I am often surprised by the direct power of many covers designed by Würth. The drawing for the ‘Pals, just Pals‘ fox-trot is deceivingly simple. With a few elements, sober colouring and small gestures the image relays the mild mood of an intimate and relaxed conversation between two long-time friends. Or do you imagine the two naval officers being more than friends?
‘Pals, just Pals‘ is the theme song of the silent film Submarine directed by Frank Capra in 1928. It tells the story of the friendship between two sailors in the US Navy. The nautical best friends accidentally pursue the same woman, and through this triangular love situation their friendship comes to an end.
The film comes to the heart of the matter when both ex-friends get involved —one as a victim the other as the saviour— in a submarine disaster. The denouement of this tragic experience is that their old friendship will renew, and for the better!
The film is inspired on the catastrophe of the U.S. submarine S-51 in 1925. There even exists a dedicated webpage about this accident at sea. The one and a half hours Capra film is on YouTube (type ‘submarino‘ for your search) but a short extract of the movie will do in order to appreciate its male flavour.
For the rest of this post, I will entertain you with other masculine friendships.
Now these two last gentlemen have a very Gilbert and George attitude. The perfect reason for us to look at a short documentary on their Living Sculpture performances.
The song ‘Underneath The Arches‘ is at 1:30. How very moving it is to hear and see them singing this 1932 Flanagan and Allen ‘Great Depression’ tune.
Still I have a soft spot for the cover created by Ernst Deutsch who in 1919 —after leaving Berlin following a plagiarism scandal— started using the pseudonym Dryden. The sheet music cover is for the waltz Mercedes Mädel (Mercedes Girls) composed for the German company Mercedes Buro Maschinen. On the cover these Buro Maschinen are not prominently shown, they are only suggested on the lower background. Deutsch-Dryden used the exact same table and chair on an earlier publicity for the Mercedes Model 3 typewriter. On this poster the seductive secretary is not waltzing with her colleague: she is hard at work.
I also love the vintage typewriter on the cover for La Dac-Dac-Dactylo! illustrated by my favourite illustrator Roger de Valerio.
You can hear the fast pace of typing in this fragment of the frantic foxtrot.
Another typewriter song was published in the same year 1924: the Typewriting Machine Romance. Contrary to what you’d expect from the English title, it is a French composition: Chanson de la machine à écrire. It was written by Pierre Larrieu using his alias Harry W. Hampton. For its sheet music cover illustrator Choppy succeeds wonderfully well in translating the tappety-tap-tap of typing into music.
As early as 1917 Satie and Cocteau already recognised the musicality and rhythm of the typewriter. They used it as one of the sound effects in the avant-garde ballet Parade. Also watch out for the gun!
Modern women in the Twenties and Thirties worked as shop assistants or typists. Young beautiful girls could rise their social status by catching Mr. Right at the office. That’s what we learn from the German office film Die Privatsekretärin. This light-footed and successful comedy about the pitfalls of falling in love at work was made in 1931 as a Multi Language Version film (yes, like our previously told Seadrome film). The French-language version of Die Privatsekretärin was called Dactylo, which launched the slow-fox song Je vois la vie en rose.
The English-language version, Sunshine Susie, starred the same leading actress as the original German version, Renate Müller (see note 2). The film was polled in England as the best British film of 1932. In the following fragment a song is created out of the hustleandbustle in the typewriting office.
Otto Dely drew the pretty blonde Blanka sitting elegantly at her typewriter. The five men behind her seem very interested in her WPM stats. I bet the lovely Blanka married her boss after she realised that her most important role is that of a mother and housewife.
1937 saw Ruby Keeler and Lee Dixon perform a rather mediocre tap routine on a giant typewriter in the film Ready, Willing and Able. They are leaping from key to key. Watch the legs in black stockings kick the typewriter’s platen (the big rubber roller that you type on).
Die Privatsekretärin was one of Renate Müller’s greatest successes. She died tragically in 1937 after a fall from a window. But the circumstances surrounding her untimely death are unclear. Although it is said that she had a short relationship with Hitler, her entire property was confiscated by the Nazis. And Die Privatsekretärin was no longer shown in the cinema.
The ‘Parade‘ fragment is available on YouTube as the first of two, and is played by the Orchestre Symphonique du Pays de Romans.
The sci-fi cover for the song Tout Là-bas – Chanson de Matelots shows air planes taking off from an artificial floating island. The song comes from the 1932 film I.F. 1 ne réponds plus. This was the French version of a German UFA production F.P.1 antwortet nicht, by Erich Pommer the producer of Metropolis and Der blaue Engel.
During the early talkie period, before dubbing and subtitling became popular, films were produced in several languages for international markets, the so-called multiple-language version films. For F.P.1 antwortet nicht, the same plot, sets, crew and costumes were used to also make the French-spoken version and an English one, F.P.1 Doesn’t answer. Only the cast was changed.
The film F.P.1 antwortet nicht was based on a novel written by science fiction writer Kurt Siodmak published the previous year. The F.P.1 from the title stands for Floating Platform Number One.
Siodmak got his idea of a floating platform from the ‘seadromes’ invented by Edward R. Armstrong. This DuPont engineer had worked for years on a scheme for building a string of floating airports across the Atlantic. Air planes would then make stops at the various points where the seadromes were anchored.
In Popular Science from 1934 we find a clear description: it was Edward R. Armstrong’s plan to bridge the Atlantic with a string of artificial islands. Five of the seadromes would become anchored between America and Spain by way of the Azores. These would serve as refuelling stations each three hours of flight apart. Planes using these islands as steppingstones could thus transport heavier loads at greater speed since they carried less fuel. The platforms would have stabilizer legs to prevent the flight deck from pitching and rolling. Each seadrome would accommodate 100 travellers in addition to quarters for it’s own crew and hangars for 50 large planes. The seadrome would be run like a ship with a captain, officers, sailors, a physician and two meteorologists.
Edward R. Armstrong had already been designing and experimenting with sea bases for more than a decade, when in 1927 Charles Lindbergh succeeded to fly non-stop from New York to Paris. Within days songs were composed, and sheet music published, in order to pay tribute to Lindbergh’s Transatlantic Flight.
The most beautiful cover without doubt, was drawn by the Belgian illustrator Peter de Greef for the song De New York à Paris.
Lindbergh’s flight of the century encouraged Armstrong to further develop his idea to use the seadromes as floating airport platforms for refuelling during transatlantic flights. However the Great Depression crossed the plans to effectively install the seadromes. After World War II the ambitious project became obsolete altogether because of the use of long-range aircraft that did not need such refuelling points. Later though, the idea of an anchored deep-sea platform would be set to use for floating oil rigs.
But back to the film… Not a great plot: the classical love triangle and some sabotage aboard the F.P.1. It has Peter Lorre in a supporting role. If your secret pleasure is to listen to deep male voices singing in choir to the tune of a melancholic far-way-from-home accordion, then the Song of the Sailors from the sheet music cover at the top is worth your attention: fast forward to 48:45.