Paul Killiam's silent film narration

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Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by silentfilm » Sat Sep 11, 2010 11:18 am

I got a Blackhawk print yesterday of the Edison short Santa Claus vs. Cupid (1915). The entire film is narrated by Paul Killiam. Sometimes he describes what we see happening on the screen, and other times he is a little sarcastic about the film.

I've got 2-3 Griffith Biograph shorts that he narrates also. I know that he did the Silent Years TV show, and also the History of the Motion Picture series. HotMP is similar because he narrates a silent film, but it is usually an abridged version of a feature.

In my print of The Lonely Villa, he says that there were no inter-titles in the film. I'm pretty sure that this is not true. He must have made his print from the MOMA negatives, which did not have the titles. I know that the Griffith Biographs that survive in the Library of Congress have a lot of titles in them.

Did Killiam also have some show where he presented Griffith Biographs and nickelodeon shorts? I realize that he was a pioneer in commentary during a film, but the ones that I've heard I could do without. Of course in the 1950s and 1960s, about the only other time that this had been attempted was when Chaplin cut out the titles and narrated his Gold Rush (1925) in 1942.

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Paul Killiam's narration

Unread post by Wm. Charles Morrow » Sat Sep 11, 2010 5:44 pm

Paul Killiam had a TV show in the '50s called "Movie Museum" which consisted of Biograph and Edison shorts, and he narrated those, so the prints you have probably derive from that series.

I have Blackhawk prints of three of his documentaries from the "Silents Please" series, two salutes to silent comedy and one show devoted to William S. Hart. Lots of interesting clips in all three programs. The narration is a little corny at times, but generally low-key and informative. From what I gather William K. Everson contributed to the text, so they're more scholarly than the Robert Youngson efforts -- some of which make me cringe.

Every now and then I used to see Killiam material on PBS, usually filling in the last portion of a one-hour time-slot when a show would run short. I recall seeing some the Will Rogers shorts edited down to 10 or 15 minute segments, with racial gags removed. I guess that's best for TV screenings, when the audience isn't limited to historically minded buffs who're accustomed to that sort of thing.

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Re: Paul Killiam's narration

Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Sat Sep 11, 2010 6:54 pm

Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:Paul Killiam had a TV show in the '50s called "Movie Museum" which consisted of Biograph and Edison shorts, and he narrated those, so the prints you have probably derive from that series.

I have Blackhawk prints of three of his documentaries from the "Silents Please" series, two salutes to silent comedy and one show devoted to William S. Hart. Lots of interesting clips in all three programs. The narration is a little corny at times, but generally low-key and informative. From what I gather William K. Everson contributed to the text, so they're more scholarly than the Robert Youngson efforts -- some of which make me cringe.

Every now and then I used to see Killiam material on PBS, usually filling in the last portion of a one-hour time-slot when a show would run short. I recall seeing some the Will Rogers shorts edited down to 10 or 15 minute segments, with racial gags removed. I guess that's best for TV screenings, when the audience isn't limited to historically minded buffs who're accustomed to that sort of thing.
Even worse, before his MOVIE MUSEUM show, Killiam had THE PAUL KILLIAM SHOW, in which he appeared onscreen to introduce the films, them would run a dramatic short with is deliberately hokey narration. I have several prints of these, and the sad thing is that they are sparkling complete prints of Edison shorts like THE BUTLER or DAUGHTER OF THE WILDERNESS with all titles, but his narration is unfunny and painful. even his wall-to-wall narrations on MOVIE MUSEUM are at least somewhat informative. BY the time of SILENTS PLEASE, he ahd developed a more low-key and less annoying style.

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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by Tom Killiam » Wed Aug 31, 2011 9:07 am

In defense of the earliest Paul Killiam silent film anthologies, which included now quite unwelcome over-narration with ironic (not sarcastic) color commentary:at that time the purpose was just light fun, it was before there was an interest in the serious restoration the Killiam Collection later exemplified.

Historical New York trivia footnote: Those early broadcasts stemmed from Paul Killiam's cabaret act in the '40s at the Old Knickerbocker club, where he would entertain audiences between neo-Vaudeville stage acts with a collection of comic (intentionally or no) silent clips on a 16mm projector, offering "Comic-taries" to a well-catered audience over a hand-held mic. Some of the waiters, who were often Hasty Pudding alums, like Jack Lemmon, got their first exposure to New York show-biz singing and putting on acts there.

Mr. Roberts, I would love to acuire some prints of those early Paul Killiam Shows and Movie Museum broadcasts, can you point me to possible sources?

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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by M Verdoux » Tue Nov 22, 2011 10:01 am

So good to see you here Tom!

I've been thinking about you and I think of your Dad (I'm proud to say my old Boss) all the time and miss him as I know you do. To think he would have been 95 this past September (and that he''s been gone 13 years this month.) Here's a treat -- your Dad doing what he truly loved - performing his unique style of clever corniness in front of a live audience - (something I had the privilege of seeing him do live - and even assisted him with quite a bit in his later years.)

I'm thankful to have know him.....


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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by telical » Tue Nov 22, 2011 10:39 am

Thanks for the wonderful clip!

Seems like the forerunner of that MST3K show. I thought his humor
was pretty good!
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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by Jay Schwartz » Tue Nov 22, 2011 11:01 am

I now have a completely different image of Paul Killiam from what I assumed he was like. Fascinating!

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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by M Verdoux » Tue Nov 22, 2011 12:29 pm

Jay Schwartz wrote:I now have a completely different image of Paul Killiam from what I assumed he was like. Fascinating!
'
Okay -- what did you assume he was like? Remember this is him young and performing (which I believe he loved more than ANYTHING -- the films were just a vehicle for it) which only shows one aspect of him and his personality. Although I met him when I was a child, via my Grandfather, a number of times in the mid-1970s - I really got to know him when I worked for him and spent time with him the last ten years of his life.

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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by Big Silent Fan » Tue Nov 22, 2011 12:51 pm

Jay Schwartz wrote:I now have a completely different image of Paul Killiam from what I assumed he was like. Fascinating!
Ditto. This was a facinating look at the man behind the name.

Most of us early Baby-Boomers here grew up watching Paul Killiam's "Silence Please" weekly show back in 1960 - 1961 (even my silent film friend saw this years ago in Australia). According to the internet, it was a fill in show for ABC back then.

It was that show where I first got to see early silent film clips. This wasn't anything like "Fractured Flickers." This was a documentary of film history, much like the later "Hollywood" series. I can still remember watching clips from Tarzan and Fairbanks' Robin Hood as a teen back then, lying on the couch on a Saturday afternoon. As bad as the quality was, this was really something to see back then.

Back then, I never dreamed I'd ever see any of these films and today most all have been restored and made available on home video. Some of them are Killiam releases, but other than some serious voice-overs, I've never heard of seen Paul before.

It's nice to see that he liked to laugh at himself.

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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by Hal Erickson » Tue Nov 22, 2011 10:11 pm

I remember seeing MOVIE MUSEUM as a child, approximately 6 years after it was first syndicated, shown in prime time on an independent UHF Milwaukee station in 1961. It was my introduction to the Biograph one-reelers and even at that early age I could tell that these weren't the "hokey" films that some ill-informed people associate with the early silent era. The series also showed some Sennett and Roach comedies with Turpin, Langdon, Will Rogers and the like. Killiam's narration was excessive on "Movie Museum" but only occasionally mocking. On this series at least he showed respect for the films in the package, and I've heard tell that his then-uncredited associate William K. Everson was instrumental in changing Killiam's attitude towards the silent era to one of reverence.
In some cases, Killiam went to great lengths to explain that the films weren't being shown to best advantage on TV, noting that he was obliged to run them at sound speed and that the prints at hand weren't tinted as they'd originally been (this point invariably came up whenever "nighttime' scenes were staged in broad daylight. ) All the films were shown with a piano accompaniment, with the exception of the five part cutdown (12-1/2 minutes per episode) of HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, in which an organ was heard. Throughout this presentation, Killiam indicated that he'd consulted Patsy Ruth Miller on some particulars of the picture.
Over the years Killiam reissued the MOVIE MUSEUM package with new narration, often adding historical background info that was unavailable to him in the 1950s. By the time the series made its final go-round in the late 1980s, much of the superfluous narration had been removed--along with the occasional gentle mockery.
I have a special place in my heart for MOVIE MUSEUM, since it introduced me to silent films as an art form rather than an object of derision. It also helped that Killiam's SILENTS PLEASE was being shown on ABC at around the same time.

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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by George O'Brien » Thu Nov 24, 2011 12:02 pm

Very interesting and entertaining Youtube clip. But why does Steve Allen introduce what Mr. Killiam was doing as something unique? Wasn't Pete Smith doing the same thing with silent shorts back in the 30's? TCM uses them now as fillers between films, and one I was especially glad to catch was a bit of an old Maurice Costello film with Dolores and Helene as little kids .

Is the silent film Mr. Killiam shows here, Griffith's MAN'S GENESIS (1912)? Looks like it from stills I have seen.
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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by Jay Schwartz » Fri Nov 25, 2011 12:17 am

George O'Brien wrote:Is the silent film Mr. Killiam shows here, Griffith's MAN'S GENESIS (1912)? Looks like it from stills I have seen.
Yes indeed.

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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by Tommy Stathes » Fri Nov 25, 2011 1:09 am

George O'Brien wrote:Very interesting and entertaining Youtube clip. But why does Steve Allen introduce what Mr. Killiam was doing as something unique? Wasn't Pete Smith doing the same thing with silent shorts back in the 30's?
I suppose the argument could be made that while Allen was a notable figure in the field, he and others (Killiam included) may not have been aware of all previous attempts to do the same kind of thing. Or they were...remember, talents and acts are usually blown up when being presented in that kind of outlet.

While they surely they must have seen Buffalo Bob narrate Smith Family comedies on Howdy Doody, we can't assume as much either...once something aired back then, there was little or no way of seeing or even referencing it after the fact unless you happened to catch the live broadcast. Again, at that time, they didn't have the 60+ years us collectors have had to find and view and remember different examples of old film consumption.
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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by Jay Schwartz » Fri Nov 25, 2011 4:39 pm

M Verdoux wrote:
Jay Schwartz wrote:I now have a completely different image of Paul Killiam from what I assumed he was like. Fascinating!
Okay -- what did you assume he was like?
Belated response, sorry...

Well, I never realized he was a stand-up comic!

My knowledge of Paul Killiam is fragmentary, and came in stages. First I knew him only as the name on THE SILENT YEARS series, back when I first got interested in silent films. Later I saw some of the Movie Museum episodes, the first being a print of A CORNER IN WHEAT I purchased from William K. Everson in Syracuse (I can't recall if Everson told me that he wrote the narration, but I do recall him instructing me not to use the soundtrack because I should show it at 18fps, "because the Biographs were shot at 12 fps"). When I did check out the narration (or should I say commentary track), it was actually quite interesting (but the film does indeed play better at silent speed, of course).

Later yet I acquired a copy of Anthony Slide's 1979 book FILMS ON FILM HISTORY, which has a lengthy entry on Killiam. I'd forgotten, but this does describe his early career as a performer. That must have went right past me in my memory. Most of the entry concentrates on Killiam's usage of high-quality print materials in his work, and his collaborating with MOMA and GEH on restorations.

Anyway, I envisioned Paul Killiam as more of a silent film scholar with a great interest in re-popularizing the art form with the general public...which I guess is still true. I just never imagined he was so funny!

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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by M Verdoux » Sun Nov 27, 2011 12:53 pm

George O'Brien wrote:Is the silent film Mr. Killiam shows here, Griffith's MAN'S GENESIS (1912)? Looks like it from stills I have seen.
I wrote a full description for the YouTube clip which ID's MAN'S GENESIS as the film being parodied. I guess no one really reads those.

Jay Schwartz wrote:
Well, I never realized he was a stand-up comic!

Anyway, I envisioned Paul Killiam as more of a silent film scholar with a great interest in re-popularizing the art form with the general public...which I guess is still true. I just never imagined he was so funny!
When it came to silent film - and cinema in general - I think Paul became a scholar of it in spite of himself. It was clear in his overall attitude that the films were vehicles for him to present himself as a showman (not nearly as shameless as Robert Youngson - but along those lines.) He was certainly not above cutting up a camera negative to create a 'Silents Please' episode (he could be quite pennywise and pound foolish). But the fact that he aligned himself with the likes of William K. Everson, my Grandfather, Karl Malkames and William Perry - and other disciples of silent cinema - certainly helped steer him in the direction of "The Silent Years". However - in the later years that I was working with him, he definitely began to steer back in the direction of writing and adapting silent film and old songs for either little PBS 'one-offs' or for using it with live performance in review shows and roasts in New Canaan, CT (where he lived.) He was droll and certainly eccentric (which he liked to play to the hilt -- i.e. He owned and had registered a 'Cushman' - one of those one-man traffic enforcement vehicles. He loved to drive it around town and draw attention as the town oddball - and bug the hell out of his wife to boot.)

He could be cranky and cantankerous - but that was certainly part performance. I miss the guy all the time.

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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by George O'Brien » Wed Nov 30, 2011 9:07 am

M Verdoux wrote:
George O'Brien wrote:Is the silent film Mr. Killiam shows here, Griffith's MAN'S GENESIS (1912)? Looks like it from stills I have seen.
I wrote a full description for the YouTube clip which ID's MAN'S GENESIS as the film being parodied. I guess no one really reads those.

Jay Schwartz wrote:
Sorry. There was no description, full or otherwise, to the clip as I viewed it in a window of your post. Perhaps, on Youtube itself there is ...
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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by M Verdoux » Wed Nov 30, 2011 10:23 am

George O'Brien wrote:Sorry. There was no description, full or otherwise, to the clip as I viewed it in a window of your post. Perhaps, on Youtube itself there is ...
Ahhh......that's it! Okay -- sorry..... :mrgreen:

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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by Harlowgold » Tue Oct 15, 2013 7:07 pm

From Blackhawk's Christmas 1982 catalog, the following 27 minute episodes were available for sale under the banner THE HISTORY OF THE MOTION PICTURE. Where these all from SILENTS PLEASE? Were any of these from or used on the earlier MOVIE MUSEUM?

America (1924) Neil Hamilton
The Americano (1916) Douglas Fairbanks
The Black Pirate (1926) Douglas Fairbanks
Blood and Sand (1922) Rudolph Valentino
Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (1920) John Barrymore
Dracula (Nosferatu) (1922) Max Schreck
The Eagle (1926) Rudolph Valentino
The Fall of Babylon (1916) ConstanceTalmadge (from Intolerence)
The Garden of Eden (1928) Corinne Griffith
The General (1926) Buster Keaton
The Headless Horseman (1922) Will Rogers
Hoodoo Ann (1922) Mae Marsh
Hunchback of Notre Dame (1921) Lon Chaney
Orphans of the Storm (1921) Lillian Gish
Road to Yesterday (1925) Joseph Schildkraut
Son of the Sheik (1926) Rudolph Valentino
The Tempest (1927) John Barrymore
The Thief of Bagdad (1924) Douglas Fairbanks
Variety (1926) Emil Jannings
Yankee Clipper (1927) William Boyd

Compilations:
The Crown Princes of Hollywood (Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd,etc)
Film Firsts, Part One (Trip to the Moon, Griffith's BATTLE, etc)
Film Firsts, Part Two (Gertie the Dinosaur, Melies, Griffith, etc)
The Fun Factory (Sennett clips, Chaplin, Normand, Keystone Kops etc)
Girls in Danger (Gish, Swanson, Marsh, Jetta Goudal,etc)
Keaton Special
Mr Super Athletic Charm (Douglas Fairbanks)
Sad Clowns (Chaplin, Keaton, Langdon)
Slapstick (Mack Sennett: Normand, Arbuckle, Sterling,etc)
Story of Silent Serials (Pearl White, Ruth Roland, Houdini,Karloff, etc)
Story of William S Hart
Will Rogers

Prices in 1982 to own these were a whopping $154.98 each on 16mm, and (when available) $64.95 each on Super 8 silent and $69.98 on Super 8 sound. They were also available on VHS or Beta, two episodes per tape for $49.95 and some were very rough matches on the tape sets - Nosferatu with the Corinne Griffith romantic comedy!

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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by Gloria Rampage » Tue Oct 15, 2013 8:21 pm

Harlowgold
The Crown Princes of Hollywood (Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd,etc)
Think it's THE CLOWN PRINCES OF HOLLYWOOD.

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Re: Paul Killiam's silent film narration

Unread post by M Verdoux » Wed Oct 16, 2013 1:37 am

I believe that the Keaton episode was produced later and thus was never a 'Silents Please' episode but only a HOTMP release. Paul Killiam originally included a cut down version of ALLEZ OOP in this episode - but replaced it with highlights from STEAMBOAT BILL HR. when Rohaeur threw a hissy over it.

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