Full Technicolor before Becky Sharp

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Jim Gettys

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Full Technicolor before Becky Sharp

PostSat Mar 15, 2008 8:02 pm

The use of full (3-strip) Technicolor in live-action films preceded the release of Becky Sharp (June 1935) by at least 16 months, but the details available online are incomplete and confused, so I'm compiling my own list, and would welcome any additions or corrections:


1) The Cat and the Fiddle (16 Feb 1934) MGM,
feature with full Technicolor finale, comic operetta,
with Ramon Novarro, Jeanette MacDonald, Frank Morgan

2) The House of Rothschild (7 Apr 1934) 20th Century,
feature with full Technicolor finale, historical drama,
with George Arliss, Boris Karloff, Loretta Young, Robert Young

3) Service with a Smile (20 Jul 1934) Warner,
full Technicolor 2-reel short, musical comedy,
with Leon Errol, Warner chorines

4) Good Morning, Eve! (5 Aug 1934) Warner,
full Technicolor 2-reel short, musical comedy,
with Leon Errol, June MacCloy, Vernon Dent, Warner chorines

5) La Cucaracha (30 Aug 1934) Pioneer/RKO,
full Technicolor 2-reel short, musical,
with Steffi Duna, Don Alvarado, Paul Porcasi, Eduardo Durant

6) The Spectacle Maker (20 Sep 1934) MGM,
full Technicolor 2-reel short, musical fantasy,
directed by John Farrow

7) Kid Millions (10 Nov 1934) Goldwyn,
feature with full Technicolor finale, musical comedy,
with Eddie Cantor, Ethel Merman, Ann Sothern, George Murphy


So far, I have nothing for the first half of 1935. Many of these can be seen on YouTube, but with poor image quality.

Good Morning, Eve! is particularly interesting. The color is great, and it features some of Busby Berkeley's 1933/34 chorines, including the intriguing (but as yet unidentified) Louise Brooks lookalike --- she even gets a closeup in the seaside finale. These dancers look stunning in B&W, but it's a unique treat to see them in Glorious Technicolor!

Good Morning, Eve! is also notable as the first full Technicolor film shot outdoors, a distinction usually claimed for Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936). The entire short can be seen on YouTube, but why bother, since it's included as a bonus on the recent DVD release of Dames, and the image quality is amazing.


Jim Gettys
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Mike Gebert

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PostSat Mar 15, 2008 8:59 pm

Yet everyone says La Cucaracha was first. Was it made first but not released first?

There's also the mystery of that independent Wizard of Oz cartoon made by Ted Eshbaugh (Sunshine Makers) in 1933. (You can see it on the Oz DVD set released a year or two ago.) It seems to be three-strip, which would have violated Disney's exclusive for animation in the US, apparently it was made (and released) in Canada:

http://www.animationshow.com/forums/lof ... t2872.html

That all seems funny to me, how did control-freak Technicolor let you accidentally make a cartoon in three strip which violated their most important contract, but I agree with the evidence of my eyes-- the yellow and purple in it must be three-strip.
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Harold Aherne

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PostSat Mar 15, 2008 10:48 pm

Here's my list of live action 3-strip Technicolor films released during 1934 and 1935.

[12/10 and 9/14: Edited for additions and corrections.]

1934
Features:
The Cat and the Fiddle (MGM)-seqence
The House of Rothschild (20th Century/UA)-seq.
Kid Millions (Samuel Goldwyn/UA)-seq.

Shorts:
Service with a Smile (WB; 28 July 1934)
La Cucaracha (Pioneer/RKO; 31 August 1934)
Holland in Tulip Time (MGM; 15 September 1934)
Good Morning, Eve (WB; 22 September 1934)
The Spectacle Maker (MGM; 22 September 1934)
Baby Blues (Paramount; 5 October 1934)
Switzerland the Beautiful (MGM; 13 October 1934)
My Grandfather’s Clock (MGM; 27 October 1934)
Zion, Canyon of Color (MGM; 10 November 1934)
Star Night at the Coconut Grove (MGM; 1 December 1934)
Ireland: The Emerald Isle (MGM; 8 December 1934)

1935
Features:
Becky Sharp (Pioneer/RKO)-13 Jun. 1935
The Little Colonel (Fox)-seq; 22 Feb. 1935

Shorts:
Show Kids (WB; 5 January 1935)
What, No Men? (WB; 5 January 1935)
Zeeland, the Hidden Paradise (MGM; 5 January 1935)
Gypsy Night (MGM; 12 January 1935)
Rainbow Canyons (MGM; 2 February 1935)
Memories and Melodies (MGM; 16 February 1935)
Colorful Guatemala (MGM; 23 February 1935)
Los Angeles: Wonder City of the West (MGM; 16 March 1935)
Two Hearts in Wax Time (MGM; 23 March 1935)
Gypsy Sweetheart (WB; 30 March 1935)
Springtime in Holland (WB; 22 June 1935)
Romance of the West (WB; 3 August 1935)
Historic Mexico City (MGM; 7 September 1935)
Starlit Days at the Lido (MGM; 28 September 1935)
Beautiful Banff and Lake Louise (MGM; 5 October 1935)
Reg’lar Kids (WB; 19 October 1935)
Honolulu: Paradise of the Pacific (MGM; 2 November 1935)
Pirate Party on Catalina Isle (MGM; 2 November 1935)
Countryside Melodies (Paramount; 29 November 1935)
Rural Mexico (MGM; 30 November 1935)
La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (MGM; 7 December 1935)
Okay, José (WB; 7 December 1935)
Modern Tokyo (MGM; 28 December 1935)

Most of the above short subjects were musicals or at least music-oriented; otherwise they tend to be Fitzpatrick Travel Talks.

As far as I'm concerned, "The Cat and the Fiddle" is indeed the first time 3-strip Technicolor was used in a live-action film. There *is* a mention of something called "La Cucaracha" in the 1 Apr. 1934 issue of the NYT, but it appears to be a stage production or tableau, or something like that (the computer I'm at doesn't have access to the NYT archive). By July 1934, however, there are definite references to "La Cucaracha" as the "first" live action film in the new Technicolor, though it was also described as not yet released. It seems to have been out by September. I couldn't begin to guess why they made that claim when two major features had already used the process and "Service with a Smile" was clearly already in theatres by August.

-Harold
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Mike Gebert

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PostSat Mar 15, 2008 10:59 pm

My guess is that since La Cucaracha was produced by Pioneer (that is, Merian Cooper and Jock Whitney's company formed to exploit Technicolor) to show off the process (which it certainly does), rather than by a studio with its own chain of theaters, it probably played some sort of special engagements before any other films were made, but didn't get release in the traditional sense until after some of them-- hence being officially dated later than some of those others. So that April mention is surely the film La Cucaracha, playing a non-standard engagement.
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PostSat Mar 15, 2008 11:22 pm

OK, I did find a way to look at the original article, and it turns out that the Cucaracha mentioned in April was a painting, as part of a display in the Empire Galleries at Rockefeller Center! So I guess this "Cucaracha question" is only going to be cleared up if someone can find the production dates--maybe in the Hollywood Reporter or in Merian Cooper/Jock Whitney's papers?

-Harold
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PostSat Mar 15, 2008 11:30 pm

I found a reference on a blog that suggests that this book has a complete Technicolor filmography.
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PostSun Mar 16, 2008 12:42 am

Thanks for the comprehensive list, Harold. And thanks, Mike, for the book suggestion.

I checked the online LA Times and found that La Cucaracha cleared the Hays/Breen office on July 13, 1934.

Service with a Smile and Good Morning, Eve! and What, No Men? all received their "certificates of purity" four days later.

The Production Code kicked-in officially on July 15.

The Hays/Breen Office records might answer some questions. Or the Technicolor Archive, if there is such a thing. Does anyone know where these records are located?


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Harold Aherne

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PostSun Mar 16, 2008 1:28 am

Jim Gettys wrote:The Hays/Breen Office records might answer some questions. Or the Technicolor Archive, if there is such a thing. Does anyone know where these records are located?

Jim Gettys


At least some of what you're looking for might be found at the Technicolor Collection at the Margaret Herrick library, part of AMPAS. They also have the Production Code Administration files. I have no experience whatever with them, so others will have to describe what it's like to use the special collections, or even get access to them in the first place. But good luck in your research!

-Harold
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PostSun Mar 16, 2008 3:04 am

Since La Cucaracha (1934) is public domain, there are some crummy-looking DVDs and prints floating around. You need to get the David Shepard / Serge Bromberg Discovering Cinema: The Movies Dream in Color DVD. The color on this short is nothing short of breath-taking, since it is from the original nitrate negatives. The set also includes the full-color trailer for Becky Sharp.

http://www.flickeralley.com/fa_projects_01.html
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PostSun Mar 16, 2008 10:31 am

Harold Aherne wrote:
Jim Gettys wrote:The Hays/Breen Office records might answer some questions. Or the Technicolor Archive, if there is such a thing. Does anyone know where these records are located?

Jim Gettys


At least some of what you're looking for might be found at the Technicolor Collection at the Margaret Herrick library, part of AMPAS. They also have the Production Code Administration files. I have no experience whatever with them, so others will have to describe what it's like to use the special collections, or even get access to them in the first place. But good luck in your research!

-Harold


The wonderful folk at the Herrick are very helpful. All you have to do is contact them and let them know when you plan on coming in, they'll have the relevant materials available for you to peruse. You are not allowed to take a bag or a pen into the library itself (too many things went walkies before they instituted controls) but you can take a laptop and they will give you all the pencils your little heart can desire.

Fred
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PostMon Mar 17, 2008 4:47 pm

Was James A. Fitzpatrick really lugging a 3-strip Technicolor camera around the world as early as 1934?
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PostMon Mar 17, 2008 6:30 pm

Jim Gettys wrote:Was James A. Fitzpatrick really lugging a 3-strip Technicolor camera around the world as early as 1934?


Those were blow-ups from 16mm Kodachrome originals, I believe.
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PostTue Mar 18, 2008 10:57 am

Was Kodachrome available in 1934?

Maybe Fitzpatrick was shooting 2-color Technicolor in a standard camera.
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PostTue Mar 18, 2008 11:33 am

Jim Gettys wrote:Was Kodachrome available in 1934?

Maybe Fitzpatrick was shooting 2-color Technicolor in a standard camera.


It was. Fitzpatrick shot his films on 16mm Kodachrome and it was blown up to 35mm. 2-color and 3 strip tech had to be shot in a technicolor camera since it exposes multiple strips of negative film.
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PostTue Mar 18, 2008 7:56 pm

Jim Gettys wrote:Was James A. Fitzpatrick really lugging a 3-strip Technicolor camera around the world as early as 1934?


To answer my own question: yes, he really was.

I just found this item in the LA Times for Nov 29, 1934:


Colored Subject Made in Europe

"Holland in Tulip Time," a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Fitzpatrick Travel-
talk, which is an added attraction with "The Merry Widow" at Loew's,
State and the Chinese theaters, is the first short subject to be filmed
in Europe in the new three-color Technicolor process.

A $25,000 color camera was transported to Europe by Cameraman
Ray Fernstron, A.S.C. This novelty is the first of a series to be pho-
tographed abroad by Fernstron.



So Fitzpatrick did use a Technicolor camera, at least briefly, before switching to 16mm Kodachrome (which was introduced in April 1935). He probably made the change at the very first opportunity, since the massive Technicolor camera was anything but portable. By the way, that $25,000 price tag is equivalent to about $400,000 today.


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PostMon Apr 14, 2008 1:25 pm

To state the obvious: In order to film Holland in Tulip Time, FitzPatrick and Fernstron had to be in, well, Holland in tulip time. That is, April or early May.

This means that their Technicolor footage could well pre-date that shot for La Cucaracha.


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PostMon Apr 14, 2008 3:13 pm

Jim Gettys wrote:To state the obvious: In order to film Holland in Tulip Time, FitzPatrick and Fernstron had to be in, well, Holland in tulip time. That is, April or early May.

This means that their Technicolor footage could well pre-date that shot for La Cucaracha.


Jim Gettys


You may well be onto to something, but do can't say for sure until we know when La Cucaracha was filmed. And while tulip time is Arpil-ish in the States (getting to be late March-ish in the south) I recall Belgium and the Netherlands being about a month behind us when I was there (in early June) in 2006.

That would lead me to think that tulip time might be more May than April abroad - particularly in the 1930s.
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PostTue Apr 15, 2008 7:05 pm

Three strip Technicolor took three strips of film in the classic three strip camera.

Two color Technicolor was exposed on ONE strip of film; a modified B&H 2709 35mm camera; 2 Color could not be shot in an unmodified camera.

Just FYI.
Frank Wylie
"I love the smell of nitrate in the morning, it smells like... history"
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PostFri Apr 18, 2008 9:47 pm

I’ve looked closely at 3 books that focus on the history of Technicolor:


1) Glorious Technicolor: The Movies’ Magic Rainbow
by Fred E. Basten; A.S. Barnes, 1980
(revised "anniversary" editions in 1994 & 2005 by Technicolor, Inc)

A general history of Technicolor, lavishly illustrated (2005 ed). Its filmography is confined to features, with rare exceptions like La Cucaracha (1934), which it calls the "first three-color live-action production". The text says of LaC (channeling Dr. Kalmus, below):

"In being the first non-cartoon picture to reach theater screens, one that had been photographed in studio conditions with the new Technicolor, La Cucaracha would bring human figures in full color to the general public for the first time."

The filmography includes features with full Technicolor insert sequences, among them The Cat and the Fiddle and The House of Rothschild, which is said to have the "first three-color live-action sequence in a feature." But C&F preceded HofR by 2 months, and the text makes it clear that The House of Rothschild preceded LaC, so the author refutes his own claims about the priority of LaC. Moreover, there is no mention whatsoever of the 2 or 3 Vitaphone Technicolor shorts that probably pre-date LaC.


2) Technicolor Movies: The History of Dye Transfer Printing
by Richard W. Haines; McFarland, 1993

Emphasizes the technical aspects of Technicolor. Its filmography is also limited almost entirely to features, but it does include La Cucaracha as the "first three-strip short". The text of the book refers to LaC as "the second three strip film" without explanation, but the implication is that the first was Disney's cartoon Flowers and Trees (1932), which it also calls the "first three-strip short". Further, Disney issued many more full Technicolor cartoons before LaC, so go figure. The filmography includes several features with full TC finales, but without any apparent awareness that The Cat and the Fiddle and The House of Rothschild certainly pre-date LaC by many months. The author is also completely unaware of Vitaphone's TC shorts.


3) Mr. Technicolor
by Herbert T. Kalmus; MagicImage Filmbooks, 1993

The autobiography of Herbert Kalmus (1881-1963), aka Mr. Natalie Kalmus, a founder and the long-time head of Technicolor. There is no filmography, but Kalmus writes that:

"La Cucaracha was the first non-cartoon picture to reach theater screens that had been photographed in studio conditions with the new Technicolor three-strip camera and with prints made by the new Technicolor three-color imbibition process. This picture brought human figures in full color to the general public for the first time."

Kalmus also mentions the TC sequences in The Cat and the Fiddle and The House of Rothschild, but gives no hint of their priority over LaC. In fact, he implies that they followed both LaC and Becky Sharp. And he says nothing about Vitaphone's TC shorts. If anyone was in a position to know the truth, it was Mr. Technicolor, so he apparently preferred to "print the myth" that La Cucaracha was first.


****************

These three books are of little use in pinning-down the history of full (3-strip) Technicolor before Becky Sharp. They all stick to the cant that La Cucaracha was first, despite clear evidence to the contrary, and they completely ignore the Vitaphone shorts. They are confused and contradictory and, at least on this narrow subject, they don't know what they're talking about.

So forget the so-called experts --- it's time for primary sources!

Jim Gettys
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Harold Aherne

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PostFri Apr 18, 2008 11:21 pm

Jim Gettys wrote:I’ve looked closely at 3 books that focus on the history of Technicolor:


1) Glorious Technicolor: The Movies’ Magic Rainbow
by Fred E. Basten;

"In being the first non-cartoon picture to reach theater screens, one that had been photographed in studio conditions with the new Technicolor, La Cucaracha would bring human figures in full color to the general public for the first time."



Well, advanced *still* colour photography already existed. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was taking astounding colour photos by 1910, images that probably exceed 3-strip Technicolor in their beauty. I doubt that these photos were accessible to the general public until recently, but I believe Autochrome images were published in National Geographic by 1924 or so. Whether they qualify as full colour is a question I'll leave to others.

-Harold
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PostFri Apr 25, 2008 1:00 am

I was able to get the Hollywood Reporter for 1934 on 16mm microfilm. I began my search with the April issues, and quickly hit paydirt. The HR for 16 April 1934 [p12], a Monday, included this item:


Color - Color - Color!

The much discussed and long awaited Technicolor three-color process
starts in a big way today at Warner Bros.-First National Studio. The first
of a series of shorts went into production. Ray Rannahan, who has been
with Technicolor for years, is in charge of the cameras. Associated with
him are Willford Cline, formerly with Universal, and William Skall, who
has been with Hal Mohr for years at Fox. Good luck ... best wishes!

Ray Fernstrom, the popular news hawk, left Saturday for Europe with a
three-color Technicolor camera. He will go directly to Holland to photograph
a travelog for Fitzpatrick

Another Technicolor three-color camera ... will be picked up by Robt. C. Bruce
on May 16. Mr. Bruce ... will take the camera to Europe to shoot a series of
Bruce "Musical Moods."


The following item appeared in the HR exactly 13 weeks later, on 16 July 1934 [p8]:


Color Activities

Ray Rennahan, Bill Skall and Will Cline, Technicolor's indefatigable camera crew,
have been leaping madly from studio to studio turning out subjects in color as
fast as the camera will roll over. From Warner Bros. to RKO; from RKO to Mack
Sennett's, where they photographed Bob McGowan's first color production for
Paramount release; then to Culver City for one of MGM's color shorts; and
when this is finished, back over the same production cycles at the before
mentioned studios. The entire industry is talking about the color work in
"La Cucaracha," Technicolor short just completed for RKO.



In the interim are items revealing that the first of these color shorts was Warner's Service with a Smile (begun April 16), followed by their Good Morning, Eve! (shot in early to mid May). The third was La Cucaracha for Pioneer/RKO, which began shooting about May 15, after a week of rehearsals and tests, and finished on May 24.

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Mike Gebert

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PostFri Apr 25, 2008 8:18 am

Service With a Smile turns up on TCM, by the way.

Great research, Jim, that definitely overturns the official story. It seems probable to me now that Pioneer promoted the idea that La Cucaracha was the first because they had a real interest in promoting Technicolor, where the big studios were merely dabbling; and because La Cucaracha is clearly a better showcase for the process. So they pushed the story, nobody else cared enough to challenge it, and they got theirs into the history books.
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PostMon Apr 28, 2008 11:53 am

I was VP of Film Preservation at Warner Bros until the end of 2005, and initiated the preservation of several of the early 3-color short subjects.
The first one we did was GOOD MORNING, EVE, and was suggested by the Vitaphone Project.
All of the preservation projects were from the original 3-strip negatives held by the Library of Congress. Several labs in the Los Angeles area did the actual work, including Technicolor, Cinetech, YCM, and possibly others which I don't remember.

The book GLORIOUS TECHNICOLOR, while very good, does not distinguish between films shot with the 3-strip camera and those shot on color negative, and printed with Technicolor's dye-transfer process. Starting with the early 1950s, the book lists all films processed by Tech, regardless of the type of negative.

The Fitzpatrick Traveltalks were shot in 3-strip generally prior to the mid 1940s. After the war, most were blown up from 16mm Kodachrome. It's hard to image them carrying the 200+ pound camera around for these, but it was so. None of the original negatives survive, but they were all preserved by MGM to modern color film.

Regarding LA CUCURACHA, I have a list which came to me via one of the archives, listing every Technicolor film from 1925 until 1936. This list was compiled by Technicolor. The dates are only by year photographed, and are in the order of the production company, so this doesn't help determine date of actual photography. LA C. is listed as RKO-Pioneer. Pioneer was the producer, as stated in previous posts, but distributed by RKO, which would probably give it fairly extensive exposure in theaters.
It is probable, though, that not too many prints would have been made.

So much for my first post to this site.

Dick May
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PostMon Apr 28, 2008 11:51 pm

Thanks, Mike.

I think you've got it exactly right. Pioneer had a lot at stake with their plans for a Technicolor feature, so they beat the drum loud and early for La Cucaracha. They got an exceptionally glowing review in the Hollywood Reporter on 30 June 1934, fully two months before the film was released, and they ran 4 contiguous full-page ads three weeks later, on July 24. Quid pro quo? The strong personal, business and financial relationships between Pioneer and Technicolor (and RKO) helped promote the deception. After all, if Dr Herbert T. Kalmus says La Cucaracha was first, who's to argue with him?

La Cucaracha certainly wasn't the first live-action 3-strip Technicolor release, but it certainly was the most important, ambitious and successful. You'd think that would be enough distinction, without claiming unmerited priority.

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PostTue Apr 29, 2008 3:10 am

Welcome, Dick. You're among grateful admirers.

The third Vitaphone Technicolor short is a bit of a mystery to me. It is What, No Men! starring El Brendel, Phil Regan and Wini Shaw, and featuring 3 dozen Warner chorines. It was directed by Ralph Staub and shot, I believe, in June 1934. It was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Comedy Short of 1934, but lost to La Cucaracha.

I haven't been able to learn if this film still exists. Is What, No Men! one of the shorts you were able to preserve?

Jim Gettys
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Richard P. May

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PostTue Apr 29, 2008 9:29 am

WHAT, NO MEN is a particular problem. It is the only one of the WB shorts of the first couple of years of 3-strip where the negative, so far, can't be found. All the others are in the Library of Congress collection.
They have the magenta negative only on MEN. It's possible that was used for B&W prints for a reissue. The Academy Film Archive has a B&W print, and UCLA has the original Technicolor studio print.
I have been able to view this print on a flatbed at the Academy. The print is in excellent condition, and the short is a lot of fun.
A duplicate internegative can be made from the print. The Academy needs WB's permission to do this, and that's in the works.
Dick May
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Harold Aherne

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PostTue Apr 29, 2008 2:53 pm

Whatever it might be worth, a clip of "What, No Men" does appear in the 1944 WB short "Musical Movieland", shown on TCM once in a while.

Does anything survive on the 2-colour WB shorts "Tee for Two" (32), "Hey, Hey Westerner" (33), "Business is a Pleasure" (34) and "Moroccan Nights" (34)?

And I don't want to inundate Mr May with questions, but I might as well ask about these MGM 2-colour shorts:

Climbing the Golden Stairs (29)
Mexicana (29)
Songs of the Roses (29)
The Clock Shop (30)
Flower Garden (30)

Was any progress ever made on restoring "The Doll Shop" (29)?

-Harold
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PostWed Apr 30, 2008 6:12 pm

In the Motion Picture Copyrights book, it shows LA CUCARACHA as having been registered July 26, 1934, and BECKY SHARP as having been registered June 13, 1935.
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Jim Gettys

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PostWed Apr 30, 2008 10:50 pm

FG, what copyright registration dates do you find for:

Service with a Smile

Good Morning, Eve!

What, No Men!

The Spectacle Maker

--- Jim Gettys
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Rob Farr

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  • Joined: Wed Dec 19, 2007 9:10 pm
  • Location: Washington DC

PostThu May 01, 2008 4:32 am

Service with a Smile 10-12-34

Good Morning, Eve! 9-26-34

What, No Men! 5-20-35

The Spectacle Maker 9-20-34
Rob Farr
"If it's not comedy, I fall asleep." - Harpo Marx
www.slapsticon.org
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