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Chapter XI - Ziegfeld Days

eanwhile I began to think, why not use shadows on a screen with red and gree glasses, with lights positioned stereoscopically? Red and green glasses were an old idea, but I invented my application of it as far as I was concerned and my patent, which I called Shadowgraph, appeared in the Follies program when it was produced. It took just the right color gelatin. I knew this thing would make a sensation because I had tried it at the Selwyn Theater with two mercury arcs very close together and a sheet at the front of the stage and it was a tremendous hit- people screamed. That time I had shutters synchronized with the whirling shutter at each seat- but I knew red and green glasses would do well enough. So I worked this out in a workshop I rented on Broome Street, along with another idea I had in optics, of which I made a model to show to Florenz Ziegfeld, hoping he'd want to use it.

I had made a box three feet long, one foot wide and one foot deep. Inside it was a little plaster cast of September Morn Birl standing on water and looking very innocent. I'd become expert in color things and I had a piece of stuff like cellophane, bluish in color- and another colored orange. I had tied a little cellophane bra and a little cellophane skirt on her. There was an orange light on one side and a blue one on the other. There was a single pole, double throw switch and a long cord you could plug in anywhere. You'd turn the switch to the right: she was illuminated in orange, and completely modest. Turn it to the left, she was bluish and completely nude. You couldn't see there was anything on her.

I thought Ziegfeld would like this. A wonderful fellow worked with me named Holland. I'd had a bit of experience with Ziegfeld's Follies, the way they worked. So we went down at ten or eleven AM to the stage door, I carrying this box with the plug in my right hand. My front runner, pushing by this man who was keeping the door said, "Where do we plug this in, Joe? We know Ziegfeld wants to see this."
"There," said Joe, pointing to the nearest receptacle. We plugged it in and I started turning the switch back and forth. September Morn turned from nude to covered- nude to covered. Crowds of chorus girls crowded around. "My God! what is that? Oh, Boy! Will he want to see that!"
We kept moving in from the outer door. By that time we had a tremendous collection. "Oh, Wow! Wait til Flo sees this!" There was all this excitement. "Here he comes!" Flo came in.

"h, Mr. Ziegfeld wait till you see this thing!" By that time they had it on a little table. Flo took a look.
Ziegfeld was a remarkable man, but no sense of humor, a fantastic fellow. He looked at it. "Gimme a chair."
We just sat and looked at it as it went back and forth, nude to covered, to the hooting of chorus girls. "Flo, this is what you need!"
After a long time, Ziegfeld said, "Who belongs to this thing?"
"I do, sir."
"What is this?"
"Just a stage effect I thought you might be interested in, sir."
"Is this a gag?"
"Just a stage effect I designed myself that I built hoping you might have use for, sir."

ith him was Gene Buck, his fellow, a very curious man who started as a draftsman or helper in popular music publishing - who painted moons and canoes for covers of sheet music, and rose in his profession, a great familiar with Florenz Ziegfeld- he wrote the words to Ziegfeld's songs, like, "A Pretty Girl is like a Melody." Later Gene Buck founded ASCAP a fantastic organization and became its president.

Gene said, "That thing is tremendous. You'll get somewhere with that."
"You say this thing belongs to you?", said Ziegfeld? "Who are you?"
"I'm just a graduate of Cornell, an engineer- not associated with the theater. I just thought you might be intersted, sir".

"Why don't we tkae him to lunch? Are you free for lunch?"
"Why, yes, sir!"

We went to Sardi's for lunch where they almost obeyed the Prohibition laws, except for drinks served in coffee cups. We talked about this thing.

"We should see this thing life-size. I should get my designer. What're you gonna do with this thing? Girls'll lose their clothes. Somebody has to design what they going to be left in The police will come in!"

"I have a little place downtown on Broome Street," I said, "with a projector device. I have a model down there that I have tried out with this same thing on- of course she's not as good as your girls, but she's a fine looking girl."

"When can we get there?"
"Would tomorrow morning be too soon?"
The following morning he came in with his girl designer, who had made a vast amount of stage costumes, brining one of his girls. My girl as there.

"I can show you what I've tried," I said. There were the same kind of lights - strong and big.

Then came the silliest discussion.
"What can you do with that?"
The designer said, "You can't bring girls to the stage and just take their pants off. You have to leave them with something on."

"There's just one little thing," I said. "Whenever they have something on, people will see the plastic binding- the clothes become backing and reflect the plastic."

We never did get around this point.
But at the same time I said, "Mr. Ziegfeld, I also have another idea, shadowgraph, with red and green glasses- this effect I'd like to interest you in. I'd like to demonstrate it."

Ziegfeld said, "Well, well, well- " He wasn't too interested as he was in the other thing.
Finally we signed a run of the play contract for the disappearing clothes and shadowgraph. The disappearing clothes was always a failure. It was either immodest or nothing- a flop. The way Ziegfeld tried to get out of it was, "The police won't allow it."

The contract was for two things. Ziegfeld didn't quite know about shadowgraph- he had never seen it. It had a white screen across the entire front of the theatre. In back of the screen were a red and a green gelatin disc and two flaming arcs 2 1/2" apart- the distance apart of your eyes. Shadows of the people on stage appeared on the screen. If you were looking with a red and a green glass you saw red and green shadows.

Ziegfeld had heard people yelling and screaming about shadowgraph, when I'd tried it on his stage, and thought it was a great thing, bue he hadn't had time really to see it. So he said, "Well, Hammond, I'll put you on at the opening before the....while people are coming in at the beginning of the Follies, they'll come in there and then the curtain will be up and you'll do your thing. Now, I'll be on stage there to see how it's going, and I don't want you to do this for more than two minutes. And then I'll tell you when to stop and then you stop."
said, "Yes sir, I'll Stop!"

I said, "I'll have to have some people to rehearse." There was a dancer there, a very nice fellow, and he got three or four girls together and we had a practice time to develop this thing together.

Of course what made the big effects always was if you could take something right up near where the lights were in the back of the stage, and naturally I knew that, and I had a protective glass over the lights, and I had wire spiders on strings and knew that I could always go in close there and that would be the real big show, but we'd begin by showing these girls who were presumably taking their clothes off and all that kind of thing.

Well, the man who had rehearsed was quite cute because he'd gotten up a little spiel, and he came up and he made an announcement. He said, "Folks, you're going to see something you never saw before. And the ushers are coming down the ailses on either side of you, and each one of you should take a pair of glasses." (And these glasses had a red glass on one side and green on the other, and they had Ziegfeld Follies written on them) and he said, "Now you put the red one over your right eye and the green one over your left eye. And if you don't know which your right eye is, the usher will be very glad to tell you."

Up went the curtain, and there on the stage (behind the screen) were this fellow and these girls and of course it is surprising, because immediately they move out from where they are to a place in space between the screen and yourself. You may have seen 3-D movies which were a thing that came later, but 3-D movies never gave any conceivable effect like that, because in 3-D movies you're just looking at a little hole and there's no way to do this. You have to have a big expanse.

o Ziegfeld was there and I had my spiders and things and the minute I went up, the very first trip with a spider and people screamed. They all did- everybody just yelled. (Later on it became famous). And they made so much noise that the fireman who was there came running up because he thought there was something wrong. And of course Ziegfeld was on the stage and he could hear the people screaming, but he didn't know what they were screaming about. Well, he could hear them just yelling- everytime I'd go back with this spider, there'd be more yells. Well, we monkeyed around there for awhile and at length I said, "Mr. Ziegfeld, there's nothing more that we can do; this is the end of it." By that time the audience was making so much noise that although we were standing on the stage and Ziegfeld was right near me I was practically yelling at him to be heard over this bedlam. I said, "Mr. Ziegfeld, we've done everything we can do."

"Well", he said, "You hear 'em yell. Can't you do anything else?" He knew it was the most extraordinary thing that ever happened.
"No," I said, "please, please bring down the curtain for God's sake. We've done everything we can do." And so finally he dropped the curtain.

Later on I had a little monkey with me and in the beginning I would make the monkey do all the stuff, because the monkey's very small and if you run him up towards the lights, although the poor little monkey would be very scared and timorous, he was a fantastic performer.

he Follies in those days opened on SAturday night. The ordinary theater in those days was $2.20, and a big musical was $3.30. On opening night, the Follies tickets sold for $22; and if you were connected with the show, you were only allowed to buy two tickets. I bought two tickets, and my mother was there, and a friend I knew; of course a performer who went to the backstage had an emblem; so then the papers all wrote it up and it appeared in the papers, and of course the Follies were a tremendous thing; but at that time the New Amsterdam Theatre was where the Follies were produced and there was a New Amsterdam Roof, to which you could go up if you were a very privileged person for opening Night; by great chicanery you might get up there and pay a great deal of money and have drinks and what-not up on the New Amsterdam Roof. Incidentally, all during the time of the Follies, there were tables covered with everything you could think of to eat around in the lobby and all around the back part of the theatre. And you could eat, and the Follies ran on- nothing was cut - everything that they might use was put in, and the result was that the first night of Follies, instead of ending at 11:45 or whatever would have been the time in those days, the last dog was hung around three in the morning. And that would be the last act that would be on, including of course all the chorus girls and everybody shouting and so on. Then they went up to the Roof.

hen Ziegfeld got up on the roof of his own place, he was greeted by all the people who were sitting there - everybody drinking at these tables. The New Amsterdam Roof was a lot of little tables where you sat around - but there was also a show going on, of course. But all the people there all looking at him with these red and green glasses and cheering - and of course Ziegfeld realized that he had the biggest conceived hit - it was an extraordinary thing.

On Sunday morning you'd see the reviews* come out. Then in the afternoon everybody that was in the cast, people connected with the show itself, would go to hear the verdict of what was going to happen. And Mr. Ziegfeld had his glasses and papers and different things. And he said what he was going to keep in the show for the time being. And not more than about half of all the acts that were in it to start, were in. He moved Shadowgraph to next before the intermission - just before where the chorus all swarms in - a big spot on the program.

One day Ziegfeld saw me doing a clog dance on the stage, and he said, "I'll put you in the show, Hammond, for $45.00 a week if you'll do that step." All the chorus clapped. But I didn't take him up on it.

Ziegfeld had a telephone girl named Mabel, a Jewess, as smart as a button. William Randolph Hearst used to come up, waiting for his girl, and would sit down beside her. He thought Mabel was remarkable for her running conversation. One day a man came in with a suitcase. He said, "I've got to deliver this to Mr. Ziegfeld poissonally."
"Just put it down here," said Mabel.
"Oh, no," he said. "I gotta deliver it poissonally."
"What for?"
He opened it up and (these were Prohibition days) there was a bunch of liquor bottles inside.
"Yeah, you can go in," she said. The man went into Ziegfeld's office, turned out to be a process server.
"Mabel!" howled Ziegfeld from his office. "What have you done to me? You've just sent in a subpoena!"

Shadowgraph earned me $75,000. Altogether - a good deal for a young man in those days. It stayed in the Follies for two years, and I saw a good deal of the Follies. They always had Fanny Bryce, Will Rogers, and W.C. Fields. Then, Ziegfeld had two men who were just dancers, and they became known as Gallagher and Shean.

Will Rogers would come down around seven o'clock, and would sit in the alley if it was pleasant - inside if it wasn't. He would try his jokes out on electricians and others, including me. The electricians made me their unofficial boss. I would sometimes help them out by telling Ziegfeld, "You can't do that." I also did some stage effects. Someone would come in and ask for some red for his scene. I would say, "Kill the green." It would turn out red. I became quite proficient in lighting, and did stage effects for Ed Wynn. Shadowgraph was so effective that I was approached by the Shuberts. They said, "We have shows on the road … bigger facilities …" For a while I had a right to walk into any Shubert theatre, and I did some mildly successful things for them.

Shadowgraph was such a hit that vaudeville producers tried to get a license to use it, but I had given Ziegfeld exclusive rights to it. Albee said to me, "Why don't you get Ziegfeld to let us produce it in vaudeville as direct from Ziegfeld's Follies for $1,000. A week?"
"Oh, no," said Ziegfeld.
"$2,000. A week?" I went back to Ziegfeld. No, he wouldn't. But it was pirated all over the world.

ver the years, Peggy Hammond had kept up correspondence with her friend Gretchen Anton-Smith whom the Hammonds had known in Paris, and when the Anton-Smiths moved to New York and launched a little tearoom in Greenwich Village, Hammond was persuaded by his sister to go there and dine.

He gave all sorts of good advice to Mrs. Anton-Smith, and showed her how to balance her accounts daily. He liked this tearoom because artistic friends gathered there. They'd go off to the theatre together, or sometimes out on his boat, the "Aseptic". And at the tearoom he re-met Mildred Anton-Smith. The girl he had ignored in Paris when she was four was now a very attractive woman whom he found most congenial, a charming, calm, soft-spoken person, kind and thoughtful. She had a great presence, dressed beautifully, was reserved and dignified, and she liked order and a routine. And she liked Larry. He courted her, and then proposed in the workshop at Broome Street - and she accepted him. But he felt that, though he was doing fine at the time, they shouldn't marry until he had a more substantial situatution.

But with producers in Europe pirating Shadowgraph, he got married with the idea of collecting from them, to justify a honeymoon trip to Europe. The honeymoon was great, but he collected almost nothing from the pirates.

In London, the King's Councel said, "You won't prevail, because a patent has to be useful as well as a novel" - though he admitted that a movie was in the same category. It was no use in Paris or Berlin either. A Chinese offered to buy equipment used for Shadowgraph - though the entrance fees to their movies was only 1-1/2 cents - and I sold it to him for $2,000.

But we had a marvellous time on our honeymoon, around the Mediterranean. There was virtually nothing left standing of the Parathenon at that time - as my photographs show- they've been gradually restoring it, but won't admit it. At Cairo we went to see the Pyramids. A bakman had to take you over. "We'll go there on camels," he said. The two men walked near the sphinx, our camels went and stood, each in a certain position, and a photographer immediately appeared from nowhere and took a photograph in beautiful composition, with the sphinx and pyramids in the background. The picture was taken before you knew it. The camels were trained. Every picture would be identical to every other, except for who was on the camels.

And finally, after the little freight-and-passenger steamship had made all of its forays into blue Mediterranean harbors, it took the Hammonds back to realities in New York.

*"Astonishing and hilarious", the Times called Shadowgraph, "must be seen to be appreciated."  
Chapter XII - Back to Chicago: Ups and Downs    Index

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