Category Archives: Film

Springtime: Tiptoe Through the Tulips

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‘Tip Toe Through the Tulips’ from Gold Diggers of Broadway published by M. Witmark & Sons in 1929.

Nick Lucas a popular crooner and jazz guitar player introduced the song Tiptoe Through the Tulips in the film Gold Diggers of Broadway. Nick Lucas was the first to make guitar playing into an act. In 1922, while others were still playing ukuleles, mandolins and banjos, Lucas made the first solo jazz guitar record for Pathé.

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Nick Lucas (1897-1982)

Gold Diggers of Broadway was a 1929 Warner Brothers popular musical film, a remake of the 1919 play Gold Diggers. Warner Brothers had already made a silent version of the play in 1923 but that film got completely lost. Apart from a few minutes, found in England in the late eighties and including the song Tiptoe Through the Tulips, the 1929 film remake was also lost. Luckily the entire soundtrack of the film survived on Vitaphone track. Gold Diggers of Broadway was a lavish, all-Technicolor musical. It was one of I929’s biggest hits. It was a stage-show-within-a-show to cope with the many musical numbers combined with romance and gags. The plot centers around some New York chorus girls desperately seeking a wealthy husband. The optimistic film premiered just before the big Wall Street Crash of October 1929.

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A still from ‘Gold Diggers of Broadway’ film in 1929. (Photo from http://www.virtualvictrola.com)

The newspaper The Daily Oklahoman used the still above to announce ‘the first all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing, and all natural color photoplay’ in Oklahoma. As if that wasnt enough, it added: ‘with a chorus of 100 dazzling beauties!’. The joyful dancing girl from the still was also used to enliven the front of the film poster. We already published another version of the film poster, together with a Nick Lucas sheet music cover (see our ‘Cryin’ For The Carolines’ post).

gold_diggers_of_broadway_xlgNow, listen and see Nick Lucas perform his serenade, Tiptoe Through the Tulips. Standing under a huge moon he sings with a soft, sweet, appealing voice. If you don’t have time to view the full serenade-at-the-balcony and the little tap-dance, be sure to fast-forward to minute 3 in order not to miss the magic moment of the chorus-girl appearing out of the tulips in the giant greenhouse. Tiptoe Through the Tulips was actually written for this film by Joseph Burke and Al Dubin. It was among the first recordings to sell over two million disks as did the sheet music. Nonetheless the film was no springboard to a film career for Nick Lucas.

Forty years later, in the late 60s, Tiny Tim (1932-1996) made an infamous version of Tiptoe Through the Tulips in his typical high falsetto tenor. In 1969 when Tiny Tim married a 17-year old girl live on The Tonight Show, Nick Lucas sang Tiptoe Through the Tulips for him with an audience of 40 million television viewers.

Tiptoe Through the Tulips was also used in Warner Brothers’ very first Looney Tunes cartoon, starring Bosko in 1930. The playful instrumental version of our song starts at around 1:35. Enjoy !

Visconti, a Scented Story

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Cipria, published by A. & G. Carisch & C° in 1931, illustrated by Bonfanti.

The ‘Cipria’ slow fox-trot sheet music is publicity for a perfumed face powder sold by Gi.vi.emme. Cipria is the Italian word for face powder. Gi.vi.emme, after the initials of its founder Count Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone, was one of the largest perfume houses during the twenties and thirties in Italy.

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Count Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone

Giuseppe belonged to the Visconti dynasty, that combined one of the oldest Italian aristocratic families with a great Milanese industrial empire. Although Giuseppe was openly bisexual, he married the elegant daughter of a pharmaceutical and cosmetics industrialist, Carla Erba. The couple got seven children, one of whom would become the famous film director Luchino Visconti (Death in Venice, The Damned, The Leopard, …). The family owned some marvellous palaces which would eventually be used by Visconti in his films to recreate the splendour of his own childhood.

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Carla Erba, wife of Giuseppe and mother of Luchino Visconti

Giuseppe and Carla belonged to the circle of King Vittorio Emanuele III and his wife Queen Helena. Giuseppe even became gentleman-in-waiting to the queen and some say he became her lover. Apparently also Carla had extra marital relations. The Visconti couple was said to live apart. The composers Toscanini and Puccini were their friends, but also the music editor Ricordi and the novelist Gabriele D’Annunzio.

Giuseppe Visconti was a person with eclectic interests. Noblesse oblige: he became patron of the arts, was on the board of directors of the Scala, and managed several theatres. He himself was an amateur actor and liked to put on make up and dress as a woman. The Viscontis enjoyed a private theatre not only in their Milanese palazzo but also in their monumental villa near Lake Como.

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In the middle Giuseppe Visconti performing in his home theatre.

In the first years of the 20th century the romantic Giuseppe Visconti created from some hovels and old stables surrounding a castle falling into ruin, a complete and totally faked but charming medieval village. This place called Grazzano Visconti, near Milan, can still be visited today.

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The neo-medieval village, Grazzano Visconti, created by the father of Luchino Visconti.

Giuseppe also was director of Inter Milan and an entrepreneur. Asked by his father in law, Giuseppe started to create perfumes. He was so taken by mixing fragrances that he started his own firm: Gi.vi.emme. After the March on Rome in 1922 by which Mussolini came to power in Italy, industrialists felt optimistic to become leaders in their speciality. So did Gi.vi.emme. It wanted to create a new perfume representative of the revolutionary times. To this end they held one of the first nation-wide marketing researches in Italy. The survey took months and as a result Gi.vi.emme created a new fragrance. The writer and family friend Gabriele d’Annuncio tried the perfume and named it Giacinto innamorato, after its main component: the scent of hyacinths.

The brand name Giacinto innamorato is of course also noticeable on the ‘Cipria’ sheet music cover, as is the typical Gi.vi.emme signature.

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The perfume flacons were packaged and designed in beautiful art-deco style with a lot of rich gold ink.

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Giacinto Innamorato perfumed postcard.

With the help of an intensive publicity campaign Giacinto Innamorato soon became known in the whole country. Soon there would follow other well-known fragrances. Gi.vi.emme stopped its activity in 1970.

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Another Giacinto Innamorato perfumed card.
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G.vi.emme perfume shop, Milan 1955

We’ll end this post with an extract from Luchino Visconti’s last film I’Innocente (1976) based on a novel by family friend Gabriele d’Anniunzio. Although Luchino Visconti had Marxist principles, no one was in a better position than him to portrait the elegance and lavishness of the Italian aristocracy as well as their decadence and irresponsibility. The sumptuous costumes and settings were a second nature to him.

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

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.

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Poster for Gold Diggers of Broadway (source: El blog de Manuel Cerdà)