Sometimes we get very lucky, and a piece of film, or a recording thought lost forever shows up after decades of being `lost’.
Although new `finds’ are few and far between, hidden in closets, cellars, and attics around the world are doubtless many treasures waiting to be rediscovered.
Hopefully, before the ravages of time wipes them clean.
Most of the movies made during the `silent era’ have been lost forever. Storing the highly flammable cellulose nitrate film was expensive and there was little financial incentive to preserve them once `talkies’ became the norm.
Even later color movies, filmed on non-nitrate stock, are slowly deteriorating. There is a race against time to save them.
While many will find it hard to believe, commercial radio was celebrating its silver anniversary when magnetic tape was first used to record and preserve shows. Prior to that, ET (Electronic Transcription) discs were used to record shows, and those would `wear out’ after only a handful of playings.
While thousands of hours of shows have been preserved (and moved to tape, MP3, and other more durable formats), much more has been lost forever. Either broadcast live, and never transcribed, or the discs were destroyed or lost.
And video tape was so expensive in the 1960s and 1970s, that rather than save them for posterity, NBC wiped them clean and recorded over thousands of The Tonight Show broadcasts in order to save money.
Most famously, nearly all of the Kinescope recordings from the pioneering DuMont TV Network were reportedly destroyed in the 1970s because the owners didn’t want to continue to pay for their storage costs.
Tens of thousands of hours of film, radio, and TV – our collective heritage - have been lost over the decades, most never to be retrieved.
But as I said, sometimes we get lucky.
In 1965 the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., & Dean Martin) gave a benefit performance for a half-way house for convicts called the Dismas House.
Joey Bishop, the fourth regular member of the Rat Pack, was out with a bad back and so rising star Johnny Carson was called upon to act as emcee and pitch in (albeit uncomfortably, at times) with the act.
The show was performed at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis on June 20th, and aired to ticket-buying audiences around the country via a closed-circuit feed.
A `live broadcast’, this event was presumed lost for two decades, until 1996 when after considerable searching, a producer who suspected the concert had been filmed, located a copy in a secretary’s closet at the Dismas House.
Although some grainy footage of their early 1960s Vegas act can be found on YouTube, this is the only full length quality recording of the Rat Pack’s concert known to exist.
The Rat Pack personified 1960’s cool, and provided adults with a viable (and hip!) musical alternative to the teenage-centric rock & roll that had pretty much taken over the music scene.
Sinatra and Martin are also credited with forcing Las Vegas Casinos to break the `color barrier’, telling the owners that if Sammy Davis couldn’t work there, neither would they.
That opened the door for performers like Davis, Nat King Cole, and others to work and stay at the big hotels in Vegas.
An edited version of the concert was screened edited was screened at the Museum of Television & Radio in 1997, and in 1998 a 90-minute version appeared on Nick at Night.
While not exactly in the public domain, snippets of this concert have been around on the `tube sites’ for some time. Recently, someone posted the entire 90-minute concert (in 10 parts) on YouTube (and other tube sites).
I’ve no idea of the legal status of these clips, if anyone is claiming a copyright, or even how long they may remain online.
All I can tell you is, they are available today, and are an absolute joy to watch.