King of Jazz: Paul Whiteman’s Technicolor Revue tells the story of the making, release, and restoration of Universal’s spectacular Technicolor musical King of Jazz. Authors James Layton and David Pierce have uncovered original artwork, studio production files, behind-the-scenes photographs, unpublished interviews, and a host of other previously unseen documentation. The book offers a visually rich narrative of the film’s production, with broader context on its diverse musical and theatrical influences. The story concludes with an in-depth look at Universal’s restoration of the film in 2016. Additionally, the book’s appendix provides a comprehensive guide to all of the film’s performers, music, alternate versions, and deleted scenes.
King of Jazz was one of the most ambitious films to emerge from Hollywood. Just as movie musicals were at their peak in 1929, Universal Pictures brought together Paul Whiteman, leader of the country’s top dance orchestra; John Murray Anderson, director of spectacular Broadway revues; a top ensemble of dancers and singers; early Technicolor; and a near unlimited budget.
The film’s highlights include a stunning interpretation of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which Whiteman had introduced to the public in 1924; Walter Lantz’s “A Fable in Jazz,” the first cartoon in Technicolor; and Anderson’s grand finale “The Melting Pot of Music,” a visualization of popular music’s many influences and styles.
The film celebrated Anderson’s theatrical vision and Whiteman’s band at its peak, and also encapsulated the fame of America’s leading performers in the late 1920s, including Bing Crosby in his first screen appearance, and the Russell Markert Dancers, who would soon become Radio City Music Hall’s famous Rockettes.
About the Authors
James Layton is Manager of the Museum of Modern Art’s Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center. Prior to this he worked at George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, where he curated two gallery exhibitions and the website Technicolor 100, and co-wrote the book The Dawn of Technicolor (2015) with David Pierce. Layton has also acted as Cataloguer and Workflow Coordinator at the East Anglian Film Archive in Norwich, UK, and is co-author of the Image Permanence Institute’s informational poster Knowing and Protecting Motion Picture Film (2009).
David Pierce is an independent film historian and archivist. He was formerly the Head of Preservation and Curator of the National Film and Television Archive at the British Film Institute. His articles have appeared in numerous journals, and his report on the survival of American silent feature films was published by the Library of Congress in 2013. He founded the Media History Digital Library, providing free online access to millions of pages of motion picture magazines and books. Pierce co-wrote The Dawn of Technicolor (2015) with James Layton.