Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Late Great Ron Hutchinson

Ron Hutchinson, the founder of the Vitaphone Project who saved scores of obscure films made from the mid-Twenties to the early Thirties, died on February 2 at the age of 67. The cause was cancer.

Ron Hutchinson's mission to save Vitaphone soundtrack discs and film prints grew out of his passion for old 78 RPM records. One day he found a batch of 16-inch soundtrack discs for early talkies. Most of them were Vitaphone shorts, short subjects featuring vaudeville, Broadway, and singing stars of the day. Ron then began what would turn out to be his life's work, matching the 16-inch soundtrack discs to film prints for such groups as the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Library of Congress. It was in 1991 that he founded the Vitaphone Project with four other film and record buffs.

The Vitaphone Project would locate over 6500 soundtrack discs that were in the hands of private collectors and created a database in order to match them with film prints. They have also worked with Turner Classic Movies and Warner Bros. in order to make these films available again. The past many years Warner Bros. has been able to release DVD collections of Vitaphone shorts, all due to the Vitaphone Project. Perhaps no one was more responsible for exposing new audiences to the Vitaphone shorts than Ron Hutchinson. He has shown them on Turner Classic Movies and at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, as well as numerous other screenings across the United States over the years.

Ron Hutchinson would also prove invaluable as a film historian. Over the years he has helped a good deal with authors writing books and articles on various subjects related to the Vitaphone Era. He contributed regularly to the Classic Movie Hub's blog, as well as various other venues. In fact, his last article on the Classic Movie Hub's blog was only on January 22 of this year. 

What makes Ron Hutchinson's accomplishments as a film historian and film preservationist all the more remarkable is that it was not his day job. For him it was truly a labour of love.

While I never met Mr. Hutchinson or even interacted with him online, many of my friends knew him and some even knew him well. He was an incredibly nice fellow and one gifted with boundless enthusiasm for classic movies. There were very few in the classic movie community who were as friendly and approachable as he was. If the classic film community is mourning Ron Hutchinson so much, it is not simply because he was an incredible film historian who has saved dozens of films, but a true gentleman as well. 


Hal said...

Love his work; as you know, Leon Errol is a personal favorite of mine, and several of his shorts were for Vitaphone and in technicolor. Mr. Hutchinson's efforts had a lot to do with the availability of these shorts which air frequently on TCM. Thanks, and RIP.

Raquel Stecher said...

Thank you for writing such a lovely tribute to Ron. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Cinefest back in 2015 and then seeing him present at the TCM Classic Film Festival. He was such a lovely guy and very devoted to his work. God speed.