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Letter: Writer mistaken about sound-on-film story

Letter: Writer mistaken about sound-on-film story


A licensing agreement is a written contract permitting someone to use another party's property under a certain set of conditions.

About a year ago, a friend generously gave us the original license agreement between The Case Research Laboratory Inc. (licensor), Theodore W. Case (inventor) and the Fox Case Corp. (licensee). The document is dated April 9, 1927.

A question presents itself as to the source used by letter writer Anthony Cardinale when he wrote “Case sold his sound-on-film patents to Fox Films in 1926.” This statement not only appears inaccurate but it overlooks three of Case’s most influential years in motion picture history. Here is the story of Case and William Fox:

In 1926, Case and Fox formed a partnership agreeing that Case’s sound-on-film inventions would be used exclusively by the newly formed Fox-Case Corp. During the next three years while Fox managed the business, Case in his Auburn laboratory explored the possibilities of synchronized film. And indeed he did!

In 1927 Case conceived the first portable camera capable of both sound recording and reproduction, was first to film onsite sound newsreels at home and abroad, and first to make a sound film of an American football game (he made the first sound film of a United States president in 1924). Case also developed the means to remove background noise on film, giving us the first full-length sound feature shot on location. And in 1928 his equipment gave Mickey Mouse a voice in Walt Disney’s first talking animation "Steamboat Willie."

Unlike Case, a devoted scientist, Fox was a shrewd businessman. He knew the days of silent movies were numbered, but he could not ascertain which sound system would prevail: sound-on-film or sound-on-disc. Unbeknownst to Case, Fox hedged his bets and violated their contract. He forged bonds with competitors granting each other license to use the sound technology they controlled.

A serious car accident in 1929 found Fox $15 million in debt to Western Electric who said he could pay up by handing over the sound-on-film patents. Case agreed to help his partner and traded his patents for stock in Fox theaters which sadly never materialized.

In conclusion, seek original documents for your research. Our book is based on over 15 primary sources including Case’s scientific papers and Yale alumni questionnaire responses in his own handwriting.

Toni K. and Luke P. Colella


Toni K. and Luke P. Colella are co-authors of "Now We’re Talking ... The Story of Theodore W. Case and Sound-on-Film."


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