Celebrate Bastille Day this Saturday morning, July 14th, by watching (or recording) VOLTAIRE (1933), your blogmeister’s favorite biopic starring Mr. A. The time is a bit early even if you’re on the east coast – 5:45 am EDT – but that’s why dvr, tivo, etc. were invented. Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is the fortunate channel but if you’re scheduling your timer, be aware that TCM dates everything up to 6 am as the previous day so TCM lists VOLTAIRE as airing on July 13 at 5:45 am EDT even though we know it’s really July 14th at 5:45 am. We prefer to think of this as test to determine whether we’re smart enough to view a George Arliss film, but we’ll all get a passing grade!
A sure sign of a film’s popularity is when comedians start spoofing it. Jack Benny devoted many of his weekly radio broadcasts to satirizing hit films right from his earliest shows in 1932. Among the films to get the Benny treatment were I AM A FUGITIVE FROM THE CHAIN GANG, Mae West’s SHE DONE HIM WRONG, which Benny turned into “She Done Him Right,” LITTLE WOMEN recast as “Miniature Women,” and even the Charlie Chan films became “Charlie Chan in Radio City.”
One hot summer night long ago in August 1934, the Benny troupe (Mary Livingstone, announcer Don Wilson, Sam Hearn and singer Frank Parker) were broadcasting from New York City and tackled Mr. A’s hit film of the season, THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD. Renamed “The House of Rawchild” for reasons never made clear, the skit is more corny than clever but Jack Benny’s trademark dry humor is well in evidence. At that time, recordings of live radio broadcasts were not usually made and this is why few shows from that era have survived. Fortunately, Jack Benny arranged with a private company to record this AM transmission off the air on to discs lasting about five minutes each. The side joins of each disc lost a bit of dialogue and static noise from the AM reception also can be heard. We have restored the sound by minimizing the surface noise from the discs as much as possible and improving the tonal quality somewhat, but allowances should be made considering that this broadcast should not even exist under the circumstances. Due to the sound quality, we have omitted Jack’s opening routine where he relates his trip to Atlantic City to cool off in those pre-air-conditioner days.
That said, just click on the arrow below and return to Friday night, August 24, 1934, just past 10:30 pm eastern time for apparently the only known spoof of a George Arliss film:
Jack Benny as he appeared at the time of this broadcast:
Jack Benny zeroed in on the family patriarch, Meyer Rothschild, for most of the humor. This is the first time that the following images have been published here on the Arliss Archives. Mr. A and Helen Westley in the film’s prologue where they raise their five sons in the Frankfurt ghetto:
Benny spoofs the “death bed” scene where Meyer instructs his sons to settle in various capitals of the world to establish their financial network:
Boris Karloff is mentioned by Benny but his character is not represented in the spoof:
Note the hat that Karloff is holding – about five years ago that hat was offered through an online auction with bidding starting at $50. The winning bid was $450 and, alas, it was not by the Arliss Archives.
THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD was the new studio’s flagship production to show that after one year’s existence the company was firmly established and growing – an impressive accomplishment considering that other major studios such as Paramount had gone into bankruptcy due to the Depression’s effect on movie attendance. That’s Darryl Zanuck on the left:
A closeup of the signatures that span all the Hollywood studios of that time. Can you spot autographs by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Delores Del Rio, Cary Grant, Ann Harding, Ronald Colman, Loretta Young – hey, she was in the film!