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From the Archives: Teaching Hollywood to talk

May 28, 1928: USC President Rufus B. von KleinSmid stands behind actress Anita Page as she takes her first lesson at the university's school of speech as Hollywood moves from silent films to talkies.
(Los Angeles Times)

This photo accompanied a May 29, 1928, front-page Los Angeles Times story, which 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 professor 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.

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“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 professor 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.

To translate some of that 1928 lingo: The word “record” means recording and a “head-receiving set” is, of course, headphones.

The telegraphone is 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 died in 2008 at age 98. For more on Page, check out her biography on the Los Angeles Times Hollywood Star Walk.

This post originally was published on May 23, 2012.

See more from the Los Angeles Times archives here


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