Film/television speech patterns from the 1920s to 1960s

Discussion in 'The Golden Era' started by The Good, Oct 19, 2011.

  1. The Good

    The Good Call Me a Cab

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    Having watched many films and some television shows (these mostly from the '50s and '60s), I have noticed that almost unanimously, the actors and actresses involved tended to speak in a way that is different from the way their modern counterparts would go about it. I would use the term accent (it sounds almost British, but these are Americans I'm referring to), but this manner of speaking seems to have also been something of an affectation, and both the young and old tended to speak like this. Many newscasters especially, spoke this way as well. It's difficult to describe, but for an example, compare any Golden Era film with a later one, perhaps from the 1970s or '80s, and there is a difference, but go ahead a number of years, and that difference is even more pronounced. Could a few of you here explain the background of this phenomenon? These nearly dead speech patterns of old films or TV seem more intelligent than the more "relaxed" or casual form of speech prevalent on the screen today.
     
  2. Wambleyburger

    Wambleyburger Familiar Face

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    I know exactly what your speaking of, J.B. I've noticed the voice inflections and speech patterns especially in vintage radio announcers voices of the 20's, 30's and 40's. It seems, just like everything else these days, that the more formal speech has gone by the wayside. Pushed aside by what I call a more "lazy" type speech pattern. Imagine that?
     
  3. W-D Forties

    W-D Forties Practically Family

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    I know what you mean by it sounding almost British, I have noticed that too. It's very formal. I know you are referring to Americans but the funny thing is if you see newsreels from the 30's or 40's of 'Joe Public' with British regional accents they also sound very formal, almost RADA versions of the local dialect. Even members of the public used a 'posh' version of their normal speaking voices back then when captured on film. No-one would bother now!
     
  4. scottyrocks

    scottyrocks I'll Lock Up

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    Yes, another noticer here. I occasionally use those types of speech patterns when talking to my kids. It gets their attention, that's for sure. They look at me and either smile and laugh, or like I'm a little nuts, but then again, I have a tendency to cultivate that. Nah, not nuts. Just fun.

    At any rate, I had wondered how wide spread that type of speech pattern had been. Was it just for the silver screen? In everyday life, was it just for the 'upper classes' of America? Was sounding sort of British looked at as being more formal and a 'step-up' from the commoner?

    The 1960s, probably, when being 'dirty and different' became a status symbol for the young, is probably when this speech pattern/accent/affectation began to really fall out of favor. That youth movement affected everything. There was a distinct difference in the way adults spoke in movies from the 50s through the 60s. You can see it on TV shows, as well. Of course, it didn't happen all at once, but was a gradual process.
     
  5. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    When talking pictures came in, elocution teachers did a land-office business in Hollywood, teaching movie actors how to speak like stage actors, in a more "cultured, refined" style. It was believed that a performer like Clara Bow, who had a thick Brooklyn accent, or Charles Farrell, who had a flat Massachusetts voice, didn't have a chance with such a localized way of speaking. The result of this movement was a "movie actor's accent" which was derided by critics as "Kansas City British" -- if you watch many early talkies, you'll instantly recognize the style and why it was called that. Broad a's, and extra syllables stuck into one-syllable words: "cruel" becomes "croo-ell", things like that.

    This trend died out fairly early, but the prejudice against regional dialects remained. Even today an actor with a thick regional accent will be expected to tame or completely lose it on screen -- the ideal is still to sound like you're from California.
     
  6. HeyMoe

    HeyMoe Practically Family

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    If I remember correctly Dan Rather went to a speach coach to remove his Texan accent as he was basically told he would never be on the national news with it.
     
  7. flat-top

    flat-top My Mail is Forwarded Here

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    I've always thought that it was some sort of created, bizarre East Coast accent, with "r" not being used at the end of words.
     
  8. dhermann1

    dhermann1 I'll Lock Up

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    There are several factors here. If you listen to interviews with men and women on the street from the pre war period, you'll hear that their diction is clearer and their voices have more ring and clarity. My personal theory is that TV has had a lot to do with it. TV's until recently, were built with tiny 3 inch speakers with very poor frequency response. So the high and low registers of the voice, and the overtones and consonents as well, were muffled. Think how much speech kids have heard from TV versus real life in the last couple of generations. It's scary.
    Also, before the 40's most public speaking was done without amplification. People learned how to project their voices. And they learned intuitively by hearing it done by others. To use a vocal training term, the placement of the voice was such that more sound was projected. Speakers would address groups of thousands of people without any amplification at all. And they were heard.
    Actors in theaters spoke and sang without the ubiquitous and odious miking that exists today.
    Americans nowadays are so used to mumbling and gurgling in their throats that they think there's something unnatural about speaking in a natural old fashioned manner.
    Grrrrrr . . . .
     
  9. This is just a theory, but this may be the US version of "recieved pronounciation" as outlined here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Received_Pronunciation
    This refers to what is known in Britain as the Public School Accent, essentially an Upper Class way of speaking as compared to the general masses with a more common way of speech. In a way I guess it's good, because it enables to speaker more clarity than a regional accent or dialect. Unfortunately, it wipes out the original dialect of the speaker (as in the above example of Dan Rather). (See also General American).
     
  10. Effingham

    Effingham A-List Customer

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    On the subject of RP:

    I always wished I spoke naturally like Edward Fox.

    The mission briefing from A Bridge Too Far
    [video=youtube_share;Cl1I1eOQgrw]http://youtu.be/Cl1I1eOQgrw[/video]

    [video=youtube_share;BDCYVGOipiI]http://youtu.be/BDCYVGOipiI[/video]
     
  11. W-D Forties

    W-D Forties Practically Family

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    Edward Fox was able to speak like that because he was born with extra biceps in his jaw!
     
  12. Hercule

    Hercule Practically Family

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    I find it amusing how in movies whenever anyone would speak into a radio microphone - be it a police radio or a space ship radio etc., - it would always be in a strong, deliberate monotone. "Calling all cars, calling all cars, be on the lookout...."
     
  13. C-dot

    C-dot Call Me a Cab

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    It's widely thought that Clara Bow's career ended once she made a talkie, but despite having a thick Brooklyn accent, she really had a lovely, sensuous voice. Her first talkie, The Wild Party, was a hit, and so was her comeback in 1933, Call Her Savage. But her accent was always a hurdle: at the peak of her silent fame, her studio was wary of putting her on tour for fear of what would happen when she opened her mouth. But, she appeared in person in a Brooklyn theatre for one film ("I shore hope yous are ganna be prowd of me") and was a smash hit - To them, she was the local kid who made it big.

    Probably everyone in Hollywood except for David Niven was required to take diction lessons. Even Marilyn Monroe, a California native, took them, ending up with the customary "How-now-brown-cow" tones. But, stars of the day had incredible breath control (Especially in His Girl Friday.) Actors on TV today take a very long time to speak their lines, presumably for more screen time. It irks me - It's too informal.
     
  14. Fidena

    Fidena One of the Regulars

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  15. scottyrocks

    scottyrocks I'll Lock Up

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    That's a good read. Thanks for posting it.
     
  16. Esme

    Esme One of the Regulars

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    Slightly off topic perhaps, but what I could never figure out is why Vincent Price who was from Missouri, Eve Arden who was from Mill Valley, California and Agnes Moorehead who was from Massachusetts had exactly the same accent. Must have had the same elocution coach.
     
  17. Yeps

    Yeps Call Me a Cab

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    [video=youtube;q3OkXi5osfU]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3OkXi5osfU[/video]
    [video=youtube;tciT9bmCMq8]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tciT9bmCMq8[/video]
     
  18. Effingham

    Effingham A-List Customer

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    I love that observation. :)

    Actually, the thing that strikes me about actors today is how many of them WHISPER and project their whispered lines -- maybe it sounds cool, but people don't normally talk like that. "I'm BATMAN!" "I'm sorry, who? Speak UP."
     
  19. Fidena

    Fidena One of the Regulars

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    [video=youtube;Zn6LIt2jSDk]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zn6LIt2jSDk&feature=related[/video]

    Earliest I've heard.
     

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