Saturday, May 13, 2017


Still photo from "Bob's Love Affair" (Cinema 1915) New York Public Library. 
As I looked at the photo prompt this week, I thought about re-cycling the photo of my rich uncle, James Armstrong, because of his hair. 

But then I began imagining the organist playing as the silent movie "Bob's Love Affair" flitted across the screen. One thing led to another and I stumbled on the Fotoplayer. 

The Fotoplayer was used in theaters in Canada and U.S. It was advertised as “The Ninth Wonder of the World, The Musical Masterpiece that Expresses the Griefs, Joys, and Triumphs of the Artists; that Supplies the Unspoken Words in the Pictures—Magnificent Orchestral and Organ Tones."

I guess this clever invention put a few organ players out of work, or they learned to operate the device. If you listen to the Youtube performance below you'll realize it's unlikely that these particular zany sound effects would be appropriate for "Bob's Love Affair," although looking at Bob and his small crowd of accusers? admirers? maybe it would work. 

The Fotoplayer was produced between 1912 and 1925 and then it was all over when "talkies" began. In today's parlance, we'd say the industry was disrupted big-time. According to Wikipedia, between 8000 and 12000 were made during that time period. Only twelve were still playable as of 2012. I found one that was sold by Sotheby's in 2012 for $360,000.00.

You can read more about the Fotoplayer here if you're interested. If you'd rather read interesting stories inspired by today's prompt, get on over to Sepia Saturday.


  1. Those machines were a lot of fun, but you have to think that maybe a little went a long way. Thank goodness for the advent of the talkies!

  2. What a hoot! Shades of Spike Jones. Rather than add to the silent movies, however, the machine - depending on who was operating it - might have actually detracted from the film. As Little Nell says - thank goodness for the development of 'talkies'!

  3. Well, I never heard of this interim industry! Glad to add to my trivial knowledge (knowledge of trivia, don't cha know) the photoplayer.

  4. How did the photoplayer player see the movie to know when to zip bam boom?

  5. What a Super Video! Thank you for finding it! I've saved the website link for a future story on theater music. Many old theaters were small because early film format was a narrower screen like early television and the projector equipment could not project very far. There was usually a shallow pit in front of the stage for a small band but as many rural communities couldn't afford a band for every show, the Fotoplayer saved money. I believe it faced the screen and that often the films came with piano rolls that had instructions when to play. Years ago I restored some early pump reed organs and I know that these musical machines had incredible engineering with very complex mechanisms.