Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gus Visser, 1894-1967

Gus Visser and His Singing Duck

Vaudeville performer Gus Visser was born on this day in 1894. He'd probably be completely forgotten today, except for a very curious bit of movie history. Visser was one of those reedy-voced tenors who seem to show up in a lot of those old musicals from before 42nd Street that all look terribly dated today. Visser's shtick was a prop duck that would "quack" at appropriate moments in the song. Not much to see today, you'd think, and you'd be right. However, he got to do his think on film in the short Gus Visser and His Singing Duck.

What makes this short interesting is that it was released in 1925, two years before The Jazz Singer. Not that The Jazz Singer was the first talkie, of course; Warner Brothers has been using the Vitaphone process for over a year, with some shorts that included synchronized singing, as well as in feature length movies to synchronize the score and some sound effects. Gus Visser's short, however, was made with a different process. Vitaphone had its sound on a heavy disc, while the Visser short, the work of inventer Theodore Case, had a sound track on the film itself. Eventually, Case sold the rights to his system to the Fox Film Corporation, who renamed the process Movietone.

As you can tell from the link above, it doesn't matter if the Gus Visser short is on DVD as an extra anywhere. It's made its way to Youtube.


FamilyFriendsLovers said...

I LOVE the fact that Mr. Visser made it on YouTube. It's classic!

(Man, I love the interwebs.)

BrieDank said...

Gus Visser is the coolest!!

Michael said...

It's not a prop duck, it's clearly alive.

Anonymous said...

It seems he's doing something with his right hand to get the duck to quack. I wonder if this is where the term "goose" comes from?