Three years after the final appearance of the preeminent femme fatale of the silent era, Theda Bara, the first great vamp of the talkies — I mean “phonoplays” — emerged when Kay Francis sashayed on screen in ‘Gentlemen of the Press’.

"As the first great practitioner of this new school, as shown by her work in ‘Gentlemen of the Press,’ Kay Francis stands alone… Others will come do their dirty deeds, and pass, but as the pioneer of the clan, Miss Francis will occupy a sizeable place in the yet unwritten history of the talkies."

What I think they meant to say was, “Miss Francis will occupy a sizeable place in the yet unwritten history of the phonoplays.”

This phonoplay nonsense is gonna take some getting used to…

In the March 1929 issue of PHOTOPLAY, readers were given a unique challenge: come up a new name for talking pictures, one that the magazine hoped would replace the “present inelegant ‘talkie’.” To help its readers come up with a new “dignified” moniker, PHOTOPLAY suggested that you “call the family into a talkie conference. Hold a talkie party. Let everybody vote.” The winner would not only bask in the glory that their freshly coined buzzword would certainly bring them from millions upon millions of moviegoers, they’d also pocket $500 American dollars (also referred to as “half a thousand dollars”).

The rules were clearly printed in the March, April, and May issues:
All entries must include the new name, a brief explanation of the reason for the name typewritten on one side of a simple piece of paper with your name and address in the upper left hand corner. Multiple entries were allowed, provided each entry followed the rules already outlined, and all entries had to be received before midnight on May 16, 1929. The winning entry would be chosen by an editorial committee and announced as soon as possible.

So why is it that we’re only hearing about the winning entry now? Surely it shouldn’t take four months to pick a winner if everybody followed these simple rules. Sure, there were ~16,000 entries, but that was quite the wait. Funny story…

Harriet Parsons offers some highlights of the entries she received - entries that drove her to the brink of madness - thus explaining what she was up to during those four months:

3,000 people did not read the contest rules and were disqualified.
200 people suggested “Vitaphone” and other established trade names.
10 employees of Warner Bros. suggested “Vitaphone” on purpose.
7 sentimental people suggested “Speakeasy”.
3 clearly drunk people suggest “Sayshow”.
2 must have read Walter Winchell’s column and suggested “Boomoom” and “Smotion Picture”.
Several linguists found the contest hilarious and submitted inside jokes.
Some felt the name should honour stars of the silent era and suggested “Pickfordtone” and “Valentinotone”.
And finally, several members of “the coy sex” suggested the downright silly “Chatties,” “Gabbies,” “Gossipies,” and “Moviegabsees”.

And now, the winning entry (submitted by Mr. Howard B. Knight of Brooklyn, New York)

By decree of the editorial committee of PHOTOPLAY magazine, henceforth, the talking pictures will now be known as PHONOPLAYS. That’s right, I said PHONOPLAYS.

However, PHOTOPLAY immediately realized that supplanting a popularly used term such as “talkies” with a real camel-of-a-buzzword like “Phonoplay” would be a Herculean task, one they’re positive will be difficult to achieve. So…that was worth all the effort.

What’s the haps around the studios?
Here’s some of the gossip that was fit to print in October 1929:

*Clara Bow kicks off the inaugural “Help-the-Boy-Friend Week” by parading her new fiancé, Harry Richman, around town. Harry, a big shot in NYC but unknown in Hollywood, is on the eve of making his first picture for United Artists. Boy, he sure lucked out when he fell for one of the biggest motion picture stars on the planet. What a coincidence.

*FLASH! Lon Chaney forced to step down from his lead role in ‘The Bugle Sounds’ and will be replaced by Wallace Beery. That’s right, one of the greatest on-screen monsters is to be replaced by one of the biggest off-screen ones.

*John Gilbert and Ina Claire return from their vacation in Europe amidst rumors of domestic discord, something the relative newlyweds roundly deny.

*PHOTOPLAY refers to Raymond Hackett’s newborn son as “a small, wrinkled object”. Dicks.

*With no current film to work on Charlie Chaplin announces he is “just between scandals” at the moment.

*Here is your Alice White Bulletin for October: she has a new boyfriend. That is all.

*Newly married Stepin Fetchit (“the dark three-Cadillac boy”) is slapped with a $100,000 breach of promise suit by a former sweetheart. And to add insult to injury PHOTOPLAY calls him a “dark cloud…looking right now for a silver lining”. As I said before: Dicks.

*Wallace Beery feels his two greatest achievements in life are “Being an elephant trainer … and the husband of Gloria Swanson.” If you’re ever feeling too upbeat about life and want a way to completely destroy your faith in humanity, try Googling “Wallace Beery,” “Gloria Swanson,” “wedding night,” and “abortifacient” and that should sort you right out.

*Greta the Great has to cut back on her “Scandinavian days” if she’s to be ready to face the microphone in her first talkie, “Anna Christie”.

*FLASH! Rudolph Valentino’s nephew is told he looks like the late screen sheik by his mommy and daddy. Film at eleven.

*Marilyn Miller, the so-called “queen of the Ziegfeld girls”, was reportedly paid $1,000 per hour for her work on the new First National musical, “Sally”. I’m sure PHOTOPLAY’s readers in October 1929 were thrilled for her when they heard this…

*Douglas Fairbanks Jr. vows to clamp down on the “undignified publicity” his new bride, Joan Crawford, has received. “The superb Crawford stems will no longer twinkle from the pages of the nation’s press.” Joan’s publicity will now be limited to the far more dignified reports of her falling out with every other actress in town. Dignity. Always dignity.

*Clara Bow poses on the beach proving she’s still got “It”.

*Anita Page has a soft spot for her fans. The hotsy-totsy Metro star keeps a detailed file of all her fan letters “which is carefully tended to by her adoring and vigilant dad. A tremendous lot of it is answered personally.” Think on that the next time Z-listers like Kevin Smith pugnaciously respond to your tweets.

*Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theater is held up by a gang of thugs to the tune of $14,000 (approx. $198,800 today). Guests at the nearby Roosevelt Hotel looked on believing they were watching “just another movie”.

*Clara Bow may be on the hook for another one of her father’s failed enterprises when Robert Bow’s marriage to Clara’s former secretary, Tui Lorraine, hit the skids. Considering Robert and Tui were married on the eve of her deportation back to her native New Zealand, I am flabbergasted that this marriage didn’t go the distance.

*Anita Page and Bessie Love are set to be the best dressed women at court. The tennis court, that is.

*Alice Lake, a former silent picture leading lady who was best known for her work at Keystone opposite Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, returns to the screen “with a fine microphone voice” thanks to her time in vaudeville.

*PHOTOPLAY body-shames the kids of Our Gang. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Dicks.

*PHOTOPLAY body-shames retired actress Alice Terry calling her “a little plumper, but at peace and very happy” following a short trip to France with her husband, Rex Ingram. Sigh … Diiiiiiiiiiicks.

*Clara Bow buys a gold mine outside of Alleghany, California. If you’re not satisfied with the quality of gold diggers you’ve been meeting lately, do what Clara did and buy your own mine.

*The Rule of Three plays out as Hollywood loses a trio of its most esteemed citizens: actress Gladys Brockwell, actor Dustin Farnum, and director John Griffith Wray.

*Raymond Hackett turns a handspring on the set of ‘Footlights and Fools’ when he gets a phone call telling him “It’s a boy!” I wonder what his reaction was when PHOTOPLAY referred to his wee lad as “a small, wrinkled object”. Have I called them dicks yet?

*Lon Chaney runs afoul of the law when he catches more than the legal limit of trout on a recent fishing trip and then unknowingly confesses to the game warden. “So, you say you didn’t know you’d exceeded the legal limit, eh, Lon? Tell It To The Marines, buddy. Here’s your Unholy Three-dollar fine.”

*FLASH! Douglas Fairbanks Jr. necks his bride, Joan Crawford, to the delight of the youngsters down at the Beach Club. Not as bad as it sounds.

*John Barrymore’s hopes of playing Hamlet for United Artists were dashed when, upon closer inspection of his contract, it seems Warner Brothers owns “exclusive rights” to his voice. Barrymore scoffed, “My profile may belong to United Artists, but my voice belongs to Warner Brothers.” Hot dog, that man was so cool.

*Georgie Jessel learns the hard way how guys named Epstein get treated in this town.

*Ernst Lubitsch goes off full German at a musician on the set of ‘The Love Parade’ when his off-rhythm gum chewing is picked up by the microphones. Lubitsch was heard shouting at the musician, “Sit up straight. Eyes forward. Is that gum? Is that gum? Is that gum?”

*And much, much more!

FLASH! The Algonquin is out, the Beverly-Wilshire is in.
Move over Broadway, there’s a new Great White Way in … um, town.
Well, actually it’s a different town … on a different coast.
And it’s concerning a completely different entertainment medium.

As New York’s theatres began to hemorrhage top talent such as Fanny Brice and Al Jolson to the upstart motion picture industry, many of Broadway’s biggest names began trading in their apartments on the upper west side for spacious mansions on the west coast.

The talkies, once dismissed as a passing fad, were now poised to lure most of the top theatrical talent away from the footlights of New York City to the sound stages of Hollywood.

"YOU see the stars on the screen — charming, gracious, beautiful. But how do they get that way? How do they remain beautiful?
The daily task of keeping beautiful in Hollywood is never finished. And for each advancing year, beauty demands more time, more courage, and more money.
Any woman can be beautiful if she has these three essentials—money, courage, and time. They have the first two. They make the third.”

PHOTOPLAY shines a light on the beauty regimens of Hollywood’s brightest stars. For many it was difficult maintenance but for a few it was a torturous routine.

From painful dental braces to heavy leather leg braces, from daily manicures to weekly caustic hair bleaching, nothing was out of bounds. In Hollywood plastic surgery was seen as the easy way out.

However, for one Hollywood head-turner (most likely Norma Shearer) this taxing commitment to achieve seemingly unattainable levels of beauty it was an onerous ordeal that literally occupied her every waking thought.

“A certain beauty is lovely in spite of a slight cast in one eye. She must never relax her eyes except in sleep. She has learned the trick of keeping them straight by thinking of them every waking second! Literally!”

It’s absolute insanity.

“Are the treatments painful?” Sylvia shrugged her shoulders. “Well, my dear, fat has to be pinched off. There’s no other way. But what woman wouldn’t suffer a bit for beauty?”
Yes, you and I would suffer a BIT for beauty. But our suffering is optional. A star MUST suffer for beauty. It is her job.”

Stars discussed in this article are listed in the hashtags below.

"Clara believes he is the right man. But is he? Or is he just another playboy?"

PHOTOPLAY announces Clara’s “official” engagement to her new sweetheart, Harry Richman, with this downright despondent piece on “The ‘It’ Girl’s” tragic personal life.

In David Stenn’s biography “Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild” he paints Richman as a cad, a callous showman, and shameless publicity seeker. The self-designated “King of Broadway” (who was once an accompanist to Mae West) was already a superstar in his own right when he left NYC for Hollywood.

How big of a star, you ask? Irving Berlin was so impressed by Richman’s rendition of “Blue Skies” that he wrote a song just for him that would become Richman’s trademark number. A little tune titled “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. That’s how big Harry Richman was.

Harry even opened his own nightclub in New York at 157 West 56th Street, aptly named “Club Richman” (that way he could find it again if he lost it, I assume). Though open to the general public - those willing to fork over the hefty $6 cover charge - entry was restricted to almost entirely to the royal, rich, celebrated, and criminal. When Al Capone travelled from Chicago in his bullet-proof limo with 32 bodyguards in tow to enjoy Richman’s hospitality, Richman made a new friend. The story goes Capone was so impressed with Richman’s performance that he guaranteed his safety for life.

When Richman arrived in Hollywood to pursue a film career (after being offered $75,000 for one film), United Artist president, Joseph M. Schenck, recommended a publicity stunt:
“Nothing sells pictures like a big romance between the stars,” he explained. Richman immediately asked who the biggest female star in America was. Schenck seemed amazed at his ignorance. “Clara Bow, of course.”

Richman, a legendary lady-killer, wrote of himself in his demurely titled memoirs ‘One Hell of a Life’, “Don Juan himself never had more girls… Without bragging, I can say I had every single one I went after. Every well-known whore in the country was my friend.”

On top of being a Lothario he was also an asshole. In Stenn’s book he mentions this little tale about Clara’s new beau:
“A preferred Richman pastime was to visit a neighbourhood diner, order coffee and doughnuts, and watch his overworked waitress’s expression when he paid his ten-cent tab with a thousand-dollar bill.” (p.171)

Richman mounted a short pursuit of Clara that was enthusiastically returned. The two attended premieres and parties together and soon became inseparable. Richman gave her the nickname “Toots” and she would refer to him as her “Waterloo (Clara once signed a photo to him “To my gorgeous lover Harry, I’ll trade all of my ‘It’ for your ‘That.’ Your little Toots.”)

However, Harry’s version of their courtship as laid out in his memoirs was a sweet, romantic tale of two stars falling madly in love — this differs greatly from how others saw their courtship unfold. Richman failed to make a good impression on many in Clara’s inner circle — Louise Brooks called him “A ham who exploited her” and Clara’s personal secretary and long time gal-pal Daisy DeVoe was quoted as referring to Harry as “A scumbum, he used Clara for her fame.”

Stenn theorizes that Richman came along at just the right time — for him, at least. “Had she felt more secure when she met Richman, Clara would have pegged him for a publicity-monger and shunned him as such. But at the time she craved attention as much as he did.” (p.173)

The courtship glow did not last long. One story goes that when Richman could not get away from Hollywood to go on their planned Mexican casino weekend in Auga Caliente he urged her to go without him. “She did, and met a handsome Mexican croupier, and disappeared for three days. Richman finally traced the two to Malibu and drove there, parking down the road and sneaking up to her cottage. He could hear Clara and her guest inside.” (p.181)

When Clara began to spurn his advances he became suspicious. One night Clara told him she needed to go to bed because she had an early call the next morning. Since this was so outside of her character Harry sat outside of her house and waited for her to emerge. When she did he trailed her to her destination: Gary Cooper’s house.
“She was inside so long that he finally abandoned his stakeout.
The next night “he confronted Clara. She denied everything. He told her he had followed her. ‘Cheap sonofabitch, followin’ me,” she said disgustedly.
“‘Why did you cheat on me, Toots?’ Whined Richman. ‘I thought we loved each other.’
“‘So what?’ shrugged Clara. ‘Nobody’s gonna own me.’” (p.181)

Richman’s response? He bought her a $5,000 engagement ring and made it official. When news of their engagement hit the headlines Richman was overjoyed.
“Now I knew Clara was going to be mine.”

That was not the case.