Talking Revolution that Silenced Hollywood Stars

Oh, Kay! advertised on the side of a London bus by an unknown photographer.
Oh, Kay! advertised on the side of a London bus by an unknown photographer.

by Ray Setterfield

November 8, 1926 — The George Gershwin musical Oh, Kay! began its Broadway run at New York's Imperial Theatre on this day. Starring Gertrude Lawrence, it introduced such pop music standards as "Someone To Watch Over Me" and "Do-Do-Do". The show ran for 256 performances before transferring on 21st September, 1927 to His Majesty’s Theatre in the West End of London, where Ms Lawrence gave another 214 performances.

The musical is advertised on the side of a London bus in this picture taken by an unknown photographer. Behind the bus is The Court theatre, where two Hollywood stars of the silent movies era, Lya de Putti and Vilma Banky, were appearing.

They were both Hungarian and Banky spoke no English when producer Samuel Goldwyn met her in Budapest and signed her to a Hollywood contract. The story goes that he taught her to answer, “lamp chops and pineapple” whenever a reporter asked a question!

She became known in Hollywood as “the Hungarian Rhapsody” and for several years was the biggest box office attraction in Goldwyn’s studio. She played opposite superstar Ronald Colman but was especially noted for her films with heart-throb Rudolph Valentino: the daughter of a Russian aristocrat in The Eagle and an Arab dancer in The Son of the Sheik – Valentino’s last film.

Lya de Putti was the daughter of a Hungarian baron and countess. She began her stage career on the Hungarian Vaudeville circuit, made several films in Germany, then moved to America in 1926 to try for stardom in Hollywood.

Unfortunately for both women, when the talkies came many film-goers complained that they could not understand their accents and their fortunes went into rapid decline. Both came to England and took to the stage in an attempt to improve their accents, which is how they came to be appearing at The Court.

Tragically, in 1931 de Putti died aged only 34 when she contracted pneumonia following an operation to remove a chicken bone from her throat. In contrast, Banky lived to be 90, dying of heart disease in 1991.

Published: April 24, 2016

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