Grahame N's Web Pages
SOUNDIE MUSICAL SHORTS AND 9.5MM
by Grahame L. Newnham B.Sc.
Mechanised musical entertainment in bars and cafes has always proved popular. Entrepreneurs over the years have introduced coin operated music boxes, mechanical organs and player pianos. Once recording and reproduction of actual artists performing became feasible, the 'juke box' was born. Just a coin in the slot and a choice of music from actual entertainers was possible. Advances in technology meant that the next stage was to add synchronised moving pictures to the music.
Edison's interest in moving pictures was supposed to have originated from his desire to provide his Kinetoscopes (coin operated movie film viewers) with picture and sound, but lack of suitable amplification and accurate synchronisation precluded much success in this direction. (An Edison Kinetophone was announced in Spring 1885, but reports suggest that only 45 machines were ever produced.) Later attempts to provide combined audio and visual entertainment seem to have had mixed commercial success.
I know of at least three commercial attempts at marketing or leasing a 'picture juke box'. The first in America, based on black and white 16mm film, began in 1940 and survived for about 7 years; the second based on 16mm colour film, originated in Europe in 1960 and lasted only around 4 years.; the third arrived in the 1980s, but was video disc and not film based; if you dare to visit your local refurbished 'theme' pub I'm sure you will spot one. (probably another new system now - this was written in 1992! - gln)
1940s - 'SOUNDIES PANORAM' VISUAL JUKE BOX-
BFI Irn-Bru Pop Video Exhibition booklet 1992
In 1940 the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago introduced the 'Panoram' visual juke box. Three minute black and white 16mm musical shorts were back projected via a series of mirrors onto an 18 x 22 inch ground glass screen mounted on the top front of the unit. The projector unit was a modified RCA 16mm cine projector. Because the short films were held as a continuous 800ft loop, customers could not choose the titles, just getting the next musical clip on the film roll. Cost to exhibitors was 600 US dollars for the equipment, with each reel of 8 music subjects rented for 10 US dollars a week. Mills promised operators a take of over 1000 US dollars a year. The first film releases were produced by the President's son James Roosevelt via Globe Productions. The name 'Soundies' originated from the distribution company Mills set up in 1941 called 'The Soundies Distributing Corporation of America, Inc'. Globe Productions began production in Hollywood, by December 1940 they were also using the Fox-Movietone studios in Manhatten. Unfortunately production ceased in April 1941 when James Roosevelt joined the Marine Corps!
The 'Panoram' visual juke box
Mills quickly formed their own production company for making Soundies: 'Minoco Productions'. Within a year they had formed another: 'RCM Productions' (Roosevelt, songwritwer Sam Coslow and Gordon Mills). Another prolific producer of these Soundies was William Forrest Crouch, a real showman, of 'Filmcraft' whose dominant ingredient in his productions was feminine 'cheesecake'. These and one or two other companies were to produce the bulk of the 1800 odd musical shorts to be distributed over the next 6 years to bars, cafes and roadhouses across the USA and Canada. A new reel of eight subjects was released each week with additional titles at Christmas and New Year.
See a Panoram juke box actually running - on You Tube: http://youtu.be/RR9GB1P-rAc
Watch an interesting selection of Soundies: Short History of Soundies musical shorts from the 40's - YouTube
Watch my 16mm 'soundie' - "Backtrack" with Dardanelle & Her Boys 14May2014
Watch my 16mm 'soundie' - "Bar Babble" with Jimmy Dorsey & his Orchestra 27Jul2016
Watch my 16mm 'soundie' - "Barnyard Bounce" with Will Bradley & his Orchestra 15Jun2016
Watch my 16mm 'soundie' - The Three Suns - "Beyond The Blue Horizon" 14May2014
Watch one of my rather more risqué 16mm 'soundie' films - "Frisky Feathers" 14May2014
Watch my 16mm 'soundie' - The Harry Brent Orchestra - "I Ain't Got Nobody" 18May2014
Watch my 16mm 'soundie' - The Will Bradley Orchestra - "I'm Tired Of Waiting For You" 29May2014
Watch another of my slightly risqué 16mm 'soundie' films - "Miss Mystery" 17May2014
Watch my 16mm 'soundie' - Rubinoff & his Violin - "The Music Shop" 17May2014
Watch my 16mm 'soundie' - Spike Jones & His City Slickers - "The Shiek Of Araby" 01Oct2016
Watch my 16mm 'soundie' - Six Hits And A Miss with The Lorraine Page Orchestra - "Sweet Sue" 14May2014
Another of my 16mm 'soundie' shorts with a bevy of dancing girls - "Tropicana"14May2014
Watch my 16mm 'soundie' - Emery Deutsch - "When A Gypsy Makes His Violin Cry" 18May2014
Production costs for the musical shorts was kept to a minimum, few name stars appeared after the first flurry of activity. Soundtracks were pre-recorded (sometimes by other artists!) and lack of rehearsals meant synchronisation was not always perfect. By 1948 Soundies were on their way out. Wartime restrictions, lack of quality and a musicians' union ban had all taken their toll. The 10,000 machines in use in 1943 had dwindled to only 2000 nationwide. 1947 saw the end of the 1940s Soundies era. Castle Films were the first to offer home movie versions in the USA as 16mm reels of three titles - 'Castle Music Albums'. By 1948 copyright passed to Official Films Inc. who marketed them for American TV amd home movie distribution. Incidentally Blackhawk, another well known American home movie film distributor bought up all the actual 16mm soundie prints for resale to collectors - however, beware - these all have reveresed picture if run in an ordinary 16mm sound projector. In the UK the 100ft Pictoreel Films Inc. shorts are examples of these Soundies and were available on 16mm optical sound from Frank Jessop and on 9.5mm optical sound from Pathéscope Ltd., who released 24 popular titles during 1951 and 1952.
Announcement in the Pathéscope Monthly magazine January 1952
With 9.5mm Pathéscope catalogue numbers CT.1 to CT.24, they feature the Johnny Long (including "Shanty In Old Shanty Town"), Art Dixon, Al Donahue, Larry Clinton and Gerald Marks Orchestras plus The Emmerson Mountaineers. First announced in the April/May 1951 Pathescope Monthly, details are also in the 1952 & 1953 Pathéscope Film Catalogues, later 1951 and 1952 Pathescope Monthly magazines and of course in Maurice Trace's superb complete 9.5mm Sound Catalogue. These 24 'soundie' 100ft musical shorts continued to be available on 9.5mm optical sound until 1955. All the 9.5mm 'soundies' titles are listed lower down this page, together with a few You Tube links to actually view these 9.5mm sound films!
1960s - SCOPITONE AND CINEBOX MACHINES
BFI Irn-Bru Pop Video Exhibition booklet 1992
In 1960 with more modern equipment designs, from France came the 'Scopitone' made by Cameca on Boulevard Saint Denis in Courbevoie near Paris, and from Italy the 'Cinebox'. These film juke boxes used 16mm colour film shorts, Scopitone with magnetic sound tracks, Cinebox with optical. Each machine held a selection of 40 titles. Again a back projection system was used , meaning the film prints were reversed to normal 16mm standards.
A Scopitone video juke box - circa 1960s
In the Cinebox, made in Rome by Ottico Meccanica Italiana, the 24fps optical track was scanned about 20 frames ahead of the picture head, meaning prints are also out-of-sync. when run on standard 16mm projectors. The TV size picture was produced from a 12 volt 100 watt lamp via a rotating prism arrangement. The machines looked quite impressive, and quality was excellent, the cost however was in the region of £1400.
A Cinebox video juke box - circa 1960s
See a Cinebox in action on You Tube:
(the machine rotates the film magazine to the correct title, threads and plays it, then rewinds - very complicated!)
Although initial music subjects seem to have been imported from Europe, by 1961 most UK material also originated in the UK, many produced in London by De Lane Lea Ltd. Artists included Acker Bilk, Vince Hill, The Raindrops and Eden Kane, whilst glamour was provided by the Boscoe Holder dancers and Fay Craig. The machines made a brief appearance in the USA, (mostly the Scopitone), where some 16mm prints were produced in Technicolor. Debbie Reynolds was involved with the American film production company, hence we find her appearing in a number of American titles. Later some machines were modified to run longer 40 minute films (a choice of 5 titles) and were used on cruise ships. Unfortunately the machines were rather complicated and a film break could cause havoc!
See my 16mm 'Cinebox' colour short - "Mirage" with Fay Craig: http://youtu.be/7gXH6AgMLIA
See my 16mm 'Cinebox' colour short - "Jack the Ripper" with Screaming Lord Sutch 12May2014
Watch another of my 'Cinebox' colour shorts - "Let's Twist Again" with Peppino Di Capri 01Aug2016
Watch my 16mm 'Cinebox' colour short - "Twisting the Night Away" with Vince Hill 12May2014
Another of my 16mm 'Cinebox' shorts - a weird French offering - "Chapeau Cloche" ("Bell Hat" - the girl is wearing one!) 13May2014
Watch my 16mm 'Cinebox' short - "The Locomotion" sung by The Raindrops 18May2014
Watch my 16mm 'Cinebox' short - "Speedy Gonzales" with Andy Cavell 18May2014
See four of my original 16mm Acker Bilk 'Cinebox' shorts - http://youtu.be/FMaIXym5az8
With the unreliability, copyright complications and a reducing revenue (the cost per play at the time was a shilling (5p) twice the price of an ordinary audio juke box), the distribution company in the UK - Filmvision Ltd retired from the scene in 1964. Larry Pearce of LGP (Cine) obtained hundreds of the ex-juke box 16mm prints and reperforated them to 9.5mm optical sound - just over half the sound track was retained, still meaning a bit of the opposite edge of the picture was lost; although the picture was the correct way round, the sound sync. was of course still wrong, although this doesn't always notice except on vocals. These little musical shorts provided a spot of colour, punchy sound and something modern for 9.5mm film shows! Sadly today the colour (Eastman I guess) is generally washed out, but they still make interesting viewing.
Incidentally about a dozen of these 'Cinebox' titles were released in the UK on std.8mm magnetic sound by Heritage Films (with correct sound sync!) in both colour and black & white versions.
So 9.5mm optical sound films can provide yet another slice of history with good examples of the past attempts to provide synchronised music and pictures at the drop of a coin.
(Based on an article written by myself and published in the Group 9.5 magazine - Number 72, Winter 1993)
For further information on the 'Panoram' juke boxes and
full catalogues of the 'Soundies' and other music shorts
read the excellent book by Maurice Terenzio, Scott MacGillivray and Ted Okuda -
"The Soundies Distrubuting Corporation of America" published in the USA by McFarland.
9.5mm 'SOUNDIES' RELEASED IN THE UK BY PATHÉSCOPE LTD. ------------------------------------------------------
Pathéscope Ref.No. Title Date Artist Pathéscope Issue Date
CT.01 "LISTEN TO THE MOCKING BIRD" US 20/12/1943 The Emmerson Mountaineers May51
CT.02 "SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN" US 06/09/1943 Johnny Long & his Orchestra Jun51
CT.03 "THE LOMG AND SHORT OF IT" US 29/11/1943 Johnny Long & his Orchestra Jun51
CT.04 "YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE" US 01/11/1943 The Emmerson Mountaineers Jun51
CT.05 "MY GIRL LOVES A SAILOR" US 08/02/1943 Johnny Long & his Orchestra May51 (vocals: Bob Houston & Helen Young)
CT.06 "LITTLE BROWN JUG" US 13/12/1943 The Emmerson Mountaineers Jul51
CT.07 "IT'S NOTHING NEW" US 09/08/1943 Al Donahue & his Orchestra Jul51 (vocal: Phil Brito)
CT.08 "LET'S GET AWAY FROM IT ALL" US 04/10/1943 Johnny Long & his Orchestra Jul51 (vocals: Bob Houston & Helen Young)
CT.09 "SEVEN YEARS WITH THE WONG WOMAN" US 29/11/1943 The Emmerson Mountaineers Jul51
CT.10 "PIO PIO" US 31/12/1943 Gerald Marks Orchestra Jan52 (with Caridad Garcia, guitar & vocal)
CT.11 "SIBONEY" US 31/12/1943 Gerald Marks Orchestra Jan52 (with Caridad Garcia, guitar & vocal)
CT.12 "COME BACK TO SORRENTO" US 30/04/1943 Al Donahue & his Orchestra Jan52 (vocal: Phil Brito)
CT.13 "GO LONG MULE" US 27/09/1943 The Emmerson Mountaineers Mar52
CT.14 "CHOPSTICKS" US 08/11/1943 Johnny Long & his Orchestra Mar52
CT.15 "PARADISE ISLE" US 06/09/1943 Lani McIntire & his Hawaiians Aug52
CT.16 "JAVA JIVE" US 06/09/1943 Al Donahue & his Orchestra Aug52 (Al serves coffee to vocalist Ellen Connor)
CT.17 "MY REVERIE" US 11/10/1943 Larry Clinton & his Orchestra Mar52
CT.18 "SMILES" US 13/12/1943 Larry Clinton & his Orchestra May52
CT.19 "WATCHA KNOW, JOE?" US 02/08/1943 Larry Clinton & his Orchestra Aug52 (vocal: Henry 'Butch' Stone)
CT.20 "DIPSY DOODLE" US 04/10/1943 Larry Clinton & his Orchestra May52
CT.21 "DEEP PURPLE" US 18/10/1943 Larry Clinton & his Orchestra Aug52 (vocal: Peggy Mann)
CT.22 "THE SINGING HILLS" US 31/12/1943 The Emmerson Mountaineers Jun52 (vocal: Art Dixon)
CT.23 "THE LAST ROUNDUP" US 13/09/1943 The Emmerson Mountaineers Aug52 (vocal: Tom Emmerson)
CT.24 "BEGIN THE BEGUINE" US 09/08/1943 Herbert Curbelo & his Orchestra May52 (with dancers Varios & Vida)
Notes: 1. Title card reads "Watcha Know, Joe" although song is generally known as "Whatcha Know, Joe?" 2. List compiled from the Pathéscope Film Catalogue with extra data from the Maurice Trace 9.5mm Sound Film Catalogue and the book mentioned above. 3. 9.5mm issue dates come from the relevant Pathéscope Monthlies or film catalogues as do the actual film titles and numbers etc. (Some titles reflect the actual title on the film itself where it is known) 4. The 9.5mm soundie releases were not listed for sale by Pathéscope after 1955 5. Dates are the Soundies copyright dates, but most of these musical shorts apart from Begin the Beguine; Paradise Isle; Pio Pio and Siboney were actually filmed for Phonovue Productions (a rival to the Panoram) in 1941.
|Still looking for decent 9.5mm optical sound copies,
for my collection,
of: CT.19 "Watcha Know Joe" and CT.20 "Dipsy Doodle"
Please contact me, Grahame Newnham at: gln @ pathefilm.freeserve.co.uk
(no spaces in actual e-mail address)
Announcement in the Pathéscope Monthly magazine June/July 1951
Please notify any additions or corrections to me (Grahame
Newnham) at presto
(no gaps in actual e-mail address)
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Created 04Sept2013 ...... Last updated: 24 March 2017 ..........
95soundies.htm ......... ©MMX11V Grahame L. Newnham
09 & 12Sept2013 - Extra You Tube items added - Cinebox colour shorts
22Jan2014 - Tidying & return links to 9.5mm sound film catalogue added
12/13/14/17/18/29May2014 - More YouTube Cinebox & 'Soundie' shorts added / 28Dec2014 Panoram & Scopitone scans added
24Jan2015 - Cinebox photos added / 27Jul2016 - "Watcha Know Joe" & "Bar Babble" YouTube uploads added
01Oct2016 - "The Shiek Of Araby" YouTube upload added / 24Mar2017 - email updated