by Warren M. Sherk
If you’re a fan of film and film history and you’re not already familiar with the Media History Digital Library, then set aside some time and check it out. You may find it as addicting as your favorite iPhone game, but the upside is you’ll be learning as you browse and will take away knowledge that you can use to amaze and amuse your friends.
The duo most responsible for the Media History Digital Library (MHDL), David Pierce and Eric Hoyt, presented “A Collaborative Model of Building Research Resources – the Media History Digital Library” at the first Film Librarians Conference hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library the last week of April. Pierce is the founder and director of the project and Hoyt is the co-director and web developer. Pierce’s informative presentation outlined the MHDL’s mandate to digitize a broad range of out-of-copyright magazines and books covering motion pictures, broadcasting and recorded sound, under an open access model. And on the technical side, Hoyt discussed Lantern, the Media History search engine, and Project Arclight.
Typing “Dimitri Tiomkin” in Lantern returns more than 400 hits from periodicals that span four-decades from 1926 to 1966. Each occurrence can be perused online and in the context of the periodical in which it originally appeared.
Project Arclight searches the nearly two million page collection of the Media History Digital Library and graphs the results. (Project Arclight was supported by a Digging into Data grant from the U.S.’s Institute for Museum and Library Services and Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.)
The Arclight graph, below, resulting from a search for “Dimitri Tiomkin” shows six peak years (1930, 1946, 1949, 1952, 1955, and 1960) which appear to correlate with major events in the composer’s career.
1930 represents his first full year in Hollywood where he scored films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); 1946 is his breakout year in post-war Hollywood, after gaining valuable experience scoring U.S. government documentary films; 1952 and 1955 coincide with his Academy Awards for High Noon (1952) and The High and the Mighty (1954), and in 1960 The Alamo was released and Tiomkin was scoring The Guns of Navarone (1961).
In 1949 Tiomkin’s association with producer Stanley Kramer and his music scores for Champion and Home of the Brave, resulted in increased publicity. From Showmen’s Trade Review (December 17, 1949, p. 25), we learn that after those two films Kramer signed Tiomkin to a three-picture pact. “Contract takes composer through producer’s remaining pictures under his UA releasing deal.” The third picture would be High Noon, a film that brought fame to Tiomkin through it’s music score and title song, “Do Not Forsake Me.” The film is the topic of a new book by Glenn Frankel, High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic.
For magazines in the Media History Digital Library, Tiomkin’s name appears in print for each year from 1929 to 1963. The first and last years represented in the chart are for Film Daily in 1926 and Business Screen Magazine in 1966.
“Presentations,” a regular feature of Film Daily, documented the vaudeville programs at first-run theaters that preceded the feature films. The purpose of the first-hand accounts was to give exhibitors ideas to develop for their own shows.
The January 21, 1926, issue of Film Daily describes a program at the Strand theater. The Strand, at the corner of 47th Street and Broadway in New York, became one of the first large purpose-built movie palaces in the U.S. when it opened in 1914.
Up third on the 1926 program was Joseph Plunkett’s “New Mark Strand Frolics.” Plunkett served as managing director of the theater, briefly known as the Mark Strand, the name reflecting the building’s owners, the Mark brothers.
While we have previously written of the appearance of Dimitri Tiomkin and Michael Khariton in the “New Mark Strand Frolics,” this account gives some further details of the staging.
For the two Chopin compositions, the duo pianists sat at “Two baby grand pianos with curtain drapes of metal cloth for a background. Stage dimly lighted with spots on players.”
Preceding Tiomkin and Khariton were the Cigarette Girls. Seven cylinders, each named after a cigarette, would open a half turn to reveal a dancing girl. Rita Owen then appears for a song and “eccentric dance” number in a “freak get-up of yellow dress.” After that act Tiomkin and Khariton, two tuxedoed classically-trained pianists, took the stage to perform Chopin’s “Waltz in C# Minor” and “Polonaise” in A-flat Major. That’s entertainment!
In an interesting aside, the Strand program opened with an Overture, “Jazz Rhapsody No. 1,” by Emil Gerstenberger. Tiomkin and Khariton would soon part ways, Tiomkin would embark on a career as a piano soloist, and Gerstenberger was among the modern composer’s who’s work Tiomkin championed.
Thanks to the Media History Digital Library for making these resources available to film scholars and fans around the world.