Before the advent of “talkies” in 1927, silent films entertained audiences with dialogue created by gestures, mime or title cards. At the height of the silent movie era, films without sound were shipped to theaters.
Many techniques were devised to enhance the silent films. A pianist, theater organist or even small orchestra would play from sheet music or improvise their own sounds and music. Medford’s first movie theater, the Bijou, had pianist “Toots” Osenbrugge play live piano music to fill between reels.
The Rex Theater in Lakeview had piano player Ernest Bugsby accompany the movie, much as a conductor would lead an orchestra. Bugsby would thump on the piano to cause tension during a bank robbery or play more happy sounding songs if the plot was lighthearted.
Verna Forncrook remembered working as the record-changer at the Isis Theater in Medford. Forncrook worked at a dual record machine in the orchestra pit. While watching the silent film with the dialogue printed at the bottom of the screen, she would choose records to match the action of the story.
By the late 1930’s, widespread production of silent films ceased when the film industry moved into the sound era.
Sources: “Silent Film.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 20 Feb. 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_film. Accessed 22 Feb. 2017; Forncrook, Verna. “The Isis Theater.” Southern Oregon History, Revised, edited by Tina Truwe, id.mind.net, 29 Feb. 2016, id.mind.net/~truwe/tina/isis.html. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017; Fish, Fletcher. “The Bijou.” Southern Oregon History, Revised, edited by Tina Truwe, Medford Mail Tribune id.mind.net, 11 Nov. 1962, id.mind.net/~truwe/tina/bijou.html. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017; “Marius Building, once a spectacle of cinema.” Lake County Examiner, 3 Mar. 2015, www.lakecountyexam.com/./marius-building./article_c88d23ee-760e-52f1-9782-e. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017. As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.