We have some big news for you, straight from Cladrite Industries’ central office in the heart of New York City:
It’s with great pleasure that we announce that Cladrite Radio will now be featuring performances taken from rare Vitaphone shorts, via recordings generously provided by one of the driving forces behind the Vitaphone Project, Ron Hutchinson, corresponding secretary and editor of the organization’s newsletter, The Vitaphone News.
That’s right, listeners of Cladrite Radio will be able to enjoy recordings that date back eighty years and more and are not commercially available anywhere, including performances by such Cladrite favorites as Rudy Vallée, Ben Bernie and His Orchestra, Horace Heidt and His Calfornians, and Abe Lyman and His Band, just to name a few.
What are Vitaphone shorts and The Vitaphone Project?
Well, here’s a snippet from a 1926 short featuring an act called Witt & Berg (note: the restored shorts are much clearer than this online sample):
And here are a couple of the songs we’ll be featuring in our first batch Vitaphone recordings:
Anyone with a casual interest in classic movies knows that The Jazz Singer (1927), starring Al Jolson, is considered the first “talkie” feature motion picture (even though that picture is arguably a silent movie with sound segments). (Incidentally, the recent three-disc DVD reissue of The Jazz Singer includes a disc that features several Vitaphone shorts.)
The same process used to create the sound for that ground-breaking picture was also used in literally hundreds of short subjects, dating back a year earlier to 1926.
The Vitaphone process depended on the use of a separate 16-inch record that was synchronized with the film, as opposed to the later practice of imprinting the sound on the edge of the film itself.
Movie collectors have long treasured Vitaphone shorts and their accompanying sound discs, but in many cases, only one or the other exists (sadly, in too many cases, neither is known to be extant), so an organization was needed to a) match films owned by one collector to sound discs in the possession of another collector and b) reunite those disparate elements and restore the films, so that they could be again enjoyed by movie buffs around the world.
That organization is the Vitaphone Project. Here is a quick summation of the group’s history and current activities, borrowed with permission from their website:
In 1991, a group of film buffs and record collectors met to discuss the possibility of seeking out the shellac soundtrack discs that accompanied early 1926-1930 Vitaphone (and other) talkie shorts and features. The Vitaphone Project was formed to accomplish this goal as well as to partner with the studios (particularly Turner/WB), film archives (UCLA, LOC, BFI), and private collectors worldwide in order to get these films restored and seen again. Of particular interest were the nearly 2,000 talkie short subjects, featuring vaudevillians, bands, opera singers, and comedians made by Vitaphone from 1926-1929. In many cases, 35mm picture elements exist without an accompanying soundtrack.
Since its inception, The Vitaphone Project has located over 3,000 12- and 16-inch shellac soundtrack discs in private hands, has assisted on the restoration of over 35 shorts and 12 features, and has developed nearly $300,000 in private funding for restorations.
So you see, it’s only through the efforts of the Vitaphone Project that movie buffs today are able to enjoyed these delightful glimpses into an entertainment that would otherwise be largely lost to us.
Vitaphone shorts show up on Turner Classic Movies from time to time, and New York’s Film Forum has made it an annual practice to schedule an evening devoted to Vitaphone shorts, and the house is nearly always packed. Generally, twelve to fifteen shorts are shown, and we are always amazed at the wide range of talent and styles depicted in the remarkable short films.
Most of the shorts depict a single act—a vaudeville act, a dance orchestra, a singer—and many of these acts are lost to us in any other form. That is to say, many didn’t make the move from, say, vaudeville to feature films, so without access to those Vitaphone shorts that have been restored, we’d never be able to experience these talents today.
We’ll designate these recordings in the info that appears in the Live365 player, so you’ll know when you’re hearing a Vitaphone recording. And we hope that, as you enjoy listening to these wonderful performances on Cladrite Radio, you’ll pay a visit to the Vitaphone Project’s website and considering giving them your support. Any amount is gratefully accepted, but gifts of $50 or more bring with them Vitaphone CDs as thank-you premiums, so you can enjoy some of this music at home on those rare occasions when you’re not tuned into Cladrite Radio’s toe-tapping stream.