First Talking Newsreel; Fox's 1927 film of Commander Byrd

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Ken Viewer2

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First Talking Newsreel; Fox's 1927 film of Commander Byrd

PostSun Feb 26, 2017 7:32 pm

For decades, I've considered the Fox Film Corporation as having first used the Movietone synchronized-sound-on-film process for "talking pictures" -- speech -- in a Fox newsreel in 1927. Can't swear it wasn't earlier, but it's the earliest I can document.

Most "history of newsreels balony" reference materials of half-a-century-ago-or-so usually list the first Fox sound-newsreel as having been filmed and shown in 1928.

I never cared because I'm not a films historian and had seen re-released film of one of the 1927 Fox sound-newsreels as a youngster some 60 years ago.

(There is sound-on-film footage of President Calvin Coolidge filmed in 1924 -- not by Fox -- and preserved. Whether it ever played in any movie theaters is a question. The audio portion -- Coolidge reading a speech -- was purportedly broadcast on radio.)

The Lindbergh takeoff was filmed, processed and actually shown that very night -- May, 20, 1927, at the huge Fox Roxy Theatre in Manhattan; supposedly at that time the world's largest -- which was fully Movietone-equipped by then.

(The use of the gigantic, 5,900-seat Roxy proved Fox had overcome the crippling problem of adequately amplifying the sound to fill a huge theater.)

However, Fox News's Movietone Production units filmed a newsreel in synchronized-sound one day earlier and the University of South Carolina has now restored and made available portions of that newsreel, which shows the to-be-Admiral Richard Byrd, and others, actually talking in preparation for his attempt at the prize.

It was a repeat attempt to accomplish what his 1926 flight, which crashed on takeoff and seriously injured several crew members, including Byrd, failed to do.

So, here is some of the UofSC restored footage, which they have kindly made available online, and begins with an interview of then-Commander Byrd. He was an Old South Virginian who spoke the way his ancestors -- colonists in Virginia before the Revolutionary War -- spoke.

Alas, Byrd's 1927 expedition was a day-late-and-a-dollar-short, although it did make it to the waters off of France when it had to ditch because the Paris and other airports were socked in by fog, or so it's claimed.

Unlike Lindbergh's solo flight, it used a crew of four flyers in a three-engine large Fokker plane.

The film was apparently rarely shown, if at all, outside of Manhattan, and we briefly see, and hear, one of, if not the first on-film mention of the "Movietone" news trademark. There were very few theaters equipped for talking pictures in May of 1927. Fox News itself called the reel a "Movietone Production." Later in the year, the Fox Movietone News name was used.

Various questions remain for other/future newsreels historians, such as whether and why Lindbergh's takeoff was shown in the Roxy Theatre perhaps before he had landed in France...

Sidenote: There have been and are significant buffering issues with this UofSC footage, but you still can see it by clicking below and having patience:

Reconstructed footage copyright 2016 by the University of South Carolina.

A second mention -- there are buffering problems with this footage; patience will get you through to the full reconstruction, and it's worth the extra time.

http://mirc.sc.edu/islandora/object/usc%3A39210

Right now, I can't find original Movietone-process talking-pictures of Lindbergh's preparation for takeoff (there is part of a re-re-release of the takeoff itself with sound and people talking and yelling uploaded on a reseller's site) but below is something equally interesting.

It's a Fox News's outtake-footage mish-mash of Commander Byrd before his crew's failed May, 19, 1927 flight, and it cuts to Washington, D.C., but a speech by Lindbergh has been cut out of it since I first posted this. The Wanamaker referred to was the kingpin of the Wanamaker department store in New York, who put up the $25,000 prize as a publicity stunt.

The Washington, D.C. Fox Newsreel that these outtakes are taken from also played in 1927 at the Roxy Theatre.

This Fox News footage courtesy of the University of South Carolina. No buffering problems with the file:

http://mirc.sc.edu/islandora/object/usc%3A41928

Ken Viewer2 (Used to be just plain Ken Viewer but lost my password and the email account associated with it is no more.)
Last edited by Ken Viewer2 on Fri Mar 10, 2017 1:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
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sepiatone

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Re: First Talking Newsreel? Fox's 1927 film of Commander By

PostMon Mar 06, 2017 3:01 pm

I had to look twice to affirm it wasn't the University of Southern California. But University of South Carolina. The Wanamaker is of Wanamaker Dept. store Wanamaker's also put up prize money for a 1914 Glenn Curtiss flying boat amphibian attempt at a transatlantic flight. Problems with horsepower, fuel consumption and the start of WW1 ditched plans for the 1914 attempt. Raymond Orteig sponsored the attempts after 1919.

The Roxy didn't start out as a Fox Theatre, Gloria Swanson's "The Love of Sunya" a United Artists picture premiered there in March 1927. A controlling interest by one of the financiers was sold to William Fox.

thanks for your efforts uploading the restored footage. Hearing those Wright Whirlwinds on the "America" is a joy. One was also(still is) on Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis". I tried pausing out the video for a few minutes to see if that cured the slow buffer.
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Re: First Talking Newsreel? Fox's 1927 film of Commander By

PostMon Mar 06, 2017 3:27 pm

Since Wanamaker's name comes up as sponsor, this meant Byrd was competing for a double prize that of an individual prize from the Dept. store ($25,000) and the Orteig prize (also $25,000). I don't know about all the facts concerning the finer details of the rules concerning these prizes but Wanamaker's original 1914 offering must have still been on. It's been said Lindbergh's successful crossing was null-and-void of the prize money because he made the flight too soon. When filing entrant papers for the Orteig prize a time lapse window of several weeks has to pass. This more than likely was rescinded after Lindbergh's successful journey as several flyers had already been killed,the public claimed Lindbergh as a hero and patrons would have walked out of Orteig's hotel/s if the money wasn't given. Great footage!!
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Re: First Talking Newsreel? Fox's 1927 film of Commander By

PostMon Mar 06, 2017 7:29 pm

Here's some Youtube video of a reproduction of the 1914 Curtiss Flying Boat "America" that Wanamaker sponsored.
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_ ... ss+america
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Re: First Talking Newsreel? Fox's 1927 film of Commander By

PostWed Mar 08, 2017 7:42 pm

NEW LINK. Buffering problems remain. View it while it's still online.

http://mirc.sc.edu/islandora/object/usc%3A39210

Ken
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Re: First Talking Newsreel? Fox's 1927 film of Commander By

PostWed Mar 08, 2017 8:10 pm

60th anniversary of Byrd's death is only a few days away, on March 11. Just learned that next year it'll be 100 years ago that he was stationed here in Halifax at the Naval Air Station (now Shearwater AFB) during the First World War, only 15 minutes away. I wonder if there's much local history on his stay here...

Edit: There is!
Twinkletoes wrote:Oh, ya big blister!
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Ken Viewer2

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Re: First Talking Newsreel; Fox's 1927 film of Commander By

PostFri Mar 10, 2017 1:42 am

Sepiatone,

Fox Film Corporation's theatre-chains' division purchased a controlling interest in the Roxy prior to May 20, 1927. If it pleased them, they'd call it a Fox theatre. It was not part of the Fox Metropolitan Playhouses division, however.

Byrd became a Rear Admiral the following year by act of Congress or some-such.

Ken
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Re: First Talking Newsreel; Fox's 1927 film of Commander By

PostSat Mar 11, 2017 7:37 pm

thanks for that info Ken.
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Re: First Talking Newsreel; Fox's 1927 film of Commander By

PostWed Apr 05, 2017 12:10 am

Here is a no-buffering-problems version of some of the talking-picture newsreel film shot on May 19, 1927 on Long Island, New York, of the crew of Commander Byrd's airplane. But problems prevented its flight to Paris until the following month.

The first cut ends the May 19th footage, and then we see the Byrd flight's takeoff in late June. After that, we see a June (may have been on June 11) where President Calvin Coolidge makes a speech:

http://mirc.sc.edu/islandora/object/usc%3A41928

The talking newsreel these outtakes are from was shown at the Roxy Theatre in New York City in the summer of 1927.

Below is a link to Lindbergh's rant on the need for more airports in or near New York City during his speech at the same ceremony. (He was correct. Currently we have three fields and need two more.) This may have been filmed in Washington on June 11.

This film is from one of the several crews of Fox Movietone News at the who-ha for Lindbergh. It's shot from the side-rear while another Fox crew shot Movietone film from the front. That footage is also preserved.

http://mirc.sc.edu/islandora/object/usc%3A41930

If the buffering problem with the footage-link in my original post can be cleared up, that's the film (digitized) to watch, with its title cards and acknowledgement of a missing portion of footage.

At the moment, it appears that May 19 film is the first talking newsreel to eventually be shown in a large theater (the Roxy) -- although it was exhibited there at least a month after the May 20 Lindbergh takeoff film. William Fox was a gambler on technology (such as the Grandeur 70 MM process) and I suspect he gambled that Lindbergh would make it to Paris nonstop because the newsreel was shown at the Roxy before Lindbergh landed.

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Re: First Talking Newsreel; Fox's 1927 film of Commander By

PostSun May 14, 2017 8:40 am

none of that sound footage is of Byrd's actual takeoff. It is all various test flight footage after the Fokker was repaired following a near devastating crash in which Floyd Bennett was seriously injured. Bennett would have been on the flight but his injuries were so severe that Balchen replaced him. The crash of the first version of the plane is on film too but it is silent footage(Tony Fokker himself was piloting and he came in too fast for some reason landing.) The Byrd takeoff was filmed as well, the difference is that the plane rolled down a mound or incline to gather enough takeoff speed even though Byrd had that 5,000 foot runway.

Nevertheless, the Fox May 19 1927 newsreel is probably a milestone in a way. It is ?probably the first time an airplane is seen and heard in a sound motion picture.
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Re: First Talking Newsreel; Fox's 1927 film of Commander By

PostFri May 19, 2017 10:21 am

I enjoyed seeing the previously unreleased/unused (?) portions of the June 11th ceremony: the half-empty seating area around the President--I can't imagine that happening today; the act of putting one's Top Hat to one's heart as a means of salute during the National Anthem, and the faster pace and different phrasing of the Anthem itself.

Also, the "distraction in the back" caused by the cavalry procession escorting Colonel Lindbergh, including the one officer (I assume) brandishing his sabre at one point. Just minor details, but something that I will never see, and which is far more interesting than looking at a bunch of glossy (yet bulletproof) cars moving along, isolated from everyone watching. There was more of a feeling of immediacy to the proceedings. Although scripted, I'm sure, it doesn't come across as phony.

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