Of Note: Lessons from a Director’s Chair

This is the first in an occasional series in which we share items that have caught our eye.

This unusual item from the papers of stage and film director Rouben Mamoulian (1897-1987) is a memento from the first movie he ever directed, Applause (1929). Mamoulian saved the back of his director’s chair that had been embellished with artwork and signatures. More than just an artifact, this piece of canvas is a record of the people who worked on this early sound feature film, both credited and uncredited.

Already known as an innovative theatrical director, Mamoulian directed Applause, a backstage musical starring Helen Morgan, in 1929.  He pioneered inventive camera and sound techniques while filming this talkie at Paramount Pictures Astoria Studios in Astoria, New York, and at several locations around New York City. Seventy-seven years later, in 2006, the Library of Congress added Applause to the National Film Registry list of influential motion pictures.

Side 1 of canvas back of director's chair with Mr. Mamoulian printed on it, signed by members of cast and crew

Director’s chair back. Box VA 5, Rouben Mamoulian Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Surrounding Mr. Mamoulian’s name are signatures and inscriptions from cast and crew including art director Sam Corso, second assistant director W. Ray Cozine, director of photography George Folsey, scriptwriter Garret Fort, songwriter Jay Gorney, cameramen George Hinners and Frank  G. Kirby, and actor Fuller Mellish, Jr.

Side 2 of canvas back of director's chair with Applause printed on it along with the dates of filming and a sketch of Mamoulian directing a scene

Director’s chair back. Box VA 5, Rouben Mamoulian Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

On the opposite side, a drawing of Rouben Mamoulian at work on set by an unknown artist records the dates of production and also captures a detail unique to the period of the early talkies. The large boxes are soundproof booths that held cameras and cameramen in order to prevent microphones from picking up the noise that cameras made while filming. Another feature of the bygone era is the megaphone that Mamoulian is holding in his left hand. That megaphone is also part of the Rouben Mamoulian Papers.

Learn more about the Rouben Mamoulian Papers.

Learn more about the National Film Registry.

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