Category Archives: Science & Industry

Music For Typospherians

‘Mercedes Mädel’ by Fanciulli published by Mercedes Buro Maschinen (Berlin, 1912) and illustrated by Ernst Deutsch Dryden.

Whew no more typewriting for me!

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.

‘La Dac- Dac-Dactylo !’ Charles Borel-Clerc, Albert Willemetz & Jacques-Charles published by Salabert (Paris, 1924) and illustrated by 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.

'Typewriting Machine Romance' sheet music cover illustrated by Choppy (partition musicale illustrée par Choppy)
Typewriting Machine Romance‘ by Harry W. Hampton. Published by Editions L. Maillochon (Paris, 1924), illustrated by Y. R. Choppy.

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.

Je vois la vie en rose‘ by Paul Abraham & Jean Boyer, published by Salabert (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by Cecchetto.

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 hustle and bustle 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.

‘Die Blanka, ja die Blanka!’ by Jara Benes & Beda published by Wiener Bohele Verlag (Wien, 1924) and illustrated by Dely.

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).


Notes:

  1. 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.
  2. The ‘Parade‘ fragment is available on YouTube as the first of two, and is played by the Orchestre Symphonique du Pays de Romans.
  3. Thanks Tom Hanks for the Hanx Writer app.

Seadromes

‘Tout Là-bas’ by Allan Gray & Bernard Zimmer, published by Salabert (Paris, 1932) and illustrated by Ch. Roussel.

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 three lead actors with the same role, aviator Elissen. Left: the German Hans Albers, middle: the English-speaking Conrad Veidt and right: the Frenchman Charles Boyer. Source: http://www.virtual-history.com.

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.

Edward R. Armstrong with a scale model of his seadrome. Source: Pinterest.

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.

The Atlantic seadrome chain as shown in Popular Science, february 1934

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.

The design and construction of the Armstrong seadrome, illustrated in Popular Science, february 1934

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.

Left: ‘I fly to Paris!‘ by Helge Lindberg published by Reuter & Reuter (Stockholm, 1927). Right: ‘Aero-Marsch’ by Charles Nestor, published in Sweden (1927).

The most beautiful cover without doubt, was drawn by the Belgian illustrator Peter de Greef for the song De New York à Paris.

Sheet music illustration for Lindbergh's flight of the century
‘De New York à Paris’ by Langlois & Tutelier, published by L’Art Belge (Brussels, 1927) and illustrated by Peter De Greef.

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.

Bumper Cars: You’re Driving Me Crazy!

You’re Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)‘ by Walter Donaldson, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1930) and illustrated by Florent Margaritis.

The cover for the Parisian Francis-Day sheet music doesn’t sparkle with happiness and joy. It rather illustrates the miserable yearning in the song’s lyrics.

You left me sad and lonely
Why did you leave me lonely?
For here’s a heart that’s only
For nobody but you!

Walter Donaldson probably didn’t have exquisite poetry in mind when he wrote these verses. But happily he transformed the persistent melody in his brain into the song You’re Driving Me Crazy that became an instant hit in 1930. Later, any jazz singer or crooner —from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra— had to have that song in their repertoire.

I’m burning like a flame, dear
Oh, I’ll never be the same, dear
I’ll always place the blame, dear
On nobody but you.

Not familiar with the tune? As a reminder, here is the delicious, sexy version by Betty Boop in the cartoon Silly Scandals:

Another copy of the sheet music in our collection, is most likely the original American one. Frederick Manning designed a large passionate hart, blazing in a fire of love. Somewhat pompous in my opinion.

‘You’re Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)’ by Walter Donaldson, published by Walter Donaldson (New York, 1930) and illustrated by Frederick Manning.

Yes, you,
You’re driving me crazy!
What did I do? What did I do?
My tears for you
Make everything hazy,
Clouding the skies of blue.

For the Francis-Day cover at the top, illustrator Florent Margaritis chose another approach. He took the title and lyrics quite literally and drew a couple: she regretful but displaying resolve, he apparently thinking What did I do?  They share their romantic agony on a cloudy bumper ride in a weird electric car of the type that I’ve never seen before. My perfect excuse to start digging into the history of the bumper cars or dodgems.

The New Yorker, James Adair, was the first to receive a patent for an electrically propelled vehicle in 1890. His patent drawing shows a tricycle connected to the ceiling by a trolley pole. This idea, which was never built, became the basic concept to build the first bumper cars thirty years later: a conductive (metal) floor and ceiling, each with a separate power polarity. Contacts under the vehicle touch the floor while a pole-mounted contact touches the ceiling, forming a complete circuit. I remember my childhood fairs, looking fascinated and thrilled at the sparks produced by the car’s poles grating the ceiling’s wire mesh. Electricity was literally in the air.

Drawing for the patent filed by James Adair for an electrically propelled vehicle, 1890.

The first patent for an electrically powered bumper car was issued in 1921 to father and son Stoehrer from Massachusetts. They had invented a novel amusement car that “in the hands of an unskilled operator will follow a promiscuous, irregular path to not only produce various sensations but to collide with other cars as well as with portions of the platform provided for that purpose. It requires the utmost skill of the driver to cause the car or vehicle to dodge other vehicles.” Hence the name of the company that the brothers created: Dodgem. Dodgem is also the generic name for what they call in the US a bumper car, in France auto-tamponneuse and in Belgium auto-scooter.

Similar to the bumper car illustrated by Margaritis on our cover, the first Dodgem cars were round and seated two people. Between and in front of them a horizontal steering wheel was mounted on a vertical post.

Dodgem cars, source: Lusse Auto Scooters website.

These cars equipped with large bumpers indeed drove crazy because they were rear-steered. According to a test in 1921 by Scientific American these first bumper cars were highly unmanageable and only allowed erratic steering.

Bumper cars in the Bumper Car Pavilion – Glen Echo Park, Maryland – 1924

Lusse Brothers from Philadelphia spent nine years solving the unsteady steering problems that plagued Dodgem cars. By the 1930s, new front-wheel drive bumper cars were introduced: the Lusse Auto Skooter. They could easily reverse backward and the drivers could now target who they wanted to collide with.

The Skooter Bumper Car Pavilion in Glen Echo Park, Maryland

In France electrically powered bumper cars were not produced before the 1930s. But I found two pictures from primitive precursors. Both show auto-tamponeuses that look like a wicked or wooden seat attached to a thick board on wheels. In front there is a crude steering wheel. I imagine that the fair attraction’s track was slanted so that the cars glided or rolled down from their own. The first photograph was taken around 1900 at the Neuilly Fair near Paris. The second one shows us Battling Siki, a French-Senegalese boxer sitting in a bumper car at a Parisian Lunapark in 1922.

La Fete a Neuilly, ca. 1900.
Training of boxer Battling Siki, sitting (left) in a bumper car at the luna park, Avenue de la Grande Armée 1922 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Gallica

Another forerunner of the bumper cars was one of the most popular attractions at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition in London. I confess that I haven’t the faintest idea how this entertainment device works…

Dodge’em cars at the British Empire Exhibition – 1924

What a coincidence. The fun fair is in town. Really, they are. I went to the autoscooter stand, to check some of the above facts. And guess what, they are still playing our tune ❤️

Yes, you!
You’re driving me crazy!
What did I do to you?