Profiles: Earning Bucks the Old Way

As you read this, you sit at your computer, firmly in the modern day.

But even decades into the digital age, there are people who still prefer typewriters. And typewriter repairers still have work, living on rat-a-tat-tat echoes of an older America.

Likewise, it's been 75 years since the age of talkies began, but some movie houses still play silent films, and even hire organists to accompany them live — just like the old days.

ABCNEWS.com would like to introduce you to some of the people keeping the old ways alive.

Click on the links below to read about six people who — modern world or not — still earn their livings in old-fashioned ways:

Silent Movie Organist | Player Piano Parts Supplier | Horse Carriage Maker

Milkman | Typewriter Repairman | Lighthouse Keeper

Bob Mitchell, 90 -- Silent Movie Organist, Los Angeles

Mitchell, perhaps the last active musical accompanist from the heyday of silent movies, follows a general rule of thumb when accompanying Valentino, Chaplin and Keaton at Los Angeles' Silent Movie Theater.

"I never play anything that wasn't published before the picture was made," he says, "but I don't know how many people would actually know that."

If anybody would, it would be somebody like Mitchell.

He sprinkles reminiscences of his long and varied career with specific dates and names. He still has stories to tell about his childhood music teachers, including one who chastised him for a mistake on a church organ's foot pedals eight decades ago, preparing him to play in darkened theaters.

"This young woman, Frances Webster, intimidated me; I was scared of her," he recalls. "She said, 'Don't look at your feet,' and to this day I'm afraid to look at my feet, which is a great benefit."

Mitchell's mother, a music lover, finagled piano and organ lessons for her son, though money and instruments were scarce during his youth near Los Angeles and Sierra Madre, Calif. She disdained the movies as "vulgar and cheap," he says, but eventually arranged for him to do a stint on a theater organ at the Strand in Pasadena, Calif.

Mitchell was booked to play Christmas carols between movie showings on Dec. 24, 1924, though not to accompany the movie. As he rehearsed about a week before his engagement, a movie started. He kept playing. Ready or not, it was the start of a career.

"I played for four years … from '24 to '28, when sound wiped us out," he says.

Other than a performance in 1947, Mitchell never accompanied another silent movie until 1992.

"I don't think I missed them," he says. "I loved them, and I figured they were gone."

He tickled the keyboard for radio and stage productions, and kept involved in movie music as director of a boy's choir in Los Angeles. He and the choir scored or appeared in dozens of talkies from the 1930s to the 1980s. He also played the organ at Los Angeles Dodgers baseball games.

Then, silent films with live accompaniment came back, and Mitchell savors performances at The Silent Movie Theater (including three nights over Labor Day weekend), which have brought him audience and media acclaim, and a blast from his youth.

"The first day I played [in 1992] was Raymond Griffith in Hands Up!," he says. "I had played that many times at the Strand [in the 1920s]. … I knew it so well, it was easy to play because I knew what was coming next. After that, I had no trouble at all.

Page
null
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...