13 March 2007

Temples of Mystery

Although the image to the left dates from 1909, I suspect many readers of considerably newer vintage will have little trouble in recalling a similar scene from their own childhood.

The young boy so intrigued with "Grandmother's Fortunes" --- tentatively placing his fingers on the glass case, or perhaps tapping on it with a coin (just to make sure?) seems to be in the company of his father and, somewhat obscured, two older brothers. Father seems far more interested in the sandwich board sign advertising "Latest Popular" something-or-other and seems anxious to move along, while one brother eyes the glass entombed Grandmother with what I presume would be the worldly and bored air of someone who deems himself too old and wise to be taken in by so dull a mechanical affair. Whether or not little brother mustered up enough interest to drop a coin in the machine --- or if he already did, is something we'll never know.

Once the main lure at the entrance to innumerable amusement arcades and parlors, The Fortune Teller machine seemed to move further back into the dark recesses of these establishments with each passing year. Indeed, by the time I first encountered such a device, in the late 1960's, she was found against a back corner wall of a seaside penny arcade --- along with a dozen or so other elderly machines that only appealed to me because they all could be sampled cheaply --- a penny or nickel at a time when only dimes (and even quarters!) were required for the amusements that were the life blood of the arcade.

"Grandmother" sat inside her glass booth, stock still.

Her pose indicated the possibility of sudden movement, what with her head cocked to one side and slightly lowered, as if for watching for just the right moment to flee. Her hands rested just slightly above the surface of her table, as if at any moment they might press downward on the wooden table to support her as she rose --- a horrific scenario to contemplate considering that her brittle hands would likely break off cleanly at her wrists were such a thing to happen and, not incidentally, that she wouldn't get very far without lower limbs of any sort.

Her face was lined not with wrinkles but with a myriad of spidery lines of cracks in her paint, her turban covered in a fine layer of the same dust that covered all her clothing (mostly sun bleached purple and gold, I recall) with tufts of what looked like horse hair poking out from under the fabric of her headgear --- fabric that looked so brittle and threadbare that a touch would probably cause it to fall away.

Unlike the "Grandmother" in the photo, she had no cat perched atop her shoulder --- which was likely just as well, as that wouldn't have set well with me at all owing to an earlier Coney Island experience in seeing a band of stuffed (once real) chimpanzees that jerkily played "Down in Jungle Town" when you inserted a coin in a slot underneath the very large glass display case. (I had nightmares for weeks.)

Among the collection were a few Mutoscope machines, all a dull brick red in color --- scraped, gouged and rusted in spots. Armed with a handful of pennies and nickels, I stood on a wooden crate, turned the handle with some difficulty, and saw the much faded original Mutoscope cards flip past the lens, the brittle edges flaking as they did, sending up a miniature snowstorm of dust and paper --- fanned by the movement of the wheel, that danced in the harsh incandescent light source and became as much a part of the show as the images themselves. My first view of Charlie Chaplin or possibly one of his imitators. No title card, no beginning and no end, save for when the light vanished from the lens and the crank became immobile.

Next to the Mutoscope machines were devices similar in design but without crank --- and only one of which I still vividly recall. A placard attached to the top of the machine in a small frame advertised "The Original Fan Dance. Gentlemen Only." The required nickel hinted that a better show could be had than the one-cent Mutoscopes offered, and one shove of the wooden crate later, I had deposited my coin into the slot and pressed my eyes close to the lens, shielding them from either side with my hands, so as to have a pristine view.

The light went on, and much to my surprise, a miniature stage was on view --- replete with red velvet curtain, spotted with age and mildew. I'm sure that I expected what would amount to a complete theatrical production in miniature, but instead the tiny curtain parted in the middle and revealed a curious sight: A silken lady's fan to which was attached two small slender doll legs fitted with tiny shoes --- the whole affair held aloft by a string, which then bobbed up and down, causing the fan to "dance."

Eagerly awaiting for something interesting to happen or even for music to begin, the light clicked off after a few seconds, signaling an unexpected end to the show. Perplexed but too impatient to give it much thought, I simply stepped away and it would be a good many years before I'd understand the play on words that formed the lure --- or even that I'd been taken --- thereby joining the ranks of what had probably been thousands of curious boys throughout the decades that preceded the 1960's.

Returning to the mechanical fortune teller before leaving the arcade, and not knowing what to expect, I warily inserted a coin. A dim yellow light filled the inside of the case, revealing details I hadn't noticed before --- not the least of which were a collection of the desiccated husks of numerous insects that had made the mistake of entering her glass lair either a few days or half a century earlier. Her movement was disappointingly minimal, limited to her head slowly turning at the neck, giving her eyes the curious appearance of remaining fixed on somewhere far off beyond the confines of the case and arcade --- perhaps on the sun splashed boardwalk and ocean beyond --- while her right hand moved with arthritic slowness across a few playing cards that were fanned out before her, curled at the edges and faded.

With a mechanical sound from deep inside the cabinet, her body lurched forward slightly as a small card dropped into a nickel plated slot. Task completed, her body jerked backwards to it's starting position --- her hand and head had already done so --- and the light clicked off.

Given the amount of vivid detail I recall up to this point, it's surprising that I've absolutely no recollection of the contents of the fortune card itself, but in retrospect I realize that any printed message it may have contained is completely beside the point, for although the card may have indicated success, romance or offered vague advice, what it really said was "Remember Me."

Throughout the mid-1920's and up until the late 1930's, newspapers contained intriguing prepared publicity placements and advertisements for "The Mysterious Smith Company" of traveling vaudevillians. An apparently successful group of entertainers that effortlessly drew audiences in primarily small towns and cities for a decade, their performance nearly always was billed as a "second feature" in cinemas, where they shared the stage with silent and early sound films alike before settling into an oddly coincidental booking pattern that had them almost always paired with Ruth Chatterton films (both Paramount and Warners product) --- a connection, if there is one, that eludes me.

Their act changed little over the years, with 1926 newspaper descriptions of the performance being almost identical to those that appeared in 1933:

"The Mysterious Smith show is divided into three parts. In the first part, Smith performs a number of illusions and mysteries, principal among them being his famous 'Spirit of '76' Illusion, the 'Clansman Illusion,' 'Catching Fish in Thin Air,' and 'Rat in a Wine Bottle' trick. In the second part of the show, Madame Olga answers various questions asked by persons in the audience. The show closes with another performance by Mysterious Smith. His famous 'Thumb-Tie Mystery' demonstrated in the third part proved highly entertaining and perplexing."

A "Coffin Escape" illusion was added in 1930 and quickly became a key selling point for the show, remaining in place for many years and providing free publicity for the local funeral home owner who supplied the casket and received print and performance mention in return. From 1926 to approximately 1933 though, the real draw was mind-reader, mystic and savant, Madame Olga who may or may not have been wed to Mysterious Smith in real life.

Audiences were virtually guaranteed by a clever ruse, in which newspapers announced the impending arrival of Madame Olga and the Mysterious Smith troupe, and offered readers the chance to fill in a coupon with their question for the mystic, and mail it to the newspaper office. Only the first twenty questions would receive answers printed in the newspaper while the show played town, with the remaining (and bulk) of questions being promised answers if the reader attended one of the performances.

Madame Olga's contribution to the performance burned hot between 1929 and 1931, but by 1933 she was no longer a featured element and by 1934 vanishes from print ads altogether, as does the once elaborate nature of the show which is then dramatically trimmed down to the point where only Mysterious Smith himself is mentioned --- the once three-act spectacle a victim of the Depression and the death of vaudeville itself.

We've no way of knowing what music was utilized during performances of "The Temple of Mystery," but surely at some point the use of "Gypsy Love Song" from Victor Herbert's "The Fortune Teller" would have proven as irresistible as logical, especially in the sort of rendition offered here --- a quivering violin and piano setting a suspenseful mood, as in this 1927 recording by violinist Rae Eleanor Ball:

"Gypsy Love Song" - 1927

It's beautifully simple to envision this tune being played as Madame Olga made her veiled entrance on stages from West Virginia to Idaho --- audiences sitting on the edge of their seats, eager to have the questions they mailed in the week before answered by the famed psychic.

From 1921 comes a melody without any mysticism attached to it, aside from the fact that ever since first encountering it, it's never completely left me. A difficult to describe love strain set to strident rhythm, "Moonlight" is at once cheering and melancholy, optimistic and resigned. Two versions of the melody are offered here, a re-created piano rendition of sorts and a smashing period orchestral recording by the grandly named "Emil Coleman and His Castles-by-the-Sea Orchestra," that manages to work in slide-whistles and rhythm blocks and still seem supremely elegant.

"Shadows are creeping,
the whole world is sleeping,
while old days are changing to new.

Love birds are nesting,
the flowers are resting,
awaiting 'til dawn brings the dew.

All is still --- o'er the hill ---

On thru the gloaming,
I find myself roaming,
and once more
the path leads to you!

Moonlight when shadows fall,
Moonlight I hear you call,
Love beams
thru ev'ry silv'ry gleam
that's shining,
I'm pining.

Moonlight so soft above,
June light please find my love,
Tell her that I'm still waiting
in the pale moonlight!"

"Moonlight" - Piano Transcription

"Moonlight" - 78rpm Orchestral

The breathtaking view to the left is that of the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition of 1905, held in Portland, Oregon.

Not far from where this artful photograph was taken (the peculiar angle makes the possibility of bounding down those terraced steps seem a very real possibility) stood the Manufacturers, Liberal Arts and Varied Industries building, a 90,000 square foot structure freely designed in a Spanish Renaissance style that must have seemed exotic indeed to Oregon residents of 1905.

Within the massive building were individual areas given over to innumerable magnificent displays of product by manufacturers of furniture, power machinery, rope, wire cable, typewriters, adding machines, glassware, jewelry, lamps, radiators and all manner of similar items seemingly randomly collected but forming a unified whole representing technical innovation and progress. Amidst all the displays, one attracted special attention --- that of the Columbia Gramophone Company, which was offering --- in what strikes me as a forward thinking advertising maneuver, souvenir records of Exposition visitor's voices. Recorded right there, on the spot, I suppose the general intent was to convince visitors to purchase a Columbia machine in order to play the record at home --- but whether or not a hard sell followed the making of a recording is uncertain, who in 1905 couldn't resist the notion of walking away with a wax cylinder that contained their own voice, even if they couldn't play it?

Remarkably, just one such 45 second recording has survived --- and not only long enough to outlive the technology that created it, but to survive into an age that allows it to be heard and shared in a way that would have been beyond human understanding in 1905.

There's much that can be gleaned from this noisy half minute of sound from one-hundred and two years ago, but I think the real surprise is how oddly contemporary it seems. I suppose it's natural to think of someone in 1905 speaking in a theatrical, quaint fashion --- but there's none of that here.

Instead, we have a young girl (Gladys Crawford, I believe her name to be) signaled to speak into the recording horn by the Columbia representative and after a strong start, in which she identifies herself and admits she's (quite literally) "talking to hear herself talk," she announces the date (August 31st) gets it wrong and is corrected by her young female companion. She says a few more words that are difficult to ascertain but that include her name and address in her hometown of Albina, and then --- quite understandably too, becomes flustered with the whole mystifying process and simply laughs gleefully, stepping back and away from the recording horn. The Columbia technician quickly steps forward, and says "Well, I can't laugh," but finds himself caught up in the moment and likely by the sight of the two giggling girls too, and begins to chuckle and then laugh himself --- and there the recording ends.

It's a beautiful fragment of time captured forever in something so surprisingly elemental as wax, which --- by it's utter simplicity in both form and content --- makes both 1905 and those who lived in 1905 seem very close somehow and, more importantly, very little different from us today.

"Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition Recording" (1905)

If you were a vendor of hot tamales --- a Hot Tamale Man, in the Montana of 1906, yours was a trade that dealt in danger, excitement and fear that extended far beyond just the mere contents of the rolled corn husks you hawked.

You could be the victim of a daring daylight robbery such as the one that occurred in Butte, Montana in early April of 1906, for which a newspaper dispatch suggests that robbery of Hot Tamale Men was a frequent event!

"The common practice of robbing hot tamale men in Butte got a cruel jolt last night, when one of the pair alleged to have held up Salem Karoum, taking his can, basket and $6 in his pocket, was captured by police two hours later with 10 tamales in his pockets. The other accused man is still at large."

Only six days later the Anaconda, Montana newspaper carried details of a similar outrage enacted against yet another tamale vendor, as detailed by a court room reporter:

"Pat Kelly faced the music. The charge against him was that he kicked over a hot tamale man's basket and can. Kelly meekly pleaded guilty and the Judge, wishing to learn more about the occurrence, called Officer Harvey, who made the arrest. In the stand, Harvey stated that Kelly not only kicked over the can without apparent provocation but he also used bad language. The hot tamale man was in court and anxious to testify, but was not given the opportunity. Said the Judge to Pat Kelly, 'Young man, this will cost you a fine of $25. These hot tamale men have been kicked and cuffed about considerably in recent months. They are entitled to protection just the same as you would be if someone tried to impose upon you. Be good, and the world will be good to you.' With that, Pat Kelly went below to talk with the jailer about raising the amount of his fine so that he could secure his liberty."

Happily, no such trial nor tribulation is evident in Arthur Collins' recorded rendition of "The Hot Tamale Man," issued in two slightly varying editions for both Victor and Columbia records in 1909.

Part ragtime, part vendor spiel ("Hot tamales keeps away the fleas, Hot tamales cures cramps in the knees") it's Arthur Collin's song from start to finish --- replete with his infectious laugh and now somewhat regrettable ethnic humor of another day and time for which we need not hide ourselves from or seek to fix blame.

The Columbia version is actually quite the better version, being more melodic and mellow --- but it's the Victor recording that we have here now, and it's with this record that we leave The Hot Tamale man to peddle his wares, albeit warily...

"The Hot Tamale Man" (1909)

You won't find actress Ethel Levey mentioned in early accounts of George M. Cohan's life and certainly nowhere within the 1942 film "Yankee Doodle Dandy," but no matter --- she was still his wife for a good many years, the mother of his daughter Georgette, and an entertainment force to be reckoned with when paired with Cohan on the Broadway stage, as they were in "Little Johnny Jones" and "George Washington, Jr." among others.

From the latter show, comes this spirited recording of Ethel Levey performing "I Was Bred in Virginia," a song so much her own and so closely identified with her that it became known as "Ethel Levey's Virginia Song." The association would be removed and revert to Cohan for the 1942 film, but it's Levey's unusual voice and phrasing that's worthy of attention here, for chances are you've never heard it... or anything quite like it.

"Ethel Levey's Virginia Song" (1906)

At the close of 1906, newspapers carried details of the pending Levey & Cohan divorce:

"Ethel Levey, wife of George M. Cohan, the actor and playwright, will bring suit for divorce. Mrs. Cohan's mother said tonight: 'My daughter is to sue for divorce immediately.' George Cohan is at present playing in Boston, and he confirmed the report tonight. The information that Mr. and Mrs. Cohan are to be divorced follows a statement made by Mr. Cohan in an advertising publication of December 22nd to the effect that Mrs. Cohan, who is known on the stage as Miss Ethel Levey, would retire from the cast of 'George Washington, Jr.' and acting upon her physician's advice, would spend the winter in Florida. It was further announced that Miss Levey, having played in her husband's productions for the past two and a half years with but one week's vacation during that time, had earned a much needed rest."

Before passing away in 1955, Levey would appear in "High Stakes," a jaw-dropper of a 1931 RKO film that featured Lowell Sherman and (in quite possibly her best and most underappreciated film role) Mae Murray, as well as the 1940 Leon Errol two-reeler "Tattle Television" for Columbia. Incredible.

A recent viewing of Fox's 1927 "Seventh Heaven" reminded me of not just how good a film it is, but also of the odd fact that the triple Academy Award winning film (best actress, director and writing/adaptation) is kept largely out of circulation here in the States, although it remains readily available on DVD in other countries.

Tricked up with a synchronized Movietone musical score and effects (although Gaynor and Farrell are not heard --- a decidedly positive factor in retrospect,) the film's theme song, "Diane" quickly became a popular standard that lingers on long after seeing the film --- or not seeing it, for that matter.

Here's two equally excellent versions of "Diane," one by the Troubadours (with Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra) and the other by vocalist Franklyn Baur, which retains the seldom heard opening verse.

"Diane" (1927) The Troubadours

"Diane" (1927) Franklyn Baur

A 1929 Fox film that won't be coming soon to any screen (or DVD) in the foreseeable future --- but with good reason, is the lost feature "Masked Emotions," for which we a lovely (and real)
original poster depicted to the right.

In general release through late 1929, the synchronized feature (which appears to have contained at least one talking sequence) was described as a "melodramatic romance with adventure of the most thrilling sort, abundant love interest and nice comedy relief." Details of the plot are surprisingly different from what the action depicted in the poster suggests, as "the story has to do with a college youth, cruising off the coast of Maine with a chum in an old sloop, when he becomes interested in the daughter of the captain. They discover a smuggling plot and one of the youths is very roughly treated by members of the crew who are in the conspiracy."

Just an in and outer, the film appeared to have gotten wide release --- although invariably on the bottom half of a double bill, paired with a Western.

The 1930 Metro feature "Way Out West" starred popular light comedian William Haines, who's presence in sound films is either a trial or joy depending on one's mood (and knowledge of Haines' life,) but "Way Out West" chiefly benefits from the unusual setting and as fine a supporting cast as one could hope for --- including Lelia Hyams, Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards, Polly Moran and Charles Middleton.

The film's theme song, "Singing A Song to the Stars" is given wide exposure throughout the film --- being warbled at least twice and heard numerous times in the incidental scoring, and it's one instance where a melody doesn't overstay its welcome.

Cheerful, plaintive and sweetly endearing, here's "Singing A Song to the Stars" as performed by Leo Reisman and His Orchestra, with Fran Frey providing the wistful vocal:

"Singing A Song to the Stars" (1930)

When not acting as master of ceremonies for elaborate stage presentations such as the one from 1924 detailed at the left (which included "Paul Whiteman's S.S. Leviathan Orchestra",) Comedian and vocalist Al Bernard could be heard via the radio (appearing that same year on the "Dixie Stars" musical program) or, more easily, via numerous phonograph records.

Mr. Bernard was featured in an earlier post ("The Snows of Yesteryear" - January 2007) but a recent note from a reader prompts me to allow him to take center stage again, with three rather diverse recordings from 1919 and 1924.

"St. Louis Blues" and "When Mariuch Shake Da Shimmie Sha Wob" (both 1919) are both performed in ethnic dialect and typical of their day --- although "St. Louis Blues" is by far the more memorable of the two, due largely to the timeless W.C. Handy composition which defies whatever is thrown at it.

With 1924's "In 1999," we're on firmer ground --- and Bernard is in better form, in this comedic but oddly prophetic view of the future. While all the predictions haven't come true, some show a distinct possibility of doing so!

"The St. Louis Blues" (1924) Al Bernard

"When Mariuch Shake Da Shimmie Sha Wob" (1919) Al Bernard

"In 1999" (1924) Al Bernard

This seems a logical point to also offer two additional recordings by vocalists familiar to these pages and its readers, Vaughn DeLeath and Irving Kaufman --- two names near and dear to the heart of record collectors and phonograph aficionados alike. I suspect that even the most prolific of record collectors will ever be able to say with any certainty that they either own or have heard every recording by either of these artists, for their output was so large and the number of names they recorded under so plentiful.

No, Vaughn DeLeath's "Drowsy Head" isn't the offered item here --- at least yet, but readers may be as surprised as I was to note that she co-authored this tune with Irving Berlin in 1921.

Instead, we have 1927's "Somebody Said," in which DeLeath takes on anyone who'd have the gall to comment upon her young man in less than stellar terms --- or overly gushing ones too, for that matter.

"Somebody Said" (1927) Vaughn DeLeath

Irving Kaufman's contribution is the hugely popular "When Day Is Done," and it's once of the few instances where Kaufman seems to sleepwalk through it all --- injecting little personality and less enthusiasm than is usual, seeming almost eager to get it done with and go home. Ah well, we all have our off days.

"When Day Is Done" (1927) Sam Lanin & His Orchestra, with vocal by Irving Kaufman

From Paramount's "The Cocoanuts," comes yet another rendition of "When My Dreams Come True," and at a point where I thought I had heard them all --- up to and including Hawaiian guitar interpretations. No matter, it's a song that can do no wrong insofar as I'm concerned.

This go around, it's performed by Hal Kemp and His Orchestra (with vocal by Skinnay Ennis) as recorded for Brunswick in May of 1929.

Unusually breezy and smooth, this version hints at the fact that those dreams of Spanish castles aren't as fanciful as supposed.

"When My Dreams Come True" (1929) Hal Kemp & His Orchestra

On July 27th of 1929, readers of Lima, Ohio newspapers learned that the popular State Theater --- currently shuttered, was scheduled to reopen in a few days with the Warner Bros. all talking film "The Gamblers" as the inaugural attraction for the revamped theater.

"In addition to the up-to-the-minute talking apparatus, which has been installed, the State Theater boasts a perforated metal screen, something new in the line of film-showing equipment. According to George Ritzler, manager of the State, the voices of the speakers will come directly from the screen, instead of from the sides, as they do with most talking equipment. Ritzler pointed out that since the voices of the actors will come from the back of the performers, the reproduction will seem more realistic."

This otherwise innocent story helps to explain curious references often found in contemporary reviews of early talkies that refer to sound coming from "various parts of the theater." Just such a statement is made in the NY Times review of "Noah's Ark," although in this case (where sound is also mentioned as coming from the back of the theater) it might have been what amounts to the earliest attempt at a surround-sound effect or (more probably) the odd acoustics of the theater reflecting the sound being thrown upward and away from the screen. Either way, a puzzle.

MGM's "Children of Pleasure" (1930) is a showcase for the infinitely affable Lawrence Gray, and although it doesn't turn up on TCM anywhere nearly as often as it once did (but then, what from 1929 and 1930 does of late?) it's well worth catching if future scheduling allows.

In addition to Lawrence Gray's excellent vocalizations of "The Whole Darn Things For You" and "Leave It That Way," the film contains a gem of a Technicolor musical number titled "Dust" which, while having survived intact and in its original nicely preserved hues, is seen within the body of the film only in grainy black and white -- a simple matter to remedy, but one beyond the interest of the film's present owners. "Dust" can also be seen --- in much degraded Technicolor and somewhat truncated form (the opening vocal is cut) in the 1934 MGM Technicolor two-reeler "Roast Beef and Movies," which was tossed onto the DVD release of "Dancing Lady," a disc you may already have in your collection but never yet fully explored.

A long-winded introduction I know, but here --- to fill a reader's request, is "The Whole Darned Thing's For You" --- as performed by Ben Selvin & His Orchestra, with vocal by Don Howard.

"The Whole Darned Thing's For You" (1930) Ben Selvin & His Orchestra

Also from 1930, comes this recording of "Lady Play Your Mandolin," by vocalist Nick Lucas --- seen to the right in a posed still from 1929's "Gold Diggers of Broadway," with Nancy Welford (right) and Winnie Lightner (bottom right knee.) Not many months had passed since his recording of two tremendously popular tunes from that film, and yet in listening to "Lady Play Your Mandolin," Lucas seems incredibly more polished a performer --- as much relaxed, smooth and confident as he seemed tremulous and somehow distant in the two "Gold Diggers" recordings.

"Mandolin" would also provide the basis for the 1931 Warner Bros. cartoon of the same title, in which Abe Lyman and His Orchestra provided the music. The curious can see a (fairly bad quality) representation of the cartoon on the otherwise superb DVD release of "Little Caesar," but there's no waiting to listen to Nick Lucas' fine Brunswick recording. (Don't pay too close attention to the lyrics, as I'm unable to explain the line "I could eat your heart.")

"Lady, Play Your Mandolin" (1931) Nick Lucas

Closing out this post, which traveled from boardwalk arcades to coffin escapes, while stopping for a hot tamale luncheon --- comes an exceptionally fine rendition of the title tune from Universal's "Broadway" (1929) as performed by the fine British ensemble of Arthur Rosebury and His Kit-Kat Club Orchestra, and with enthusiasm and verve of the sort many American performers somehow couldn't easily muster for the tune.

In truth, there's not a whole heck of a lot to the composition, but what there is of it, is pure velvet.

"Broadway" (1929)

Apologies for the long stretch between posts --- but you can expect at the very least, to see and hear something new in these pages once a week. Perhaps not on any set schedule, but once a week.

It's my pleasure, folks!


There's a Limit to Everything --- Anaconda, MT - 21 April 1908

A Victim of the Depression - 5 February 1931

A Slow News Days in Decatur, Illinois - 24 September 1909

Mme. Olga & Co. - Danville, VA - 20 September 1927

Mr. & Mrs. George M. Cohan - Circa 1905

Ethel Levey Obituary - 28 February 1955

Balloon Ascension, Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition - Portland, Oregon 1905

One of very few remaining structures from the Lewis & Clark Exposition,
the former NCR Building (which featured motion pictures) now a pub.

NCR Building, as it appeared in 1905

Fox Film Newspaper Publicity Placement - January 1929

A Puzzle Contest for "Lilies of the Field" (Warners-1930)

Majestic Ad for an Intimate Film



alexa757 said...

Another wonderful blog - you certainly keep up the quality - which is far better than quantity (anyway once a week of Vitaphone Varieties is better than everyday of some blogs.)

I knew that Cohan's first wife was named Ethel Levey, but she was a shadowy figure - no more - what a rendition of "Virginia"! Is it true that she was of Scots ancestry? I only say this because it always struck me as funny to have Cohan and Levey - an Irish and Scottish team!

And thanks for "Diane" - maybe someday "7th Heaven" will be released in a version for us in the US.

Lovely "Masked Emotions" poster - and I'm thrilled to know it is 100% genuine!

Listening to all the music again will keep me happy and busy till next time.

Kevin K. said...

My family went to a similar amusement park in the '60s -- the old gypsy machine, the Mutoscope. I don't remember if I thought it odd these ancient machines were still in use, but I know I enjoyed them tremendously. Thank you for reminding me!

Jeff Cohen said...

Bearden: Thanks for your generous comment, which also serves to remind me that the obscure "Cohens and Kellys" Fox series of silent and talking films is well worth exploring here some day. Vastly popular in their day, but barely a faint memory today.

EastSide: Growing up in the 60's, as I assume we both did, we were fortunate indeed to see things like Mutoscopes still in their proper place rather than a museum, for such an incredible amount of our past was destroyed during that decade in an effort to rush the country into a "Space Age" that never really happened. The glittering spectacle of the NY Worlds Fair on one hand, and the senseless demolition of Pennsylvania Station on the other (an error we're now incedibly trying to repair) --- a decade of mind-numbing contrasts. No wonder I'm a bit off-kilter! ;)


Joe Thompson said...

Jeff: I enjoyed the post. The place to go to see amusement machines in their proper environment is the Musee Mecanique at Pier 45 in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf (http://www.museemechanique.org/). Ed Zelinsky has collected hundreds of devices, including fortune tellers and Mutoscopes, and lets the public enjoy them. My personal favorite is the French Execution...

Joe Thompson ;0)

Jeff Cohen said...

Joe: Thanks for the link to The Musee Mechanique! I heard they were in financial trouble a while back and their future uncertain, so it's great to see them alive, well and thriving.

Could kick myself six ways 'til Sunday for missing this museum during a visit to SF. Have no recollection of seeing or doing anything other than to walk uphill for three days. Must correct that some day, and just simply be a tourist.