On Friday May 30, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screens the 1928 historical drama Ramona, based on Helen Hunt Jackson's popular 1884 novel of the same name. For decades, this 1928 version of Ramona (there were earlier versions in 1910 and 1916) was thought lost until archivists rediscovered it in the Národní Filmový Archiv in Prague, The Czech Republic, in 2010. Transferred to acetate safety stock, the restored version had its world premiere in the Billy Wilder Theater at the University of California, Los Angeles on March 29, 2014.
Directed by Edwin Carewe, Ramona stars Dolores del Rio and Warner Baxter. Set in Southern California after the Mexican-American War, the film portrays the life of a mixed-race Native American orphan girl (played by Dolores del Rio) who suffers racial discrimination and hardship. Studio publicity of the time proclaimed, "MILLIONS - Have read the book. Will relive the romance! Will adore Dolores Del Rio." The film was a hit.
Ramona, which opened March 28, 1928 at the United Artists Theater in Los Angeles, was the first film from the United Artists studio with a synchronized score, though it was not a talking picture.
Dolores del Rio, the first Latin American star to gain international fame, recorded the film's theme song, also titled "Ramona." The song can be heard on RadioLulu, as well as in the video embedded with this story. (The B-side of the 78 rpm of "Ramona" featured "Ya Va Cayendo" ["Falling in Love"], by the Mexican songwriter Ignacio Fernández Esperóna; it was recorded in the Blossom Room of Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel.)
The popularity of the film and its charming theme song led it to be recorded by a number of different artists, including the Brunswick Hour Orchestra, with vocal chorus by Frank Munn. The song was also recorded by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, featuring Bix Beiderbecke with vocals by Austin Young and Jack Fulton, as well as by the popular crooner Gene Austin, with orchestra and pipe organ.
Ramona was also a hit in Europe, as was its theme song. In fact, the Ramona theme song was recorded in a handful of different languages and countries. A French language version of the song was sung by Fred Gouin.
There were also cover versions of "Ramona" recorded in Belgium (as "Ramonache") by Esther Deltenre, and in Poland, by Tadeusz Faliszewski for Syrena-Electro in 1929. At least two German versions were recorded, one by Dajos Bela and his Tanzorchester, and the other by Berlin cabaret celebrity Paul O'Montis.
Copresented by California Film Institute, California Historical Society, San Francisco Public Library, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screening of Ramona takes place on Friday, May 30 at 7:30 pm. Musical Accompaniment will be provided by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. More information at http://www.silentfilm.org/festival/festival-2014-schedule/ramona
Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and early film buff, and the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has contributed to books on the actress, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced Brooks' films around the world. In 2002, he launched RadioLulu, a Louise Brooks-inspired, silent film-themed website streaming music of the Teens, Twenties, Thirties and today. RadioLulu features more than 22 hours of music and 425 tracks, including two versions of "Ramona."