The Great Gabbo (1929)

91 or 105 mins | Drama | 12 September 1929

Director:

James Cruze

Cinematographer:

Ira Morgan

Production Designer:

Robert Lee

Production Company:

James Cruze, Inc.
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HISTORY

The 4 May 1929 Exhibitors Herald-World reported that actor Erich Von Stroheim agreed to assume the lead role for approximately $200,000. The film, officially titled The Great Gabbo, was initially known as The Road Show, named after the original story written by Ben Hecht.
       An advertisement in the 5 May 1929 FD revealed the address of director James Cruze’s offices and studios, which were located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street in Hollywood, CA. That same studio complex also housed Columbia Pictures and several low-budget production companies. On 8 May 1929, Var announced that production was scheduled to begin that day at Metropolitan Studios, located at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Las Palmas Avenue, also in Hollywood. Cruze was hoping to cast actress and singer Jeanette McDonald in the female lead. The 15 May 1929 Var stated that Cruze required a large dance troupe for musical scenes, and hired several African Americans to appear in “extremely light makeup,” enabling them to blend in with the otherwise Caucasian chorus. Also featured was dancer Harry King.
       An article in the Sep 1929 Picture Play noted that Cruz assigned the female lead to Pauline Starke, reportedly while he and his wife, actress Betty Compson, were having marital difficulties. Soon after the couple reconciled, Compson replaced Starke, who later sued for $6,000, or four weeks’ pay.
       As noted in the 1 Jun 1929 Hollywood Filmograph, the picture featured a theater set that was the largest used in any production ... More Less

The 4 May 1929 Exhibitors Herald-World reported that actor Erich Von Stroheim agreed to assume the lead role for approximately $200,000. The film, officially titled The Great Gabbo, was initially known as The Road Show, named after the original story written by Ben Hecht.
       An advertisement in the 5 May 1929 FD revealed the address of director James Cruze’s offices and studios, which were located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street in Hollywood, CA. That same studio complex also housed Columbia Pictures and several low-budget production companies. On 8 May 1929, Var announced that production was scheduled to begin that day at Metropolitan Studios, located at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Las Palmas Avenue, also in Hollywood. Cruze was hoping to cast actress and singer Jeanette McDonald in the female lead. The 15 May 1929 Var stated that Cruze required a large dance troupe for musical scenes, and hired several African Americans to appear in “extremely light makeup,” enabling them to blend in with the otherwise Caucasian chorus. Also featured was dancer Harry King.
       An article in the Sep 1929 Picture Play noted that Cruz assigned the female lead to Pauline Starke, reportedly while he and his wife, actress Betty Compson, were having marital difficulties. Soon after the couple reconciled, Compson replaced Starke, who later sued for $6,000, or four weeks’ pay.
       As noted in the 1 Jun 1929 Hollywood Filmograph, the picture featured a theater set that was the largest used in any production to date. The orchestra pit could accommodate 125 musicians, while the stage could hold a chorus of 380. Approximately 1,500 background actors were hired to play the audience.
       Betty Compson was expected on set after completing her role in Street Girl (1929, see entry). Vaudevillian Georgie Grandee supplied the voice of the ventriloquist dummy, “Otto,” according to the Feb 1930 Screenland. Other cast members included Russian dancer Lioba Karlin (30 Oct 1930 FD), and Earl Burtnett’s Biltmore Orchestra (22 Jun 1929 Hollywood Filmograph). The item also credited Mildred Johnston and Suzanne Whaley with editing the picture. Bruce Weyman was identified as assistant art director in the 8 Jun 1929 Hollywood Filmograph.
       The 26 Jun 1929 Var credited Henry Meyers as one of the film’s backers. His partners, E. K. Fleming and Nat Cordish, were facing criminal charges for “usury” related to their holdings in the Julian Petroleum Company, which was driven out of business two years earlier for defrauding investors. The 3 Jul 1929 Var reported that Fleming had been acquitted, while Cordish (also spelled “Kordash” and “Cordash”) was sentenced to ten years in prison. Request for a retrial was denied.
       The 22 Jun 1929 Hollywood Filmograph announced that principal photography was being conducted on stages previously used for silent production, with no alterations to accommodate sound recording. However, cameras were required to be enclosed in noise-reduction booths. As noted in the 6 Jul 1929 Motion Picture News, precautions were also taken with Erich Von Stroheim’s stage costume, which was adorned with wool-padded military medals to prevent a “tinkling” sound.
       According to the 15 Jul 1929 Hollywood Filmograph, thirty makeup artists were assigned to 500 chorus dancers, who were to be made up twice a day: once for color, and once for black and white. The 19 Jun 1930 Var noted that Cruze hired fourteen female models to pose nude on pedestals for a scene that was completed in two days.
       The Jul 1929 International Photographer credited Lewis W. Physioc with the filming of “three special process shots.” There was no further elaboration on the nature of the sequences. An equally vague item appeared in the Oct 1929 AmCin, which claimed that the picture would “introduce some entirely new angles in recording tricks and use of sound.”
       An article in the Dec 1929 AmCin included a detailed explanation of the two-strip Multicolor system featured in the film. The process employed a double-layered negative that could be used in any motion picture camera with a detachable magazine. The top layer recorded blue-green color tones while automatically filtering light for the bottom layer, which recorded the orange-red spectrum. The result was described as a “Rainbow Negative,” which could be developed in the same manner as its black-and-white counterpart. The article went on to suggest that Multicolor would make quality color photography available to all levels of the motion picture industry.
       The 22 Jun 1929 Hollywood Filmograph stated that Betty Compson was to be crowned “queen” of the coming weekend’s Hollywood Pageant at the Lake Norconian Club in Norco, CA. Also participating were co-stars Margie “Babe” Kane and Donald Douglas, dance director Maurice L. Kusell and his chorus, with musical accompaniment by Howard Jackson’s orchestra. James Cruze and several other celebrities were expected to attend.
       The completion of principal photography was reported in the 29 Jun 1929 Hollywood Filmograph. Compson admitted in the Feb 1930 Screenland that it was difficult working with her husband because she and Cruze were always conscious of each other’s moods, and their mutual attempts at being supportive often produced the opposite result. The couple divorced later that year.
       According to the 13 Jul 1929 Hollywood Filmograph, at least five theaters in Los Angeles, CA, and three theaters in both Chicago, IL, and New York City expressed interest in booking the film prior to its scheduled Sep 1929 release. Post-production was nearly completed, as noted in the 20 Jul 1929 Hollywood Filmograph. As stated in the 21 Aug 1929 Var, the picture was to be first release through a network of twenty-six North American film exchanges, organized by Allied Photoplays, Inc., in association H. Thomas and Samuel Zierler. The 5 Oct 1929 Harrison’s Reports noted that the film would be available with both disk and optical soundtracks.
       The 31 Aug 1929 Motion Picture News claimed that arrangements were being made to book the film at Hammerstein’s Theatre (currently known as the Ed Sullivan Theatre) in New York City. One week later, however, the 7 Sep 1929 edition announced the scheduled 12 Sep 1929 premiere at the Selwyn Theater in New York City’s Broadway district. A. Griffith Grey, formerly of D. W. Griffith, Inc., was the new general manager of Cruze’s production company, placing him in charge of “presentation and road show activities.”
       The event was heralded with a “living billboard” on the roof of the theater, described in the 16 Sep 1929 FD as a giant spider web with young women posing as flies, while chorines sang and danced on the rooftop below. The spider web was a reference to “The Web of Love,” a featured musical number in the film. Although city officials complained about traffic problems caused by the billboard, the 12 Oct 1929 Exhibitors Herald-World reported that a local judge disagreed, saying it attracted tourism to Broadway.
       The 26 Sep 1929 FD stated that West Coast openings were scheduled for the Criterion Theatre in Santa Monica, CA, and the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, CA. No exact dates were mentioned. An item in the 19 Oct 1929 Motion Picture News noted that Cruze attended the Santa Monica opening in formal dress, a departure from his typical outfit, comprised of a sport jacket, open collar, and “full fashioned cap.”
       The Great Gabbo opened to generally positive reviews, although the Dec 1929 Picture Play and Jan 1930 New Movie Magazine complained that the musical sequences were a distraction from the compelling storyline. In addition, the Dec 1930 Educational Screen criticized the cinematography, asserting that Von Stroheim was not “related to the background and to the edges of the screen,” making him appear to be suspended in space. The 21 Sep 1929 Harrison’s Reports commented that the color sequences lacked definition.
       On 26 Nov 1929, FD reported that a ventriloquist known as “The Great Lester” had filed a $250,000 lawsuit against all parties connected with the picture, alleging that the story was based on his life. Weeks earlier, a quarter-page advertisement appeared in the 2 Oct 1929 Var, citing Marshall Montgomery, “Americas Premier Ventriloquist,” as the inspiration for Von Stroheim’s character.
       According to the 1 Oct 1929 FD, music publisher Sherman, Clay & Co. reported that the featured songs, “I’m In Love With You” and The Web of Love, had been licensed by the majority of record companies.
       An item in the Feb 1930 Talking Screen noted that Cruze was planning a series of short subjects featuring “Otto.” Various sources stated that the dummy was carved from basswood by Frank Marshall.
       As stated in the 5 Feb 1930 Var, Bennet Film Laboratories was holding a lien against James Cruze, Inc., for monies owed on The Great Gabbo and Hello Sister (1930, see entry). Samuel Zierler countered by offering the laboratory sixty percent of future profits from both pictures, but no agreement was reached. Bennet “assigned the note” to Good Amusement Corp. which was preparing a lawsuit against Cruze’s company. Months later, the 16 May 1930 Exhibitors Daily Review and Motion Pictures Today reported the New York Supreme Court’s denial of a request by Good Amusement to withhold the film’s negative, ruling that distributors Sono Art-World Wide Pictures, Inc., W. and F. Film Services, Ltd., and Amer-Anglo Corp., all had a right to its use.
       The Great Gabbo is currently in the public domain. “The Ga-Ga Bird” musical sequence is believed to be lost, as are all color prints and negatives.
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Oct 1929
p. 40
American Cinematographer
Dec 1930
p. 9, 23
Educational Screen
Dec 1930
p. 308
Exhibitors Daily Review and Motion Pictures Today
16 May 1930
p. 4
Exhibitors Herald-World
4 May 1929
p. 51
Exhibitors Herald-World
29 Jun 1929
p. 172
Exhibitors Herald-World
12 Oct 1929
p. 44
Film Daily
5 May 1929
p. 2
Film Daily
13 Sep 1929
p. 1
Film Daily
15 Sep 1929
p. 13
Film Daily
16 Sep 1929
p. 4
Film Daily
26 Sep 1929
p. 2
Film Daily
20 Sep 1929
p. 6
Film Daily
1 Oct 1929
p. 8
Film Daily
30 Oct 1929
p. 8
Film Daily
26 Nov 1929
p. 2
Harrison's Reports
21 Sep 1929
p. 150
Harrison's Reports
5 Oct 1929
p. 163
Hollywood Fillmograph
1 Jun 1929
p. 11, 26
Hollywood Fillmograph
8 Jun 1929
p. 10, 31
Hollywood Fillmograph
15 Jun 1929
p. 49, 58
Hollywood Fillmograph
22 Jun 1929
p. 14, 19, 32
Hollywood Fillmograph
29 Jun 1929
p. 30
Hollywood Fillmograph
13 Jul 1929
p. 16
Hollywood Fillmograph
20 Jul 1929
p. 24
International Photographer
Jul 1929
p. 5
Motion Picture News
6 Jul 1929
p. 121
Motion Picture News
31 Aug 1929.
---
Motion Picture News
7 Sep 1929
p. 852
Motion Picture News
21 Sep 1929
p. 1051, 1059
Motion Picture News
19 Oct 1929
p. 35
National Board of Review Magazine
Dec 1929
p. 18
New Movie Magazine
Jan 1930
p. 86
New Movie Magazine
Mar 1930
p. 29
New York Times
13 Sep 1929
p. 33
Picture Play
Sep 1929
p. 96
PIcture Play
Dec 1929
p. 65
Screenland
Feb 1930
p. 125, 126
Talking Screen
Feb 1930
---
Variety
8 May 1929
p. 32, 68
Variety
15 May 1929
p. 5, 35
Variety
5 Jun 1929
p. 57
Variety
19 Jun 1930
p. 59
Variety
26 Jun 1929
p. 10
Variety
3 Jul 1929
p. 4
Variety
21 Aug 1929
p. 6
Variety
18 Sep 1929
p. 15
Variety
2 Oct 1929
p. 36
Variety
5 Feb 1930
p. 8
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCERS
WRITERS
Adpt from a story by
Cont and Dial
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Spec photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus compositions by
Mus compositions by
Mus compositions by
Mus compositions by
Mus arr by
SOUND
DANCE
Dances by
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
COLOR PERSONNEL
Color seq by
SOURCES
SONGS
"The New Step," "I'm in Love With You," "The Web of Love" and "The Ga-Ga Bird," words and music by Paul Titsworth and Lynn Cowan
"Icky," "Every Now and Then" and "I'm Laughing," words and music by Donald McNamee and King Zany.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Road Show
Release Date:
12 September 1929
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 12 September 1929
Santa Monica, CA, opening: early October 1929
Production Date:
8 May--late June 1929
Copyright Claimant:
Sono Art-World Wide Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
10 December 1930
Copyright Number:
LP1815
Physical Properties:
Sound
Recorded on Western Electric equipment
Black & white with color sequences
Multicolor
Duration(in mins):
91 or 105
Length(in feet):
8,049
Length(in reels):
10 , 11
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

Gabbo, a ventriloquist and a supreme egotist, Mary, his mistress, and Little Otto, his dummy, comprise a popular vaudeville act. Gabbo constantly finds fault with Mary's efforts to please, while insisting upon his own greatness. During a performance Mary infuriates Gabbo by dropping a tray. He berates her after the performance and forces her to leave. Years later, Gabbo is featured in "The Manhattan Revue," in which Mary and her new partner, Frank, are also appearing as a song-and-dance team. More conceited than ever, Gabbo is certain that Mary will return to him. Spying Otto at a cafe, Mary converses with Gabbo through the dummy, and Gabbo believes he has won her back. Gabbo ultimately learns of Mary's marriage to Frank, and he is driven to madness. He rushes the stage brandishing a sword during the show's finale, resulting in his dismissal. After he is fired, Gabbo is unable to recognize Mary as she tries to comfort him. He shuffles from the theater carrying Otto by the leg, and watches hopelessly as workmen remove his name from the ... +


Gabbo, a ventriloquist and a supreme egotist, Mary, his mistress, and Little Otto, his dummy, comprise a popular vaudeville act. Gabbo constantly finds fault with Mary's efforts to please, while insisting upon his own greatness. During a performance Mary infuriates Gabbo by dropping a tray. He berates her after the performance and forces her to leave. Years later, Gabbo is featured in "The Manhattan Revue," in which Mary and her new partner, Frank, are also appearing as a song-and-dance team. More conceited than ever, Gabbo is certain that Mary will return to him. Spying Otto at a cafe, Mary converses with Gabbo through the dummy, and Gabbo believes he has won her back. Gabbo ultimately learns of Mary's marriage to Frank, and he is driven to madness. He rushes the stage brandishing a sword during the show's finale, resulting in his dismissal. After he is fired, Gabbo is unable to recognize Mary as she tries to comfort him. He shuffles from the theater carrying Otto by the leg, and watches hopelessly as workmen remove his name from the marquee. +

GENRE
Genre:
Sub-genre:
with songs


Subject

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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