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Teaching Hollywood to talk

Teaching Hollywood to talk

May 28, 1928:  Getting ready for talkies, silent film actress Anita Page is filmed during her first speech class at USC. On the right is Rufus B. Von KleinSmid, president of USC.

This photo accompanied a May 29, 1928, Page 1 Los Angeles Times story that reported:

Teaching motion-picture actors to talk, leaders of the profession freely admit, is the big job that is confronting the studios today because of the steadily growing popularity of the talking pictures. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, it was announced yesterday, is planning to carry on a systematic education of its actors in the art and science of speech.

Under the supervision of Prof. Ray K. Immel, dean of the school of speech at the University of Southern California, Anita Page, one of the youngest Metro stars, yesterday took her first lesson in voice culture. Her instruction consisted in speaking into the telegraphone, which recorded every inflection of her voice, its tone and quality and reproduced it so the actress was able to analyze every defect.

“Speaking for the talking pictures requires a different technique than speaking for the stage,” Dean Immel explained. “With the new instruments for recording the voice available, it is possible to train speakers scientifically.”

Members of classes in the school of speech were interested onlookers as Miss Page received her first instruction, as was also Dr. Rufus B. Von KleinSmid, president of the university, and Prof. W. R. MacDonald, who is in charge of the staging and directing of plays at the university….

The telegraphone, with which Miss Page yesterday tested her voice, is now being used in the school of speech under Dean Immel to train the voices of the students…

The record is made on a hard steel wire which is wound from one spool to another across an electromagnet….

When the record is reproduced the student puts on a head receiving set and hears his voice just as the audience would hear it. Errors in his speech at once become apparent.

Now I have to do some translating. In 1928 the word “record” now means recording. The “head receiving set ” now, of course, is headphones.

The telegraphone was a magnetic wire recording machine invented in 1899 by Valdemar Poulsen.

The speech class worked. In 1929, Page co-starred in “The Broadway Melody,” the first talking movie to win the Academy Award for best picture.

Page lived until age 98, passing away in 2008. For more on Anita Page check out her biography on the Los Angeles Times Hollywood Star Walk.

2 Comments

  1. May 23, 2012, 7:50 pm

    Fascinating photograph! Anita Page at her prime, Mr. Von KleinSmid looking very distinguished and the gentleman on the equipment – incredible outfit. Thanks for a great look into the past.

    By: rafaelc@racen.com
  2. May 26, 2012, 3:07 pm

    Odd that the photo caption above should identify Anita page and Rufus von KleinSmid, but ignore the cameraman: future two-time Oscar-winning director George Stevens.

    Page and von KleinSmid's names have all but been lost to history, whereas several of Stevens's films, such as "Gunga Din," "A Place in the Sun" and "Giant," continue to define Hollywood's Golden Age.

    By: avietar

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