R.I.P. Ron Hutchinson

Ron at our 2013 Palace Theatre centennial tribute/ vaudeville show

I am devastated. Word has reached me that mentor and friend Ron Hutchinson, director of the Vitaphone Project has passed away.

No one was more generous or helpful to me in the creation of my book No Applause. Early in my research process, long about 2001 he had me and my five year old son over to his house and we spent the day talking vaudeville. He told me anecdotes, he showed me his collection, shared primary materials, played his old 78s, and even made my kid a sandwich and a glass of milk for lunch. He gave me phone numbers of people to interview…Rose Marie, Sylvia Froos, Harold Nicholas. Besides me and my editor, there is no one who’s more “in” the book than Ron.

Because, ALSO, I attended all of his Vitaphone screenings over the years, giving me my first real glimpse of so many vaudeville acts, moments that shook me to the core. He was generous with his audiences, too. He stood and talked to everybody. A lot of people don’t know that his work for the Vitaphone Project — which restores and preserves old Vitaphone films from the late 1920s and early ’30s — was performed on a volunteer basis. He didn’t take a penny. (Or at least a salary). That’s damned important work he’s been doing all these years. And he’s been GIVING it to us.

In 2012, Ron contributed to my pieces on vaudevillians Georgie Price and Richie Craig Jr . His work also greatly enhanced my posts on Eddie White Jay C. FlippenHerman Timberg , Ed Lowry, Shaw and Lee, and Joe E. Brown. Some other posts I’ve done about his work may be found here, and here. But honestly he’s had a hand in more posts than these. Do a search on Travalanche for “Vitaphone” and you will find 130 posts. It’s not an exaggeration to say that something of his work is in all of those posts and others.

In 2013 he came and screened a special tribute film at a benefit vaudeville show I put together at the Players Club for the Theatre Museum. This was the last time we hung out I think.

Just a few months ago, we were thrilled to watch him on TCM, presenting his Vitaphones to the country! I DVR’d the whole thing, kept the movies and Ron’s intros for months. Cherished them.

I’m told he was taken by cancer. He was relatively young. And right now, I’m having deja vu. Another generous friend, Rich Conaty, was similarly stolen from us almost exactly two years ago. I am sad on a personal level. Ron was a nice guy. But I’m also concerned about what his loss means for the work I care about. It’s on us. It’s on us to carry his work forward.