Cryin’ for the Carolines: the first music video ever?

carolines
‘Cryin’ For The Carolines’, illustrated by Würth (Publications Francis-Day, Paris, 1930)

For the cover of the American song Cryin’ For The Carolines, the French illustrator Würth designed an imaginary art-deco tropical landscape of the Caroline Islands. Complete with palm tree, bird-of-paradise and Pacific Ocean it echoes the weariness with city life expressed in the lyrics:

     Big town you lured me,
     Big town you cured me,
     Tho’ others hate to say goodbye to you
     I’m leavin’ but I’ll never sigh for you.
     Big town you robbed me of ev’ry joy I knew.

and also conveys the longing for a wild, unspoiled nature:

     How can I smile mile after mile,
     There’s not a bit of green here.
     Birdies all stay far far away,
     They’re seldom ever seen here.

Spring_is_here
Left, the American sheet music cover (Remick Music Corp., 1930). Right, composer Harry Warren (the first major American songwriter to write primarily for film) at the piano.

Harry Warren, the prolific film music composer, created Cryin’ For The Carolines in 1930. It was the theme song out of the eight or so songs in the now-forgotten film Spring is here. The cover of the American sheet music shows a movie still, revealing that it is a passionate love story. We spare you the plot!
In the film, the song Cryin’ For The Carolines was performed by the Brox Sisters. They were an a capella girl group enjoying their greatest popularity in the 1920s and early 1930s. They are often considered as the forerunners of The Andrew Sisters.

Both sheet music covers explicitly announce the film Spring is here as a First National and Vitaphone production. Now, Vitaphone was a sound film system which was successfully used by Warner Brothers and its sister studio First National from 1926 to 1931. The soundtrack was not printed on the film itself, but issued separately on phonograph records, resulting in a much better audio quality. The 33 ½ rpm discs would be played on a turntable physically coupled to the projector motor while the film was being projected.

VitaphoneDemo
An engineer demonstrates Vitaphone sound film in 1926. He holds a soundtrack disc, ready to put it on the turntable with a massive tripod base.

Warner Brothers also used the Vitaphone sound system between 1930 and 1931 to distribute their Spooney Melodies. These were a series of five musical short films, which are now considered as the first musical videos ever: the short films had no other aim than to promote the publisher’s music and turn them into world-wide hits. And… now is the moment to clap hands: it seems that our song Cryin’ For The Carolines is the only Spooney Melody to have survived! And it is publicly available.

Milton Charles and Wurlitzer
Organ player and singer Milton Charles, 1897-1991 (source: http://vitaphone.blogspot.fr). On the right, the keyboard of the 1929 ‘Mighty Wurlitzer‘ (photo: Andreas Praefcke).

We concede that the first two minutes (of the six) in the following film are somewhat boring, and yet another demonstration of the primitive card-board animation techniques at that time. But when the live-action, featuring the Singing Organist Milton Charles at his Wurlitzer, is mixed with the moving dark decors, one gets the full homesickness of the song. And from the strange slow images (a blend of Eisenstein, Bauhaus, DaDa and Andreas Feininger’s visual experiments) one feels the message: you cannot but cry for the Carolines…

Warner Brothers abandoned the Spooney Melodies in favour of the Merrie Melodies which still were built around songs but featured recognizable characters and settings. Their first effort was the 1931’s cartoon Lady, Play Your Mandolin. The lady definitely is a rip-off of Mickey Mouse. Hardly a surprise as the animators responsible for the cartoon – Rudolf Ising and Hugh Harman – had previously worked at Walt Disney’s studio.

The soundtrack for the cartoon Lady, Play Your Mandolin was composed by Oscar Levant. The beautiful cover for his theme song is illustrated by the American illustrators and airbrush artists Ben and Georgette Harris, signing their work as Jorj.

mandolin
‘Lady, Play Your Mandolin’, illustrated by Jorj (Harms, New York, 1931).

If you can’t get enough of historical links in this story: Nick Lucas who is posing as guitarist on the above cover, once co-starred in Warner Brothers’ Technicolor musical Gold Diggers of Broadway, which was…  a Vitaphone production! Hehe.

gold-diggers-of-broadway
Poster for Gold Diggers of Broadway (source: El blog de Manuel Cerdà)

Leopoldo Metlicovitz (1868 – 1944)

Metlicovitz-Enivrement-13118_1Love, love, love. We celebrate this romantic day with a tender drawing by Leopoldo Metlicovitz. For years he was the in-house artist for the publisher and printer Ricordi, for whom he created posters and covers for sheet music. Together with fellow artists Hohenstein and Dudovitch, Leopoldo Metlicovitz was representative for the stile Liberty, the Art Nouveau style in Italy around 1900.

Publicity posters by Leopoldo Metlicovitz, 1898 (left) and 1915 (right).
Publicity posters by Leopoldo Metlicovitz, 1898 (left) and 1915 (right).

Metlicovitz’ family was from Dalmatia. He learned drawing and lithographic techniques as a printer’s apprentice in Udinese. Later he moved to the prestigious Casa Ricordi in Milan where he became technical director. Just like other illustrators of sheet music (see the posts on Einar Nerman and Orla Muff) Metlicovitz also set his talents to work for the theatre. He became stage and costume designer for the Scala.

Left: scene from La Bohème as staged in 1896 (source: http://www.ricordicompany.com). Right: Puccini’s sheet music illustrated by L. Metlicovitz (Ricordi, 1917)

The costumes he created for opera’s (a.o. from Puccini and Verdi) were so decorative and colourful that they also cleverly embellished Ricordi’s published music.

Metlicovitz-costumes
A collage of some of the costumes designed by Metlicovitz, and lithographed on the covers of many opera and operette sheet music.

We found the following photograph of the Ricordi family with Giuseppe Verdi, suggesting that Leopoldo Metlicovitz belonged to the circle of family intimates.

Garden of the villa in Sant'Agata, (from left, seated) Maria Carrara Verdi, Barberina Strepponi, Giuseppe Verdi, Giuditta Ricordi,
Garden of the villa in Sant’Agata, (from left, seated) Maria Carrara Verdi, Barberina Strepponi, Giuseppe Verdi, Giuditta Ricordi, (from left, standing) Teresa Stolz, Umberto Campanari, Giulio Ricordi, Leopoldo Metlicovitz, late 19th century. (source: http://www.ricordicompany.com)

We close this post with a charming masked lady with a beauty mark (in fact the cover illustration for the sheet music of La Cumparsita) by Leopoldo Metlicovitz. Happy Valentine’s day!

cumparsita

Say cheese !

lawachkyrie
La Wachkyrie, edited by Clapson in 1919, illustration: Benjamin Rabier

Benjamin Rabier’s drawing of a jovial cow on this cover inspired French cheesemaker Léon Bel for trademarking his cheese La vache qui rit shortly after the First World War. In Europe La vache qui rit (the laughing cow) was and still is a popular brand of industrial soft, molten cheese.

leon bel
Léon Bel’s shop in Lons-le-Saunier in the French Jura

Benjamin Rabier (1864-1939) is an illustrator and comic book artist, famous for his animal caricatures. He originally drew the head of the laughing cow as an insignia for the Service Automobile of the French army (see our previous post WWI insignia decorating sheet music for other examples). The laughing cow, nicknamed La Wachkyrie, was painted on the sides of trucks and converted buses of the  RVF B.70 section. That section was part of the massive Ravitaillement en Viande Fraîche, in order to supply fresh meat to the troops near the war front at Verdun. It was later, when Clapson published his song in 1919, that Rabier’s drawing appeared on it’s cover.

original.48086
Insignia La Wachkyrie for the RVF section of the French Automobile Service during WWI

The nickname La Wachkyrie, which reads in French as la vache qui rit, intended to poke fun at the Germans’ mythical Valkyries of Norse legend who were supposed to lead the German warriors to victory.

fe_00110 bright
Parisian bus from section RVF B70 with the Wachkyrie painted on the canvas.

Léon Bel himself had served in the RVF B.70 section. And just like every other soldier of this section he had received a free copy of the song La Wachkyrie from the publisher Clapson. Maybe having the sheet music at home triggered Léon Bel’s idea to use the same name and illustration to launch his new brand of molten cheese. Léon Bel’s first attempt at drawing a laughing cow himself was not very successful. It shows an uninspired, rather bored-looking cow behind a fence. Luckily Léon Bel contacted Benjamin Rabier to fine-tune the logo. He succeeded in creating a more cheerful, very feminine red cow wearing cheese box earrings.

On the left, the cheese box as originally illustrated by Léon Bel. Right, the complete design makeover by Benjamin Rabier.
On the left, the cheese box as originally illustrated by Léon Bel. Right, the complete design makeover by Benjamin Rabier.

Some time later Bel wrapped the round cheese in 8 individual small triangle portions and a success story was born.

ancienne-boiteAnd now here is the true reason for this post: 77 seconds of the French spoken 1950 commercial for La Vache qui rit and the cook’s astonishing imitation of a laughing cow!

Ironically and by accident, the drawing of La Vache qui rit was used in the Second World War as the insignia for a German U-boat. The story goes like this. The German submarine ace Günther Prien was killed in action in 1941. To commemorate him Jost Metzler, another captain, instructed his crew to use the same insignia as that of the late captain Prien’s U-boat. Unfortunately he forgot to add a sketch of that insignia, that is to say a snorting bull.

bf58549c-da46-11e3-8f20-519b40659d2d_3310505--646x800
Captain Günther Prien’s personal insignia, a snorting bull

At the submarine base in Lorient in Brittany, a crew member copied the first drawing of a cow he could lay his hands on: a package of popular French cheese. Our occasional artist copied it with such a German gründlichkeit that he even transcribed the words La vache qui rit on the submarine’s hull.

A crew member painting La Vache qui rit on the U-69.

This artistic faux pas led to great amusement and ridicule. While captain Prien was nicknamed The Bull of Scapa Flow, Captain Metzler became known as The Laughing Cow of Lorient. But Captain Metzler, clearly not a narrow-minded man, saw the fun of it all. And when he wrote his memoirs in 1954 he titled his book Die Lachende Kuh, or The Laughing Cow.

boek metzler 2