|Vilma Banky with Ronald Colman in "Two Lovers," 1928|
Times were getting tougher in 1928 as the United States plunged toward economic depression. Headlines on the front page of Chariton's Herald-Patriot of April 5 read "Farm Problem Grave" and "Lucas County's Mines are Idle." The centerpiece cartoon featured an unemployed man sitting on a park bench.
But there were lighter stories, too, including one headlined "Movie Sent by Wire: Experiment Shows How News Events May Be Handled" ---
Chicago, April 4 --- An advance in the transmission of pictures by wire was made today when for the first time a motion picture was sent over telephone lines to New York City for display there.
A closeup of Vilma Banky, motion picture star, was taken in the telephone offices of the American Telephone and Telegraph company and transmitted over the wires.
Ten feet of film were used. The film was cut up into short strips and sent as "stills," or ordinary pictures. At the other end of the line the strips were pieced together and photographed on regular motion picture film.
This form of transmission, it was explained, could be used for movies and news events."
Banky (1901-1991) was an Hungarian-born silent film star, largely forgotten now but widely acclaimed during the late 1920s when she was paired with such male heartthrobs as Rudolph Valentino and Ronald Coleman. Her Hungarian accent was a barrier to a career in the talkies, as was her wish to settle down with husband Rod La Rocque and live a less public life (their marriage endured until his death in 1969).
The technology seems primitive now --- I watched a streaming video last evening. But for the time, it was quite advanced.
Although photographs had been wired from one point to another as early as 1895, Western Union didn't send its first wire photo until 1921; AT&T, its first image via telephone until 1924; and RCA, its first radio-transmitted image until 1926. The Associated Press Wirephoto process was introduced in 1935 when it became practical to send images via regular telephone lines.
When I first entered a newsroom more than 30 years later, stories still arrived via teletype on long strips of paper, adding to the typewriter-produced clatter, and wire photo receivers linked to the Associated Press mothership by telephone still spat out image after image on lightweight coated paper from which halftone engravings could be produced.
Much has changed since, but the thought of Vilma Banky being disassembled in Chicago, transmitted by wire to New York, reassembled and screened much have seemed near miraculous at the time. Who knew what the future might bring.