Silents to sound - academic research

Open, general discussion of silent films, personalities and history.
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Lokke Heiss

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Silents to sound - academic research

PostThu Oct 19, 2017 1:27 pm

We've all seen and read the many discussions of the issues faced by actors going from silents to sound from say, 1927 to 1931. The traditional story was that many actors dropped out because they had squeaky voices, or voices unsuited to their screen persona, and the rebuttal to this urban myth was that there were many other reasons for why so many actors failed to make the transition, rarely if ever was it related to their actual voice. The urban legend goes on to say that this caused many, many silent film stars to quit because they couldn't face the talkies.

So my question is: Are there any academic sources that tried to quantify or study why silent films quit or did not make the transition in a more systemic way? My knowledge of answering the question is more based on individual actors or particular situations, which works fine in the hot stove league that most of us find ourselves in, but if I was going to do a research paper, I'd be hard pressed to put a citation that would fly in an academic situation. Note I'm not saying the academic reference would necessarily be more accurate than the opinion of a fan, but at least it would be more reproducible.

For example, I think William Everson, who sort of stood with one foot in fandom and one foot in academia, might be one resource, but that resource would be more than 20 years old. Any other ideas for citations or references?
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostThu Oct 19, 2017 2:59 pm

One of the best books I have read on the subject is "A Song in the dark" by Richard Barrios.He deals with early musicals.Now why this won't go all the way for you,it does offer some explanations.
You should bear in mind that many silent stars,such as Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson had been around for many years and their stardom was in any event coming to an end.Fairbanks too.
Comedians were able to make the transition far more easily as the did not rely upon glamour or youth.In fact if you go 10 years on I would guess that very few silent stars were still appearing in major roles,Garbo excepted.
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Daniel Eagan

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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostThu Oct 19, 2017 3:08 pm

The Talkies: American Cinema's Transition to Sound, 1926-1931 (History of the American Cinema series) by Donald Crafton (https://www.amazon.com/Talkies-American ... 0520221281) uses contemporary sources to discuss topics like "Silent Stars Who Failed the Test," "Voice-Doubling," etc. A lot of the discussion remains anecdotal, but the book is, like all the volumes in the series, very well researched.
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Donald Binks

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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostThu Oct 19, 2017 4:42 pm

One succinct reason comes to mind - having to learn lines. In the silent days, actors could get away with saying anything, but the thought of having to actually learn a whole heap of dialogue may have been too much for some of them.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostThu Oct 19, 2017 4:45 pm

I, for one, would like to see some data on the attrition rate for silent film stars (how many tried to make the transition, how many failed/succeeded). Seldom does a Silent Sunday go by that Ben Mankiewicz tells us how few made it. But I think of a classic like Grand Hotel in which all the actors in the all-star cast were silent film stars, and very successful in the talkies.

Wingate is absolutely correct about the many silent actors who were ready to retire after long careers.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostThu Oct 19, 2017 5:22 pm

Two others who worked well past that 10 year mark mentioned, would be Chaplin of course, and Gish (support in films, lead on stage and on radio.)
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Harold Aherne

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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostThu Oct 19, 2017 5:52 pm

Lokke Heiss wrote:Note I'm not saying the academic reference would necessarily be more accurate than the opinion of a fan, but at least it would be more reproducible.


Speaking of reproducible, I think one problem that hobbles conversation (and maybe research) on this matter is how difficult it is to establish parameters for things like how late in silents one had to start acting, how far into the talkies one had to last, and how one defines success.

By now, we've had almost 89 years of all-talking features against only about 18 years of silent features. A performer who started in silents, was successful in talkies for several years, but decided to retire in 1936 is going to look deceptively underwhelming if we don't establish some kind of baseline.

I just did a quick JSTOR search and didn't find a lot on the specifics of star transitions. There is "Awkward Transitions: Hitchcock's 'Blackmail' and the Dynamics of Early Film Sound (John Belton, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 83, No. 2 [Summer, 1999], pp. 227-246), but I don't know how much it would deal with films beyond that one. Academic articles that discuss the transition to sound in other respects seem to heavily cite the Crafton work.

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Robert Israel Music

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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 12:40 am

Donald Binks wrote:One succinct reason comes to mind - having to learn lines. In the silent days, actors could get away with saying anything, but the thought of having to actually learn a whole heap of dialogue may have been too much for some of them.


Greetings, Mr. Binks. One might think that this would have posed an issue, (your theory), but it does not stand up to scrutiny. Throughout the 1920s, dialogue was provided to the actors and actresses to learn and execute, and this can be validated by looking at film production records, but also by viewing silent features and comparing what actors are saying with the title cards that follow. Also, many of the top performers came from the stage and already had well established careers in theater before going to film, so learning dialogue would be the least of their challenges. Just out of curiosity, several names came to my mind–with the question: where did they start? Some debuted on stage, others started direct to film:

Lon Chaney–stage
Douglas Fairbanks–stage
Marion Davies–stage
William S. Hart–stage
Charlie Chaplin–stage
Jobyna Ralston–stage
Harold Lloyd–stage
John Barrymore–stage
Buster Keaton–stage
Mary Pickford–stage
Wallace Beery–stage
Noah Beery–stage
George Bancroft–stage
Louise Brooks–stage/dance
Clive Brook–stage
Milton Sills–stage

Evelyn Brent–film/stage
Richard Barthelmess–film
Clara Bow–film
Conrad Nagel–film
Fay Wray–film
John Gilbert–film
Greta Garbo–film
James Murray–film
Lois Wilson–film
William Haines–film

These are only a handful of names, but many went on to make sound features for some years before retiring or being relegated to supporting roles. Some have argued that the high salaries they were earning in the silent era had to be off-set because of the costs of sound production; thus, a new cache of up and coming performers, commanding far less money, were going to be useful to the studios.

There is no single answer to this question, but rather a huge pool of facts and figures that would need to be researched and studied.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 12:47 am

Robert Israel Music wrote:
Donald Binks wrote:One succinct reason comes to mind - having to learn lines. In the silent days, actors could get away with saying anything, but the thought of having to actually learn a whole heap of dialogue may have been too much for some of them.


Greetings, Mr. Binks. One might think that this would have posed an issue, (your theory), but it does not stand up to scrutiny. Throughout the 1920s, dialogue was provided to the actors and actresses to learn and execute, and this can be.....


Thanks Mr. Israel for your input. Another thing that I thought happened shot down in flames. Perhaps I have seen "Singin' in the Rain" too many times? :D
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Silents to sound - academic research- McFarland Style

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 1:20 am

ImageImage

Table of Contents.......................Table of Contents
Acknowledgments ix..................Introduction vii
Foreword by Marion Shilling xi..THE ENCYCLOPEDIA 1
Introduction 1.............................Appendix I: Some Silent Stars Who Did Not Appear in Talkies 299
1. Hugh Allan 3..........................Appendix II: The One- and Two-Shot Wonders 300
2. Barbara Barondess 15...........Selected Bibliography 303
3. Thomas Beck 33....................Index 305
4. Mary Brian 44
5. Pauline Curley 61
6. Billie Dove 73
7. Edith Fellows 98
8. Rose Hobart 111
9. William Janney 124
10. Marcia Mae Jones 140
11. Barbara Kent 155
12. Esther Muir 165
13. Anita Page 179
14. Marion Shilling 201
15. Lupita Tovar 218
16. Barbara Weeks 234
Index 251
Marion Shilling began her career as a silent film ingenue for MGM and went on to play heroines in Westerns of the 1930s. Stage actress Esther Muir made the transition from Broadway to Hollywood just as talkies became popular. Hugh Allan was a leading man in the last years of the silents only to leave the film business in 1930 because of the uncertainty surrounding his transition to sound films and his disgust with studio politics. These three performers and thirteen others (Barbara Barondess, Thomas Beck, Mary Brian, Pauline Curley, Billie Dove, Edith Fellows, Rose Hobart, William Janney, Marcia Mae Jones, Barbara Kent, Anita Page, Lupita Tovar, and Barbara Weeks) reminisce here about Hollywood and the movie business as it made the transition.
Garbo talked, Gilbert self-destructed and Chaplin refused—that’s about all many people know about silent film actors who faced the transition into talking pictures. Yes, Greta Garbo’s talkie debut was successful, John Gilbert’s was disastrous, and Charlie Chaplin did not deign to make one for over a decade. But there were many others—both stars and lesser lights—who also made the leap for at least one talking film.
From Renee Adoree to Loretta Young, more than 500 actors who made at least three silent films and had some starring or supporting roles in sound films are included in this reference work. For each performer, vital data are given and a source for filmographic information. This is followed by capsule accounts of the performer’s silent and sound careers, along with contemporary reviews of selected talkies in which they appeared.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 8:07 am

This is a good book, although it is also old. It's not written by an academic, but by a British film critic:

https://www.amazon.com/Shattered-Silent ... 024189736X
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 8:14 am

I have to find the story in the trades again, but studios used the transition to sound as a way to get rid of high price talent and bring in young, cheap talent, as has been happening in our economy in the last few years. When stars' contracts came up for renewal in the early 1930s, the studios instead released many people. Most of these actors quickly drop to indie producers, poverty row, and finally either extra work or retiring.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 8:54 am

Wasn't there also an "out with the old, in with the new" attitude among the ticket-buying public? As sound represented a new paradigm, I've read that audiences wanted to see new, fresh faces on screens that could now talk. Is this just more untrue nonsense, rumor, and innuendo? However, I even seem to recall this being mentioned in the "End of an Era" episode of Brownlow and Gill's Hollywood documentary, but I might be confusing my sources.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 9:08 am

Robert Israel Music wrote:
Donald Binks wrote:One succinct reason comes to mind - having to learn lines. In the silent days, actors could get away with saying anything, but the thought of having to actually learn a whole heap of dialogue may have been too much for some of them.


Greetings, Mr. Binks. One might think that this would have posed an issue, (your theory), but it does not stand up to scrutiny. Throughout the 1920s, dialogue was provided to the actors and actresses to learn and execute, and this can be validated by looking at film production records, but also by viewing silent features and comparing what actors are saying with the title cards that follow. Also, many of the top performers came from the stage and already had well established careers in theater before going to film, so learning dialogue would be the least of their challenges. Just out of curiosity, several names came to my mind–with the question: where did they start? Some debuted on stage, others started direct to film:

Lon Chaney–stage
Douglas Fairbanks–stage
Marion Davies–stage
William S. Hart–stage
Charlie Chaplin–stage
Jobyna Ralston–stage
Harold Lloyd–stage
John Barrymore–stage
Buster Keaton–stage
Mary Pickford–stage
Wallace Beery–stage
Noah Beery–stage
George Bancroft–stage
Louise Brooks–stage/dance
Clive Brook–stage
Milton Sills–stage

Evelyn Brent–film/stage
Richard Barthelmess–film
Clara Bow–film
Conrad Nagel–film
Fay Wray–film
John Gilbert–film
Greta Garbo–film
James Murray–film
Lois Wilson–film
William Haines–film

These are only a handful of names, but many went on to make sound features for some years before retiring or being relegated to supporting roles. Some have argued that the high salaries they were earning in the silent era had to be off-set because of the costs of sound production; thus, a new cache of up and coming performers, commanding far less money, were going to be useful to the studios.

There is no single answer to this question, but rather a huge pool of facts and figures that would need to be researched and studied.


True, Chaplin's early experience came from the stage, but most, if not all of this came as one of "Karno's Speechless Comedians." I don't think Buster Keaton had too many lines as he was being tossed around the stage by his father either. Harry Langdon had a long stage career before he entered films also, but I'm not sure if his stage performances were particularly vocal.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 9:26 am

elliothearst wrote:True, Chaplin's early experience came from the stage, but most, if not all of this came as one of "Karno's Speechless Comedians." I don't think Buster Keaton had too many lines as he was being tossed around the stage by his father either.


This is a good point, but whether a person was doing dramatic acting or a kind of pantomime act, the practice of professionally appearing on a stage before a live public develops in the talented performer a formidable technique. Chaplin was not merely speechless in certain performance routines, but definitely telling a story and expressing a wide range of elements. The same can be said of Buster Keaton, too. The years of performance time these two specific artists experienced were indispensable in their development into the cinematic geniuses we revere these days.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 11:10 am

Robert Israel Music wrote:

Donald Binks wrote:
One succinct reason comes to mind - having to learn lines. In the silent days, actors could get away with saying anything, but the thought of having to actually learn a whole heap of dialogue may have been too much for some of them.


Greetings, Mr. Binks. One might think that this would have posed an issue, (your theory), but it does not stand up to scrutiny. Throughout the 1920s, dialogue was provided to the actors and actresses to learn and execute, and this can be.....


Thanks Mr. Israel for your input. Another thing that I thought happened shot down in flames. Perhaps I have seen "Singin' in the Rain" too many times? :D
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Donald, you have a valid point; you shouldn't shrink from it so quickly. The memorization and delivery of dialogue is exactly what Louise Brooks cited, in Kenneth Tynan's famous profile, and elsewhere. I'm sure it is the main reason why Norma Talmadge retired. Her voice was fine.

Many big silent stars had no stage experience at all. George O'Brien, naturally for me, comes to mind. William Haines is another.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 11:13 am

No one has mentioned a very good, soundly researched book on this period, Scott Eyman's SPEED OF SOUND.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 1:08 pm

elliothearst wrote:Wasn't there also an "out with the old, in with the new" attitude among the ticket-buying public? As sound represented a new paradigm, I've read that audiences wanted to see new, fresh faces on screens that could now talk. Is this just more untrue nonsense, rumor, and innuendo? However, I even seem to recall this being mentioned in the "End of an Era" episode of Brownlow and Gill's Hollywood documentary, but I might be confusing my sources.


I don't believe so. Audiences were enamored of sound, but fickle towards the new talent brought in to take over. Billy Haines was the top male star in terms of drawing power in 1930. For every Chevalier, you had a dozen Helen Kanes and Winnie Lightners, who flashed brightly for a film or two, then faded away.

What might be interesting is to compare the rate of success for new (stage) talent who worked in film during the transition, to those silent veterans.

A few foreign-born actors aside, (most notably, Karl Dane) just about every established silent player made the transition. Some foreigners (Emil Jannings) chose to go back home. Some, nearing the end of their leading-player days (Pickford, Fairbanks, Barthelmess) chose to retire instead of transitioning into character parts.

More than sound, the Depression ended careers. The toughness of Gable and Cagney fit the zeitgeist of the Hoover years better than the country club manners of Gilbert, Haines and Novarro. Some, like La Craw, adapted to the new reality. Others did not. But just about everyone's *voice* was fine.

You can make a similar case regarding changing times for the coming of the Code. Someone like Warren William was never the same when Breen came to power.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 1:11 pm

Although line-learning was a regular practice in 'silent' days, it would not have been quite so much of a catastrophe if an actor fluffed a word or two or perhaps used the wrong inflection as opposed to having his / her lines recorded as well.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 1:17 pm

Folks, don't forget Lokke is asking for academic studies. Like university texts, Ph.D. theses, learned-societies journals and studies, etc.

Jim
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 5:51 pm

earlytalkiebuffRob wrote:Although line-learning was a regular practice in 'silent' days, it would not have been quite so much of a catastrophe if an actor fluffed a word or two or perhaps used the wrong inflection as opposed to having his / her lines recorded as well.


Nor would there have been as much of it, and probably not delivered at the rapid fire pace that talkie dialog soon settled into. For some folks who had a been around for a while and had enough money, making films probably became more of a pain than it was worth.

It seems to me that I read in some book (the speed of sound maybe?) that silent Stars' first talkie usually made good money (the curiosity factor) but subsequent ones earned less. I don't remember if there were any citations on that but it would be an interesting line of inquiry. Studying box office comparisons between old and new stars' talkies might also give some hard data on whether films with established stars were earning enough to justify their higher salaries compared to the newbies. Haines was still earning well in 1930, as has been pointed out, but he, like most of the successful survivors, didn't really become popular untill the later 20s.

Clara bow is kind of an edge case, she seems like she was still reasonably popular and might have survived longer if personal issues hadn't taken her out of the industry'.

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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 5:54 pm

Lokke, to expand on Jim Root's point, are you looking for articles with academic credentials (i.e. published in academic journals or with academic rigor (good sources & citations, etc.)?

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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 7:50 pm

This doesn't answer the academic part of the question, but is only an observation. With Motion Picture Herald and some of its predecessor publications now available at the Media History Digital Library, we can see the full results of the "Money-Making Stars" surveys that were conducted starting in the mid-1920s. (I've located the ones for 1928 and 1929 as well as 1932 onward, but I haven't found any surveys for the crucial years of 1930 and 1931.)

These surveys do have their limits. They were the stars named by theatre managers, not the public, so they might perceive star quality a little differently than most of the people in the seats. And they're necessarily biased toward players who made a lot of films and were on screens regularly, which is part of why Chaplin never really scored that highly in spite of his reputation. But their results can be fairly eye-opening and don't always match the narratives that have been handed down.

During the 1932-34 period, two of the biggest stars were Marie Dressler and Will Rogers, neither of them new to films nor young and glamorous. The second most popular actress after Dressler was Janet Gaynor, whose films from that time are seen a lot less frequently than, say, Bette Davis' or Barbara Stanwyck's. In 1932 Wheeler & Woolsey, George Arliss and James Dunn all out-polled Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney. By the end of the 30s that ratio would be reversed, as Woolsey was dead, Wheeler's career was never the same, Arliss had retired and Dunn was working mostly for the lesseer studios. (Another '32 observation: Ralph Graves actually did better than Spencer Tracy.)

Clara Bow scored fairly low in 1932, as the poll was published in August, when she hadn't had a new release in 15 months. But she regained some of her lost ground in 1933, tying with Kay Francis and coming just ahead of Claudette Colbert.

After 1934 Janet Gaynor gradually fell out of the top 10, but she still came in respectably at #16 in 1935 and #24 in 1936. You'd think A Star Is Born would've kicked her ranking up a few notches, but no -- in 1937 and 1938 she was ranked in "Group One", a collection of stars who scored just under the top 25. The decreased frequency of her films may have been a factor, as it probably was with Bow.

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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 8:11 pm

Harold Aherne wrote:This doesn't answer the academic part of the question, but is only an observation. With Motion Picture Herald and some of its predecessor publications now available at the Media History Digital Library, we can see the full results of the "Money-Making Stars" surveys that were conducted starting in the mid-1920s. (I've located the ones for 1928 and 1929 as well as 1932 onward, but I haven't found any surveys for the crucial years of 1930 and 1931.)

These surveys do have their limits. They were the stars named by theatre managers, not the public, so they might perceive star quality a little differently than most of the people in the seats. And they're necessarily biased toward players who made a lot of films and were on screens regularly, which is part of why Chaplin never really scored that highly in spite of his reputation. But their results can be fairly eye-opening and don't always match the narratives that have been handed down.

During the 1932-34 period, two of the biggest stars were Marie Dressler and Will Rogers, neither of them new to films nor young and glamorous. The second most popular actress after Dressler was Janet Gaynor, whose films from that time are seen a lot less frequently than, say, Bette Davis' or Barbara Stanwyck's. In 1932 Wheeler & Woolsey, George Arliss and James Dunn all out-polled Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney. By the end of the 30s that ratio would be reversed, as Woolsey was dead, Wheeler's career was never the same, Arliss had retired and Dunn was working mostly for the lesseer studios. (Another '32 observation: Ralph Graves actually did better than Spencer Tracy.)

Those "money maker" polls published in Variety in the late 1920s are interesting because they break down the results by studio and also by "star" vs. "featured player." The ones I've seen do not list any box-office numbers. The annual theater owner conventions of the 1920s featured a "king" and "queen," supposedly the owners' choices of biggest box-office draws for the preceding year. The 1924 winners were Marion Davies and Rudolph Valentino.

Clara Bow scored fairly low in 1932, as the poll was published in August, when she hadn't had a new release in 15 months. But she regained some of her lost ground in 1933, tying with Kay Francis and coming just ahead of Claudette Colbert.

After 1934 Janet Gaynor gradually fell out of the top 10, but she still came in respectably at #16 in 1935 and #24 in 1936. You'd think A Star Is Born would've kicked her ranking up a few notches, but no -- in 1937 and 1938 she was ranked in "Group One", a collection of stars who scored just under the top 25. The decreased frequency of her films may have been a factor, as it probably was with Bow.

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greta de groat

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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostSat Oct 21, 2017 9:24 am

Thanks, Harold, for checking on those polls. Even with the caveats they show that the story we've been handed down is more complex.

I have a question for folks who have done actual research in studio records--would it be possible to compile a dataset on stars and contract players, their beginning dates in the industry, their annual salaries (normalizing for folks payed on a per-film basis), the beginning and ending dates of their contracts, plus renewal dates, films with which they are associated, the date range of the exhibition of the films, and the net profit? Probably some other stuff too but that would be a good starting point. Then crunch the numbers. Would it confirm the pattern that many of us suspect, that silent holdovers had expensive contracts but their films didn't draw enough profit to justify the salary differential? When did the new talkie stars' salaries catch up, or did they? It might also identify some other interesting patterns that we might not have though of.

The fan magazines of the time mentioned several silent players who they said had a new lease on life in the talkies--Betty Compson, Bessie Love, Pauline Frederick, Conrad Nagel, John Miljan. But the bump didn't last long (though many of these folks went on to long careers in Bs or character parts). But maybe our views are skewed by the long stable period of the Hollywood studios once talkies settled in. Perhaps that artificially extended the life of many stars. After all, the shelf life of the nickelodeon and early feature stars was very short except for a few standouts. And even in modern films there are a few folks that have long periods of stardom, but many others (particularly women) whose period of popularity comes and goes in a few short years.

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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostSat Oct 21, 2017 10:22 am

Attempting to find documentation beyond the anecdotal for this subject is tough. I've read that many silent stars went to voice coaches but verifying that is difficult. Recently I came across a photo of Anita Page at the USC Speech Dept in 1928 where she is seen speaking into a microphone while being filmed with a voice teacher standing by. That was a first for me.

As far as career longevity, the last crop of silent screen stars (i.e., Cooper, Crawford, Colman) lasted well into the 1950s in starring roles. I've noticed that the one thing in common that made the difference between silent stars who continued as stars well into the sound era and those who didn't is this: the ones who made it reinvented their screen persona from their silent screen image. I got to see most of these stars in their talkies and only later did I see their silents. In every case, they played different characters in the silents. Crawford is one of the most obvious going from a flapper in silents to a a working girl in talkies. The stars who couldn't reinvent themselves or tried but didn't hit on the right character went down the tubes within a few years. I think Pickford tried the hardest, Fairbanks didn't try at all, and John Gilbert found a great new persona in DOWNSTAIRS only to be unable to follow up on it.
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Jim Roots

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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostSat Oct 21, 2017 12:33 pm

bobfells wrote:Attempting to find documentation beyond the anecdotal for this subject is tough. I've read that many silent stars went to voice coaches but verifying that is difficult. Recently I came across a photo of Anita Page at the USC Speech Dept in 1928 where she is seen speaking into a microphone while being filmed with a voice teacher standing by. That was a first for me.

As far as career longevity, the last crop of silent screen stars (i.e., Cooper, Crawford, Colman) lasted well into the 1950s in starring roles. I've noticed that the one thing in common that made the difference between silent stars who continued as stars well into the sound era and those who didn't is this: the ones who made it reinvented their screen persona from their silent screen image. I got to see most of these stars in their talkies and only later did I see their silents. In every case, they played different characters in the silents. Crawford is one of the most obvious going from a flapper in silents to a a working girl in talkies. The stars who couldn't reinvent themselves or tried but didn't hit on the right character went down the tubes within a few years. I think Pickford tried the hardest, Fairbanks didn't try at all, and John Gilbert found a great new persona in DOWNSTAIRS only to be unable to follow up on it.


Franklin Pangborn was a he-man and fierce lover of women (as well as a slapstick comedian) in the silents. In the talkies, he was no longer a leading man, but he certainly thrived with a character who was, er, quite different from that of his silent days.

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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostSun Oct 22, 2017 6:07 am

elliothearst wrote:This is a good book, although it is also old. It's not written by an academic, but by a British film critic:

https://www.amazon.com/Shattered-Silent ... 024189736X" target="_blank" target="_blank


Alexander Walker's THE SHATTERED SILENTS is the best thing I have read on the subject.
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostSun Oct 22, 2017 6:21 am

academia dot edu is a platform that hosts scholarly papers that have been uploaded by users. There is a search function with a category for Silent Film and a number of related sub-topics, including Early Sound Film. Here is one paper that came up after a quick search. I hope this is more helpful than my previous couple of replies:

https://www.academia.edu/29968980/Mute_ ... nt_Talkies
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Re: Silents to sound - academic research

PostSun Oct 22, 2017 11:06 am

Another case in point of silent screen stars who reinvented their persona and remained at the top for many years thereafter: Laurel and Hardy. Growing up I had seen all their Hal Roach talkies, shorts and features, many times on TV. Shortly after Stan died in 1965, Huntington Hartford launched something called the Gallery of Modern Art on Columbus Circle in NYC. Raymond Rohauer got involved (I saw him there once) and in tribute to Stan they launched a Laurel and Hardy festival in their beautiful theater. 16mm looked very good on the screen there and each show, afternoon/evening, were grouped into four or five shorts, or a feature with one or two shorts. This was the first time I saw an L&H film with an audience and I'll never forget the experience!

Anyway, at the risk of digressing, some of the programs offered some of their silent work, none of which I had ever seen. One of the first I saw was an Army comedy called WITH LOVE AND HISSES (1927). Right away I noticed that Stan and Ollie were different characters than what I was used to seeing in their talkies. I learned that they weren't really teamed in their first Roach films even though they appeared together (the All Star comedies) but later - the festival was extended several times and I returned to Columbus Circle many times - when the L&H series officially began and they assumed their familiar characters seen in their talkies, I noticed that they were still not quite the same people.After seeing several of their silents, I figured it out: Stan and Ollie were more aggressive towards other people and towards each other in the silents. Also, they either won out over their adversaries or it was at least a draw. They almost always were losers in their talkies.

Examples include PUTTING PANTS ON PHILLIP, YOU'RE DARN TOOTIN' and of course TWO TARS. TARS is somewhat comparable to the early talkie MEN O' WAR but instead of wrecking cars, they wreck canoes in a lake. The big difference between the main action in the two films is that sailors Stan and Ollie are out to raise a little hell in TARS, whereas the destruction in MEN is mostly inadvertent. More aggression can be seen in terms of pants ripping in DARN TOOTIN' or the pie fight in BATTLE OF THE CENTURY that have no equivalent in their talkies. The closest they come is THEM THAR HILLS and its sequel TIT FOR TAT but in these the destruction stems from a misunderstanding and, unlike the silents, the boys get the worst of it in the talkies.

So I found that L&H became much more passive characters in the sound films and delving into their silent work it becomes quite surprising to see the edginess in their characters.
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