Color photography began taking hold in the 1920s, though it wasn't perfected until the 1930s; its use incrementally grew decade by decade so that it became ubiquitous by the 1970s. By then, aside from newspapers, you'd only see black-and-white images of productions intentionally designed to evoke a specific effect.
Color can still lead to wows when it comes from a time that's unexpected. The History Channel has had success with programs featuring color footage taken during World War II, a war we heretofore hadn't seen much of in color. On a more pleasant note, the series of "When It Was A Game" specials on HBO enabled us to see long-gone major league ballparks such as Crosley Field in Cincinnati or Griffith Stadium in Washington in color.
It's this sense of surprise I received recently when I came across something on YouTube on life in the 1920s. In the middle of the clip, full of black-and-white footage, came silent footage that (figuratively) knocked me out. I paused the film and captured the image:
You can tell it's Hollywood Boulevard, but it's not from the 1920s. The giveaway is a sign on the left promoting the film "Trader Horn" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre -- that was released in 1931. And judging from the tracks directly ahead, this may well have been taken aboard a streetcar.
Several seconds later, this came into view:
We're further east along the boulevard, approaching Warners Theater. Alas, we can't tell what's playing.
Great images, giving us the feel for a colorful Hollywood day sometime in 1931. But wait -- there's more!
How about a Hollywood premiere, at night, in color? That's what we have here, the premiere of Frank Capra's "Dirigible" at Grauman's. Whomever had this movie camera went to the upper floor of a nearby building (the Hollywood Roosevelt, perhaps?) to give us this angle. (The "S" in the upper right-hand corner is from the channel or company that had showed this footage.) If the information from the Internet Movie Database is accurate, this was from early April 1931.
Down at street level, we meet some of the fans:
Wonder whether Carole Lombard was at the premiere that night? I tend to doubt it, because 1) it was a Columbia production, and she had yet to work there; 2) she was still a relative newcomer at Paramount; and 3) she had not yet married William Powell, which probably would have provided her entry into such events.
It is fun to see that era of Hollywood in such a colorful light -- and it would be a treat to find more color footage of the film colony from this period.
We'll leave you with something that's not in color, but is fascinating nonetheless. It's a 1936 newsreel called "Star Reporter," hosted by well-known broadcaster Ted Husing -- and what's of particular interest here comes at the 2:18 mark, when Husing introduces a screen test from a young Dorothy Lamour, at a time when she was known as a band singer (and a good one), not an actress. That would soon change thanks to films like "The Jungle Princess," "Swing High, Swing Low" (in which she became good friends with Lombard) and others. But here she is singing a romantic ballad called, believe it or not, "Love Is Like A Cigarette." (A song written with that title today would imply that love is carcinogenic!) Take a look: