Saturday, 18 May 2013

Gene Rodemich

One of the best things about the early sound cartoons made by the Van Beuren studio in New York City are the jumpy little scores put together by Gene Rodemich. There wasn’t much information about Rodemich on the internet at one time so I did some hunting and posted the findings on the Golden Age Cartoon forums a few years ago. I’m reposting a corrected and expanded version, along with links to a couple of Gene’s recordings and a nice podcast.

Eugene Frederich Rodemich was the first orchestra leader for the long-running Manhattan Merry-Go-Round when it debuted on CBS in 1932. He died suddenly while his career was at its peak. Here’s what I can glean of his New York Times obit, dated March 1, 1934:

GENE RODEMICH, 42, MUSICIAN, IS DEAD;
Leader of Dance Orchestras Ill Since Saturday, a Victim of Pneumonia

DIRECTED RADIO PROGRAM
Former Manager of Concern That Produced Animated Cartoons for Movies.

Gene Rodemich, pianist and orchestra leader, died at 9 o clock Tuesday at the Medical Arts Sanitarium, 57 West Fifty-seventh Street, it was made known yesterday. He was 42 years old. His death was caused by lobar [pneumonia].
Mr. Rodemich was born in St. Louis [April 13, 1890], son of a dentist [Henry Rodemich and his wife Rose]. He began his musical career in and near his home town as a pianist, later becoming conductor of a dance orchestra. He was accompanist for Elsie Janis on several tours, including one in Europe.
Before starting radio work in New York about five years ago, he had for three years been director and master of ceremonies at the Metropolitan Theatre, Boston.
He was for some time musical director and then general manager of a concern producing animated cartoons for the movies. He directed the musical synchronization of many of the shorts.
He was taken ill last Saturday while making recordings with his orchestra, which has been participating in a National Broadcasting Company program every Sunday night. In the past he had conducted for many other NBC programs. He insisted on continuing the recording although he had been stricken with a severe chill. Saturday night he was taken to the hospital.
A widow [Henrietta], a son [Raymond] and a daughter, Jean, survive. The family lived in Rye, N. Y. Funeral services will be held be held tomorrow morning at Larchmont.


On January 15, 1935, the Times revealed he “left an estate appraised at $94,210 gross and $58,603 net.”

Some other bits and pieces:

● Rodemich played at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, earning the title of “Ragtime Paderewski,” then begun touring. In 1909, he played the piano on President Howard Taft’s tour boat along the Mississippi. He then got the gig, mentioned above, playing for Janis.

● Rodemich’s marriage to Henrietta Pauk in 1915 was not without some controversy. A Chicago Tribune headline reads:

ST. LOUIS HEIRESS ELOPES WITH A DIVORCED PIANIST.

The story goes into how her family tried to prevent a wedding for months, even by taking the girl to California.

● Rodemich registered for military service on June 5, 1917 (he had a wife and two children then) and ended up overseas in World War One playing for the French soldiers near the front lines. When he returned, he formed a 22-piece orchestra and signed a contract with Brunswick Records in 1919. His first session in Chicago in October that year included a recording of “Margie,” which is familiar to any fan of Tom and Jerry’s “Piano Tooners.” Among the singers the band backed during the ‘20s was Al Jolson. Rodemich’s jazz congregation played at the Hotel Statler in St. Louis, and was doing a midnight remote broadcast from there on KSD in 1923. His orchestra capped the inaugural broadcast of KMOX on December 24, 1925. You could call Rodemich a jazz pioneer; an early example of scat singing can be found on a 1924 Brunswick recording of “Scissor Grinder Joe.”

● He headed to Boston in 1926 and by 1929, he can be found in New York on the radio. He appeared in a 15-minute show on the NBC Red Network, and then moved to the Armstrong Quaker Girl Show, a half-hour broadcast for Armstrong Quaker Rugs and Linoleum on the NBC Blue. By the end of the year, he was on the Red Network again, according to this listing for December 17th:
Five numbers by Richard Rodgers, selected from as many musical comedies and reflecting the high spots of this young American composer's career, will be featured by the orchestra under the direction of Gene Rodemich during “the Prophylactic Program” to be heard at 7:30 o’clock.
He did another 15-minuter in 1932 for NBC Blue called “Hollywood Nights” before landing the Manhattan Merry-Go-Round job.

The Film Daily of January 13, 1929 reports Rodemich had begun a career a week earlier as an emcee at the Paramount Theatre in New York. The trade paper wasn’t impressed. It decided Rodemich “did nothing but introduce the acts in a routine way, and lead the stage harmonizers.” But in the January 20th edition, the tune had changed. “Gene has an easy style that fits in well with the various acts as he introduces them, and when it comes to leading the stage harmonizers, he is also there,” said the anonymous critic. He got involved in the comedian’s act as well. The Brooklyn Eagle of February 13, 1928 noted he was fronting the Paramount Theatre’s orchestra; whether it was a different Paramount in Brooklyn, I don’t know.

● The Van Beuren studio seems to have hired Rodemich toward the start of 1930, though he was given screen credit for a Grantland Rice ‘Sportlight’ short released in October 1929 by Pathe, which also released Van Beuren shorts. Josiah Zuro, General Music Director of Sound Studios, Inc., provided scores for 12 cartoons in 1929 (according to The Animated Film Encyclopedia by Graham Webb) then was transferred by Pathe to Hollywood. By September 1929, The Film Daily reported Carl Edouarde was the studio’s music director; he worked on cartoons ending with “Singing Saps” in February 1930. Rodemich’s name appears on a title card in Van Beuren’s next cartoon, “Sky Skippers,” released the same month. The book Hollywood on the Hudson by Richard Koszarski says Rodemich took over after the fire at the Pathe studio on December 10, 1929 but doesn’t say if it was immediately after, or because of, the fire. Edouarde, incidentally, miraculously escaped the fatal inferno.

● Rodemich didn’t just work on cartoons at Van Beuren. He added soundtracks to 12 silent Charlie Chaplin shorts in 1932 and supplied music to the studio’s Frank Buck feature “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” the same year. Film Daily mentions in its edition of March 22, 1933 that Rodemich was managing the cartoon department.

● Daniel Goldmark’s The Cartoon Music Book relates this (page 162):
As Sharples's son, Winston, Jr., recalls, Sharples went into film writing through a series of coincidences: not long after the death of Gene Rodemich, Walter Winchell coincidentally ran an item in his column praising the [Vincent] Lopez band and Sharples in particular. Amadee Van Buren [sic] read the notice, decided this was the man he wanted, and anointed Sharples the main music man at the Van Buren organization until its demise in 1937.
This wasn’t quite the case. Sharples was already at Van Beuren when Rodemich was in charge of the studio. The Film Daily reported in December 1933 that Rodemich was gone; RKO executives had a month earlier broached the idea of finding someone they thought could run the cartoon department better. Incidentally, Goldmark reveals Sharples was Lopez' arranger, as well as piano player.

You can head to Archive.org and listen to music of the Gene Rodemich Orchestra (warning: some of it has digital fuzziness that makes it sound like it’s under water). Or you can head to Box.net and listen to these melodies:

HOME AGAIN BLUES 1921
MY PAPA DOESN’T TWO TIME NO MORE 1924
THE MOBILE BLUES 1924

And here’s great podcast made last year by Glen Robison, featuring an interview with Rodemich’s great-grandson and songs aplenty.







2 comments:

  1. Wow! Great entry on Rodemich. Regarding the Chaplin reissues, Gene didn't do all of them... in fact, he and Win Sharples split the duties. The scoring of EASY STREET, which was the first VB release of a Chaplin short (Sept 1932) was Sharples' earliest work for the producer, although I'm sure Rodemich had final approval. And a minor note: Van Beuren took over production of the Sportlights in 1928, so the score for that '29 short would've been Rodemich's first for the producer.

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  2. Greetings, Michael. Thanks for the information. There are always bits of information I don't know or have missed in on-line searches.

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