In 1919, Lee De Forest filed his first patent on a sound-on-film process, DeForest Phonofilm, which recorded sound directly onto film as parallel lines. These parallel lines photographically recorded electrical waveforms from a microphone, which were translated back into sound waves when the movie was projected. Some sources say that DeForest improved on the work of Finnish inventor Eric Tigerstedt — who was granted German patent 309.536 on 28 July 1914 for his sound-on-film work — and on the Tri-Ergon process, patented in 1919 by German inventors Josef Engl, Hans Vogt, and Joseph Massole.
The Phonofilm system, which recorded synchronized sound directly onto film, was used to record vaudeville acts, musical numbers, political speeches, and opera singers. The quality of Phonofilm was poor at first, improved somewhat in later years, but was never able to match the fidelity of sound-on-disc systems such as Vitaphone, or later sound-on-film systems such as RCA Photophone or Fox Movietone.
The films of DeForest were short films made primarily as demonstrations to try to interest major studios in Phonofilm. These films are particularly valuable to entertainment historians, as they include recordings of a wide variety of both well-known and less famous American vaudeville and British music hall acts which would otherwise have been forgotten. Some of the films, such as Flying Jenny Airplane, Barking Dog, and a film of DeForest himself explaining the Phonofilm system (all 1921) were experimental films to test the system.
Some of the people filmed included vaudevillians Joe Weber and Lew Fields, Eva Puck and Sammy White, Eddie Cantor, Ben Bernie, Oscar Levant, Phil Baker, Roy Smeck, jazz musicians Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, "all-girl" bandleader Helen Lewis, harmonicist Borrah Minnevitch, Nikita Balieff's company La Chauve-Souris, opera singers Eva Leoni, Abbie Mitchell, and Marie Rappold, Broadway stars Helen Menken and Fannie Ward, folklorist Charles Ross Taggart, copla singer Concha Piquer, and politicians Calvin Coolidge, Robert La Follette, Al Smith, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Smith and Roosevelt were filmed during the 1924 Democratic National Convention, held June 24 to July 9 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Coolidge became the first U. S. President to appear in a sound motion picture when DeForest filmed him at the White House on 11 August 1924.
In November 1922, De Forest founded the De Forest Phonofilm Corporation with studios at 314 East 48th Street in New York City, but was unable to interest any of the major Hollywood movie studios in his invention.
List of Films Produced in Phonofilm
A Boston Star: Borrah Minnevitch (1923) harmonicist
A Few Moments With Eddie Cantor, Star of "Kid Boots" (late 1923, early 1924)
A Musical Monologue (1923) with Phil Baker and his accordion
A. C. Astor with Sentimental Mac (1928) ventriloquist Astor with his dummy Sentimental Mac
The Actors' Squad (1927) short with Lawrence Anderson
The Antidote (1927) dramatic short directed by Thomas Bentley, with Primrose Morgan, Walter Sondes, and Jameson Thomas
Abraham Lincoln (1924) portrayal of Lincoln by actor Frank McGlynn
Adolph Zukor Introduces Phonofilm (1923) for release of The Covered Wagon and Bella
Donna, two Paramount Pictures feature films with soundtracks filmed in Phonofilm
Ag and Bert (1929) with Mabel Constanduros and Michael Hogan, directed by Bertram Phillips
Ain't She Sweet (1928) ?same Phonofilm as "Pilbeam and His Band"
Al Herman (1926) comedian Herman (1887-1967) performing a comedy sketch
Alexander's Ragtime Band (1926)
Alma Barnes the Internationally Famous Mimic (1926)
Almost a Gentleman (1928) comedy short with Billy Bennett
Alvin and Kelvin Keech (1926) brothers who are credited with the invention of the banjulele (banjo and ukulele)
America's Flyers (1927) filmed at Roosevelt Field (29 June 1927) with Richard E. Byrd, George Noville, and Bert Acosta, with speech given by Grover Whalen
An Attempted Duet (1928) comedy short with Beryl Beresford and Leslie Hinton
Annie Laurie (1926)
Armistice Day of 1928 (1928) produced by Phonofilms (Singapore) and released by British Sound Film Corporation
Arthur Roberts (1927) comedy and musical short with Arthur Roberts
As We Lie (1927) comedy short with Lillian Hall-Davis and Miles Mander, directed by Mander
Barber and Jackson in The Long and the Short of It (1922) with Barber and Jackson (first names unknown)
Barking Dog (1921) experimental film with barking dog
Being All Alone (1927)
Bella Donna (1923) Paramount Pictures feature film directed by George Fitzmaurice and starring Pola Negri and Conway Tearle
Ben Bernie and All the Lads (1925) with Oscar Levant on piano
Betty Chester the Well-Known Star of The Co-Optimists (1926) Chester sings "Pig-Tail Alley"
Billy Merson Singing Desdemona (1926)
Billy Merson in Scotland's Whiskey (1927) parody of Sir Harry Lauder
Billy Merson in Russian Opera (1927)
Bleak House (1926) aka Grandfather Smallweed, the Miser (UK title) with Bransby Williams
Boat Race (1929) University Boat Race of 1929 (centenary year)
Boheme Blue (1927) musical short
The Bride (1929) comedy short with George Robey
Brooke Johns and Goodee Montgomery (1925) Johns plays ukulele and Montgomery sings "I'm in Love Again" and dances
The Burglar and the Girl (1928) comedy short with Moore Marriott and Dorothy Boyd
By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1926) the last of the Fleischer "Song Car-Tunes" with Phonofilm, released August 1926
Call Me Up Some Rainy Afternoon (1926)
Calm as the Night (1927) sung by Mary Cavanova (Marie Cavan)
Canoodling (1928) Hal Jones sings song "Canoodling" from stage review Splinters
Casey at the Bat (1922) famous poem read by actor DeWolf Hopper
Cellist and Pianist (1928) two women play Saint-Saëns' "The Swan" from Carnival of the Animals
Charles Lindbergh (1927) filmed at Clapham Studios in London on Lindbergh's departure from the UK
Charles Lindbergh Reception (1927) Lindbergh receives Medal of Valor from NYC mayor Jimmy Walker
Charles Ross Taggart (1923) "The Old Country Fiddler at the Singing School"
Charmaine (1928) musical short with Eric Marshall singing
Chauncey Depew (1925) 91-year-old former legislator gives memories of Abraham Lincoln
Chorus Gentlemen (1926) or Chorus, Gentlemen!
Clapham and Dwyer No. 1 (1929) Charles Clapham and Bill Dwyer
Clapham and Dwyer No. 2 (1929) Charles Clapham and Bill Dwyer
Clonk! (1928) musical short with Arty Ash and Leslie Sarony
The Coffee Stall (1927) Mark Lupino (c. 1894-1930) and Company
Cohen on the Telephone (1923) with monologist Monroe Silver
Come Take a Trip in My Airship (1924) one of the first in the Fleischer "Song Car-Tune" series
Comin' Thro' the Rye (1926)
Conchita Piquer (1923) in dance sketch "From Far Seville"
The Covered Wagon (1923) Paramount Pictures feature directed by James Cruze
Cuando fui león (1928) Spanish producer purchased rights from DeForest for "Fonofilm"
Cuban Sound Documentary (1926) with the Cuban national anthem and excerpts of The Merry Widow
Daisy Bell (1925)
Dandy George and Rosie (1927) Dandy George (Albert George Spink) and his dog Rosie
Darling Nelly Gray (1926)
Der rote Kreis (1929) aka The Crimson Circle, UK-German feature based on Edgar Wallace novel, trade-shown in March 1929 in the UK
Dick Henderson Sings "I Love Her All the More" (1926)
Dick Henderson Sings "Tripe" (1926)
Dick Henderson Sings "There Are More Heavens Than One" (1927)
Die Niebelungen (1924), part I, "Siegfried" (only at the U.S. premiere in NYC on August 23, 1925)
Doing His Duty (1929) Ernie Lotinga playing "Jimmy Josser"
Dolly Gray (1926)
Domen (1924) Swedish language version of Retribution (1924), directed by Arthur Donaldson
Donald Brian (1925) in Peggy O'Hooligan
Doris Ashton and Billy Rawson (1928)
Downey and Owens (1925) Morton Downey (Sr.) and ?Owens sing "Show Me the Way to Go Home" and "There Is No One Like Myself"
The Duke and Duchess of York Arrive at Farm Cove (1927) film first shown 12 May 1927 at the Lyceum in Sydney, Australia
Dunio and Gegna (1927) instrumental comedians
Drink to Me Only (1926) Gwen Farrar sings title song
East Side, West Side (1925) also known as "The Sidewalks of New York"
Edith Sitwell (1927) reads from her work
El misterio de la Puerta del Sol (1929) first sound feature film made in Spain
Elga Collins the Versatile Entertainer (1927) Collins sings "Ain't It Nice" and "Tonight You Belong to Me"
Emmie Joyce Sings "I Need Love" (1927)
Emmie Joyce Sings "Patience" (1927)
En confesionario (1928)
Ethel Hook (1926) song by contralto Ethel Hook, sister of classical singer Clara Butt
Eubie Blake Plays His "Fantasy on Swanee River" (1923)
Eva Puck and Sammy White (1923) doing their sketch "Opera vs. Jazz"
Everybody's Doing It (1926)
The Fair Maid of Perth (1926) live-action UK film with Louise Maurel, directed by Miles Mander
False Colours (1927) dramatic short with Ursula Jeans and A. B. Imeson (dir. Miles Mander)
Fannie Ward (1924) Fannie Ward sings "Father Time"
Fannie Ward (1924) performs comedy sketch as the "Perennial Flapper"
Farewell Message of Mr. Levine and Captain Hinchcliffe, Just Before Their Departure on Their Return Flight to America (1927) with Charles A. Levine and Capt. W. G. R. Hinchcliffe (1894–1928)
Femina Quartette Nr. 1 (1928) woman pianist, cellist, and vocalist perform
Five Minutes with Al Smith (1924) Franklin D. Roosevelt introduces Smith at 1924 Democratic Convention
The Flat Charleston (1926) with Santos Casani and Josie Lennard
Flying Jenny Airplane (1921) experimental film with Curtiss JN-4 ("Jenny") airplane
Franklin D. Roosevelt Speech (1924) filmed at 1924 Democratic National Convention in NYC
Frivolous Fragments (1927) comedy sketch with Alec Daimler and Dora Eadie
The Gentleman (1925) first sound-on-film UK film, directed by William J. Elliott
George Bernard Shaw (1927) one year before similar film by Fox Movietone News
George Jackley (1885-1950), the Indignant Comedian in "A Doggy Ditty" (1927)
George Jessel (1924) comedy sketch by Jessel
Gilland Singer (1927) M. Gilland from France sings, dressed as wounded World War I soldier
Gimme the Net (1927)
Gloria Swanson Dialogue (1922), Gloria Swanson and Thomas Meighan
Goodbye My Lady Love (1924)
Gorno's Italian Marionettes (1928) aka Die singenden Marionetten
Gwen Farrar (1899-1944) cellist Farrar performs "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes" (1926)
Gwen Farrar and songwriter Billy Mayerl perform "I've Got a Sweetie on the Radio" (1926)
Hal Brown Lancashire Comedian (1928)
Harry and Max Nesbitt (1927) film sometimes listed as "Yid Nesbitt" (Max's nickname), brothers from South Africa in "vocal, verbal, and terpsichorean tidbits"
Harry Shalson the Popular Entertainer (1927) Shalson sings "You Go Too Far"
Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly? (1926) Fleischer cartoon originally with green and orange tinting
The Hawaiian Revellers (1928) with Kahola Marsh and His Hawaiian Orchestra
Hedicashun (1929) monologue by A. W. Goodwin
Helen Lewis and Her All-Girl Jazz Syncopators (1925) Lewis leads her "all-girl" band
Helen Menken (1925) Broadway star Helen Menken
Henry Cass Demonstration Film (1923)* also at the Engineers Society Auditorium in NYC on April 12, 1923
Her Unborn Child (1930) last feature film made in Phonofilm (screen debut of Elisha Cook)
His Rest Day (1927) comedy short with Matthew Boulton as Bill Gosling
Hot Water and Vegetabuel (1928) Leslie Sarony sings "When You're Up to Your Neck in Hot Water (Think of the Kettle and Sing)"
The Houston Sisters (1926) musical short with Billie and Renee Houston
I Can't Take You Out of My Dreams (1926) Winnie Collins and Walter Williams sing title song
I Don't Believe You're in Love With Me (1926) Winnie Collins and Walter Williams sing title song
I Don't Care What You Used to Be (1927) Dick Henderson sings title song
I Don't Know (1928) Emmie Joyce sings title song
I Love a Lassie (1925)
I Want a Pie with a Plum In (1926) Dick Henderson sings title song by Wal Clifford
In the Good Old Summer Time (1926)
I've Never Seen a Straight Banana (1926) sung by Dick Henderson, song by Ted Waite
J. H. Squires' Celesta Octet (1928) aka "Memories of Tschaikovsky" w/The Squires Octet
Jack Pearl and Ben Bard (1926) with Bard, Pearl, and Sascha Beaumont
Joe Termini the Somnolent Melodist (1926) specialty musician performs on violin and banjo
Joe Theiss Saxotette (1929)
John Citizen's Lament (1927) Charles Paton performs song "If Your Face Wants to Smile, We'll Let It In" from revue John Citizen's Lament
John W. Davis Campaign Speech (1924), Democratic candidate who lost to Coolidge
Josephine Earle (1929) musical short
Josser, KC (1929) Ernie Lotinga playing "Jimmy Josser" (poss. dupe of Doing His Duty)
The Jubilee Four (1924) gospel quartet
Julius Caesar (1926) excerpt from the Shakespeare play, with Basil Gill as Brutus and Malcolm Keen as Cassius
Knee Deep in Daisies (1926) song "I'm Knee-Deep in Daisies (and Head Over Heels in Love)" sung by Paul England and Dorothy Boyd
Kollege Kapers (1929) comedy short written and directed by Bobby Harmon
La Chauve-Souris (1923) Nikita Balieff's group La Chauve-Souris performing their sketch "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers"
Lee De Forest (1922) De Forest standing in front of a curtain and explaining Phonofilm
Lillian Powell Bubble Dance (1923)* also shown at the Engineers Society Auditorium in NYC April 12, 1923
Lincoln, the Man of the People (1923) Edwin Markham reads his poem "Lincoln, the Man of the People"
The London Four (1927) male voice quartet
The Long and the Short of It (1923) with ?Barber and Jackson, man and woman vaudevillian
Love's Old Sweet Song (1923) two-reeler with Louis Wolheim, Donald Gallaher, and Una Merkel, cinemotography by Freeman Harrison Owens
Lulu (1928) musical short
Luna-cy! (1925) 1922 experimental 3-D film by Frederick Ives and Jacob Leventhal re-released with Phonofilm soundtrack 18 May 1925
Madelon (1927) Camille Gillard in "Madelon", directed by Widgey Newman
The Man in the Street (1926) short based on Louis N. Parker play, directed by Thomas Bentley, with Wilbur Lenton, John MacAndrews, and Bunty O'Nolan (UK title: Man of Mystery)
Marie Lloyd Jr. (1926) daughter of music hall star Marie Lloyd
Marie Rappold (1922) Metropolitan Opera star
Mark Griver and His Scottish Revellers (1927) perform "She Was Just a Sailor's Sweetheart" and "Ain't She Sweet"
Medevedeff's Balalaika Orchestra (1929)
The Merchant of Venice (1927) the trial scene, with Joyce Lyons and Lewis Casson
Miss Edith Kelly-Lange (1927) violin solo
Miss Lalla Dodd, the Modern Soubrette (1927)
Mirth and Magic (1928) unidentified magician performs his magic act
Mother, Mother, Mother Pin a Rose on Me (1924)
Mr. George Mozart the Famous Comedian (1928) comedy short
Mr. Smith Wakes Up (1929) comedy short with Elsa Lanchester
Mrs. Mephistopheles (1929) comedy short with George Robey as title character
My Bonnie (1925) aka My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
My Old Kentucky Home (1926) first to use "Follow the Bouncing Ball"
My Wife's Gone to the Country (1926)
Nervo and Knox (1926) perform their song "The Love of Phtohtenese" pronounced "Hot Knees")
The New Paris Lido Club Band (1928)
The Nightingale's Courtship (1927) French clowns, the Plattier Brothers
Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake (1923) perform their song "Affectionate Dan" and "All God's Chillen Got Shoes"
Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake Sing Snappy Songs (1923) sing "Sons of Old Black Joe" and "My Swanee Home"
Norah Blaney (1927) Blaney plays piano and sings "He's Funny That Way" and "How About Me"
Nutcracker Suite (1925)
Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning (1926)
Oh I Wish I Was in Michigan (1927)
Oh Mabel (1924) early entry in the Fleischer "Sound Car-Tune" series
Oh What a Pal Was Mary (1926)
Oh Suzanna (1925)
Oh, You Beautiful Doll (1926)
Old Black Joe (1926)
Old Folks at Home (1925) ?dupe of "Swanee" entry below
Old Pal (1926) ?possible dupe of title below, also sometimes listed as "My Old Pal" of "Dear Old Pal"
Old Pal Why Don't You Answer Me (1926)
Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag (1926) Fleischer cartoon
Packing Up (1927) dramatic short with Mary Clare and Malcolm Keen
Paul Specht Musical Number (1925)
Peace and Quiet (1929) with Ralph Lynn and Winifred Shotter, play by Ronald Jeans
Percival and Hill (1927)
The Percival Mackey Trio (1929)
Percy Pryde and His Phonofiddle on the Phonofilm (1928)
Philip Ritte and His Revellers (1927)
Phonofilm (1923) with Binnie Barnes
Pilbeam and His Band With Specialty Dance by the Misses Tosch (1927) jazzy version of "Ain't She Sweet?" (?Arnold Pilbeam, father of Nova Pilbeam); ?same as other "Ain't She Sweet" film
Plastigrams (1924) 1922 experimental 3-D film by Frederick Ives and Jacob Leventhal, re-released with Phonofilm soundtrack on 22 September 1924
President Calvin Coolidge, Taken on the White House Grounds (1924) filmed 11 August 1924
Punch and Judy (1928)
The Radio Bug (1926) comedy short, produced by Jack White, directed by Stephen Roberts and co-starring Phil Dunham, Toy Gallagher and Clem Beauchamp, about delivery of a new radio, released in sound and silent versions by Educational Pictures
The Radio Franks (1926) NYC radio stars Frank Bessinger and Frank Wright sing "Remember" and "Hooray for Radio"
Raymond Hitchcock Sketch (1924)
Rigoletto, Act Two (1923) with opera singer Eva Leoni (1895–1972)
Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. (1924) speech given during 1924 presidential campaign
Rocky Road to Dublin (1927)
Roger Wolfe Kahn Musical Number (1925)
Romeo et Juliette (1927) tenor Otakar Marak and soprano Mary Cavanova (Marie Cavan)
Safety First (1928) comedy short with George Robey
Sailing, Sailing (1925) ?dupe of title below
Sailing, Sailing, Over the Bounding Main (1925)
Saint Joan (1927) cathedral scene from Shaw's play, with Sybil Thorndike
Sammy Fain and Artie Dunn (1923) before Fain quit to become full-time songwriter
Santa Claus (1926) with Basil Gill as Santa Claus
The Saventini Trio (1927) two ballads and Hungarian dance performed by male trio
Scovell and Wheldon (1926) sing "Ukulele Lullaby" and "Fresh Milk Comes From Cows" (?Phillip Scovell and Phyllis Wheldon)
Scrooge (1928) with Bransby Williams as Scrooge
Sensations of 1927 (1927) Thorpe Bates in excerpt of Lawrence Wright's Sensations of 1927
The Sentence of Death (1927) dramatic short directed by Miles Mander and starring Dorothy Boyd (US title: His Great Moment)
Sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor (1923) DVD by Zouary shows it to be produced by the ?"Latin American division" of Phonofilm
The Sheik of Araby (1926) Fleischer cartoon
The Sheik of Araby (1926) live-action short directed in the UK by Miles Mander
Sidney Bernstein Welcomes Phonofilm (1926) shown 4 October 1926 at the Empire Cinema in London
So Blue (1927) with ?Delys and Clark
Songs of Yesterday (1922) spirituals sung by Abbie (Abbey) Mitchell
Sonia Serova Dancers (1924) modern dance group performs to Edvard Grieg's "Song of Spring"
The Stage Hands (1928)
Stringed Harmony (1923) with ukulele and banjo player Roy Smeck
The Sugar Step (1928)
Swanee River (1925)
Sweet Adeline (1926)
Syncopation and Song (1927) with The Coney Island Six
Teddy Brown (1927)
Teddy Brown, Xylophonist (1929)
Thorpe Bates (1926)
The Three Rascals and a Piano (1927)
To See If My Dreams Come True (1927) Jack Hodges sings title song
Tommy Lorne and "Dumplings" (1927)
Tommy Lorne (1927) sings "The Lard Song"
Toot Toot (1926) Fleischer cartoon ("Toot Toot Tootsie"?)
Topsey-Turvey (1927) comedian Arthur Roberts sings "Topsey-Turvey"
The Toy Shop (1928)
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1927)
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp the Boys Are Marching (1926)
Tumbledown Shack in Athlone (1927)
Unmasked (1929) mystery feature film (released by Weiss Brothers Artclass Films)
Va usted en punto con el banco (1928)
Ventriloquist (1927) with William Frawley and girl who becomes the dummy
Vicarage Trio—Kerbstone Entertainment (1928)
The Victoria Girls (1928) perform "The Doll Dance", their "famous dancing medley"
Waiting for the Robert E. Lee (1927)
Weber and Fields (1923) doing their pool hall sketch
Westminster Glee Singers (1927) group directed by Edward Branscombe
When I Leave This World Behind (1926)
When I Lost You (1926)
When That Yiddisher Band Played an Irish Tune (1926) with Teddy Elben and His Irish Jewzaleers
When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam' (1926)
The Whistler (1926) dramatic short with Louise Maurel, John Hamilton, and Reginald Fox directed by Miles Mander
Why Bananas? (1926) with Teddy Elben
Wyn Gladwyn, One Person Two Personalities (1928)
You and I and My Gondola (1927)
Yvette Darnac (1929) radio star Darnac sings Gershwin tune "The Man I Love"