Tuesday, January 11, 2011


We're back in our time machine with the broken dial, and this time we land in 1927.

What Was the Story?
Calvin Coolidge was president, and enjoyed a good strong decade, doing a better job than his predecessor, and presiding over the "Roaring Twenties," before the Great Depression hit in 1929. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs and the Yankees won the World Series. The first transatlantic telephone call was made, and the world population was a measly 2 billion. Popular music of that year included tunes by Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy," Hoagy Carmichael's "Star Dust," and Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Matchbox Blues." Louis Armstrong's legendary Hot Five and Hot Seven bands were also recording during this time. People were reading things like Agatha Christie's 'The Big Four,' Virginia Woolf's 'To the Lighthouse,' Upton Sinclair's 'Oil!' and B. Traven's 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.'

Why Was 1927 Significant?
By 1927, the studio system -- with the "big five" (Warner Bros., Paramount, RKO, MGM and Fox) -- was soundly in place. It was the height of the silent era. The art of film had made leaps and bounds since the previous decade, and some of the great works of art in cinema history -- Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis,' F.W. Murnau's 'Sunrise,' Abel Gance's 'Napoleon,' Buster Keaton's 'The General' -- were being produced. Comedy was king, with Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Harry Langdon making some of the year's most notable films (Charlie Chaplin was between films that year). Movie buffs mostly flocked to see their favorite stars, and Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks became the first such stars to place their prints in the cement in front of Grauman's Theater.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded and established the Academy Awards, or "Oscars." The Best Picture winner that year was a war epic called 'Wings,' but there was also an award called "Artistic Quality of Production," which went to 'Sunrise' (wouldn't it be great if we still had that award today?). 'Sunrise' took three awards in all.

But the big news that year was 'The Jazz Singer,' wherein Al Jolson appeared onscreen and spoke, saying the prophetic words: "wait a minute... you ain't heard nothing yet!" The movie, which opened on October 6, caused a major stir. Half the people were excited to see (and hear) more "talking" pictures, and the other half were terrified over what that could mean. For some it could mean escalating costs, and for others, it could mean the end of a career.

People Born in 1927: Eartha Kitt, Sidney Poitier, Bob Fosse, Gina Lollobrigida, Janet Leigh, Peter Falk, Roger Moore, George C. Scott

Acting Debut: Barbara Stanwyck apparently debuted as a fan dancer in 'Broadway Nights,' but the film is lost.

Top Grossing Films: 'The Jazz Singer,' 'Wings,' 'It,' 'Love,' 'Seventh Heaven,' 'Children of Divorce,' 'The Unknown,' 'My Best Girl, 'Hula'

Top Movie Stars: This list was not yet kept, but certainly it would have included Clara Bow and Greta Garbo

New York Times' Ten Best List: 'The King of Kings,' 'Chang,' 'The Way of All Flesh,' 'Wings,' 'Seventh Heaven,' 'Sunrise,' 'Service for Ladies,' 'Quality Street,' 'Underworld,' 'Stark Love'

Oscar Winner, Best Picture: 'Wings'

Oscar Winner, Best Director: Frank Borzage, 'Seventh Heaven'

Oscar Winner, Best Actor: Emil Jannings, 'The Way of All Flesh'

Oscar Winner, Best Actress: Janet Gaynor, for 'Seventh Heaven,' 'Sunrise' and 'Street Angel'


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