The Valentino Dyer

No, Rudy didn’t play…I’m referring of course to the infamous “black-top” Dyer in the Hollywood postcard I’ve had up on the site from the beginning.

This postcard was one of the very first bits of harp guitar ephemera I ever found, and still a fun piece.  Obviously, the black and white still was colorized, so the “black Dyer” was simply a quirky result of that process.

I alluded to this image briefly in my blog of Nov 6, at which time I thought to myself, “Hey, someday I have to track down this film and look for the instrument!”  I then noticed on the postcard that it was a Paramount film…which is where my wife Jaci currently works.  Hmmm….

So she got her various contacts working, first to figure out which film it was.  Barry Allen, one of the Paramount “old-timers” (a wealth of priceless Hollywood information) gave Jaci the following information:

“(The image) almost certainly is connected to BEYOND THE ROCKS since that is the only film that Swanson and Valentino did together.  (Elinor) Glyn wrote the source novel.  This is most likely a publicity shot taken when Glyn visited the set.  The film has scenes in the Alps so the costumes may not be that out of place.  It’s been several years since I’ve seen the film but I’m sure the still is connected with the film.  However, it is not an action scene from the film.  Publicity shot for sure.  The film was lost for generations until it turned up in a Dutch collection and was restored by the Nederlands Filmmuseum.  A DVD is available from Milestone Films.”

Cool!  I’m glad I finally got to the bottom of this unusual postcard – a promotional shot from a 1922 silent film with Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson (their only movie together, so a big deal to film historians, it turns out).

Since Paramount itself didn’t have a print, or any stills, I immediately ordered the DVD, which came out in 2005.

Meanwhile, Jaci’s friends pointed us to a YouTube promo video for the restored film, which listed credits for the new soundtrack…with harp guitar!

I had completely forgotten – a few years back, Harpguitars.net friend and submitter, Søren Venema, of Palm Guitars in Amsterdam, had mentioned to me something about getting this gig.  And there he is, on zither and harp guitar (I would guess one of his several Viennese kontragitarres?).

And now the DVD has arrived.

The still section of the Special Features yielded nothing but the same postcard I had.  Skimming the film (which I later watched without overly rapt attention, I admit), I found the scene:

And there he was – our period, authentically-dressed-in-lederhosen Schrammelgitarre player, accompanying two zither players.  Actually, it was a different musician/actor than the one in the publicity postcard.  Costume and Props managed to get everything to look pretty good, but obviously had no idea where to find an authentic Viennese kontragitarre. Still, I have to give them credit for trying; obviously, they’d done their homework enough to know that the Alpine musical group would have used some sort of “unusual harp guitar.”  So they got the closest thing they could find – some L.A. musician’s Dyer.

But what the….?!  It is a black top! Or at least some dark color.  And what’s that?  That looks like a pickguard!

OK, now I’m curious.  It’s 1922, and they rent some Dyer or hire a musician with his own.  It could’ve been made at anytime obviously, from the 1900’s to 1922 (which is about when they stopped).  It seems to definitely be a Style 8, with 6 sub-basses.  The dark pickguard is undoubtedly a later add-on, as we’ve never found an original Dyer with a pickguard.  The top is probably stained dark, though whether by the Larsons, or from a later re-finish (perhaps tying in with the pickguard installation?) we will never know.

It’s even possible that the director asked for “that prop guitar” to be darkened for filming, although that would be pretty extreme.

Soundtrack segue: Sadly, Søren does not appear in the short documentary on creating the soundtrack.  He only appears in the Alps scene, playing a mean zither, accompanying himself on harp guitar (not one of his several authentic Viennese kontragitarres, but a 5-bass Style 4 Dyer…!).  I don’t hear any subs, though Søren claims they’re there.  “Maybe the subs got drowned in the mix – can’t remember, it was in 2005.  The music and sound effects were made by my friend Henny Vrienten.  The zither I had to fake a bit – it is a hard upside-down instrument to play! Chet-style picking in reverse…”

At this point, the “dark Dyer” reminded me of how bothered I’ve been by that one in the early Larson books.  So I looked it up (the better photo being in the earlier 1984 book) to examine the unusual gray/brown Style 8 with that unusual label.  And there, I see a little glare on the top that…don’t tell me that’s a pickguard?!

OK, now I’m really curious.  Bob knew nothing about it other than the source, Mandolin Brothers.  Writing owner Stan Jay, the inimitable wordsmith was kind enough to reply: Remember – this photo was taken maybe around 1973 or 1974 – a long time ago.  Gee, if we had only known that it could have been the guitar used in a Rudolph Valentino silent film!!!!!    Ah . . . the romance, the wistful memories!  If I had known that I might have taken to wearing a cravat and gone around wooing still perfectly serviceable widows.”

To think that they had this Dyer over 35 years ago!  Amazingly, a week later, his staff had dug up what looks like an old Polaroid, and scanned and sent it to me.

I played with this quite a bit in Photoshop to try to bring out the original color, which indicates that, Pantone matching aside, it’s some kind of medium/dark brownish color.  (Rather reminiscent of the “black” Holloway, isn’t it?…hmmm, maybe Scott could offer the “Valentino Style 8”)  The added pickguard appears much clearer, possibly black plastic?  I’m very interested now in tracking down the owner of the instrument, as this one would be worth examining.  Specifically, is the finish original, or would we be able to spot a re-fin?  And is there an original label under the “photo label”?  That is another little puzzle – something I once thought was some Dyer label variant, but expect is just an image from (and even just cut out of) the November, 1910 Cadenza magazine.  Perhaps the owner was in the Symphony Harp Quartet, or perhaps just some guy who thought the picture was cool and would look good inside his guitar…?  Note also the 3 strange extra white “pins” in the bridge.

And of course, the final mystery…could this be the “Valentino Dyer”?  Everything matches, almost to a T (or is that a “V”?).   Knowing that there was some variance in the position of the sub-bass tuners and nut posts by the Larsons, could that give it away?  No, these appear identically placed (which does not prove our case, but at least keeps it plausible).  I can imagine I’m seeing that extra white dot on the bridge, but I’m not seeing the middle one.   The pickguard is the trickiest part, as the shape of the end near the bridge does not appear to match.  This is a pretty representative image of the “moving target” (getting a clean image off the screen capture), so I don’t think the lighting or film resolution is screwing us up – this is a fairly accurate shape.

I just find it extremely coincidental to discover two Dyer Style 8’s that have both been stained dark and had pickguards added.  What do you think?

  1. Benoit Says:

    Same baby… No doubts…

  2. Bob Hartman Says:

    Well done. I say it’s a match! Whoopie!!!
    I never saw this star performer after publishing the photo from Mandolin Bros.

  3. Benoit Says:

    About changed pickguards: If you see carefully the wood and finish are quite worn around the edge of the pickguard, so usually players ask a luthier to put a BIGGER pickguard to prevent more damage… What about that?
    Ben

  4. Bob Hartman Says:

    One more thing to see! The non-original pearl dot next to and below the # 1 bridge pin! To me I see it on both harp guitars.

  5. Gregg Says:

    Yes, Bob – perhaps I wasn’t clear enough…there are 3 non-original added white dots on the Mando Bros specimen (covering added screws, a la Knutsen?). But I only see what looks like the right most one, not the middle one. Still, another compelling too-coincidental similarity?!

  6. Dennis Doros Says:

    Thank you for such an interesting blog! Yes, Milestone (comprised of my wife and I) distribute BEYOND THE ROCKS and I’ve seen the film dozens of times. But not once did I consider the musical instruments in the mountain lodge scene. One thing to consider — the film stock of the time (orthochromatic stock was used first and then replaced by panchromatic), lighting was very bright and not all the details and contrast would be a realistic rendering of the actual scene. Thankfully, the Nederland Filmmuseum’s restoration was digital off of the original European nitrate print, so it’s at least closer to the original look and detail than a photochemical duplication would have been.

    It’s been a longtime since I produced the dvd, but I believe there are several photos of the scene in the bonus features scanned from Gloria Swanson’s original collection of publicity stills. That might lead you to further clues.

  7. Gregg Says:

    Dennis – thanks for writing and sharing this information (and thanks for making this available to the world)!
    I’ve been all over the Bonus Materials stills, and found nothing else, unfortunately. Still, I’m glad you had fun entering OUR world for just a moment!
    Best,
    g

  8. Stefan Engström Says:

    Hello!
    Reading this article got me thinking about something I saw a few months back.
    I sat up in front of the TV most of the night because if I laid down, I started to cough due to a nasty cold I had. I stumbled up on this crappy maniac-murder-film called “Cruelworld” and was just about to switch channel again when I saw http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4849100/Cruelworld.jpg
    (Hope the link works. The still I nicked from YouTube.)
    I don’t think the guitar was more than a decoration in the movie, but it did appear in several scenes. I didn’t bear to watch the whole film even though I was sick and had nothing better to do, it IS a bad film, but what a thing to use for prop in a low budget murder film. IF the guitar is an original, that is.

    Best Regards from Sweden.

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