World Records: Film Notes


World Records

April 20-21, 2017
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Co-hosted with the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

Schedule | Biographies | Parking and Location

Friday, April 21, 2017, 7:00 PM

Vitaphone Rarities

These program notes were written by Henry Sapoznik, director of the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture, and Ron Hutchinson, director of the Vitaphone Project

Darn Tootin’ – USA, 1931, 16mm, 9 min
Directed by Roy Mack.  Cast: Rudy Wiedoeft, Dixie Lee, Lucille Page

Darn Tootin’ stars saxophone pioneer Rudy Wiedoeft, the just-turned Mrs. Bing Crosby Dixie Lee, and a specially made gargantuan saxophone that accommodates the entire band. Dixie even gets to imitate her husband in this one.  Wiedoeft’s “laughing” saxophone gimmick is showcased with his two 1919 hits, “Sax-O-Phun” and “Saxophobia.”

The Black Network – USA, 1936, 16mm, 20 min
Directed by Roy Mack.  Story by A. Dorian Otvos.  Cast: Nina Mae McKinney, the Nicholas Brothers, the Washboard Serenaders, Babe Wallace

Vitaphone produced many all-black shorts starring Sammy Davis, Jr., bandleaders Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. The Black Network features the awesome talents of The Nicholas Brothers, Fayard (1914-2006) and Harold (1921-2000), and “The Black Garbo,” Nina Mae McKinney (1912-1967). The Nicholas Brothers’ precise and powerful jazz dance inventions made them young stars in the dynamic Harlem cultural world of the 1920s and 1930s. This was the sixth film for the brothers before heading to Hollywood, where they appeared in some great musicals. McKinney was a talented and gifted singer and actress, who successfully co-starred in one of the great all-black films, “Hallelujah” (1929).

Musical interlude

Sweet Georgia Brown (1925)…..Bernie-Pinkard-Casey

Blue Skies (1926)…..Berlin

Dinah (1925)…..Akst-Lewis-Young

Kurt Bjorling, clarinet; Nathan Gibson, bass; Henry Sapoznik, tenor banjo

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys – USA, 1944, 16mm, 11 min
Directed by Leroy Prinz.  Written by James Bloodworth.  Cast: Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Brooks Benedict, James Bloodworth, Tommy Duncan

Unlike the other Vitaphones tonight, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys was filmed in Hollywood five years after Warner Bros closed its prolific Brooklyn studio. Wills (1905-1975) was a Texas dance fiddler who, with his Texas Playboys, became one of the most enduring and influential performers, successfully combining tuneful and familiar traditional Southwest dance tunes with smooth and seamless swing arrangements.

Harry Reser and His Eskimos – USA, 1936, 16mm, 9 min
Directed by Roy Mack.  Cast: Harry Reser, the Three Yates Sisters, the Modernaires

Harry Reser and His Eskimos stars the renowned banjo soloist, bandleader, and composer. When the tenor banjo emerged as a major musical presence around World War One, Reser (1896-1965) mastered it with a style that reflected the speed and audacity of the Roaring Twenties. Reser reached his widest audience from 1925-1935 as the host of the radio show for Cliquot Club ginger ale whose icon–an Eskimo–was the inspiration of the set of the Vitaphone short and the giant bottle upon which Reser descends to play his hit performance of “Tiger Rag.”

Musical interlude

A Footlight Favorite (1922?)…..Grimshaw

Whistling Rufus (1899)…..Mills

Medley of Old Time Fiddle Tunes (1926)…..Trad.

Greg Adams, banjo; Ken Perlman, banjo; Henry Sapoznik, tenor banjo

A Yor Nukh Mayn Khasene (A Year After the Wedding) (1911)…..Reingold

Kurt Bjorling, clarinet; Henry Sapoznik, tenor banjo

Hot From Petrograd – USA, 1933, 16mm, 10 min
Directed by Joseph Henabery.  Cast: Dave Apollon, Nora Williams

Hot From Petrograd was filmed at Warner’s Brooklyn studios and stars bandleader and superb mandolinist Dave Apollon. His first Vitaphone short was made in 1929 and is now being restored with its recently-found soundtrack disk. Apollon (1898-1972) was born in the Russian city of Kiev, where the Jewish musician started on violin then switching mandolin before coming to New York after World War One. Apollon quickly became famous for his dazzling virtuosic playing and Russian-inflected malaprop comedy with his superb plectrum orchestra made up of, as he called them, “His Filipino Boyfriends.”

Molly Picon, the Celebrated Character Comedienne – USA, 1929, 35mm, 10 min
Directed by Murray Roth.  Cast: Molly Picon

Molly Picon, the Celebrated Character Comedienne was recently restored after the long-lost Vitaphone soundtrack disk was found in New Haven, CT.  This delightful short is the first sound film of the diminutive star of Yiddish theatre and may represent her first successful crossing over from the Yiddish stage.  Picon later starred in a rare three-reel Vitaphone musical, A Little Girl With Big Ideas (1933), a copy of which is in the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research archives. Picon (1898-1992) was the first U.S.-born star of the Yiddish theater. When she made this film in 1929, Picon was at the height of her Yiddish theater and radio popularity but is perhaps best known for her appearances in mainstream movies like “Fiddler On the Roof” and TV shows like “Car 54 Where Are You?” and “Gomer Pyle USMC.”


The 2017 World Records Symposium is co-hosted by the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture and the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. The event is sponsored by the Anonymous Fund, the Department of Communication Arts, the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures the Mead Witter School of Music, Mills Music Library, and the University Lectures General Fund.  Many thanks to Jeff Smith, Mary Huelsbeck, and Amy Sloper for helping make tonight’s screening a success.

The conveners wish to thank Jim Healy, Mike King, and the entire Cinematheque staff for their meticulous assistance in organizing and planning tonight’s event. We also wish to thank Chana Pollack, Photo Archivist, Forverts, for use of the Molly Picon photograph.



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