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Side B
  • Filmography

The Edgar Bergen Shorts - Almost Soundies

INTRODUCTION
The Birth of the Audio-Visual Jukebox

If one was in the habit of reading the “trades” in 1939 and 1940 —he Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Billboard, and the like— and paid close attention to the section that dealt with juke boxes and other coin-operated amusements, one would have definitely noticed a growing interest in audio-visual entertainment devices — juke boxes with screens! It was clear that something was in the works, but it is only in hindsight that we identify soundies as the ultimate “juke box film of choice,” and the amazing Mills Panoram in the works, but it is only in hindsight that we identify soundies as the ultimate “juke box film of choice,” and the amazing Mills Panoram as the “presentation system.” But in the two years preceding the release of the first reel of eight soundies, this on January 8, 1941, and in the year following, the Mills Novelty Company and Soundies Distributing Corporation of America had many competitors, and it was by no means clear that Mills would be the sole survivor in the audio-visual juke box wars.

Still, to those who closely watched the field of coin-operated devices, the development of an audio-visual jukebox probably came as no surprise. Indeed, The New Orleans Daily Picayune from July 11, 1893 describes the first in a long line of early experiments with this mode of entertainment:

“The machine [Thomas Edisons’s kinetograph] consists of 1,000 instantaneous photographs of one scene flashed rapidly before an electric light. The pictures fly so fast that they all merge into one.

Mr. Edison said that the photographs...were taken at a rate of 46 a second by a series of cameras, and that there were 1,000 of them in the machine.... When a [cylinder] phonograph is attached, he said, the sounds are heard as well as the...men [who are performing]. When this phonograph is attached the instrument is patented to be called a kinetograph, but when it is shown without the sound or music it is called a kinetoscope.”

Evidence of a jukebox prototype next emerged on December 28, 1930, with a headline in Film Daily trumpeting, “16 MILLIMETER PROJECTOR PART OF NEW RADIO SET.” The Visionola system promised to “reproduce the sight and sound of motion pictures. [It] is one of the latest innovations...to be marketed by Charles Izenstark, Chicago radio manufacturer. The new instrument has...a novel 16mm projector and a turntable for reproducing the accompanying sound.”

Although the article does not describe the material to be screened, these films are almost certainly “home movie releases” of theatrical short subjects, and not new films produced specially for the Visionola system.

The first merging of a motion picture projector within a jukebox device was developed in 1938 by Los Angeles dentist Gordon Keith Woodard. MacGillavray and Terenzio (The Soundies Distributing Corporation of America ) report that Woodard’s Cinematone machines were “tested in several Los Angeles area taverns; by 1940 Woodard had withdrawn from Cinematone, hoping to refine his movie jukebox using 35mm film.” His efforts were continued by Cinematone associate William K. Falkenberg who produced a series of early jukebox shorts under the banner “Movie Shorts, Ltd.”

The spring of 1940 brought with it an explosion of interest and publicity in the concept of an audio-visual jukebox. During the next two years close to thirty projection systems and/or film products would be noted in the trades. Ultimately, however, these visionary entrepreneurs would fail to match the resources, drive and tenacity of the Mills Novelty company and their spokesperson and figurehead, Jimmie Roosevelt. “On February 12, 1940,” notes MacGillavray, “they [Mills and Roosevelt’s Globe Productions] officially joined forces as Globe-Mills Productions.” Soundies were born. But, as noted above, they were not alone.

Soundies had been preceded by the above-mentioned La Rose Falkenberg “Movie Shorts” subjects, of which at least eight are extant. The musicians union contract notes “for test only,” and we can infer that the films were produced as an effort to draw investors to the Cinematone enterprise; the shorts probably had limited public exposure, if any at all. (Although typical of the juke box shorts that followed, they do provide an early appearance of Western Swing star Spade Cooley!) Other systems, Visiontone, for example, were duly reported in the trades, but apparently developed no further than the announcement stage. On the other extreme were companies that got as far as the production of both presentation system and film: Vis-O Graph and Phonovision, for example, apparently sold projection units, and had some limited release of shorts. In the middle are films for which we have extant examples —Nickel Talkies, Majorettes and Featurettes come to mind— but little evidence of mass distribution.

And then there are the hopefuls who produced demonstration reels, hoping to attract investors ..... but failing in that attempt abandoned their plans, leaving only a few film artifacts. The Edgar Bergen Interests is one such company, and for the first time its story is told in as much detail as available many years after the fact.

Edgar Bergen
Radio, film and television comedian Edgar Bergen (father of contemporary television star Candace Bergen) needs little introduc tion. Born in Chicago in 1903, Bergen was performing in public at least as early as 1920, at which time one of his “alter-egos,” wooden dummy Charlie McCarthy, was “born.” Bergen appeared in and around Chicago during the early 1920s, and finally graduated to the Palace in New York City in 1926.

Bergen was not a great ventriloquist, per se — that is, he never really perfected the art of speaking without moving his lips. Perhaps the move from the vaudeville stage to radio, as strange as the concept of a ventriloquist on radio may seem, was the best career move that Bergen could have made. Brought to the Rudy Valle Fleishmann Hour in 1936, he was a repeat guest for months, and then graduated to an NBC radio program of his own in 1937. The program lasted until 1956, a formidable run in that medium!

Bergen appeared in a variety of Warner Brothers/Vitaphone shorts produced between 1929 and 1937, and moved on to feature films, beginning with The Goldwyn Follies (Samuel Goldwyn/United Artists, 1938). So successful was his (and his sidekicks’) screen “personas” that he was next presented in a starring role: Charlie McCarthy, Detective (Universal, 1939). Perhaps his best known film starred him opposite W.C. Fields in You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man (Universal, 1939). While nine features were to follow during the 1940s, it was probably during 1939 that Bergen began to think of film production himself, with the emerging juke box trade as the object of his attention!

Edgar Bergen Interests
While Edgar Bergen Interests was apparently formed in early 1940, it is not until late in the year that solid evidence of Bergen’s activities are noted in the trades. Variety (dateline December 3, 1940) reports that,

“Charlie McCarthy has become a film producer in a small way, as befits a small guy. The wooden star is not only producing but starring in his own 16mm slotties, with the advise and council of his stooge, Edgar Bergen. Without any ballyhoo the pair has completed five coin dramas, with 11 more subjects on the schedule.”

Requiring distribution of his comedy shorts, Bergen contacted Jimmy Roosevelt who, in partnership with Sam Coslow and the Mills Novelty Company, would be an important producer of soundies in the years 1941-42. However, nothing was taken for granted at this time: “...in case it [the deal with Mills] falls through...Bergen will produce for the open market.” It is noted that, in the developing world of juke box shorts, “Bergen and his partner are the first high-priced actors to go in for slot pictures.”

These early Bergen efforts were produced at Scientific Studios, a small rental stage in Los Angeles. Whether the eleven additional subject were actually completed is not known; none of the Bergen/McCarthy shorts is apparently extant, a major loss in terms of our knowledge of late vaudeville performance in general, and Edgar Bergen’s art in particular.

One can only wonder why Bergen gave up the effort to feature himself and his various “partners” in three minute routines. The “medium and the message” seem to have been a natural match. However, by November, if not earlier, Bergen had apparently decided to move on to musical subjects, and Variety (December 11, 1940) reported that Harry Engel, the West Coast representative for BMI, had signed a licensing agreement with Edgar Bergen Interests, and that Bergen would henceforth be “producing the narrow gaugers with subjects other than his dummy.”

For unknown reasons, however, Bergen had initiated production of the musical shorts one month prior to the formal Variety announcement. (Nor, apparently, was Bergen so quick to give up the idea of live action pieces with his various dummies: “Edgar Bergen...is starring himself and Charlie McCarthy in a series of 15 action subjects,” Variety noted in January 1941.)

But now, surprisingly enough, the story of the Edgar Bergen shorts comes to a sudden halt. No films were issued commercially, and no further mention is made of Bergen and his shorts in the trades. Apparently Bergen was unable to interest investors in his production concern and he returned his focus to radio and feature films. The Bergen shorts disappeared for more than sixty years!

The Production
Unlike many jukebox shorts from this period, relatively little is known about the production of the five Edgar Bergen musical shorts. Dating the production of the films is a somewhat problematic endeavor, and the best that can be done is some strong inferential reasoning. The contract for the two shorts that were to feature Rose Murphy and the King Cole Orchestra is dated November 25, 1940, and called for an “engagement for one (1) day consisting of two (2) hours of recording and eight (8) hours photographing, maximum.” The contract for the Jerry Galian orchestra calls for two dates of recording, November 25 and 27, 1940. What appears quite probable is that, the language of the contracts notwithstanding, all recording was completed on the 25th of November, with some sideline photography commencing on possibly the 25th, and continuing on the 27th; although there are no indications in the surviving documents, it is likely that additional sideline dates were scheduled to complete the five shorts in the series.

Director Lloyd French had been associated with the Hal Roach Studios in the early 1920s and 1930s, and had acted as assistant director on virtually all of the Laurel and Hardy silent shorts. He was credited as the assistant director for Laurel and Hardy’s 1932 feature film “Pack Up Your Trouble,” and moved to the associate directing chair the following year for the pair’s classic “Sons of the Desert.” He also directed a number of the Laurel and Hardy sound shorts, including “Midnight Patrol” and the much beloved “Busy Bodies.” Later in the decade he worked for Warner Brothers, directing a number of “band shorts” well-known to jazz followers. Among the titles for which he is credited are Mal Hallett and his Orchestra (1937), Freddie Rich and his Orchestra (1938), Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra (1938), The Saturday Night Swing Club (1938), All Girl Review (1939), Swing Styles (1939) and Dave Apollon and his Club Casanova Orchestra (1939). French’s work in the period after the Edgar Bergen shorts seems to be confined to continuity writing and minor “script doctoring” for Universal, Monogram and other minor studios. French, all of fifty years old, died in 1950.

The Rediscovery
The first hint that the Edgar Bergen musical shorts might have actually been completed was provided many years ago when I was given a set of M.C.A. “Artist’s Engagement Contracts.” One contract was for singer/piano player Rose Murphy. The second, a major find, called for the recording talents of the “King Cole Trio Plus Drummer and Trumpet Player.” (I shared this with writer Will Friedwald, who in turn passed it on to Klaus Teubig, who offered what little information was available at that time in the Nat “King” Cole discography Straighten Up and Fly Right.)

Five or six years later, while perusing the files of the America Federation of Musicians (local Los Angeles chapter 47), I unearthed a contract that pointed to further soundtrack recording by Bergen and company. In this case the recordings were by an orchestra led by one Jerry Galian and the names of the sidemen —Reyes, Ruiz, Gusman, etc.— suggested that the soundtracks were by a Latin band. Still, there was nothing to suggest that the project got beyond the planning or recording stage.

Then, early in 2000, I learned that a Los Angeles-based collector, whose interests were everything but musical film, had a reel of five jukebox shorts on 35mm nitrate negative film. He reported to me that the opening credits mentioned “King” Cole, and that they were not the soundies that Cole made in either 1943 or 1946. In addition, they were neither theatrical shorts nor excerpts from feature films. It was clear that the long-lost Edgar Bergen shorts had been rediscovered! After a period of six months, negotiations finally resulted in the preservation of the negative on 16mm film, and prints being struck that could be shared in public. After 60 years the Edgar Bergen shorts were available for screening!

Rose Murphy and the King Cole Orchestra
INTRODUCTION

The initial screening of the five films produced a strange combination of joy, fascination and disappointment. The most frustrating discovery was that while the “King Cole Orchestra” was indeed present in two of the shorts, the group’s leader, pianist Nat “King” Cole, was replaced by featured singer and piano player Rose Murphy. Repeated screenings, however, revealed other strengths. The King Cole band swings mightily, with chico Hamilton’s well recorded brush work strongly supporting the band, Rose Murphy and the featured dancers. The song titles “Dinah” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” are indeed important standards. Perhaps most important, the band includes McClure “Red Mack” Morris, and we hear more of Morris’s strong solo style than on any other available recordings. In some ways these two films re-establish Morris’s place in the history of West Coast jazz!

Rose Murphy
Rose Murphy is the featured artist in two of the Edgar Bergen shorts, and receives top billing above the band and dancer Willie Covan. As a pianist Murphy falls within the tradition of Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson, and at various times has been compared with Cleo Brown, Nellie Lutcher and Nat Cole. Frank Driggs, in a set of liner notes for a Stash LP, describes her work as “a highly rhythmic form of near-jazz.” This is perhaps a bit harsh, since Murphy plays with an effortless swing that manages to compliment her singing, as well as integrate itself effectively with the band. Murphy’s vocal delivery —she has an unusual, high pitched voice that Roger Kinkle describes as “squeaky”— is definitely an acquired taste. Throughout her career (not to forget one of the two pieces at hand) Murphy inserted the phrase “chee chee” into her vocal interpretations, which ultimately earned her the sobriquet “The Chee-Chee Girl.” Rose Murphy was very popular during this period, and continued performing into the 1980s, but since she did not enter a commercial recording studio until November 1947 (two sessions for Majestic that produced a total of 8 released sides), this is an important addition to her legacy.

McClure “Red Mack” Morris
If Nat Cole is sorely missed in these two film shorts, it is the presence of featured trumpet player McClure “Red” Mack Morris that provides an alternative focus for the listener. Very little has been written about Morris, although he was on the Los Angeles scene for many years, performing with big bands and small groups, yet never garnering a recording session under his own name. He appears on an occasional broadcast transcription, and in the 1941 black cast film Lucky Ghost (as a part of Lorenzo Flennoy and his Chocolate Drops). In the two Edgar Bergen shorts he plays muted trumpet throughout, either obbligatos behind Ms. Murphy, or solos in support of the dance acts. His work defines why Chico Hamilton, the drummer on the date, described him in such glowing terms.

In recalling Morris, Chico Hamilton recalled that “He was a beautiful trumpet player, an absolutely great musician. But I can’t tell you why he never really made it .... I mean, with the public, although all of the Los Angeles musicians knew him. I met him when I was on the Lorenzo Flennoy band ..... we were on that band together. You’ll notice that he is a light-skinned black man. He went with Will Osborne’s orchestra soon after these films were made. Not too many people know this, but Osborne was one of the earliest white band’s to integrate. Yes, Red Mack ... really an unbelievable trumpet player.” Teddy Edwards played with Morris at “a little club at Jefferson and Avalon” and recalled that “I didn’t know him that well, but Red Mack Morris was a real nice guy and a tremendous trumpet player. Good chops, man. Few people know it, but he was also a very fine organ player as well, and he kept a organ in his home.”

About Red Mack Morris Los Angeles-based trumpet player Clora Bryant reconfirmed that Morris was “one hell of a guy, and a wonderful trumpet player.” Apparently he also had an “argumentative side,” which might explain the paucity of records on which he appears. Clora pointed out that Morris played with Les Hite at the Frank Sebastian’s Cotton Club in Culver City, and probably Cee Pee Johnson a bit later, and that he could really “do Louis” when called upon. Morris was also a welcome participant in Central Avenue jam sessions. Clora also pointed to Morris’s skill on the piano and organ, and sighed, “What a fine, talented player. He certainly deserved better!”

Los Angeles researcher/historian Steve Isoardi also recalled Morris as a “top flight trumpet player.” “He was around for a long time,” says Isoardi, “and many musicians have referred to him. He was quite active on the Avenue [Central Avenue] and was certainly among the upper echelon of people who played there on a regular basis.” Morris was alive well into the 1980s, and was luckily interviewed at some length by Clora Bryant shortly before his passing.

Chico Hamilton
The drummer on the band is none other than the great Chico Hamilton. In a recent telephone interview Chico noted, “Yes, indeed, those films were made in Los Angeles, in Hollywood or maybe out in Culver City. It was the first time that I worked with Rose Murphy; I had been doing things with Nat on-and-off, and he was always a joy to play with. I was on the Avenue [Central Avenue] at lot at the time, and so was Nat.”

The mention of Central Avenue brings up an interesting point offered by Lee Young in a recent telephone interview: “That backdrop sure looks like a place I used to work in back then .... those people painted on the walls look so familiar.” One must therefore ask, to what extent are these performances typical of the Central Avenue “bill-of-faire” during this period? Do they reflect the “floorshow” aspect of presentation offered by some of the clubs on Central Avenue? Chico Hamilton thinks not: “No, these aren’t really like a Central Avenue performance. For one, Murphy didn’t play on the Avenue. She was more like, well, a Hollywood performer. She played the 331 Club, or Billy Berg’s when it was on Pico. Now I played on Central Avenue — I was there with Lorenzo Flennoy at, oh, The Last Word, maybe. I also did something at the Club Alabam down at the Dunbar. No, the clubs on Central didn’t really feel like this.”

“But,’ Hamilton continues, “that is the way we dressed, you know, coat an tie, tuxedo style. If you didn’t have a tux, you just didn’t work the good gigs.”

The King Cole Trio
The remaining members of the combo are Oscar Moore and Wesley Prince, both working regularly with the King Cole Trio at this time. Moore is seen throughout (wearing dark glasses), and is occasionally heard on electric guitar, soloing in the bluesy style we associate with him during this period. Wesley Prince is not given any opportunity to solo, but provides fine support on the string bass throughout.

Willie Covan
The allusion to “floorshows” leads directly to a brief discussion of the dancers on screen. The four tap / presentation dancers who perform in “Dinah” are yet to be identified. However, Willie Covan is the featured dancer in the second short, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”; his presence here represents a significant addition to the jazz dance canon.

Born in 1895, Willie Covan began learning his craft at age 5. By 1910 he was performing regularly in public, forming The Four Covans seven years later with his brother, wife and friend Carlita Harbert. The group became known as one of the finest dance groups, combining tap dance, soft shoe and acrobatic steps in a most personal manner. They appeared in a number of films, including Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 (Fox, 1929), On With the Show (1929) (unbilled in both cases), and The Four Covans (DeForest Phonofilm, 1930), where they are credited as the “World’s Fastest Tap Dancers.”

Sometime in the early 1930s The Four Covans dissolved, although Covan remained active in Hollywood, soon gaining employment with MGM as the head dance instruction, over the years tutoring such stars as Eleanor Powell, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple, Vera Ellen, and many others. Covan appeared, again uncredited, in the 1938 feature The Duke Is Tops (Million Dollar Productions, 1938), which was to be Covan’s last screen performance .... that is, until the rediscovery of the Edgar Bergen shorts under discussion.

Jerry Galian’s Orchestra
The two Jerry Galian shorts are frankly somewhat of a dis appointment. Being quite commercial in nature they fail to add much to our knowledge of the authentic Latin-American music scene in Los Angeles during the early 1940s. Little is known about Galian or his career, save that veteran guitarist/singer Joachin Flores (who was an active member of the Los Angeles Latin musical community during this period) recalls that is “was around in L.A. for a while, maybe back East, too, but I don’t think his band was very important.” If the two numbers presented here are any indication, his band was one that played the gentle Latin-influenced sounds that represented what many Anglo listeners considered “hot tropical music.”

The other featured performers, Lorraine de Wood and Carlos Fernando, are better known, if only slightly so. Ms. De Wood served as a sideline extra in a number of New York-produced soundies during the summer of 1941, and later starred in the soundie short Rancho Grande (1942). (This was one of the few soundies produced in Chicago during a brief period when R.C.M. Productions relocated in the Windy City to be in closer proximity to the parent Mills Novelty Company). Rancho Grande features De Wood on soundtrack and screen, backed by Robert Trendler’s orchestra. The soundies catalogue description says it all:

LORRAINE DE WOOD, sexy looking brunette but only so-so on voice and even weaker on natural delivery, leads the parade in Rancho Grande. Spanish veranda set features a line of girls and a dancer (DON STANLEY). Miss De Wood tries too hard and accomplishes little.

Ms. De Wood’s later film appearances, bit parts at best, include Song of the Open Road (unverified) (United Artists, 1944); Out of this World (Paramount, 1945) and The Bullfighters (Fox, 1945).

Carlos Fernando appears as a Latin dancer in these two shorts, and was likely an “on call” Latin-American hired for various roles when the “Latin look” was required. He appears in a number of soundies produced by Jimmie Roosevelt’s Globe Productions, as well as that company’s feature, Pot Of Gold (all 1941), in each case appearing as a bandleader. While he merely fronts the band on screen for his Globe Pictures appearances (the soundtrack orchestra on the soundies in which he appears was led by Lou Forbes), he was, according to music film collector Robert De Flores, “a second tier bandleader who toured along the West Coast for a while, maybe even heading to the Middle West on occasion.”

Tullah and Mia
Of this dance team nothing is known, and since this Bergen short quite probably employs a “canned” soundtrack, further investigation of this performance will probably yield very little of value.

Edgar Bergen Interests Shorts - Filmography and Description
When restored and screened, it was noted that the five shorts were probably ordered as follows to increase interest among the potential investors; a greater variety was implied with the films not being grouped by featured artists. (Chico Hamilton recalls that the films were shot in color, although no color element exists today, if he is indeed correct in his recollection.)

Issue 101
Edgar Bergen Interests presents
Rose Murphy singing Dinah with the King Cole Orchestra
directed by Lloyd French
  • Rose Murphy, piano and vocal
  • King Cole Orchestra (McClure “Red” Mack Morris, trumpet; Oscar Moore, guitar; Wesley Prince, string bass; Chico Hamilton, drums)
  • 2 unidentified male, 2 unidentified female tap / performance dancers
  • unidentified sideline extras, the “members of the audience”
DESCRIPTION

The short starts with a four bar vamp that will be repeated at various time throughout. Rose Murphy take the first chorus on piano, with brief cutaways of the band and the audience. The second chorus is her vocal, giving way to two complete choruses of muted trumpet work by Morris; this is certainly his most sustained legacy on record or film, and shows why Chico Hamilton held him in such high regard. Inventive and swinging, he admirably fills his role within the combo for his two chorus improvisation. The third chorus also introduces the tap / presentation dancers, who perform in a generic, if thoroughly professional and entertaining, manner. Anyone who enjoys jazz dance will appreciate their routine. Midway through the third chorus the tempo doubles, and so continues to the end of the performance. The tempo change doesn’t both Morris a bit, and makes us question even more why such a fine improvisor was so little heard from. The last chorus finds the band first riffing, then jamming freely .... and with the final few bars three of the dancers crouch on the floor, the last (one of the males) dives over the three, retrieves a handkerchief in his teeth as he does a hand flip to a standing position, thus completing the short!

Issue 102
Edgar Bergen Interests presents
La Conga
with
Carlos Fernando
and
Lorainne De Wood
and
Jerry Galian’s Orchestra
Directed by Lloyd French
  • Carlos Fernando, dance

  • Lorraine De Wood, vocal

  • Jerry Galian’s Orchestra - recording personnel - (Gerome [Jerry] Galian, piano and leader; Al Guzman, trumpet; Edward Guerrero, N. A. Ruiz, V. Lerma, violins; E. Reyes, string bass; Marcus Millan, drums and percussion; as was common with many Latin bands of the period, many of the sidemen doubled on Latin percussion instruments)

  • Jerry Galian’s Orchestra - sideline personnel - (Gerome [Jerry] Galian, leader; the sideline personnel are unknown, but are almost certainly similar (if not identical) to the recording personnel above. Hidden in the garden shadows, it is difficult to identify the number of musicians, although it appears that all are present, with the trumpet, violins and string bass doubling on Latin percussion)

  • Unidentified sideline extras, the “members of the audience”

DESCRIPTION

Jerry Galian lead the orchestra in this number, with Carlos Fernando in front of Galian, looking suave and playing a scratch gourd. Lorainne De Wood sings the chorus twice in this garden setting, dancing with Fernando in the chorus between the vocals. During the dance sequence Galian is heard on the piano, and there is a trumpet solo by Guzman. The words to the song are somewhat insipid, despite an authentic Latin rhythm:

“Come on, dance the conga.
Here the bongo rhythm swaying.
Listen to the claves with the native beats they’re saying.
Aye-ay, aye-ay, aye-ay-ay-ay
Come on, dance the conga,
Dance the conga the Cuban way.”


Issue 103
Edgar Bergen Interests presents
Harem Dance
with Tullah and Mia
directed by Lloyd French
  • Tullah and Mia, exotic dance
  • unidentified studio orchestra, quite possibly “canned music” purchased from outside source; instrumentation seems to include perhaps a trumpet and trombone, a few reeds (including an oboe), violins and rhythm
  • sideline extras: two unidentified males, the “Sultans” four unidentified female sideline extras, the “women in the harem”

DESCRIPTION

While “exotic Arabian music” is played on the soundtrack (no orchestra is seen on screen), Tullah and Mia dance in a mock-Arabian style, observed by the girls of the harem and the two Sultans. The sultans are playing tic-tac-toe, and are smoking a hookah (their reactions suggesting that the contents are indeed the dreaded weed marijuana); as tic-tac-toe games are won, names (Fatima, Carlotta, Zaza, Rosetti, etc.) are crossed off on a slate board, with the implication being that the winner of the contests gets the girl of his choice. As the soundie moves towards the conclusion the Sultans become increasing stoned, with comic effects that must have pleased the audience of 1940, but which seems silly, and somewhat prosaic, today. As the soundies concludes the sultans are totally disinterested in any female affections, and hand the dancers each a piece of fruit (!) as we fade to black!

Issue 104
Edgar Bergen Interests presents
Rose Murphy interprets I Can’t Give You Anything But Love with Willie Covan and the King Cole Orchestra
Directed by Lloyd French

  • Rose Murphy, piano and vocal
  • King Cole Orchestra (McClure “Red” Mack Morris, trumpet; Oscar Moore, guitar; Wesley Prince, string bass; Chico Hamilton, drums)
  • Willie Covan, tap dance
  • unidentified sideline extras, the “members of the audience”

DESCRIPTION

This number opens with a trumpet introduction (again, muted) by Morris, which is followed by a full chorus of Murphy singing the lyrics to this familiar standard. The two choruses again feature Morris on muted trumpet, with an eight bar release by Oscar Moore on electric guitar. On screen there is some brief “comic relief” by a couple of sideline extras .... not particularly funny in the first place, and very much out of place in a musical piece such as this. However, as if to compensate, we are treated to a full tap dance performance by an elegant and suave Willie Covan. Dressed in black tie and tails, Covan’s approach to tap dance is understated and subtle, and not dissimilar to what Honey Coles and Cholly Atkis would be doing in the early 1950s. Since his film appearances are so limited, Covan’s performance here warrants study by anyone interested in jazz dance. For the last half-chorus it is back to Ms. Murphy, complete with the phrase “‘til that lucky day you’ll know darn well, chee-chee....”

Issue 105
Edgar Bergen Interests presents
Cuban Rhumba
with Carlos Fernando and Lorraine De Wood
and
Jerry Galian’s Orchestra
Directed by Lloyd French

  • Carlos Fernando, dance
  • Lorraine De Wood, vocal
  • Jerry Galian’s Orchestra (recording and sideline personnel as above)

DESCRIPTION

After a brief piano introduction, Lorraine De Wood sings the lyrics to this song, which are curiously close to those in the first Jerry Galian piece, including the intrusive “aye-ay, aye-ay” refrain. The garden setting is also the same, and we wander through the garden, looking at the couples who are in turn are looking at Ms. De Wood. As the band alternates between solos by Galian and trumpet player Guzman, dancer Carlos Fernando enters and, enticed by a number of single women in the garden, ends up dancing with all of them. The film concludes with Fernando dancing as De Wood sings the vocal chorus.


EVALUATION AND CLOSER

The discovery of a so-called “lost film” after more than sixty years is in itself a cause of celebration. If the five Edgar Bergen shorts present a “mixed bag” in terms of contents, the two Rose Murphy / King Cole Orchestra shorts are indeed important additions to the selection of jazz performance preserved on sound film. True, their value would be significant if indeed Nat Cole were present. Even in his absence, however, these films fill in a number of important puzzle pieces about the pre-war jazz scene in Los Angeles. Certainly they provide a partial picture of what a “club appearance” might have looked like during this period. They represent the earliest films appearances of Rose Murphy, Chico Hamilton, Red Morris and the King Cole Trio; and they include the last film appearance of dancer Willie Covan. Most important, they indicate that swinging combo jazz was alive and well in Los Angeles at this time, and that New York’s 52nd Street had serious competition on the West Coast.


NEWSPAPERS AND PERIODICALS
The New Orleans Daily Picayune
Film Daily
Variety


BOOKS
Billman, Larry Film Choreographers and Dance Directors (McFarland and Company, 1990)
Dahl, Kinda Stormy Weather (Pantheon Books, 1984)
Frank, Rusty Tap (William Morrow and Company, 1990)
Kinkle, Roger The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz 1900-1950 (Arlington House Publishers, 1974)
Slide, Anthony The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville (Greenwood Press, 1994)
Sterns, Marshall and Jean Jazz Dance (Schirmer Books, 1964)
Terenzio, Maurice; MacGillivray, Scott; Okuda, Ted Soundies Dist. Corp. of America (McFarland and Company, 1991)
Teubig, Klaus Straighten Up and Fly Right (Greenwood press, 1994)

INTERVIEWS
De Flores, Robert
Flores, Joachin
Isoardi, Steven
Silsby, Kirk

OTHER SOURCES
Driggs, Frank liner notes for an unidentified Stash LP