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A year in Hollywood

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Not sure how this idea is going to work but I want to experiment/explore the concept a bit. 

 

Sometimes I think classic movie fans get too caught up in certain stars or types of films, instead of looking at the broader picture. 

 

So my idea is to pick year when a lot was happening in Hollywood-- and show different things that were occurring across the movie-making landscape, that might help put celebrities and movies into perspective.

 

Does that make sense?

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I am going to pick a year where everything was changing in Hollywood. One of the most important years in the entire motion picture business:

 

 

imgres24.jpg

 

Then I will probably work forward, chronologically. 

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Not sure how this idea is going to work but I want to experiment/explore the concept a bit. 

 

You sure you've go the concept figured out? Or do you want to take a bit more time?

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You sure you've go the concept figured out? Or do you want to take a bit more time?

Well, I do have it figured out. I am going to present it month by month and indicate the major goings-on in movies for all twelve months of a given year. 

 

But where it's a little unclear is that when I did the research for 1928, the year I am starting with, there were so many names that were big then that people today have no idea about. So there are a lot of stories to showcase, but I don't want to have to spend a lot of time explaining who so-and-so was. The challenge is keeping it comprehensive but not too specific.

 

I think the recent in-depth biography on Barbara Stanwyck illustrates this-- if you go too in-depth you get bogged down. So I want this to explore a great deal of Hollywood history per year, but I want to keep it manageable and engrossing for the reader.

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A YEAR IN HOLLYWOOD

 

1928

 

Top stars:

According to Photoplay magazine

 

George Bancroft

Richard Barthelmess

Betty Compson

Gary Cooper

Joan Crawford

Marion Davies

Louise Dresser

Greta Garbo

Janet Gaynor

John Gilbert

Jean Hersholt

Emil Jannings

Thomas Meighan

William Powell

Fay Wray

 

Top grossing films:

According to Variety

 

1. THE SINGING FOOL..WB..$5.9 million; $81.6 million in 2015 (adjusted for inflation)

 

2. LIGHTS OF NEW YORK..WB..$1.3 million from a budget of $23,000; $18 million in 2015 (adjusted for inflation)

 

3. WEST OF ZANZIBAR..MGM..$921,000 from a budget of $259,000; $12.7 million in 2015 (adjusted for inflation)

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     I like this idea and I will be interested to see what transpires with this topic.

I especially like reading about the year of 1928 since it was such a transitional and

chaotic year for the studios. Most studios were still making full length silents (preferring to wait and see what happens with the talkie craze) while some were making part talkies or adding a line or two of dialogue to their films.

     What I find sad is that most of the part talkies and talkies of 1928 are "lost". I wonder

why this is so. I find them very interesting even if they are creaky and static.

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     I like this idea and I will be interested to see what transpires with this topic.

I especially like reading about the year of 1928 since it was such a transitional and

chaotic year for the studios. Most studios were still making full length silents (preferring to wait and see what happens with the talkie craze) while some were making part talkies or adding a line or two of dialogue to their films.

     What I find sad is that most of the part talkies and talkies of 1928 are "lost". I wonder

why this is so. I find them very interesting even if they are creaky and static.

Thanks midnight. In the days ahead, you will see that I go fairly in-depth with 1928, presenting a lot of statistics. But if I continue with subsequent years, I will probably just do more of a general narrative and less numbers/figures.

 

I agree that '28 is a transitional/chaotic year for Hollywood-- and that is what makes it so interesting to study.

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I am going to start posting about 1928 tomorrow, for those who are interested...

Very cool topic.

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I like this idea and I will be interested to see what transpires with this topic.

I especially like reading about the year of 1928 since it was such a transitional and

chaotic year for the studios. Most studios were still making full length silents (preferring to wait and see what happens with the talkie craze) while some were making part talkies or adding a line or two of dialogue to their films.

What I find sad is that most of the part talkies and talkies of 1928 are "lost". I wonder

why this is so. I find them very interesting even if they are creaky and static.

Many late.silents.might have a soundtrack, with music and/or background sounds, if not actually any dialogue. The filmmakers hedged their Bets as to whether talkies would last or not. Sounds weird, after the fact, but the poor sound, stilted.dialogue and.static.camera angles of the early talkies was by no means obvious that they would replace the silents, by then technically and artistically at.their peak.

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Many late.silents.might have a soundtrack, with music and/or background sounds, if not actually any dialogue. The filmmakers hedged their Bets as to whether talkies would last or not. Sounds weird, after the fact, but the poor sound, stilted.dialogue and.static.camera angles of the early talkies was by no means obvious that they would replace the silents, by then technically and artistically at.their peak.

 

Originally they put the noisy cameras inside a little room with a glass front, and they couldn't move it around, then someone came up with the idea for the camera sound-proofing "blimp" which made the camera bigger, but made it portable for use on a dolly.

 

Camera in a sound proof room (first Hitchcock sound film, with Annie Ondra):

 

image-06.jpg

 

Technicolor had the largest blimp.

 

2c-12.jpg

 

GONE WITH THE WIND, indoors on the stairway at 12 Oaks, filmed with giant blimped Technicolor camera.

 

gone-with-the-wind-marcella-martin-as-ca

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Thanks Fred for posting those great pictures. It helps us see what was going on at the time.

 

Tomorrow I am going to post about events that took place in the first three months of 1928.

 

To make it easier, for future reference, here is a list of abbreviations that will sometimes be used:

 

Studio & Production Companies:

FN: First National

WB: Warner Brothers

UNIV: Universal

MGM: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

UA: United Artists

PAR: Paramount

DEMILLE: Cecil B. DeMille’s independent production company

FOX: Fox Films

COL: Columbia

TIF: Tiffany (a “high-end” poverty row studio)

GOTHAM: Gotham (a “low-end” poverty row studio)

CHADWICK: Chadwick (another bottom of the barrel studio)

FBO: Film Booking Office (owned by Joseph Kennedy)

PATHE: Pathe Films

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1928 TOP EVENTS


 


January


screen-shot-2015-03-18-at-12-15-53-pm.pn


MGM is still reeling from the recent death of Marcus Loew. Fox and Warners, competing studios that both hold sound patents, begin stock raids on MGM. The idea is to take advantage of MGM, since it has been weakened by Loew’s death and since it was caught off-guard not anticipating the transition to sound.


 


Second main development– movie player contracts are now being used by studios.


 


February


220px-tom_mix_1925.jpg?w=212&h=300


William Fox realizes he may lose western star Tom Mix. Mix was the number one motion picture attraction of the previous year, but Joseph Kennedy who owns rival studio FBO has begun to make overtures to steal Mix away from Fox. The problem is that Mix knows his value and the price is high for the actor to remain with Fox.


images22.jpg?w=660


Meanwhile, Mix says he is willing to sell Mixville, the authentic-looking western shooting set he built on 12 acres west of Beverly Hills. So even if he goes to FBO, Fox can still use the western town for its movies. This will not be resolved right away. From now until July, Mix must finish off his Fox contract. Will the studio be keen on promoting his films if he is about to fly the coop?


 


March


A few important things happen this month. First, David Selznick has decided to leave the trouble that has been brewing at MGM since Marcus Loew’s death. An offer has been made by Paramount for his services, so he jumps ship. He begins working as an assistant for B.P. Schulberg.


 


After Selznick's departure, MGM shows signs that it is beginning to rally. With considerable maneuvering, it has successfully avoided a takeover by William Fox and the brothers Warner.


 


screen-shot-2015-03-18-at-12-11-29-pm.pn


Also, one positive thing that happens during this tumultuous period is the hiring of 25 year-old costume designer Adrian Greenberg. Adrian became an overnight sensation in the industry creating elaborate duds for Rudolph Valentino to wear on screen, as well as various costuming for Cecil B. DeMille's productions.  He first began work in Hollywood four years earlier on Valentino’s film A SAINTED DEVIL, having been hired by Valentino’s wife. He then went to work with DeMille.


 


At this time, DeMille has signed a deal with MGM and brought Adrian with him to the studio. Though DeMille will leave for Paramount, Adrian will stay on at MGM, where he will oversee gowns and other clothing on over 200 films for the studio for the next thirteen years. In 1941, he will open his own fashion house but still work with filmmakers at various studios.


screen-shot-2015-03-18-at-12-11-38-pm.pn


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     Great start to 1928. One minor correction however; Adrian was born in March 1903 so this would make him 25 in March of 1928.

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     Great start to 1928. One minor correction however; Adrian was born in March 1903 so this would make him 25 in March of 1928.

Thanks. I've corrected it.

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I find it interesting that the post of 18 March 2015 - 02:49 PM indicates that Tom Mix was the number one motion picture attraction of 1927 whereas the post of 17 March 2015 - 09:03 AM indicates that Photoplay magazine did not consider him as one of the top stars of 1928. What a difference a year makes.

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I find it interesting that the post of 18 March 2015 - 02:49 PM indicates that Tom Mix was the number one motion picture attraction of 1927 whereas the post of 17 March 2015 - 09:03 AM indicates that Photoplay magazine did not consider him as one of the top stars of 1928. What a difference a year makes.

I thought that was interesting, too. I am no expert on Tom Mix, and if someone else is, please feel free to jump in-- but this is my speculation:

 

I think that when he ran into problems with William Fox, and he was stuck finishing out his contract, Fox really didn't go overboard promoting his pictures. Instead, Fox probably decided to build up other, perhaps newer stars, who were going to stick around. Also, some of these guys were turning out two pictures a month (I'd have to go back and look at his output for '27) but during the spring and early summer months, since Mix would not be renewing with Fox, there was not a glut of his films waiting to be released. So his output goes to one movie per month, or one every two months. 

 

When he went to FBO, he was off screen for four months, from July to November, so I am sure that hurt his momentum. Then, FBO gets sold and merged to become RKO that same month, and it looks like Mix did not make that transition too well. He did not become a major attraction for RKO.

 

Another thing that happened was when he left Fox, he was in his late 40s. He had already been making films for many years, and there was talk in the industry he was going to retire. When Kennedy signed him at FBO, he obviously did not retire, but after the transition to RKO, I think his retirement was sort of forced on him. Plus, with audience tastes changing at the beginning of the sound era. he probably represented an older style of filmmaking and that added to his decline in popularity.

 

So a number of factors likely precipitated his drop-off at the box office.

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I will be posting the next portion of my report on 1928 later today. I will be covering the months of April and May...

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A year in Hollywood: 1928, part 2

 

 

 

 

April

 

During the early months of the year, Hollywood studios have arrived at the consensus that they will need to hire Broadway actors in order to make sound films. As a result, stage stars are beginning to appear in clumsy revues and drawing room comedies.

 

 

 

Around this time, Photoplay starts using the word ‘phonoplay’ as a synonym for early sound films. Another word suggested by readers of the magazine is ‘smotion picture.’ But luckily for us, that term did not catch on. Phonoplay did not catch on either.

 

220px-glorious_betsy_1928_poster.jpg?w=2

 

On the 26th, GLORIOUS BETSY premieres in Hollywood at the newly-opened Warners Hollywood Theater. The film is mostly silent with a talking sequence. Warners has cast Dolores Costello in the lead as Betsy Patterson, the southern U.S. sister-in-law of Napoleon. Pasquale Amato plays Napoloen, and Napoleon’s brother Jerome is played by Conrad Nagel. Certain liberties with the facts are taken so Warners can provide a happy ending. In reality, the couple was separated by Napoleon; but in this movie, Jerome defies his brother, and leaves Europe to return to his American wife.

 

220px-hearts-divided-1936.jpg?w=203&h=30

 

Warners would remake GLORIOUS BETSY eight years later. The 1936 sound version HEARTS DIVIDED featured Marion Davies as Betsy, Dick Powell as Jerome, and Claude Rains as Napoleon. TCM occasionally airs HEARTS DIVIDED. Meanwhile, GLORIOUS BETSY survives without the sound tracks at the Library of Congress.

 

 

 

May

 

Actresses are having trouble transitioning to sound. Big trouble. Stars like Alice White, Blanche Sweet and Mae Murray who are known primarily by the public for romance dramas have been tossed into musicals. It is obvious they are badly miscast, and this quickly sends their careers into decline.

 

screen-shot-2015-03-19-at-10-13-33-am.pn

 

At the same time serial queen Allene Ray, who specializes in action adventure stories, also sees her popularity nosedive. Her transition to sound musicals is disastrous. But these women are not alone. It is happening to some of the male stars, too.

 

imgres35.jpg?w=660

 

Western hero Art Acord, who has been extremely popular with audiences for many years during the silent film era, sees his movie career come to a complete standstill. The 38 year old rodeo champ turned actor originally began his motion picture career as a stuntman in 1910. He also served with the army during World War I. With no new movie offers on the horizon, he begins to perform in road shows. When his shows end, he goes off to be alone. And he is consumed by thoughts of suicide.

 

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I find it interesting that the post of 18 March 2015 - 02:49 PM indicates that Tom Mix was the number one motion picture attraction of 1927 whereas the post of 17 March 2015 - 09:03 AM indicates that Photoplay magazine did not consider him as one of the top stars of 1928. What a difference a year makes.

Well the quote for Mix as No. 1 in 1927 is not referenced. But Photoplay, and other fan magazines had polls based on ballots submitted by their readers, and the different polls could vary quite a bit. If the Photoplay readership had a preference for more sophisticated stars and storylines, a cowboy like Tom Mix might not register high in the mix.

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Well the quote for Mix as No. 1 in 1927 is not referenced. But Photoplay, and other fan magazines had polls based on ballots submitted by their readers, and the different polls could vary quite a bit. If the Photoplay readership had a preference for more sophisticated stars and storylines, a cowboy like Tom Mix might not register high in the mix.

That's true, Arturo. Not sure if female readers would have voted for Tom Mix like the male readers may have, especially if the women were not western fans, which was Mix's main (only?) genre. One thing we can say with certainty is that Mix was Fox's number one box office star in 1927, at least in that genre. There's a reason Joe Kennedy want to hire him for FBO's westerns.

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A year in Hollywood: 1928, part 3

 

June

images26.jpg?w=660

Not surprisingly, studios are struggling with the technical problems of sound. Non-directional microphones are being used, and blocking must be staged accordingly. Often what this means is that stars who were much more energetic in their silent features must sit or stand near the microphone, losing a great deal of mobility. Also, since film speed has been changed to accommodate sound recording, sets must be more brightly lit.

screen-shot-2015-03-20-at-12-33-23-am.pn

Cameras are now installed inside massive glass-fronted boxes to prevent the noise of the drive mechanism from being picked up during sound recording. Cast and crew begin to review immediate playback of recorded scenes before moving on to the next part of the story.

 

July

Tom Mix’s last film for Fox premieres in theatres. Mix is leaving the studio, having recently signed with Joseph Kennedy at FBO. Mix’s first FBO western will hit screens in November. In the meantime, he has sold Mixville to William Fox, and that part of his life is over.

 

Across town, Paramount announces all of its 1929 features are going to be sound. No more silent films for the studio.

220px-lightsofnew.jpg?w=212&h=300

On the 6th, Warner Brothers releases the crime drama LIGHTS OF NEW YORK. It is the first all-talking feature in Hollywood. Starring Helene Costello, Cullen Landis and Eugene Palette, the film is an enormous hit with audiences.

 

Over at MGM, the studio releases its first feature synchronized with dialogue, music and effects. It is called WHITE SHADOWS OF THE SOUTH SEAS and premieres on the 31st. Also, the studio’s mascot, Leo the Lion, roars for the first time.

images-16.jpg?w=660

 
 

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