Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Joseph C. Smith and Cecil B. DeMille

Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Joseph C. Smith and Cecil B. DeMille

Article excerpt

Why Change Your Wife? is a 1920 Famous Players-Lasky Super-Production directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Gloria Swanson, Bebe Daniels, and Thomas Meighan. But the film has another "star". It is Hindustan, Victor record #18507 by Joseph C. Smith's Orchestra.

The liner notes to the Image DVD release state: "As described by director Cecil B. DeMille in his autobiography, Why Change Your Wife? stars Gloria Swanson as an exceedingly prim and proper wife "whose virtues are her only vices" and whose efforts to impose her tastes and perfectionism upon her husband (Thomas Meighan) cause her to lose him to another, more attractive woman (Bebe Daniels) until at last the wife learns that being virtuous does not mean being dowdy and that being cultured is not inconsistent with being human."

The liner notes continue: "...the film not incidentally preaches the virtue of consumerism, displaying an immense collection of ravishing fashions...including a signature DeMille bathroom!"(1)

There is no mention of the records and machines that play them, and that become a virtual character in the film and motivate the plot. Perhaps a poll could be taken among record collectors and students of film to find out if their interests ever include both. In this case it seems to be a blind spot in film studies. Furthermore, DeMille's bathrooms in his silent pictures appear to occupy a larger place to devotees of silent film, than the records of Joseph C. Smith concern devotees of 78 rpm records. What is one to make of the placement of his record in this film? Could it have been something as simple as they needed a current record and Victor labels photographed more legibly for the screen than Columbia labels?

Joseph Cyrus Smith (1883-1965)(2) recorded Hindustan for the Victor company on 7/29/1918 in New York.(3) He recorded after the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (1917), but before The New Orleans Rhythm Kings, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke and nearly everything that forms the substance of jazz. Though some of his records are spirited and fun, to the "hot" collector, Smith's records don't deliver, because on his recorded selections his musicians played almost entirely by written notes.

"Angels are often dead husbands, but husbands are seldom live angels. Wives know this but they can't seem to get used to it," says the opening narrative title of the film based on a story by William DeMille, Cecil's brother.

Robert Gordon (Thomas Meighan) and his wife Beth (Gloria Swanson) are clearly well off. Near the beginning of the film Robert first plays Hindustan. He obviously enjoys it. We get to see their new Victrola up and running. As Beth points out, there's something strange brewing in this new music. It's physical!

Beth instead suggests playing a 12" record by the Victor Concert Orchestra of The Dying Poet composed by Louis Moreau Gottschalk. "Boring!", Robert's expression says.

Hoping to spruce up his wife by way of a new wardrobe, he goes to a high fashion store and first sees Sally Clark (Bebe Daniels). Later, Sally lures him to her place. She reveals that built into her couch is a nifty phonograph! Naturally, she wants to play the newest selection - Hindustan by Joseph C. Smith's Orchestra, which provides them with some fun. After they're feeling a bit loosened up, she shows him another one of the new records - Give Me a Kiss and a Smile, sung by John Steel, Victor #18623. Robert starts playing the record in an innocent enough manner. …

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