Stan at workMr Grosvenor, you and your wife visited my father, Stan Watkins, in his office at the NY Worlds’ Fair in 1939. I’d like to ask you some questions about your visit.

What did you talk about? Did you try out all the exhibits in the AT&T building? Did you have a winning number in the lottery which let you make a free phone call? Did you ask the Voder questions? I wonder if it could say “National Geographic Magazine” or “Welcome Mr Gilbert Grosvenor.”

I have a photograph of you three together. But I never asked my father what you talked about, or what he showed you of the exhibit he managed. If he had a Voder in his office, he could have showed you how it worked.

And did you ever have an article about the Voder in your magazine? I have boxes of them from 1926, so perhaps I should get out the 1939/40 ones and have a look. Google hasn’t come up with anything.

Or maybe I can find details of your trip to NYC and the 1939 Worlds’ Fair in the National Geographic Archives. Put that trip on my itinerary; you haven’t answered my questions, so I’ll have to come and see for myself.


80 Years Young

Young At Heart

Daily post – What are your thoughts on aging? How will you stay young at heart as you get older?

At my 80th birthday party a friend asked me for my ‘secret.’ Why do I not show my age either physically or mentally (except sometimes)?

I usually say it is the great genes from my mother’s side of the family. They all lived to be over ninety; my last two aunts died just before their 102nd and 105th birthdays.

But it’s not just that, and of course that isn’t a secret.

Many of my friends, my younger sister included, say that they don’t know that old wrinkly person they see when then look in the mirror. And it upsets them.

I, on the other hand, always smile at myself. Blow the wrinkles. I’m happy to see me.

One of my favorite songs is called The Middle Years. It comes from the musical Your Own Thing based on Twelfth Night. The Countess sings it when she is thinking about life. One line goes: I’ve got a few wrinkles, I wear them with pride. I’ve worked hard for them, I’ve nothing to hide.

That’s my attitude, exactly.

I volunteer a lot; usually dashing from one thing to another. One friend calls me a hummingbird.

And I do hum (the musical kind, I hasten to add); I sing all the time around the house. And laugh a lot. Find the funny side of things. I’m sure that’s a good thing to do.

So not really any secrets to my aging – reaching 80; what I’m doing is maybe more like ripening (I’ve never considered myself really mature).

The only hard part is seeing younger friends struggling with nasty illnesses and dying. But it doesn’t make me aware of my mortality; that isn’t me. When my time comes, I shan’t be aware of it anyway.

So, go ahead smile, laugh and sing. I wrote a song about that. Look for “Singing is a Better Sound Than Sighing” on my next blog.




Photos of Stan

Photos of Stan

L_ is sitting on a stool scanning photos for the Stan Watkins documentary. Family albums are spread out on the couch and the best pictures are being recorded. Difficult to do on a big scanner as the pages don’t come apart, so a hand scanner is being used. Time consuming and probably most will not be used. But at least we have them.

Four years ago my sister MaryAnn and I met in Los Angeles to spend two days at the Warner Archives looking for any photos we could use. We took along a hand scanner I bought in the UK, but we weren’t allowed to use it.

The Archives was staffed by a nice young man who hadn’t come across Stan Watkins before; but as we had called ahead, he had extricated several cardboard boxes from the masses that Warner Bros had deposited in this building, part of the University of Southern California. A huge collection, but unfortunately none of it had been labeled or cataloged.

MaryAnn and I slogged through box after box, and actually found very little of interest. Lots of documents about legislation and business dealings. What we wanted were photographs that had our father, Stan Watkins, in them, or the equipment used in the early days of sound films. There were dozens of duplicates of the stars and film sets, but they were not what we wanted.

Eventually we sorted out a few that I asked to be copied and sent to us. One of the items was very damaged, and I later found I had a clean copy at home. The total cost was just over $16. I paid that and waited.

And waited. Eventually I wrote to ask where the photos were and then had confusing and unnecessary correspondence with the office that organized the dispatch of requested items. They wanted $250 for each photo! I insisted I didn’t want any actor or film photo, merely those technical ones of my father. They wanted to know on which page of my book (!) the photo was to appear and I said we didn’t know that yet. So I waited. And waited. Four years on I am still waiting.

img001 (2)I don’t have the photos. And they still have my $16.

Stan Watkins’ Garden

Hello, friendly readers. It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog. Thanks for staying with me.

There has been some progress in the filming of the documentary of my father’s life and work. We may be concentrating on the Sound part for now, as the funding has been slow in coming. Filming is always a hard sell. But we’ll keep at it!

Last week my director had me in the back garden, mainly because Stan Watkins was such a fan of nature. As a boy he collected insects and bugs of all kinds, later butterflies.

SSAW butterfly collection 010

He identified and labeled them all meticulously, and his collection remains undamaged in airtight wooden boxes in my attic.

So we were filming out under a pine tree where a bird chirped merrily. I couldn’t help myself and blew a whistle back. The bird and I carried on a conversation for some time while the cameraman and sound girl held in their delighted laughter. Later my director called me the Bird Whisperer.

I’m sure Daddy must have whistled to birds in his time, too. And he spent time sitting in his garden in Dulwich, London, often sketching, or perhaps writing yet another of his poems. I found this one in a notebook labeled Poems & Whimseys, and some song lyrics. He called it “Leguminous”.

We have a little garden at our little Dulwich home
The house is in the road that’s known as Burbage
We haven’t many flowers and there’s not a single gnome
What is there in the garden? Mainly herbage.

Of course there is a lawn there, but it’s not exactly level
Some of it is slightly up-and-downish
Resulting that in places it’s as fertile as the devil
While in other parts it’s rather bald and brownish.

There’s a border in the garden whence we try to keep the lawn out
But with grass and weeds it keeps on getting seeded
So it takes a lot of hoeing and the hoe is getting worn out
And I sometimes feel the border isn’t needed.

The one redeeming feature of this part of our estate
For which its other failings I will pardon
Is the very luscious veg’tables my fairest cultivates
In the patch down at the bottom of our garden.

Stan in Dulwich


The Mystery of Stan’s Mother Bessie


Would you believe this is Stan Watkins’ mother? This is her statue about four feet high, made in painted plaster – or it might only be patina occurring over the years. Because it is old. Betsy Caroline Doughty, known as Bessie, was born in 1866 and the family has always heard that this was a study of Bessie aged 7. She later married Sylvester Watkins and produced Stanley Sylvester Alexander Watkins, my father, the talkies pioneer.

The book has lost a corner, and Bessie has lost a toe, but her sweet smile remains.

For years she had traveled everywhere with Stan, and when he retired to Dulwich in SE London, she sat in the mullioned window of the upstairs hallway, facing the street. We have learned that one young neighbor lad was rather leery of her, but we all thought she was lovely. Bessie now lives in Stockholm with Stan’s grandson, Dan.

The thing is, we do not know who made her. If anyone recognizes the style, perhaps that would help identify her sculptor. We know that Victorian animal painter, Arthur Wardle, was a good friend of the family, but that wasn’t his medium. And I doubt he knew Bessie when she was seven.

Whoever carved Bessie, the family has always held her close to their hearts. And she remains in the family to this day when Granny Watkins, 170 years later, is still a beautiful young girl.

Daily Post – Interest

via Daily Prompt: Interest

You might be interested to know that Stan Watkins, talented electrical engineer, Vitaphone director, and thinker, also had lots of other interests. From a very young age he was fascinated by nature, both alive – insects, butterflies, and moths – and dead – fossils.

fossil fish

In my attic there are boxes and boxes of specimens caught and carefully mounted as people did in the Victorian age. He kept up his interest after retirement and even got his grandson  interested. There’s a tiny slip of paper giving the date each insect or butterfly was caught in Stan’s hand made net, and one says “Danny, 1969” (Dan would have been 9 years old).

SSAW butterfly collection 010

When I checked on the collection, for the first time in decades, opened the boxes with care and was interested to see that they were so beautifully sealed that the insects inside were mostly in perfect condition.

Nowadays we prefer to see them alive and flittering around (except perhaps house and horse flies!). But what an example of patience and scientific study which Stan explored with interest throughout his long life.

(P.S. please excuse the dates which my camera always puts on when I take a picture.)


Daily Prompt – Turn up the Volume

Last night I had an exciting time watching on TV some contemporary musicians being recorded on equipment like that which my father, Stan Watkins, must have used at the Bell Labs in the early 20s. It was part of a series being broadcast on PBS at www.kenw.org. A recording engineer, Nicholas Bergh, with whom I have been in correspondence for some years, has reconstructed the original equipment and today’s musicians were being recording on wax discs just as the original recordings were made. It was different for them to have to do it in one take, but they were amazed by the clarity of the recordings. Check out this link to see more of the project.


That in itself was amazing to me, and very special, but there was another surprise. I have been working all week with the Albuquerque Film & Music Experience, and this year the award for music went to T Bone Burnett. Now, I had never heard of T Bone before this year (not being up-to-date in the music world) but he is well known by everyone else for his film scores as well as playing, composing and you-name-it.

So you can imagine my delight to discover that the American Epic series is produced by Jack White, Robert Redford (a great supporter of AFME) and – yes – T Bone Burnett. Not only that, but in the background of some country-western singers, there he was, tapping on a tambourine! If I hadn’t seen him at AFME, I would not have recognized him in the Epic scenes. What a thrill.

Wouldn’t I love to talk to him about that experience, but we AFME volunteers were strictly forbidden to talk to the stars. So perhaps I will be able to find another way at some point.

Meanwhile, a film about Stan Watkins is in the pipeline and I have talked myself hoarse during interviews. The pilot short is nearly ready to go on a crowdfunding site, so keep your eyes and ears open. I would love support from all of you for this project.

This blog was rather more voluminous than I had intended, but I was so amped up!


Daily Prompt: License (sic) to drive?

I have been known to drive without a licence (UK); unwittingly, to be sure. On occasion I let it run out; not noticing when I should have renewed it, although it is a month to the day after my birthday. Now I’m over 75 (a long way over!) the American license has to be renewed every year. Incidentally, over here it is a license – they don’t differentiate between the noun (licence) and the verb (license) as the Brits do. I wonder why?

We were signing up for a hire car and my PA said “My wife will be the second driver.” I handed over my driving license (US) only to be told “This has expired.” Blush. Guess who had to do all the driving that trip?

We were abroad when it ran out last time, but I had my British licence (UK) which was still valid. The first thing we did when we got back to the States at the end of December was to visit the MVD – Motor Vehicle Department. At the main office the renewal is free, but the privately run ‘express’ ones charge about $15. Their motto is “Why wait?” and my PA always goes to one of those. He doesn’t like waiting around.

This time we not only had to wait, but we then discovered that new rules had come in that November. Of course, they can’t warn you personally but we weren’t around to read about it in the paper. So when our turn finally came, we learned I now had to show my official Social Security card (I knew the number but that wouldn’t do), and my birth certificate or passport, and also proof of current residency at our home of 30 years.

So back home we went to search for the SS card – put away for safety last June, but thankfully I found it first place I looked. I took it with my passport and a utility bill dug out from the 6 months of mail awaiting attention. But that wasn’t enough. We needed two proofs. So back home to dig out another one and for the third time, back to the MVD. And of course, my PA had to do all the driving.

A new photo was taken, a written test done on the office computer, and finally I was done, having spent the entire morning going back and forth; very frustrating. “Why wait?” indeed. But at least I would now be able to drive.

I was so glad it was over I didn’t check the temporary paper license (US) they give you while the real laminated license (US) is being produced. About two weeks later the license (US) arrived; I was very pleased, until I noticed there was a W beside the (which means I have to wear glasses when I drive). That puzzled me until I saw “Restricted Driving License.” That means you cannot use the ID for getting on a plane.

This really bugged me. I realized (US) that illegal immigrants getting US driving licenses for ID purposes is a very controversial item these days, but hey, I’m nothing if not legal.

So back to the MVD, and another wait. Human error, they said. Luckily for her the gal who dealt with me the first time was not there to vent my annoyance upon. Another long-winded effort, waiting for the supervisor to help sort out the mistake, and a new photo to be taken; at least, I didn’t have to go through the whole shebang again, and I went away with a new temporary license (US) – unrestricted.

All’s well that ends well. I now have a valid driving license (US). So after all that I am now legally licensed (US & UK) to drive. Until next time.

Vitaphone on camera

December 5th was a great day for fans of Vitaphone short films. Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project screened on the Turner Classic Movies TV channel 24 hours of continuous Vitaphone shorts. These wonderful old classics have been collected and restored by the Vitaphone Project over many years, and this marathon showing, interspersed by Ron Hutchinson chatting with Ben Mankiewitz, was a first. Sadly I was unable to watch being still in London, but I’ve been reading the enthusiastic comments on Facebook of those fortunate enough to have watched this historic event.

My enthusiastic friends, David Wyatt and Malcolm Billingsy, at the Cinema Museum invited me to be videoed talking about my father, Stanley Watkins, and his part in the development of Talking Pictures. That was fun, although I’m sure I left out lots of important stuff when I roared off on a tangent, as I am wont to do.