A program for “The Jazz Singer” at Chicago’s Garrick Theatre (d. 1960), listed on EBay at $141.53.
If you tell me that The Jazz Singer was “the first talkie,” I will have to punch you in the throat. I know you won’t take it personally, but anyone who thinks that The Jazz Singer was the first talkie just needs to be punched in the throat. I mean, for goodness sake, two years before The Jazz Singer, Theodore Case had already made the greatest talkie in the world, featuring Gus Visser and His Singing Duck [checks carefully that I spelled “Duck” right):
“Talkies” existed back in the late 1890s, using a combination of films and records played sort of simultaneously. There were lots of problems with that, of course, the “simultaneously” being one. If the record or the film was a half-second too fast or too slow, the whole effect was ruined. And projecting the sound of a record throughout a theater—even a small one—was beyond early technology (even today, miked Broadway shows are sometimes unintelligible).
So the earliest talkies we see on YouTube today are of a much higher quality than the original audiences enjoyed! Here we have opera star Jean Noté singing “La Marseillaise” in 1907:
Remember, the Reign of Terror took place in 1793-4, and Jean Noté was born in 1858—he certainly must have met people who remembered the French Revolution first-hand.
And here, the high-camp music-hall star Félix Mayol sings “La Polka des Trottins,” in 1905:
Maurice Chevalier started his career as a Mayol impersonator; Mayol had been a star since 1895, and continued performing into the 1930s. The director of this snippet was Alice Guy, who made her first film in 1896 and was certainly the pioneering female filmmaker—she was head of production at the Gaumont Film Company from 1896-1906.
So remember—do not go around saying talkies started in 1927, if you are within punching distance of me.