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The Jazz Singer ushers in the age of sound

Photo caption: The premiere of The Jazz Singer drew record crowds.

Source: National Archives

When Al Jolson sang to his “Mammy” in The Jazz Singer, Hollywood changed forever.  Sound had come to motion pictures, bringing with it new opportunities for IA members.

Some in the business believed talking pictures would fail.  The great producer, Irving Thalberg, is reported to have said sound motion pictures were just another gimmick that wouldn’t last.

The film industry as a whole was stunned by the advent of sound.  Film companies immediately began to scramble to come up with their own talking pictures.  New companies, or reincarnations of old, familiar names, appeared on the scene.  Warner Brothers absorbed First National Pictures, and RKO Pictures was formed from a merger of RCA and several other companies.  Fox moved to acquire a large chain of theatres.  Loews and Famous Players-Lasky (later Paramount) maintained their prominent positions in the industry.

Wall Street speculators pumped money in and out of Hollywood at a rapid pace.  The movie executives themselves were not above trading their own companies’ stock to manipulate the prices.  They engaged in all sorts of shenanigans to keep stock prices high so they could attract more capital.

They needed this money in part to install sound equipment in their theatre holdings.  Estimates today are that the installation of this equipment would eventually cost the industry about $30 million.

All of this buying, selling and merging of companies would take its toll less than a decade later, but for now Hollywood was booming.

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