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Columns

July 20, 2013

First talking movies came to Oneonta in July 1913

No matter how hard we’ll ever try, historians will not be correct all the time. Future historians will more than likely review my work someday and find that I made a few oversights and errors in presenting facts. I’m fine with that, and hope they’ll make things correct.

Historians sometimes just go with the facts of former historians, simply assuming their work was correct. Now and then, however, we come across a few surprises. This time in particular, it is about the first talking movies in Oneonta.

For years now, I’ve gone with others’ accounts that the first “talkies” played in Oneonta in August 1926. Recently, while browsing through microfilmed Oneonta Star editions of July 1913, I discovered that this was not the case.

“The famous Edison Talking Pictures are coming to Oneonta,” it was reported in the Star of Tuesday, July 22, 1913. “This has been decided and they will be shown at the Oneonta theatre commencing this evening and tomorrow afternoon and evening. A complete entertainment, consisting of drama, comedy, tragedy, operatic selections and speeches by well known men and women, will be enough to convince the most skeptical that at last silent motion pictures are doomed and hereafter they will talk the same as real actors on a real stage.”

The success of Edison’s invention, the Kinetophone, turned out to be short-lived. Nineteen talking pictures were produced in 1913 by the Edison Manufacturing Co., but by 1915 he had abandoned sound motion pictures. Projectionists mostly untrained with the new technology had problems synchronizing the sound with the pictures.

In that first Oneonta effort, the Star reported that Manager Roberts of “Theatre Oneonta” had to postpone the Tuesday night showing due to a major technical glitch. Edison talking pictures were operated by motors requiring a “60 cycle current.” The current supplied to the theater was 133 cycles.

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