by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The cross promotion and marketing of film and music was becoming fully integrated by the end of the 1920s and one way this was being done, in addition to the plethora of sheet music advertising films in which the music appeared and highlighting the stars of the movies, was through the recording and issuing of phonograph recordings.
Today’s “Striking a Chord” post highlights a 78 rpm recording from the Homestead’s collection consisting of two tunes recorded by film star Gloria Swanson on 3 August 1929 for the movie The Trespasser, which was released in November.
That film, written and directed by Edmund Goulding, whose career included notable projects like Grand Hotel (1932), The Dawn Patrol (1938), Dark Victory (1939), and The Razor’s Edge (1946), featured Swanson as a stenographer who fell in love and eloped with a wealthy young man, but his family had the union annulled. Shortly after, she gave birth to a child and becomes a “kept woman” for a much older and well-off man. When he dies, leaving her a substantial inheritance, the paternity of her child is questioned. With her first husband remarried and back in her life, she sends the child to live with them and all ends well when his second wife dies and she is reunited with him.
The Trespasser was the first talkie for Swanson, a massive star in silents, who received a nomination for an Academy Award, a new honor in those days, but the film proved to be one of her last hit films before her career went into a steep and rapid decline. It was not until 1950 that she was cast in Sunset Boulevard, playing the iconic Norma Desmond, an aging silent film star (of course, much like Swanson) in that classic film with William Holden and Erich von Stroheim, who directed Swanson in some of her major silent era movies.
As to the songs on the recording, the A-side, “Love (Your Spell is Everywhere)” was written by Goulding and lyricist Elsie Janis and proved to be a success. In addition to the original recording by Swanson, released on Victor Records, it was covered at least a half-dozen times in 1929. It was later recorded over subsequent decades by such notables as Deanna Durbin, Peggy Lee, Harry James, Jackie Gleason, Sammy Davis, Jr., Johnny Mathis, Dean Martin and Paul Anka.
The B-side is “Serenade,” a song originally written in 1900 for violin and piano by classical pianist and composer Enrico Toselli, was recast with lyrics in Italian by Alfredo Silverstri and published in 1923. It proved to be the only work by Toselli that was performed in subsequent years, including a version by Mario Lanza and ones with English lyrics specifically for a 1950s recording by Perry Como.
Swanson’s voice was quite good and it was said that one of her early ambitions was to be an opera singer and was the lead in an operetta while her family lived in Puerto Rico (her father was a soldier in the Army.) In 1915, though, while in Chicago, she was seen on a visit to Essanay Studio, an early producer of films, and was hired to act in many early silents, including one with Charlie Chaplin. She later worked for Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios and a small firm called Triangle, before hitting the big time as a star under the tutelage of Cecil B. De Mille at Paramount Studios in a half-dozen smash films.
She joined United Artists when that enterprise was launched by other popular stars wanting more control over their films, but her record there was mixed. Successes like Sadie Thompson (1928) and The Trespasser were countered by major setbacks like Queen Kelly (1929). After her film career waned, Swanson occasionally sang in public, experimented with art, and wrote a well-regarded autobiography not long before her death in 1983 at age 84.
Though Gloria Swanson is best remembered for the larger-than-life portrayal of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (hysterically lampooned by Carol Burnett in her variety show in the early 1970s–Swanson must have liked it because she appeared on the show later), she was one of the most popular film stars of the 1920s and proved to be a pretty good vocalist, as well, on this soundtrack recording.