value, perhaps it's a bit easier to understand now why she'd be given so coveted a spot in Metro's "The Hollywood Revue,"that of introducing a song early in the film that would go on to become one of the major music hits of the year.

Following "Hollywood Revue," Purcell would appear in only one additional film, the Warner Bros. all-Technicolor musical "Viennese Nights," which while announced early in 1930 would not arrive on screens until early 1931 --- and suffer terribly because of it. No matter to Purcell (billed in a small role as a stage vocalist,) for radio was still very much her realm.

News wires carried an item on March 3rd of 1932 announcing that: "June Purcell, singer from KNX , Hollywood, has signed a network contract and presents her first chain program on March 8th. Miss Purcell will be heard regularly on WEAF-NBC after April 3rd, presenting five programs a week at 8:45PM."

All seems well and good until mid-1933, at which point she vanishes from radio listings and instead turns up back in vaudeville, and in her birth state, Indiana.
Many return engagements (and mostly at the same theater) are seen throughout the remainder of 1933 --- and the nothing whatsoever, not even an obscure death notice indicating an unfortunate illness that might have prompted her to leave Hollywood and return home to Indiana.

The last, and latest mention of June Purcell I could find just further compounds the mystery, a 1950 syndicated column of entertainment reminiscences by one Tom Lindsay who, in speaking of his early radio career, discussed the origins of WKNX radio and says:

"I sang on the opening night. Milton Sills was the emcee and a young girl with her ukulele, June Purcell, an unknown at the time, scored a tremendous hit with her songs and skyrocketed to radio fame overnight. Then she went out like a light. I've always wondered why."

Mr. Lindsay is not alone in wondering, but save discovery of additional information, we may never know why June Purcell went "out like a light," and lingers on today to puzzle viewers of "Hollywood Revue" trying to guess not only who she is, but why she's there at all. Hopefully, at least these two questions have been answered.

A somewhat noisy disc that defied much improvement, but still fairly decent --- save for the thundering vibration of footsteps by goodness-knows-who, I assure you --- not I, whenever this particular transfer was made!

"Low Down Rhythm" - Earl Burtnett Orchestra, Vocal by June Purcell

A smattering of musical offerings and fulfilled requests follow now, after which we'll return to balloonist hero, Lieutenant Kloor for our big (ok, big-ish?) finish. Stay tuned!

One disc of two tunes from "Fox Movietone Follies" (1929 - Sue Carol and David Rollins, picture right) that surprised me not only because they're so good and so different from the usual renditions, but also because I'd never heard them until the other day. You can read more of "Fox Movietone Follies" in an earlier in-depth post on the film ("For the Last Time Anywhere") if you like, or you can just listen and enjoy Arnold Johnson & His Orchestra, with "Scrappy" Lambert providing the vocals via 78rpm:

"The Breakaway" (1929)

"Big City Blues" (1929)

The next group of offerings was inspired by a photo submitted by reader Anthony Morelli of New York City, depicting an undetermined family member at an Army camp during the First World War. As he said, it's a "jolly" photo despite the ominous situation, and truth be told there's no getting around the incredible savagery and loss of life connected with that great struggle. As much an area of fascination as it is for a history buff such as myself, I've avoided the topic in these pages as I didn't think it could be handled as delicately as it ought to be, but in light of the brave and impossibly cheery smiles in this photo, and the kindness of a reader, perhaps you'll enjoy this brief excursion into those dark yet optimistic days.

From the United Kingdom comes this odd recording --- the origins of which I've been unable to determine, save for the fact that it certainly appears to be of the early electrical period, and that the performers are, indeed, "The Band of His Majesty's Coldstream Guards." An unusual presentation, this --- more like a series of flashes of music, with each selection heralded by a drum roll and then fading into nothingness --- ironically not unlike living memory of the War itself. The selections include "Colonel Bogie March," Ivor Novello's still shattering "Keep the Home Fires Burning,""Pack Up Your Troubles," and "It's a Long, Long Way To Tipperary." A memorable and strangely unsettling recording, this.

Medley - H.M. Coldstream Guards (circa 1926)

Invariably, when a film of the early sound period strives to evoke the period of the Great War with music, one melody turns up time and again --- and it's not a war-themed song at all. "Smiles" (1918) remains familiar to this day and it's sweetly optimistic melody --- so filled with hope and promise of life beginning anew, was carried far and wide by soldiers via voice, musical instruments and the phonograph, to places where smiles seemed all but forgotten.

Smiles (1918) Lambert Murphy, Vocal

The bewilderment and disillusionment that swept the globe following the end of the Great War was reflected in a myriad of events and mediums, and surely was a major influence -- if not the main influence --- on forming the decade that was to follow. A decade which seemed so intent and unrelenting in it's desire to distance itself from tragedy and sorrow. This strain of melancholy can be heard and almost felt in numerous popular melodies of the period between which the War ended and the 1920's began to take hold on public consciousness. Nowhere is it more evident than in the late 1918 tune "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," which was introduced in a now forgotten stage presentation titled "Oh Look!"that featured Harry Fox and the Dolly Sisters.

The lovely --- almost painfully so, melody and lyrics that question one's self worth and value, speak with undiminished vibrancy even today. Or perhaps, even more so today.

"I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" (1918) Vocal by Charles Harrison

The arrival of MGM's magnificent "The Big Parade" (1925) jolted cinema patrons like few films had before, and maintains the same level of power today. Recently restored, re-scored and scheduled for DVD release this year, the film appears to have served as inspiration for a fascinating recording from 1926.

"My Dream of the Big Parade" (performed by Henry Burr, Billy Murray and the Peerless Quartet) begins as what seems to be a plaintive musical recollection, but then... almost out of nowhere, the recording takes an incredibly introspective turn as Billy Murray uncharacteristically unleashes what seems almost like a stream of consciousness speech on the sheer futility of war that is bound to stir the emotions of even the most stoic of listeners.

"My Dream of the Big Parade" (1926)

Once you've composed yourself, we'll take a moment to fulfill some reader requests and then --- I promise, the conclusion of our opening story.

Phonograph recording artist Irving Kaufman may well be experiencing popularity today approaching that which he experienced during his prime, if the number of comments and questions I've received are any indication --- and that's just fine by me! While Kaufman could (and does) sound incredibly crude sometimes on the cheapest of dime-store record labels that frequently released his work, his voice still shimmered with vibrancy and power when he was fortunate enough to be well recorded, and backed with a corker of a band. We have just such a combination of vocalist and orchestra in perfect harmony in this recording -- of which I have conflicting information --- so we'll put it up with just what I know. A dizzy, swirling mixture of jazz, violin and that unmistakable voice! Enjoy, all fans of Mr. Kaufman!

"Blue Baby" (circa 1928) - Irving Kaufman with Roy Leonard AHO

Equal to "Blue Baby" in its ability to prompt toe tapping is Nathaniel Shilkret's rendition of "Thinking Of You," dating from 1927, with soaring vocal provided by the more than capable and always welcome Lewis James.

"Thinking of You" (1927) Nat Shilkret & the Victor Orchestra, Vocal by Lewis James

A reader who craves "I Like To Do Things" from the 1930 Universal revue "King of Jazz" will find much to enjoy in the following rendition from the UK, by The Riverside Dance Orchestra, which was a recording pseudonom for Harry Bidgood's Broadcasters. Whatever the name, his work is alway exceptionally fine --- and the alternate lyrics heard in this version are an unexpected treat.

"I Like To Do Things For You" (1930) - The Riverside Dance Orchestra

The Comedian Harmonists' rendition of "Wedding of the Painted Doll" in an earlier post prompted no small degree of interest, although it should be noted that German versions of popular American tunes make up only an extremely small portion of their very prolific output. To bookend that previous post, here's a somewhat later recording (1934) of a much earlier tune (1920) that's vocalized here in English, and beautifully at that.

"Whispering" (1934) The Comedian Harmonists

Glum though the survival rate of the earliest of sound films tends to be, our ability to hear radio broadcasts of the same period borders on the futile. Invariably, surviving pre-1932 material tends to be incredibly dull, often unimportant, and obscure at best. "Obscure" neatly sums of a nearly complete set of transcription discs for an odd serialized radio from 1931 is titled "Abroad With the Lockharts," of which one representative entry is offered next.

Focusing upon a "typical" middle-aged American Chicago couple --- a stodgy, pig-headed husband and his patient and perceptive wife --- the series follows their trip from start to finish and plays almost like a tutorial on travel procedures, suggesting that the series was sponsored by a business concern seeking to pry jittery Americans (and their money) from their Depression mauled cities.

In this twelve minute episode, the couple arrives in Southampton via steamship, and the process of disembarking and boarding a London bound train is clearly dramatized as being a simple and effortless procedure. Once aboard train, the couple encounters a theatrical charictature of a British woman whom the couple cautiously engages in conversation. The moronic American husband ("England, the land of marmalade and monocles!") is neatly cut down to size by their sharp British traveling companion before the train pulls into the London station, providing a very satisfying conclusion indeed. It's interesting that today, some seventy-five years later, a good many of the misconceptions Americans have of the British --- and vice versa, are still very much in place today, despite rumors of a "global community!"

"Abroad with the Lockharts" (1931) Radio Transcription Disc

Finally, let's introduce Art Gillham, "The Whispering Pianist," who's early electrical recordings have long been a source of pleasure for anyone who happens to encounter his work and his unique performing style --- so different from quite anyone else of the period I can think of, and perhaps that's part of his attraction --- that he really seems to be a performer far ahead of the mid-1920's.

Art Gillham's recording of "I'm Sitting on Top of the World," dating from late October of 1925, displays the artist at his best --- not exactly whispering, but more like a smooth breeze from Alabama.

"I'm Sitting on Top of the World" (1925) Art Gillham

When last we left rescued Naval balloonist Lieutenant Louis Kloor, he was doing his level best to distance himself from the sordid verbal and physical battle playing out between his two companions, and in the end managed to do just that --- perhaps by focusing on a budding romance that was destined, he thought, to end in marriage sometime in 1921.

The object of his affection was one Alexandria Flowerton of Far Rockaway, New York and there's no doubt that his balloon misadventure and accompanying media frenzy did much to elevate feelings between the two. Upon his return however, the heroic aura that surrounded Kloor initially began to fall away --- and when Miss Flowerton, accustomed to the finer things in life, realized that Kloor's misadventure wouldn't prompt any swift rise in either his rank or salary, opted to cut him loose and fix a bright eye on better prospects.

On July 12th of 1921, newspapers carried an announcement by Alexandria Flowerton's mother (Alexandria had fled to the Thousand Islands to "recover") that the engagement had been broken by mutual consent, and explained that "it was under the spell of the romance of the balloon adventure that the young couple plighted their troth and that recently they had decided Kloor's pay was so little there was no present prospect of their being able to marry."

Then as now, there was one story for the press --- and then there was the truth. In this case, the truth was that Alexandria had a beautiful sister, Consuelo --- who had reached fame as the model for a number of Howard Chandler Christy red-cross posters during the Great War (including the one at left) and was reported to be a Ziegfeld starlet by 1921. By all indication an opportunist and a master of self-publicity, Consuelo snatched Kloor from her sister and then, when the expected media buzz didn't seem to amount to much, didn't know what to do with him.

Surprisingly, the diminutive Lieutenant Kloor had been exploring his own options as the Flowerton sister romantic entanglement was being played out --- and before Consuelo could dismiss him, a new player arrived on the scene.

Enter Irma Harrison, a young and pretty actress who entered films in 1919, and would go on to appear in D.W. Griffith's "One Exciting Night" and "America" in supporting roles, and co-starred with Lloyd Hamilton in the 1925 comedy "His Darker Self."

Just one week after Mamma Flowerton's press announcement, papers carried the item depicted to the right, revealing (much to the chagrin of the Flowerton family, doubtless!) that the real reason for the broken engagement was that Kloor's heart belonged to actress Irma Harrison --- and that the pair would be wed shortly, no matter how meager Kloor's salary was.

For reporters and newspaper readers alike, the Kloor and Harrison match-up served as a satisfying end to the entire mess, and it's here where Lieutenant Kloor largely vanishes from the press --- as does any mention of the outcome of Kloor and Harrison's romance, with no indication that they ever were actually married.

In Roland West's technically astonishing 1929 film "Alibi," there's a small but memorable role of a singer and dancer in a night club (identified as either "Toots" or simply "The Girl" in credits for the film) that stands out because she's so very different in appearance and style from the countless night club singers and dancers portrayed in films of the period.

Petite, a bit plump, curly-headed and possessing a self-assured way about her that's hard to describe, she vocalizes the film's theme song, "I've Never Seen a Smile Like Yours" that's staged in such a way that seems more akin to a 1933 film than one being filmed in late 1928 --- no matter that the singer's voice is thought to have been dubbed by radio vocalist Virginia Florhi.

The sequence fades in from blackness as the melody begins, and The Girl steps forward as the camera pulls back to reveal she's standing in front of one of the night club's small tables, at which sits a beaming Regis Toomey. Holding a small mirror, she catches an overhead light with it and beams it onto Toomey's face --- now frozen in a besotted, half-inebriated grin as he watches The Girl perform. Standing stock still --- her only movement relegated to her hips, The Girl is joined by two lines of chorines behind and then alongside her --- also equipped with mirrors, round and sewn into their costumes as the bottom portion of a stylized musical note.

The sequence prompted one Zanesville, Ohio reviewer to call particular attention to it, although almost entirely missing the downright creepy aspect of Toomey's character: "In her lovely, melodious voice, Irma Harrison sings the theme song of the picture to Toomey. If anyone ever deserved to have a song like this sung to him, it is this young man. One could be inspired to write poetry to a smile like that -- so full of the joy of living -- clean and wholesome it is."

Likewise, the sequence also prompted a member of a vintage film newsgroup to recently and justifiably wonder just who "that strange woman" was who sang in the film.

Some eight years after rescuing the hapless Lieutenant Kloor from the clutches of the Flowerton sisters, Irma Harrison was singing "I've Never Seen A Smile Like Yours" to a beaming Regis Toomey in "Alibi."

Although she didn't know it at the time, it would be here that Irma Harrison would find her forever --- sweetly singing about "the man with the wonderful smile," on a moment of film that would survive long after details of her career, life and romance with a heroic balloonist faded from living memory.

"I've Never Seen A Smile Like Yours" (1929) Irma Harrison


Lambert Murphy (vocalist of "Smiles") far right,
Leopold Stokowski, center - 1916

Note: The Irving Kaufman recording "Blue Baby" has been
identified by reader Glen Richards as being recorded by Hal Leonard
& His Waldorf Astoria Orchestra, for Columbia, in July of 1927.
Glen is webmaster of "The Hot-Dance & Vintage Jazz Pages,"
a beautifully designed website I've enjoyed for many years.