The Auntie Doris Years: 1927

Al JolsonI have already related the story of how when talking pictures started in 1927 my mother ended up throwing a King Edward potato at my fathers head, and after that his personality was changed forever. Perhaps the talkies changed everybody else as well. For a start, they gradually led to the American accent becoming popular with soft beggars who should know better from Lands End to John O’Groats, despite the best efforts of people like Gracie Fields, Fyffe Robertson and Cheryl Cole. But the main thing the talkies did at first was to change the lives of those poor stars of the silent cinema who were discovered to have funny voices, or be unsuitable for the new style films in other ways.

Douglas Fairbanks was one of them. He starred in loads of swashbuckling epics of the silent era, including “The Mark of Zorro” and “The Thief of Baghdad.” Jutting out his chin, he would save the heroine with a flourish of his sword and a flash of his eyes. But when they recorded his voice for a talkie, he sounded like ruddy Kenneth Williams with a lisp. Another one was Mary Pickford, the “Girl with the Curls”, who starred in silent films such as “Little Lord Fauntleroy”, “Pollyanna” and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”. Unfortunately her voice sounded more like a female impersonator than an actual female, and she whistled through her front teeth every time she did an “S” an’all. Lillian Gish, another bonnie lass, actually had a lovely voice, but she was no good for the talkies on account of the fact that she was incredibly flatulent, and couldn’t get through a scene without it being punctuated by loud exclamations from her arse. In later years they were able to edit sounds like that out in post production, but by then, it was too late to save her career. Besides, she had inadvertently followed through on the set of her last silent epic (ironically called “The Wind”) and completely ruined an expensive silk dress. From that day on, her co-star, Montague Love never tired of telling the tale of how he somehow managed to get shite all over his fingers. The offers of starring roles dried up. Strangely enough, I understand that even today in Hollywood, the act of messing yourself during a film shoot is known as “doing a Lillian.” I have heard that the day after a cast party during the filming of 2010’s “The Tourist,” Angelina Jolie did a Lillian of such magnitude that Johnny Depp was physically sick and spent four days scrubbing himself down in the shower. Auntie Doris’s Pop pick of 1927: “Side By Side” by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra with the Rhythm Boys. The Rhythm boys were a close harmony group. They had a 24 year old Bing Crosby in them. I used to like Bing Crosby. But then in my day, all the women used to go for a man who wasn’t afraid to brandish his pipe.

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