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Across the pond with Rex Wailes: A trip to the “Talkies”

Extracts from Rex Wailes’ 1929 diary of his trip to the USA and Canada. Part 22.

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On Monday evening I went to the Youngs. They had an “apartment” – we call them flats – in a huge apartment building facing the lake just S. of Lincoln Park. The family consists of Mr. & Mrs. Young, Miss Jeanette Young, the E.S.U. Secretary and her sister. Mr. Young obviously thought me a bore, and seemed bored with his family too. He only cheered up when I admired his bath-room. He seemed to me to be regarded by the others as the gold bug necessary for the rearing and continued existence of the family, and therefore to be tolerated. Mrs. Young was grey-haired, medium height, pleasant faced, kind and talkative. Miss Young is tall – pale, like all these Americans – and about 28 I should judge. The younger sister is brunette, short, vivacious and attractive, though not pretty.

Everything here was the best, and the flat had a fine position looking East over the lake. To Mrs. Young’s great disgust the hoi polloi used the lake shore as a bathing beach and crowd it during any holiday and hot evenings. They certainly do leave a litter and since there are no tides, the only time the beach gets washed is when a storm blows up and makes large waves. We had a beautiful dinner, well served, and later Mr. Young, the eldest sister and I went to the “Talkies”, my first.

The main film was very poor. It starred Maurice Chevellier a Frenchman with an amazingly attractive personality and excellent diction, but all else was poor – acting and talking apart from him. The voices are magnified and reduced suddenly and frequently, and technically the photography we saw shocking. The best thing we saw was a news film, which included Segrave and Malcolm Campbell and the British attempt to break the seaplane speed record.

Henry Segrave attempting to break the water speed record in “Miss England”, May 1929. Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-07836 / CC-BY-SA [CC BY-SA 3.0 DE (]

Then there was a combined sound and silent film of swimming and diving taken with ordinary and underwater and slow motion cameras. The result was well worth seeing and hearing. To see a dive and hear the splash of the water and sound of the spring board makes it very much more realistic. To see the diver under the water is better still, and the (silent) slow-motion films were really a revelation. It made one wish that a satisfactory method of presenting colour and stereoscopy could be evolved and combined with what we already have.