The Voice of the Violin

A Moving Picture Advertisement for the Edison Diamond Disc


By Doug Boilesen, 2023

The Thomas A. Edison movie, The Voice of the Violin, was a silent film created to promote the the Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph in 1915.

The stars of the show were the Edison Diamond Disc Louis XV Model B-375 Phonograph (1912 - 1915) and the Edison Diamond Disc record "Feast of the Flowers." This movie was intended to be used by Edison dealers and shown in local theatres as an advertisement for the Edison Diamond Disc and its "Re-created" music of the Edison Records. The violin piece "Feast of the Flowers" was the Edison record which also could have been played as part of the 'silent' movie in addition to its important role it played in reuniting a family.

A movie of Anna Case performing an Edison Tone Test may have also been part of the intended advertising campaign for dealers of the Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph. Unfortunately, that film has been lost. There is, however, a later 1926 Metropolitan opera Vitaphone short for the film "La Fiesta" which Anna Case performing her song.

Source: The Grammophon Museum


The following screenshots are from "The Voice of the Violin." The 20 minute movie can be watched using this link to the Library of Congress digital copy.



Jack McLean playing the violin and Marjorie playing the piano at the home of Herbert McClean Sr., Jack's father.


Jack McLean buys a Stradivarious with his inheritance money. "Only $7,000."


Jack returns home after his purchase, shows Marjorie his new Strad, gives her the sheet music "Feast of the Flowers" and they play a duet.



Herbert Jr. has lost his legacy by gambling, has stolen bonds from his father, accuses Jack of having taken the money. Herbert Sr. accordingly kicks Jack out of the house.


Later learning the truth that Jack's brother Herbert Jr. was the one who stole the money, Herbert Sr. and Marjorie searched for Jack 'using every known means," but with no success. In despair Marjorie suggests they should take a break from the search. "Let's go to New York. The change will do you good."

They go to New York City where they receive an invitation to hear the new Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph.



Herbert Sr. and Marjorie accept the invitation and go to the Edison Shop for "A Special Recital" which features its Diamond Disc Phonographs and "No needles to change."



In the showroom of the Edison Shop as the salesman prepared to a demonstrate the Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph for Herbert McLean Sr. and Marjorie they ask if he has the record "Feast of the Flowers?"

They do have that record and the salesman puts it on the phonograph...and they listen.



LISTEN to "Feast of the Flowers" performed by American Symphony Orchestra, Edison Diamond Disc Record 50118-R (Source: DAHR and UCSB Library).



Upon hearing the record they each visualize Jack playing that song in their home and think that it must be Jack playing on that record.



"Who is playing first violin?" they ask. The salesman shows them the record.



"Can you tell me where the records are made?"

"They are made at the Edison Recording Laboratory at Orange, N.J."

They immediately drive to the Orange, N.J. and the Edison Laboratory.




As they drive through the factory entrance a movie intertitle explains: "These are laboratories, not factories. The Edison Diamond Disc is the laboratory re-creation of music, not a mere, mechanical reproduction."



At the same time Jack, at the invitation of a chance acquaintance, is at the Edison Music Room at Orange, N.J. listening to the Edison Diamond Disc Louis XV Model A-375 Phonograph.

Herbert Sr. and Marjorie come into the same room where Jack is listening. Jack's back is turned when they enter but he hears their voices.



They see each other and are quickly reunited as Herbert Sr. explains what has happened and why they are there.



What a wonderful instrument; what wonderful factories!" exclaims Jack.

Going to the window and looking out at the factory buildings Jack says "In accomplishing the actual re-creation of music by means of this new invention, Mr. Edison spent four years of research work in acoustics and chemistry and over two million dollars in experiments alone."



The camera again pans the factory buildings from above, then stops on a building and tilts down to a doorway below.

Jack, on the film's final intertitle, says: "There he is now, Mr. Edison, himself."

The camera angle is now street-level and from the doorway there is shown a one-second view of Edison emerging from the door and taking a step.


"There he is now, Mr. Edison, himself" followed by the one-second view of Edison in "The Voice of the Violin."


The film ends after that 'one second' and the audience is left with the image of Edison and his association with the Re-creation of music records and his new Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph. There may have been more steps taken but that is all that has survived so the "one second" appearance has been assigned by Friends of the Phonograph with the distinction being Edison's shortest appearance in any movie.

Although the movie was a promotional movie for the Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph, audiences probably enjoyed it as good entertainment -- especially for the price.



Marjorie played by Helen Fulton, 1894 - Unknown

Jack McClean played Pat O'Malley, 1890-1966

Herbert McClean Sr., played by Robert Brower, 1850-1934

Herbert McClean Jr., played by Carlton King, 1881-1932

(Source: Library of Congress and film credits)


FACTOLA: The shortest appearance of Edison in any movie is one second* and it was in the 1915 Edison 20-minute silent film "The Voice of the Violin." (*Note: Edison's appearance is where the surviving copy of the movie ends, but there may have been more which has been lost).


FACTOLA: A short drama film made by Biograph Company New York in 1909 and directed by D. W. Griffith was titled "Voice of the Violin." Edison's movie has no connection with the Biograph film and perhaps "The Voice" and "Voice" were intentional naming distinctions (however, Wikipedia and IMDB both identify the 1909 Biograph film as "The Voice of the Violin.")



See Phonographia's The Phonograph, Sound and the Movies for more examples of how the term "silent movies" needs some qualifications. Not only did many sounds accompany these early moving pictures, a "variety of sound strategies" were used. Large and small orchestras, organs, pianos and living voices were the primary sources for providing sound for the silent films. But there were also examples of the phonograph inserting itself into a movie scene or being demonstrated by phonograph dealers in movie theatres, one of those being "The Voice of the Violin."


Helen Fulton, 1894 - Unknown.

David Bowers has the best biography of Helen Fulton who seems to have disappeared after 1918.

Movies where Helen Fulton appeared:

"Vanity Fair," as Amelia Sedley, 1915 silent film drama produced and released in October by the Edison Company.

"The Voice of the Violin," as Marjorie, 1915, the Edison Company.

"The Unpardonable Sin," as Julia Landis, released on June 28, 1915 by World Film Corporation.

""The Coward's Code" with Helen Fulton as Alice Gordon, 1916

"The Picture of Dorian Gray," as Evelyn, released July 29, 1915.

"Mercy on a Crutch," as Mercy Tanner, released July 13, 1915. Thanhauser Film Corporation


Helen Fulton as Marjorie, Voice of the Violin, 1915


""The Coward's Code" with Helen Fulton as Alice Gordon, 1916


"The Picture of Dorian Gray," as Evelyn, released July 29, 1915.


The following are a few other details about Helen Fulton uncovered by Friend of the Phonograph Wendy Shaw.

The earliest mention of Helen Fulton as an actress was in 1910 (16 years old ) with Mrs. Fiske's Manhattan Company.

In 1921, she was one of a group of American women honored by The Italian Red Cross.

The last mention of her as an actress was in 1917. In 1918, she was active in attempting to establish a National Anthem Day and organizing a celebration in NYC for the anniversary of the writing of the Star Spangled Banner (see below for complete article in Musical America, September 28, 1918.

Helen Fulton is featured in "Musical America," September 28, 1918 in an article titled "Helen Fulton, Whose Idea Set New York A-Singing the "Star-Spangled Banner." Perfected Plans in Two Weeks -- Other Cities Eager to Follow Metropolis' Lead" (Transcription below - See original article here).


"Helen Fulton, Whose Idea Set New York A-Singing the "Star-Spangled Banner."

"When the first observance of National Anthem Day set everyone in New York singing the "Star Spangled Banner" on the one hundred and fourth anniversary of the writing of the song, Sept. 14, the public probably did not realize that behind it all was just one person, the same indomitable Helen Fulton who has already done a big bit for Uncle Sam. She it was who in two weeks elaborated the plans which put a trained singer in every theatre and motion-picture house in the city to lead the audiences in singing the hymn, a copy of the words of our anthem in every theater program and on every table of every restaurant and in the windows of many shops, such leaders as Harry Burnhart and L. Camilieri in the parks to conduct gigantic community choruses, and Ann Fitaiu of Metropolitan fame on the steps of the City Hall to sing the anthem from that spot for the first time in the city's history. If it were not for Helen Fulton, New York might never have waked as it is now beginning to do to the fact the "Star Spangled Banner" is one the world's most stirring songs.

As innocent of politics as a baby, Miss Fulton took her courage in her hands and went to see Henry MacDonald, director of tthe Mayor's Committee on National Defense.

"I showed him my plans," said Miss Fulton to a representative of MUSICAL AMERICA. "He liked them and had me appointed chairman of the Mayor's national Anthem Committee, and -- that's all. Everything went smoothly and easily, except that I had to work pretty nearly twenty-four hours a day to put it through, but then that's nothing."


Original Project

"My original project called for an even larger celebrationj than that we actually had, but the idea only occurred to me in July and it was not possible to do everything I wanted to. However, future Anthem Days will give us plenty of time and I expect to see my plans entirely carried out by the end of the story.

"I wrote to Thomas F. Smith, secretary of Tammany Hall and Congressman from my distgrict, and asked him whether the fourteenth of September could not be set as National Anthem Day by act of Congress. I thought it would be splendid if we could initiate a nation-wide movement in that way, but the time was too short -- not much more than a fortnight. Large bodies move slowly and Mr. Smith thought we ought to try to have National Anthem Day set by executive order instead of by Congressional action, but even executive orders can't be commandeered. Next year, however ---" Miss Fulton paused and the twinkle in her eyes showed that her sigh was one of hope.

"I am particularly interested in arranging and producing a pageant depicting the history of the 'Star-Spangled Banner' and the customs and life of that period in the development of the United States. Some time during November, or perhaps as late as the holidays, that pageant is going to materialize. Then I am preparing a patriotic movie to show the history of the song and will have that shown in the moving-picture houses. The stores have already begun to co-operate with us by putting a copy of the words in every package they send out. Local Anthem Days will continue to be observed as this first one was, with community choruses and singing in the theaters and movie-houses."

"And Anthem Days that aren't local?" Mis Fulton was asked. "Will there be any such things?"

"It looks that way," she replied with a laugh. "Hoboken, of all places, has been enthusiastic about the scheme and the papers ask to have a day set by the Mayor for observances like those we had here. I have received clippings from Detroit that are just as enthusiastic and in fact the whole country, so far as I can judge from the newspaper comments I have seen, is eager to follow New York's example and will voluntarily organize celebrations to impress on the popular consciousness the importance of knowing our national anthem. There is no reason that I can see why every man, woman and child in the United States, American and foreign-born, should not be so familiar with the words and music of the 'Star-Spangled Banner' that it shall in time become the Allied Anthem to all nationalities residing in this country. Wherever our flag is, there should our anthem be also. In fact it should be known abroad too, just as the 'Marseillaise' and songs of the other Allies are known here.

"I am having several thousand postcards printed with one verse of our song and the slogan, 'One Flag, One Country, One Anthem.' At the side it says 'Learn Your National Anthem To-Day.' These I am sending, at my own expense, to soldiers in the embarkation camps. I'd like to make sure of every soldier 'over there,' and every sailor too, having one, and I'd like to have translations sent broadcast among our Allies, but -- where's the money to come from? I'm no millionaire!


For Standard Version of Words

"And there's another difficulty besides that of financial backing. Everybody has his own version of the song. Some think we ought to say 'clouds of the fight' instead of 'perilous fight' because when Key was an old, old man and made an authograph copy for someone or other he made that change from his own original text. But if we make that change we must make others too -- for instance, 'on that shore' instead of 'on the shore.' There's simply no stopping once you begin. Personally, I prefer to stick to the words that were first printed in the Baltimore Patriot, one hundred and four years ago, for they afford a standard that leaves no room for controversy. That is the version we have used and I expect it will be employed by everyone who takes up the Anthem Day scheme.

"About the music, the situation is far less satisfactory. The tune was edited by Sousa and Walter Damrosch was only authorized for the navy and even if it had full and unqualified government sanction we could not have used it, for in getting things arranged at such short notice we had to put up with whatever version our musicians happened to be in the habit of using. I suppose any version that might be chosen for the National Anthem Day celebrations will probably be used everywhere, but it's going to be an awful job to settle on one form of the tune and then put it in the hands of all our musicians. Nothing has yet been done about it by my committee; so far as we are concerned the matter rests with the future."

"Have you seen anything that would tend to show that your propaganda is bearing fruit?" Miss Fulton was asked.

"Yes, I have indeed! Never in my life have I heard anyone singing our national anthem as they would 'Over There' or something like that, until Anthem Day night when I was coming out of one of the theaters. There was a dirty little ragamuffin on the sidewalk whistling the 'Star Spangled Banner' just as gaily as he would a popular air.

"If every Anthem Day sets one little boy whistling that tune I shall have been well paid for my trouble, for what one little boy whistles another little boy will whistle and so it will go" -- Miss Fulton waved her hand in a manner to indicate what is certainly the case, that she has "started something." D. J. T.


Helen Fulton, who originated National Anthem Day, Celebrated in New York on September 14, 1918. Musical America, September 28, 1918 (Photo by the Bain News Service)


Despite Helen Fulton's efforts (and many others), the "Star Spangled Banner" was not made the official national anthem until 1931.

For a brief popular culture history of the "Star Spangled Banner" with examples of sheet music, phonograph records, "silent" and "talking pictures," see Phonographia's "The Star Spangled Banner."




Last updated January 10, 2024