Victor 22146 – The High Hatters – 1929

Leonard W. Joy, director of the High Hatters. From 1930 Victor catalog.

Leonard W. Joy, director of the High Hatters. From 1930 Victor catalog.

This is not a tremendously remarkable record.  It’s not particularly uncommon, and there’s no really fascinating story behind it.  What is remarkable is the quality of the music recorded on it.  Played by the High Hatters, it is in my opinion one of the best dance band records of the 1920s.

The High Hatters were a Victor studio orchestra directed by Leonard Joy, an employee of Victor, much like Nat Shilkret.  Joy directed a great number of bands for the company, including the Southerners, his All String Orchestra, and many uncredited bands backing musicians, but his most notable orchestra was certainly the High Hatters.  The High Hatters are quite often cited as one of the finest dance bands of the late 1920s and early 1930s, a period that could arguably be considered as having the greatest dance bands overall.  Please note that there were a number of other bands that also used the name “High Hatters”, such as Webster Moore’s High Hatters on the Columbia budget labels or Phil Hughes’ High Hatters on Perfect, but only the instances found on the Victor label are the band heard here, and even then, some from the 1930s were under a different director than Leonard Joy.

Victor 22146 was recorded October 9, 1929 in New York by the High Hatters conducted by Leonard Joy.  The versatile Frank Luther sings the vocal on both sides, which feature a pair of DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson songs from the 1929 musical film Sunny Side Up, starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell.

I can’t remember exactly where I first heard this superb version of “I’m a Dreamer, Aren’t We All?”, I think it was part of a demonstration of a Victor Credenza Victrola, but I do remember that I was instantly entranced by its excellent arrangement, and you can imagine my pleasure when I turned up a copy of the disc at a store in Round Rock, Texas.

I'm a Dreamer Aren't We All, recorded October 9, 1929 by the High Hatters.

I’m a Dreamer, Aren’t We All?, recorded October 9, 1929 by the High Hatters.

On the reverse, they play “You’ve Got Me Pickin’ the Petals Off of Daisies”, another fine tune from Sunny Side Up, with a really nice banjo solo added to the mix.

You've Got Me Pickin' Petals Off of Daisies, recorded October 9, 1929 by the High Hatters.

You’ve Got Me Pickin’ Petals Off of Daisies, recorded October 9, 1929 by the High Hatters.

Restored Photographs of Old Hollywood

Digging through an old box of my family heirlooms, among the family photos, bible, and a few pieces of 1930s sheet music, I discovered this small collection of photographs of 1920s movie stars.  Unfortunately, they are all badly damaged from mold, and many are heavily stained.

Fortunately, using the magic of computers, I was able to restore some of them to something resembling their original glory.  With a combination of the GIMP to clean up the damage and Picasa to restore the original warm sepia tones, here they are.  I must say, the hair was difficult to fix.  It’s no professional fix, but I think they look pretty decent, if I’m to toot my own horn.

Interestingly, all these personalities were among those that failed to make the transition to talking pictures in the late 1920s and into the 1930s, all the ladies had outright quit acting by 1930, while Fairbanks held on a little longer, but never made as much of a hit in talkies as in the silents.  Mary Miles Minter left acting in 1923 after the scandal surrounding the murder of director William Desmond Taylor.  Also interesting to note, all these actors, besides Minter, were among the first stars to place their hand and footprints in the forecourt at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, a tradition which allegedly started when Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped in the wet cement there.

From left to right, top to bottom, you see Douglas Fairbanks, whom I actually fixed up long before the others, and the photo was in much better shape to begin with, Mary Miles Minter, Constance Talmadge (her hair was really a devil to clean up), and Norma Talmadge.  If I had to guess, I’d say that all these photographs date to around 1920.

Spotlight: Ruth Etting

Ruth Etting, circa 1930 (signed in 1932).

Ruth Etting, circa 1930 (signed in 1932).

“America’s Sweetheart of Song” was the appellation given to Ruth Etting, one which she truly deserved.  Etting rose to prominence in the middle of the Roaring Twenties, appearing in Ziegfeld Follies.  Marrying a gangster, falling in love with another, and becoming one of the most popular singing stars of stage, screen, record, and radio until she left the limelight in the late 1930s, going on to enjoy a long retirement thereafter.  Her sweetly feminine vocal styling charmed a generation of listeners, and continue to impress those who have the fortune of hearing her recordings to this day.

Ruth Etting was born November 23, 1897 in David City, Nebraska, daughter of Alfred and Winifred Etting.  After her mother died, when the young Ruth was five, she was sent to live with her grandparents, George and Hannah.  Growing up, Ruth dreamed of becoming an artist, and spent her hours drawing and sketching whenever and wherever she could.  Hoping to become an illustrator, Etting left home to attend an art school in Chicago.  Taking a variety of jobs while in Chicago, Etting was eventually asked to fill in for an ailing vocalist at a nightclub, and she obliged.  Having never been schooled in voice, Etting lowered her naturally high soprano as she began singing professionally.  She claimed her style to have been influenced by Marion Harris.

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Victor 45347 – Will Rogers – 1923

Will Rogers was America’s most complete human document. He reflected in many ways the heartbeat of America.

Damon Runyon

The great American humorist Will Rogers.

The great American humorist Will Rogers, circa 1935.

On this day, August 15, eighty years ago, the great American humorist, movie star, vaudevillian, and cowboy, Will Rogers met his tragic fate with the famed aviator Wiley Post near Point Barrow in Alaska while surveying a route from North America to Russia in Post’s cobbled together airplane, with Will intending to pick up some new material for his newspaper column along the way.  The flight went well until an engine failure caused the plane to take a nosedive and crash into a lagoon.

In his life, Will Rogers, born November 4, 1879 in Oologah, Indian Territory, was one of the biggest and brightest stars of the Roaring Twenties.  He became a cowboy in his early life, and later turned to vaudeville, starring in Ziegfeld’s Follies, with his trick roping a major attraction.  By the end of the 1910s, Rogers had become a Hollywood movie star, and would appear in seventy-one pictures from 1918 to 1935.  What Will Rogers is probably best remembered for however, is his wit, which he expressed in his newspaper column from 1922 to 1935.  Befriending another of the greatest stars of the day, Charles Lindbergh, Rogers took an interest in aviation, which would be his downfall in 1935.  Will Rogers in his day became something of a folk hero, representing classical American values, and an innocence of bygone days, and his death sparked nationwide tributes.

On Victor 45347, recorded February 6, 1923 in New York City, Will Rogers gives us “A New Slant on War” and “Timely Topics”.  The record was released in March of 1923 and remained in the Victor catalog until 1927, it was later reissued as Victor 25126 on August 25, 1935, ten days after Will’s untimely demise.

With the Great War still fresh on the nation’s mind, in “A New Slant on War”, Will gives us, as the title would indicate, some humorous thoughts on war, why we have them, and how we can prevent them in the future.

A New Slant on War, recorded February 6, 1923 by Will Rogers.

A New Slant on War, recorded February 6, 1923 by Will Rogers.

While “Timely Topics” may not be so timely anymore, this side is still brimming with gems of Rogers’ timeless witticisms.

Timely Topics, recorded February 6, 1923 by Will Rogers.

Timely Topics, recorded February 6, 1923 by Will Rogers.

Brunswick 4677 – Harry Richman with Earl Burtnett and his Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel Orchestra – 1930

Today, August 10th, marks the 120th birthday of one of my favorite vaudevillians, Harry Richman, so for your listening pleasure today, I present one of my favorite records of all time, one of the best of the many excellent songs by Irving Berlin, the great “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in its original iteration, performed by Richman, the song’s originator.  This is about as close as you can get to an “original recording” from an age when songwriters wrote their songs and all the record companies made their own records at about the same time.

Harry Richman, born Harold Reichman on August 10, 1895 in Cincinnati, Ohio, spent the bulk of the 1920s working the vaudeville circuit.  In 1926, he became a hit, starring in George White’s Scandals, and by 1930 scored himself the starring role in the motion picture “Puttin’ on the Ritz”.  The movie was not a huge success, due in part to Richman’s “overpowering” personality, but the movie’s titular theme song was a hit record for Richman.  Richman continued to perform as usual after that, debuting in 1932 what would become his radio theme, “I Love a Parade”.

Irving Berlin first penned “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, which would later become one of his most famous compositions, in May 1927, but did not publish it until December 1929. Its lyrics tell of the at the time common occurrence of White people visiting Harlem for the jazzy atmosphere cultivated by its black residents, a Jazz Age account of a time when, as Langston Hughes put it, “the Negro was in vogue”.  About fifteen years later, Berlin revised the song’s lyrics with more timely lyrics about the opulent lifestyle of Park Avenue dwellers, which are more commonly remembered today.

On Brunswick 4677, Harry Richman sings “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie” from the motion picture Puttin’ on the Ritz, accompanied on both by Earl Burtnett’s Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel Orchestra.  Both sides were recorded January 30, 1930 in Los Angeles, California.  The Biltmore Hotel Orchestra consists of Fuzz Menge on trumpet, Fran Baker on cornet, Lank Menge on trombone, Hank and Gene Miller on clarinet and alto sax, Fred Stoddard on clarinet and tenor sax, Earl Burtnett on piano, Bill Grantham on banjo, Harry Robison on string bass, and Jess Kirkpatrick on drums.

On “A”, Richman sings, well, if you can’t figure that out yourself by now then you sure haven’t been paying much attention!

Puttin' on the Ritz, recorded January 30, 1930 by Harry Richman.

Puttin’ on the Ritz, recorded January 30, 1930 by Harry Richman.

And on the flip, Richman sings his own collaborative composition, “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Chérie”.

There's Danger in Your Eyes Chérie, recorded January 30, 1930 by Harry Richman

There’s Danger in Your Eyes Chérie, recorded January 30, 1930 by Harry Richman.

Updated on June 24, 2016.