Sound-on-film motion picture technology debuts in Seattle at the Blue Mouse on December 2, 1927.

  • By Eric Flom and David Wilma
  • Posted 5/22/2000
  • Essay 2484

On December 2, 1927, sound-on-film motion picture technology debuts in Seattle at the Blue Mouse Theater, located at 1421 5th Avenue. Fox Movietone News shows the departure of Col. Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974) on his solo flight across the Atlantic, as well as the Washington D.C., reception held upon his return, hosted by President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933).

Lee DeForest (1873-1961) developed this early sound-on-film technology, called Phonofilm. "The sound waves are transformed into light rays that are filmed on the edge of the picture" reported The Seattle Times. "When the film is run off in a theater, the light rays are amplified back into sound waves and in perfect synchronization with the picture. By means of it, the patrons at the Blue Mouse will see and hear great events of the last few weeks just as if they were there in person when the film was actually made."

Although the competing Vitaphone disk technology offered greater sound fidelity, Phonofilm was more convenient for outdoor production and for sound editing. Other developments soon replaced both Vitaphone and Phonofilm.

The new Phonofilm technology came to the Blue Mouse through the efforts of manager John Hamrick (1876-1956), who owned and operated several movie theaters in the Pacific Northwest. The Phonofilm coup came on the heels of his success with the Vitaphone format, which he had debuted at the Blue Mouse only nine months earlier. “This is what John Hamrick has brought back with him from his recent trip to New York,” observed the Times, “and he says it will startle Seattle all over again, just as did the Vitaphone” (“‘Movietone’ to Make its Debut Tomorrow”).

The Lindbergh films electrified Blue Mouse audiences. Lindbergh's flight to Paris had captured the imagination of many. Virtually everyone had seen films of great men or great events before, but the addition of sound gave the pictures an immediacy that silent film appeared to lack. “The shouts of the crowd and the farewell of Lindbergh are thrilling,” wrote an unnamed reporter from The Seattle Times. “Then his reception by President Coolidge, with the bands playing and [the President’s] address of welcome and Lindbergh’s reply. One sees it all and hears it all. This great thrilling event lives anew. “Movietone” is a wonderful invention (“‘Movietone’ at Blue Mouse Thrills Crowds”).

Overshadowed by all the hoopla surrounding the new sound-on-film technology was the Blue Mouse’s main attraction, the silent film By Whose Hand?, a mystery starring Latin heartthrob Ricardo Cortez. Reviews tended to gush over the Blue Mouse’s Movietone shorts, whereas the venue’s feature attraction warranted mention only in passing.


The Seattle Times, December 2, 1927, p. 17; Ibid., December 9, 1927, p. 34; "Motion Picture Technology," Britannica CD 2000 Deluxe Edition; “‘ Movietone’ to Make its Debut Tomorrow,” The Seattle Times, December 1, 1927, p. 14; Advertisement, Blue Mouse Theatre, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 2, 1927, p. 19; Everhardt Armstrong, “Movietone Amazes Blue Mouse Crowds; Vivid Revue at the Fifth,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 3, 1927, p. 13; “‘Movietone’ at Blue Mouse Thrills Crowds,” The Seattle Times, December 4, 1927, Amusements Section, p. 1.
Note: This essay was revised on July 16, 2003.

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