I’m fighting them any which way I can. Headaches! This time, though, nothing seems to work. And all the while, during a very nearly sleepless night, I’ve been torturing myself, thinking of the old Bromo-Seltzer train and its insistence that listeners to those Bromo-Seltzer sponsored programs “fight . . . headache . . . three . . . ways.” That meant taking care of stomach upset and jangled nerves into the bargain. Jangled nerves? I don’t know, but somehow that train whistle is the last thing you want to hear when you are under the weather (or whatever is firing up that blasted steam engine in my cranium these days).
The Bromo-Seltzer train was a menace, if you ask me; but it was also a marvel. It came to life through the magic of Sonovox, one of those fabulous if artistically insufficiently explored sound effects devices used in 1940s film and radio, where it was largely relegated to commercial duties. Its potential becomes no more apparent than in those insinuating drops of water dripping on A Letter to Three Wives (discussed here). As Time magazine described the invention in its 24 July 1939 issue, a recorded sound is “fed through wires to two little biscuit-shaped gadgets which are placed on each side of the throat against the larynx. These gadgets transmit the sound vibrations to the larynx, so that the sound comes out of the throat as if produced there.”
For comic effect, the novelty was used in the comedy-thriller You’ll Find Out (1940; mentioned here) and Disney’s Dumbo (1941). The Sonovox was also heard in The Falcon and the Co-eds (1943), and, rather more hauntingly, in the Joan Crawford-starring melodrama Possessed (1947; mentioned here). The swan song for the Sonovox appears to have been The Good Humor Man (1950), as a fellow web journalist shares it here, with a clip from the film.
The other day, I caught another glimpse of the Sonovox in operation while watching the The Reluctant Dragon (1941), a promotional tour of the Disney Studios filmed during the making of Dumbo, which was released early the following year. The proxy visitor taking the tour on our behalf is Algonquin Round Table wit Robert Benchley (pictured).
Tonight, though, it had better be a silent movie. Why not a stroll in Hitchcock’s Pleasure Garden, (1925)? After all, it is Alma Reville’s birthday.