Pete Smith (film producer)

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For other people of the same name, see Pete Smith (disambiguation).
Pete Smith
Pete Smith 1918 Publicity Photo.jpg
Smith in a 1918 issue of The Moving Picture World
Born Peter Schmidt
(1892-09-04)September 4, 1892
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died January 12, 1979(1979-01-12) (aged 86)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Suicide
Nationality American
Occupation Publicist, short subject filmmaker and narrator
Years active 1931–1955
Known for Pete Smith Specialties
Spouse(s) Marjorie Ganss (m. 1918; died 1957)
Anne Dunston (m. 1962)
Children 1
Awards Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film (1938, 1941)
Academy Honorary Award (1953)

Pete Smith (September 4, 1892 – January 12, 1979)[1] was an American publicist, short subject producer and narrator.

A native of New York City, Smith began working as a publicist at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1920s. He later moved into film making. He is best known for his series of shorts, the Pete Smith Specialties, which were in production from the 1930s to the 1950s. Smith produced and narrated over 150 shorts which earned him two Best Live Action Short Film Academy Awards. In 1953, he was awarded an Academy Honorary Award for his short films.

Smith's later years were spent in a Santa Monica convalescent home due to ill health. In January 1979, Smith jumped to his death from the roof of the home.

Early life and career[edit]

Smith was born Peter Schmidt in New York City.[2] He began his career as an aide for a vaudeville performers union. Smith then worked as an editor and critic for a trade magazine before becoming a press agent.[3] By 1915 he was doing movie publicity for Bosworth, Inc., followed by the Oliver Morosco Photoplay Co., Artcraft Pictures Corporation, and Famous Players-Lasky.[4] He was one of the founding members of the Associated Motion Picture Advertisers.[5]

In 1925, Smith was hired as the head of publicity for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by Louis B. Mayer.[3] He was later recruited to overdub the actions of trained dogs in the studio's Dogville Comedies. Smith would go on to narrate the studio's sports newsreels; he would embellish the action by running certain scenes in reverse, or adding his own commentary.

Pete Smith Specialties[edit]

Both MGM and the movie-going public picked up on Smith's flair for comedy, and he was given his own series, Pete Smith Specialties; he produced and narrated 150 short subjects for MGM from the 1930s to 1955. His distinctively sharp tenor voice and nasal tone were instantly recognizable and a trade-mark of the series.

Most of Smith's films were comedy documentaries, typically one reel (9 to 11 minutes long). Short subjects in this era were part of the studios' exhibition packages, along with serials, animated cartoons, newsreels, travel documentaries, etc. Among the diverse topics Smith covered in his short films were Emily Post-style household hints, insect life seen through a microscope, military training and hardware (during World War II), and dancing lessons. There were even several "series-within-the-series", such as lighthearted general-knowledge quizzes, professional football highlights (in the days before widespread television), quirky looks at many different kinds of animals (for example, Donkey Baseball and Social Sea Lions), and "Goofy Movies" (playing antique silent dramas for laughs). Smith narrated a patriotic short for the U.S. Government, The Tree In a Test Tube (1943), filmed in color, featuring Laurel and Hardy in a demonstration of household wood products, with Smith explaining the various exhibits for the viewer.

Poster for his 1936 short subject Audioscopiks

In the 1940s, movie stuntman and actor Dave O'Brien became the primary focus of Pete Smith Specialties. The hapless O'Brien would personify everyday nuisances: dealing with pests at the movies, demonstrating pet peeves, tackling hazardous home-improvement projects, and other problems with which the audience could identify. O'Brien's scenes were shot silent, compelling O'Brien to express his satisfaction or frustration entirely in visual terms as narrator Smith offered get-a-load-of-this commentary. O'Brien knew the format so well that he also directed many of the shorts, under the name "David Barclay." He staged many of the sight gags himself, taking stupendous pratfalls for the camera. Many of the laughs generated by the highly ironic voice-over narration were delivered by Smith himself. His somewhat nasal, matter-of-fact vocal style was imitated and parodied.

Smith produced and narrated over 150 shorts which earned him fourteen Academy Award nominations and two Best Live Action Short Film Academy Awards.[6] At the 26th Academy Awards, Smith was awarded an Academy Honorary Award "for his witty and pungent observations on the American scene in his series of Pete Smith Specialties."[7]

By 1954, Smith's shorts had declined in popularity and Smith announced his retirement that same year. The M-G-M unit that produced the Pete Smith Specialties closed down the following year.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Smith married Marjorie Ganss in 1918. They had one son, Douglas, who later became a technician at RKO.[9] Smith and Ganss remained married until her death in 1957. Smith's second marriage was to his secretary, Anne Dunston, whom he married in Las Vegas in October 1962.[10]

Later years and death[edit]

Smith spent his later years in poor health at a convalescent home in Santa Monica, California.[2] On January 12, 1979, Smith committed suicide by leaping off the building's roof.[11] Smith was survived by his second wife, Anne, and his son Douglas.[12]

For his contribution to the film industry, Pete Smith received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1621 Vine Street.[1]

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1931 Fishermen's Paradise Narrator Producer
1931 Whippet Racing Narrator Producer
1932 Trout Fishing Narrator Producer
1932 Microscopic Mysteries :) Narrator Producer
1932 Swing High Narrator Producer
1933 Menu Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Novelty
1933 Handlebars Narrator Producer
1934 Vital Victuals Narrator Producer
1934 Strikes and Spares Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Novelty
1935 La Fiesta de Santa Barbara Narrator
1935 Audioscopiks Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Novelty
1936 Wanted – A Master Narrator/Voice of Dog Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-reel
1936 Killer-Dog Narrator Producer
1937 Penny Wisdom Narrator Producer
Won: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Color
1937 Pigskin Champions Narrator Producer
1937 Romance of Radium Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-reel
1938 Football Thrills of 1937 Narrator Producer, director
1938 Hot on Ice Narrator Producer
1939 Football Thrills of 1938 Narrator Producer, director
1939 Radio Hams Narrator Producer
1940 Spots Before Your Eyes Narrator Producer
1940 Quicker'n a Wink Narrator Producer
Won: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-reel
1941 Third Dimensional Murder Narrator Producer
1941 Army Champions Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-reel
1942 Acro-Batty Narrator Producer, writer
1942 Marines in the Making Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-reel
1943 Seeing Hands Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-reel
1943 The Tree in a Test Tube Interlocutor (voice)
1944 Movie Pests Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-reel
1944 Football Thrills of 1944 Narrator Producer, director
1945 Hollywood Scout Narrator Producer
1945 Bus Pests Narrator Producer
1946 Fala at Hyde Park Narrator Producer
1946 Sure Cures Pete Smith - Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-reel
1947 Now You See It Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-reel
1947 I Love My Wife But! Narrator Producer
1947 What D'ya Know? Narrator Producer
1948 I Love My Mother-in-Law But... Narrator Producer
1948 You Can't Win Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-reel
1949 How Come? Narrator Producer
1949 Water Trix Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-reel
1950 Wrong Way Butch Narrator Producer
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Short Subject, One-reel
1950 A Wife's Life Narrator Producer
1951 Bandage Bait Narrator Producer
1951 Fishing Feats Narrator Producer
1952 Gymnastic Rhythm Narrator Producer
1952 I Love Children, But! Narrator Producer
1953 The Postman Narrator Producer
1953 Things We Can Do Without Narrator Producer
1954 Do Someone a Favor! Narrator Producer
1954 The Camera Caught It Narrator Producer
1955 The Man Around the House Narrator Producer
1955 Animals in Action Narrator Producer
1955 Fall Guy Narrator Producer

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Pete Smith". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved 2012-01-30. 
  2. ^ a b "Pete Smith". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-01-30. 
  3. ^ a b "Specialty producer dies at 86". The Leader-Post. January 16, 1979. p. 25. Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Pete Schmid". Moving Picture World, July 20, 1918. Retrieved 2012-08-02. 
  5. ^ "Movie Ad Men in Association". The Fourth Estate. August 5, 1916. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  6. ^ Zone, Ray (2007). Stereoscopic Cinema & the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952. University Press of Kentucky. p. 147. ISBN 0-813-12461-1. 
  7. ^ Maltin, Leonard (1972). The Great Movie Shorts. Crown Publishers. p. 145. 
  8. ^ Doherty, Thomas Patrick (2013). Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration. Columbia University Press. pp. 1864–1865. ISBN 0-231-51284-8. 
  9. ^ "Following In the Their Parents' Footsteps". The Sydney Morning Herald. July 6, 1937. p. 9. Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Pete Smith Weds His Secretary". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. October 22, 1962. p. 1. Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Pete Smith". Associated Press (Toledo Blade via Google). January 14, 1979. Retrieved 2012-01-30. 
  12. ^ "Leap From Roof Kills Former Filmmaker". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. January 14, 1979. p. 4B. 

External links[edit]