22 June 2008

Length Not Wearying

While I'd be hard pressed to come up with any obvious similarities between the lone figure looking straight at you from the left --- a Coney Island sideshow performer of 1910 --- and this blog, the fact remains that one is a dim artifact of past pleasures both noble and dubious, and the other a venue seeking to keep their memory alive and to bridge the fearful distance between Then and Now.

It has been an unusually long time between the last entry and this one, and I apologize for that unhappy fact, but also must reassure the many readers who have written and inquired as to the general health of "Vitaphone Varieties" that I've no intention of closing up shop nor abandoning what has become, quite unexpectedly too --- almost a living entity of an odd sort. That said, I suppose readers may encounter a sporadic posting schedule --- but "down time" of the sort recently encountered will not be typical. Ideally, a new release every month is the most comfortable fit and I'll strive to maintain that goal wherever possible.

Before moving on, allow me to thank all those who have written with encouragement and suggestions, and the many more nameless folks around the globe who return to these pages regularly in the hope of finding something new to see, hear and experience. I can't quite promise "performing leopards and jaguars," or even "Bamboula & Doc. Hastings: Jungle Comedians," but perhaps what I can offer is something not terribly far removed after all.

News Wire Story - 14 September 1913:

"Usually he is a creature of most regular habits and imperturbable good humour, but at rare intervals he feels the need of a change. One afternoon he suddenly jumped out of the window and set off at a good pace toward the busy Place du Chatelet. He strolled into a cafe, upset the glasses of the customers, pushed over a few chairs, and after a final look around went out and swung himself on a passing motor-omnibus."

"To the consternation of passengers, he sat down in the first-class section, but when the conductor came for his fare he dived playfully out of the open window. He appeared soon afterwards in a grocer's shop, sampled some nuts, but did not approve of them, and began to pull out drawers and open cupboards."

"When the grocer appeared, the monkey threw lemons at him, then over-turned into an empty barrel and was pulled out by the feet. He retaliated by biting and scratching the grocer, who is now taking action against the owner of Bamboula."

Now that that's cleared up, we'll begin this entry proper with melody ---

An old friend visits us from mid-December of1927, making it clear he has his priorities both straight and sensible as could be:

"Ten Cents Worth of Crackers, Ten Cents Worth of Cheese --- and You" (1927)

From the odd mix of melodrama and music that is MGM's 1930 "Children of Pleasure," (a companion piece if ever there was to 1929's "Lord Byron of Broadway",) comes "Dust," performed here by the Casa Loma Orchestra.

"Dust" (1930)

A Madison, Wisconsin newspaper review of "Sunny Side Up" from December 30th of 1929:

"An excellent picture as a whole, and the most human picture we have seen this year -- that's 'Sunny Side Up,' starring Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor, made famous by 'Seventh Heaven,' and now playing at the Strand Theater to overflow crowds."

"For the first half of the picture the action goes well and in a unified way in an atmosphere reminiscent of 'Seventh Heaven.' Then, the picture falters, stammers, and becomes ridiculous on several occasions."

"Among the particularly silly scenes is Farrell talking to the pictures of two women, because the director apparently was at a loss to show his change in emotional goal any other way. The psychological climax with Janet Gaynor in despair over the fact that Charles loves another became comedy at one show when a voice from the audience during a silent moment boomed 'That's all right old girl.'"

"Nor could the director resist an opportunity to interject the inevitable stage scenes of impromptu musical comedy, which have come to be a part of every talkie, regardless of the subject." "Although the picture runs the full two hours of the show, its length is not wearying -- testimonial to its entertainment value. Children will like it, and few adults will be disappointed in it."

Another review of the film --- this time from Butte, Montana --- and also from December of 1929, offers some interesting insight as to where color footage originally appeared in the film that now survives in a truncated, monochromatic form:

"One of the richest and most colorful sequences ever seen on the screen is the sensational 'Water Carnival' portion of the film, which is filmed in colors. The elongated sequence comprises three songs, one of which is a solo by Miss Gaynor - 'I'm a Dreamer,' a love duet - 'If I Had a Talking Picture of You,' sung by Miss Gaynor and Farrell, and 'Turn On the Heat,' a spectacular jazz number sung and danced by Sharon Lynn and an ensemble of chorus beauties."

For your listening pleasure, a1929 medley of selections from "Sunny Side Up," --- performed in a delightfully majestic manner --- heavy on the strings -- by the Kingsway Promenade Orchestra. Indeed, the only melody from the film not given nod here is (understandably) Marjorie White's Harry Lauder parody, "It's Great to Be Necked!"

Selections from "Sunny Side Up" (1929)

Syndicated newspaper columnist Dan Thomas focused upon the fragile blonde actress and vocalist Jeanette Loff, prominently featured in Universal's "King Of Jazz" in a column dating from January of 1930:

"Getting fired isn't the most pleasant thing in the world. But sometimes it turns out to be a real break after all. That's just what happened to Jeanette Loff and as a result the young blonde actress now is in line to do something really big in this motion picture racket. Jeanette was under contract to Pathe for about two years. A short time ago one of the option dates in her contract rolled around and Pathe officials decided not to exercise their option, as was the case with a good many of their players."

"Consequently, Miss Loff was faced with the prospect of looking for a new job. That took her just one day, however. The day after she moved off the Pathe lot, she parked her make-up box at the Metropolitan studio and went to work in 'Party Girl,' which Edward and Victor Halperin were producing."

"That film finished. Universal then offered the girl a five-year contract and a role in Paul Whiteman's "King of Jazz Revue." Originally, she was slated to sing one number in the picture, but her voice proved to be of such an excellent quality that the one number now has increased to four. And, if she keeps on she will have as much footage as Whiteman himself by the time the picture is completed."

"'Of course I am happy,' Jeanette exclaimed. 'Who wouldn't be with four songs in Paul Whiteman's film? I don't mind saying that I was discouraged when Pathe let me go. I hadn't accomplished a great deal over there, but I had hopes of some day doing something worthwhile. I believe know that I am going to realize those hopes, even though I had to get a new job before doing so.'"

"'I don't know exactly what I'm going to do after this picture, but I have heard a story is being prepared especially for me. Won't that be marvelous, coming right on top of the Whiteman film? I hope that the pictures aren't too close together though, because my Aunt wants me to make a trip to Palm Beach with her, and you have no idea how badly I want to go. I have never been away from the Pacific coast.'"

"When Jeanette left her job as organist in a Portland, Oregon theater to become a film actress, she was considered a great bet. Being much the same type as Vilma Banky, Rod La Rocque chose her as his leading lady in three pictures. Those were the days when Rod was getting pretty much what he wanted. With that as a start, it looked as though nothing could stop the talented young blonde."

"Something did though. What exactly, nobody knows. For some reason, big roles just stopped coming Jeanette's way and her box office value, which had been going up rapidly, started slumping off. Maybe the blame should be laid at the feet of the talkies. They did funny things to many persons out here."

"In any event, we do know that Pathe never gave Miss Loff a chance to sing. They just took it for granted that with the talkies in, she wouldn't go over so well. It was left for Paul Whiteman to discover what a truly remarkable voice she has."

An audio excerpt from the lengthy "My Bridal Veil" sequence from "King of Jazz," highlighting Miss Loff's lovely voice:

"My Bridal Veil" (1930) Excerpt

Had "King of Jazz" appeared early in the first cycle of musical films, Loff's film career might have been as bright and prolific as predicted --- but the public was fast becoming fatigued, and Loff's newly discovered talent would go largely untapped without vehicles being produced that could utilize them.

Radio might seem a natural venue for the actress/vocalist, and indeed she did appear with fellow "King of Jazz" alumni Grace Hayes on Paul Whiteman's "Old Gold" Hour in March of 1930, to again warble "A Bench in the Park," but there's little or no evidence radio required her services beyond this one-off appearance.

Loff would appear alongside Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in the 1930 Tiffany early exploitation film "Party Girl," and with Betty Compson in Universal's forgotten 1930 frivolity "The Boudior Diplomat," but then seemed to fade from view.

Syndicated Hollywood columnist Robbin Coons --- for reasons lost to time --- turned his focus on Jeanette Loff in an entry from early December of 1933:

"Blue-eyed Jeanette Loff of the golden hair can always wonder what would have happened to her screen career had she followed her desire and made her screen debut some six years ago as 'Jan Love.'"

"Jeanette is Scandinavian by descent, her mother Norwegian and her father Danish. The family name was once Lov, and Jeanette as a child was called Jan. It was as Jan Lov that she played the organ in theaters up in Portland, Oregon, and sometimes appeared singing in theater prologues, during vacation from school. But when she came to Hollywood and signed a contract with Cecil B. DeMille, who seems to like American-sounding names, he wouldn't let her be anything but Jeanette Loff."

"As Jeanette Loff, of course, she was sentenced to perpetual ingenue roles, which is why, even though she is still Jeanette Loff, she regards her return to films after two years on the stage as a turning point. The picture is 'Mating Time,' and she plays a country girl who goes bad. 'She turns out all right in the end,' smiles Jeanette, sitting on the cream and blue davenport in her cream and blue and white apartment --- her own idea. 'But what a change for me after playing so many nice girls! And they chose me from 50 other girls tested. Do you suppose Broadway would have done all that for me?'"

"Miss Loff left Hollywood after surprising everyone by her singing in the Paul Whiteman screen revue, 'The King of Jazz.' She had remained under contract to Universal for several months afterwards, but no more roles were forthcoming. She went to New York, appeared in musical plays and with orchestras and recently came back to Hollywood, looking for more pictures. Her return was timed fairly closely with the revival of the Whiteman film, which probably has done better on second release than on its first."

In fact, everyone seemed to be doing better 'round about now, except Jeanette. "Mating Time" appears to have been scrapped long before any cameras rolled, and news (right) of Jeanette Loff's sister's 1931 wedding to one Robert Knox of Oakland, California was deemed interesting enough to be featured in countless newspapers of the day.

One can't easily imagine Loff's feelings in early 1933 --- without work, without studio, while at the same time appearing in a myriad of cinemas across the nation in the edited re-release version of "King of Jazz." It's impossible to imagine she didn't venture into one of these theaters to see herself again as she was in 1930 when success seemed so near and so certain. Perhaps it is best to leave her there, at that moment, and conjecture no further.

Perhaps due to the re-release of "King of Jazz," or not, a flurry of minor activity would mark 1934. There'd be two ventures into the two-reel format for the Hal Roach Studio -- seemingly toying with the idea of a team consisting of Loff and Eddie Foy, Jr. -- that resulted in "Benny From Panama" and "A Duke For A Day."

From the latter film, we have Jeanette Loff's rendition of "I Wake Up With A Song," which reveals that her voice was just as pleasing and adept in 1934 as it had been four years earlier --- and that despite the highly ironic lyrics:

"I Wake Up With A Song" (1934)

A bit part in an MGM film, and a couple of bottom-of-the-bill potboilers for Monogram and Showmen's Pictures Inc. would mark the end of Loff's screen career by the mid-1930's.

Her name would re-surface again in early August of 1942 --- a war-torn world away from pastel hued bridal veils of 1930.

Some sources claim her death was the result of suicide by ammonia poisoning, but details are either elusive or never made public. Hollywood columnist did refer to her death as "tragic and senseless" when otherwise cheerfully reporting that her widower, Bert Friedlob, was sporting a Lieutenant's uniform while nightclubbing a few months later --- but I suppose it's all very much left open to interpretation.

As for Jeanette's sister Irene, who stole the show in 1931 with news of her wedding? Well, in March of 1946, newspapers reported that Irene Loff received a Reno divorce from Mr. Knox on the grounds that "her husband had neglected to provide her with the necessities of life for more than one year." There are necessities of life, and there are needs. There, we leave the sisters Loff.

Oakland, CA - March of 1929:

"The Easter rabbit left a highly colored cinema egg at the T & D Theater this week, and the customers have due cause to rejoice and be glad. It is called 'a jazz revue,' and that describes it was well as anything. Backstage shenanigans, some singing, dancing and romancing by the principals, good photography and first rate sound reproduction."

"'Close Harmony' was written by Elsie Janis and brings to the foreground Charles 'Buddy' Rogers and Nancy Carroll as the two chief characters, Jack Oakie and 'Skeets' Gallagher for light comedy relief, and Harry Green for sound low comedy of a most effective sort."

"Green really steals the picture as far as laughs go with is impersonation of the harried Hebrew manager of the movie house where the events of 'Close Harmony' originate. Rogers has suffered in recent pictures by the inordinate desire of the movie makers to convert him into a tin hero. In 'Close Harmony' he is given some human traits: jealousy, pig-headedness and shy brutality. He almost becomes an average young man trying to get along the world. And Nancy Carroll, too, is most attractive disclosing charm that has hitherto been denied her by this sage."

"In 'Close Harmony,' young Rogers is a jazz band conductor in the making. He is befriended by Miss Caroll who has already achieved comparative stardom. She undertakes to be his manager and intended bride at one and the same time and use her wits to advance the boy. He rebels when some of her schemes violate his sense of justice, but all ends well."

"Close Harmony" is one of a large clutch of Paramount early talkies that survive and enjoy good health, yet remain largely unseen save for sporadic archive screenings. So it goes.

Oh, for a boxed DVD set of Paramount's contribution to the early sound era! "Interference," "The Letter," "Glorifying the American Girl," "Dance of Life," "The Virginian," and of course, "Paramount on Parade" and "Follow Thru." I suppose we've as much chance for this as it would be for a beaming Nancy Carroll showing up at your door bearing "Abie's Irish Rose" in cans --- but it's a nice thought for an idle moment of delirium nonetheless.

From "Close Harmony," two melodies performed by Jesse Stafford & His Orchestra:

"I'm All A Twitter" (1929) and...

"I Want To Go Places and Do Things" (1929)

One can't easily peruse vintage magazines or newspaper ads without some sense of wistful longing for what we deem "the good old days" and marvel at how inexpensive things seem to be.

It came as something of a reality check then to learn that if one converted the $272 price-tag of this admittedly high-end Brunswick radio and phonograph combination to that of 2008 prices, you would be looking at a cost of something in the vicinity of $3,292.00.

Likewise, when Columbia introduced it's new Double-Disc (two sided) 78rpm records in 1911, that reasonable sounding 65 cent price-tag would equate to just over $14.00 today. Double-your-music value be damned, that was a formidable outlay in 1911 and it can only be hoped that these early double-discs didn't frequently exploit the opportunity to pair one hotly popular tune with one of fleeting interest.

Such didn't seem to be the case with the January 1911 Columbia Double Disc release of two melodies ("Stop, Stop, Stop!" and "Lovie Joe") from "The Ziegfeld Follies of 1910," which played at New York City's Jardin de Paris theater from June until September of that year.

I can't vouch for "Stop, Stop, Stop!" but the latter tune, "Lovie Joe," is a forgotten delight that revels in an eccentric musical style that combines the ballad with ragtime with sly paraphrasing of classical melody.

We've two versions of this sprightly tune with us, the first a 1910 recording by prolific recording artist Arthur Collins and the second a modern re-creation by the always magnificent and much under-utilized Paragon Ragtime Orchestra which --- as always --- gets it "just right" and resists the temptation to either improve or improvise --- two elements which turn the vast bulk of all such recordings into campy garbage. No "Betty Boop" vocals here, folks!

"Lovie Joe" (1910) Arthur Collins

"Lovie Joe" The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra

The young man intently listening to a portable phonograph circa 1921 is composer and pianist Edward Elzear 'Zez' Confrey, who's compositions (often referred to as "piano novelties") would mark the 1920's with their clear, staccato, playful rhythms that seem at once familiar and yet startlingly new --- "My Pet," "Kitten on the Keys," "Dizzy Fingers," "Humorestless."

While much of his work was better suited to listening than dancing, his 1922 piece "Stumbling" rejoiced in movement of the human form, albeit awkward and untrained --- and therefore accessible to all.

A September 1922 newspaper feature instructed readers in the proper way to do "stumbling steps" (thereby ruining the inherent simplicity and humor of the melody) and informed readers that Mr. Confrey "said he got his inspiration by watching the discomfiture of a poor man who had never taken dancing lessons before stumble all over a poor young lady who had."

Labeled "A Fox Trot Oddity," the composition is the sort that once heard it can't (easily) be forgotten and seems to contain, within it, the feel and mood of the dawning years of the decade that inspired it.

Three versions of "Stumbling" are offered here, two being vocals and one orchestral --- and it's difficult if not impossible to place one above the other in terms of quality, although the deciding factor will likely be based upon your fondness of either Paul Whiteman, Frank Crumit or Billy Murray. Fans of all three will have some deciding to do.

"Stumbling" (1922) Paul Whiteman & His Band

"Stumbling" (1922) Frank Crumit

"Stumbling" (1922) Billy Murray

Newspaper readers in November of 1929, who had all they could do that year to absorb and understand a torrent of new technological wonders, were faced with yet another advance in entertainment...

"An instrument without keyboard, strings or reeds, untouched by the hands of the player, is soon to be introduced for the first time by one of the most noted orchestras in the United States."

"The instrument is called a Theremin after Leon Theremin, its Russian inventor. It is really an apparatus consisting of radio tubes and antennas and is operated by the aid of electricity. It will be played by Theremin himself when he appears as soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra here Thanksgiving night."

"The Theremin is an instrument which produces musical sound by electrical means. It has no keyboard, strings, reeds or other mechanical aids or sources of sound. It has a range of three octaves and on the lower range partakes the tone of the bassoon, string bass and other low-pitched instruments. Further up the scale, it imitates the cello, violin, flute and still further --- the human voice."

As we now know, the Theremin would never quite be taken seriously (whether justifiably or not) and is perhaps best remembered as an instrument --- like the Son-O-Vox, which would provide appropriately other-worldly atmosphere to numerous mystery, horror and science fiction productions. In the recording that follows, from 1930, the Theremin lends --- well, not much of anything, to be quite frank --- to a rendition of a pop tune of the day, "You're Driving Me Crazy."

"You're Driving Me Crazy" (1930)

Before heading out and away from this entry --- down the usual gallery of scattered sight and sound, we'll linger a moment to look back upon the aforementioned 1929 Paramount film "The Dance of Life," which never envisioned that "Glamorous! Gorgeous! Heart Breaking!" would some day aptly describe the film's sad fate --- existing as a dupey shadow of its former self. Paramount itself described the film thus in 1929 press material:

"Sound and color have been successfully combined on the same narrow strip of motion picture film and the surprisingly successful combination will be seen at the ______ Theater. The perfected sound-and-color process has been used to photograph and record a lavish stage revue in 'The Dance of Life.' The stage and performers appear in natural colors, the brilliant jewels, the gorgeous gowns, the dancing choruses and beautiful settings. Eighty dancing girls are used in the production and the sound of their steps and voices are distinctly heard. A 32-piece orchestra and the song of a soloist are packed together on a single bit of celluloid scarcely more than an inch square. The perfected system of combining sound and color on motion picture film is the work of scientists of the Technicolor Corporation, working with sound engineers of the Paramount studios. The use of this process in "The Dance of Life" is the first that has been successful enough to present to the public."

And now, as noted, to close out this entry, a selection of sights and sounds and a firm reassurance that I'll see you again soon --- likely over the 4th of July holiday weekend, so until then --- thanks for visiting!

"Say It With Songs" (1929) French Release Poster Art

"Annapolis" (Pathe-1929) Jeanette Loff & Admirers

"Who?" from "Sunny" (1926)
French Rendition by Mistinguette

"The Big Pond" (1930) French Language Release Version

"No, No, Nanette" (1930)
Gone, Gone, Gone...

25 September 1929


"Singing in the Rain" and "Orange Blossom Time"
from "The Hollywood Revue" (1929)
Mr. Johnny Marvin & Orchestra

"Painting the Clouds With Sunshine"

from "The Gold Diggers of Broadway" (1929)
Mr. Al Foster (aka Sid Gary)

Coming Soon ---

The Return of Enigmarelle - His True Story!