Mayer and Evans, The Cowboy And The Girl (1928) – The second of two 1928 Vitaphone shorts made by the popular vaudeville team of Ray Mayer & Edith Evans. Mayer, at piano, always bears close watching with his entertaining antics with gum and keyboard. Mayer appeared in supporting roles in many thirties features, including SWING TIME ('36), YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL ('34) and Leo McCarey's MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW ('37) The team made a number of 78s for Brunswick, and was still performing together in clubs at the time of his death in 1948.
Kjerulf's Mayfair Quintette in "A Musical Melange" (1928) - Filmed at Warner Bros west coast studios on Sunset Boulevard (while the Brooklyn studios were being renovated for sound production), this short is one of the studio's higher-class offerings. Featuring three harpists --- one sporting a Colleen Moore-inspired bob --- a violinist, and a singer, this genre of Vitaphone short would be used by theatre managers to present a balanced mix along with band, vaudeville and novelty acts. This was also done on vaudeville circuits to ensure the programs had something for everyone. The quintette was paid $500 to make this short.
Gilbert Wells "A Breeze From the South" (1928) – Wells epitomizes the all around vaudevillian: he sang, danced, told jokes, and even played the clarinet and piano. All in an 8 minute act. Yet another performer lost in the mist of nine decades --- until now --- Wells was also a prominent songwriter, with pop tunes like “Red Hot Mama”, “Insufficient Sweetie” and “Sadie Green, The Vamp of New Orleans” to his credit. His wife was another star of vaudeville, Florence Brady, whose own 1928 Vitaphone short has been restored and is on VITAPHONE VARIETIES Volume 2. Like many vaudevillians, his career soon faded and he died while still in his thirties in 1935.
The Croonaders in "Melodious Moments" (1928) – This singing trio is one of many that flourished in the late twenties. Composed of Cy Kahn, Al Garry, and Marcy Klauber, the group channels the most famous of the contemporary singing trios --- Paul Whiteman's Rhythm Boys --- several times in this short. Klauber went on to write countless mid-thirties Educational shorts. One of the songs sung in “Melodious Melodies” is “From Monday On”, written by two of the Rhythm Boys: Bing Crosby and Harry Barris.
Carolina Segrera, The Cuban Nightingale, with Don Alberto & His Argentines (1929) - Segera was an opera singer at La Scala of Milan during the 1930s and concert singer of ''lieder'' and art songs in leading concert halls in Europe in the 1950s. The soprano recorded on a number of 78's and LPs, and also taught singing in her studio in Manhattan from 1960 to 1996. She died at age 92 in 1998. Bandleader Don Alberto successfully rode the popularity of tango music which began in the late twenties and continued to flourish through the following decade. He starred in his own Vitaphone short three months before this one, and also appeared in a 1936 Educational short and two Spanish language features.
The Big Paraders (1929) – this short lived vaudeville group of six true heavyweights co-opted the title of the 1926 MGM hit to frame their act of singing, dancing, and even tumbling. Directed by Murray Roth at the newly opened Brooklyn Vitaphone studios in June 1929, the short is a canned version of their touring presentation. Their literally bouncing performance of “Doin' The Raccoon” would have registered on the Richter scale, if one existed then.
Edison and Gregory, ‘The Two College Nuts,’ in "Joe College" (1929) – This team is definitely a “B” level vaudeville act, but likely had little competition with their centerpiece of playing inflated rubber gloves. Filmed in July of 1929 at the recently wired Brooklyn Vitaphone studios, Billy Edison and Charlie Gregory show their oxygen-driven musical talents by also playing a bassoon, tire and umbrella.
Horace Heidt And His Californians (1929) – While his later band became very sweet, Horace Heidt's first orchestra frequently played hot, jazz dance tunes. As this short clearly demonstrates, his was decidedly a performing band. They didn't just sit there and play. The musicians sang, danced, and did piano stunts. As was a common practice in the twenties, the band even has an on-stage mascot: Lobo the dog, who provides a barking coda to this entertaining short.
Bobbe Arnst and Peggy Ellis in "Rhythms in Blue" (1929) – Bobbe (mis-sellied “Bobbie” on the title card) Arnst was a Broadway singer and dancer (specializing in the “shimmy”) and appeared in such shows as “The Greenwich Village Follies of 1924” and Ed Wynn's “Simple Simon” (1930). At the time this charming short was filmed, she was married to later 'Tarzan' Johnny Weismuller. Little is known about her accompanist, Peggy Ellis, other than that she's really good here. She appeared in eight Broadway productions, the last being “Cape Cod Follies”in 1929.
Molly Picon "The Celebrated Character Comedienne” (1929) – the tiny and winsome Molly Picon was a major star of the Yiddish theatre, toured in vaudeville, starred in her own radio program, and made starring appearances in Yiddish language films as well as in three Vitaphone shorts . This short's disk was missing until 2011, and shows off the star's versatility. In 1933, she headlined a rare Vitaphone three reeler, A LITTLE GIRL WITH BIG IDEAS, and later appeared on Broadway in “Fiddler On The Roof” (as Yenta the Matchmaker), and “Come Blow Your Horn”. In an obscure Vitaphone connection, she appeared as Jerry Lewis' mother in the 1959 television version of THE JAZZ SINGER. She is perhaps best known for her multiple appearances as Mrs. Bronson in CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?
Zelda Santley in "Little Miss Everybody" (1929) - Santley was a rare vaudevillian, a woman doing imitations of famous performers. Totally forgotten today, she was a headliner during the twenties before retiring to marry in 1935. This short captures her charm in giving her impressions of bandleader Ted Lewis, Maurice Chevalier, Fanny Brice and Mae West. As this short was filmed in Brooklyn in 1929, three years before West's first film appearance, few who saw this short originally even knew who she was.
Summers and Hunt in "Some Pumpkins" (1929) – Married in 1914 and performing together in vaudeville even earlier, Sam Summers (real name Ray Belmont) and Estelle (real name Beatrice) Hunt set their act at a country barn dance with lots of rural humor. Vitaphone released a number of shorts with bucolic settings, including “The Opry House” ('29) with the Mound City Blue Blowers, “The Blue Ridgers”('29), and “The Arkansaw Trio” ('28) with The Cruse Brothers. Country music had a strong following on 78 rpm records at the time, and these shorts addressed that appeal. The cute and perky Estelle gets off some fairly risque lines here, and she seems much younger than her 50 years.
Herschel Henlere "The Madcap Musician" (1929) – In some ways recalling Victor Borge's later act, Henlere toured extensively and internationally, mocking classical music in a decidedly bizarre manner. He was billed as “The Poet of the Piano” and started in two reelers directed by D.W. Griffith. Henlere appears to have toured extensively overseas, and while in England he appeared in two 1928 British Phototone shorts as well as two thirties features. He earns his later b illing as “The Mad Musician” when he closes this short with a particularly offbeat one man band device that is sure to give the viewer nightmares!
Al Trahan in "The Musicale" (1929) – You may not know his name, but vaudevillian Al Trahan's hearty belly laugh was parodied in countless Warner Bros cartoons. As a pianist who constantly insults his haughty singing partner (played by Yukona Cameron) Trahan delivers, and laughs at, a steady stream of his one-liners. This act changed little from the twenties through his early television appearances. A nearly identical one appears in a 1935 Vitaphone “Big Time Vaudeville” one reeler. Trahan also appeared occasionally on Broadway in such shows as “The Second Little Show” (1930) with fellow Vitaphone performer J.C. Flippen and “Top-Notchers” (1942) with Gracie Fields and newcomer Zero Mostel.
Clara Barry and Orval Whitledge in "Jest for a While" (1929) – this short is a prime example of a polished and consistently hilarious vaudeville two act which, like Shaw & Lee and Conlin & Glass – is so good it makes you ask “why were they forgotten?” The married couple worked together since the teens, and their relentless delivery of perfectly timed funny lines kept them in the top tier of vaudeville. But they are forgotten because their act was only committed to film twice; first in this short, whose Vitaphone disk was missing until 2011, and then again in a mid-thirties Al Christie produced Educational short. They retired from show business in 1940.
Ben Bernie And His Orchestra (1929) – Known as 'The Old Maestro', Ben Bernie always combined comedy with great musicianship. Recording extensively for Brunswick records, his band was also among the first to perform in talking pictures. Before this Vitaphone short --- which cleverly uses Warner Bros owned pop tunes from their current musicals --- Bernie had already made sound shorts for Deforest Phonofilms in 1925 and several Fox Movietone Act shorts in 1928. He went on to become a top rated star in radio, made a number of feature film appearances with his 'nemeses' Walter Winchell. He died in 1943 while still at the height of his popularity.