Vitaphone

A Vitaphone double header tonight! I’ve been going to these annual programs organized by Ron Hutchison of the Vitaphone Project for years. Ron was very helpful to me in the early stages of researching my book.  Not coincidentally,  the VERY early days of talkies and the very LATE days of vaudeville overlapped. Ironically, Warner Bros.’ Vitaphones helped preserve the very acts of the vaudeville performers they were replacing. The privately run Vitaphone project exists to locate and preserve these early talkies, and has had amazing success, providing a valuable public service. Ron’s accomplished amazing things that major not-profits have either ignored or didn’t have the resources to take on…and simply because he saw a need and devoted his life to addressing it. Without being schmaltzy (which Ron would probably hate), let’s just say it’s a lesson in how to live your life.

Tonight at Film Forum, Ron will be presenting 10 of these Vitaphone Varieties (including a tap-dancing harpist and some “Rodeo Flappers”), as well as an early Hollywood musical called Moonlight and Pretzels. I’ll be there! For full details go here.

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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12 Responses to “Vitaphone”

  1. [...] on Rudy Vallee’s radio show. The following year he made his first films, including two Vitaphone shorts, one of which “Seeing Red” is a real eye opener on the vaudeville experience (Red hosts [...]

  2. [...] The family formed an act out of the Gumm Sisters, with Ethel as manager. They toured for a couple of years, then, in 1927, made the Los Angeles area their new home base, in the obvious hope that they’d get into pictures. Their first big break was a 1928 booking in the Meglin Kiddie’s Review at Loew’s State Theatre. “Baby” Gumm was by now the star of the act and was doing solo numbers and a Fanny Brice impression by this point. The act played all over the west, did shots on radio and Vitaphone shorts. [...]

  3. [...] there is only one peak in this life.” You can see a cool re-creation of her wartime act in a 1927 Vitaphone short she did, available in Warner Bros’ The Jazz Singer boxed [...]

  4. [...] preferred him with the cork. There’s an amazing sample of his work in this field in an extant Vitaphone short I presented at the Cinema Arts Center on Long Island. To those who chiefly know him as the grizzled [...]

  5. [...] Music? Comedy? Acrobatics? Anyway, it worked for Demarest. In 1927, Warner Brothers signed him; he appeared in The Jazz Singer and several Vitaphone shorts. [...]

  6. [...] hit there, and a tour of the Keith circuit followed. In 1930, he did his first films, a series of Vitaphone shorts which essentially preserved some of the vaudeville bits. Lucrative nightclub dates came next. When [...]

  7. [...] The first, when the act she performed with her father “Ming and Toy” was captured for a 1936 Vitaphone short; the second when that short was amply sampled in the 1999 PBS documentary [...]

  8. [...] WJZ, and finally NBC National. She was a sensation. By 1927 she was so big that she starred in the Vitaphone short that opened Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer. Her specialty was singing and dancing, with that voice [...]

  9. [...] of 1927, which surprisingly, flopped. In 1929, she played a character based on herself in the early Vitaphone talkie Queen of the [...]

  10. [...] a sketch for them called “Lamb Chops” that was probably the best thing they ever did. A 1929 Vitaphone short of this act survives, and it is an eye-opener, to see the pair of them so young, so fresh, and at [...]

  11. [...] of the new decade, big things started coming his way. He did Rudy Vallee’s radio show. He did a Vitaphone short called Gags to Riches. Presciently, he did a closed circuit TV experiment with Trixie Frigenza.  [...]

  12. [...] birthdays or shows I wanna plug today, so I thought I’d share some reportage on our Film Forum outing the other night. The Vitaphones were of course incredible, real windows into another era. This batch was part of a [...]

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