I Have a Short Snorter

I have discovered, among my father’s possessions, that I have inherited his short snorter. A short snorter is a single bill, or multiple bills that have been taped together and that, upon examination, are found to be covered with signatures.  It is a custom that apparently originated from or was popularized by Alaskan bush pilots and was eventually adopted by WWII aviators. 

As the custom goes, an airman passes around a banknote and asks those he is with to sign it. Then, if they should ever meet again and he is asked to produce the short snorter with the requestor’s signature and fails to do so, he must buy that person a drink (or snort). 

There are many of these around, some of them containing famous names. Marlene Dietrich collected one that contained 83 bills and over 1,000 high profile names including Ernest Hemingway, Irving Berlin and George S. Patton. My father, serving in the 8th Army Air Corps (448th BG), seemed most interested in collecting foreign currency as his short snorter consists of 14 bills taped together from a number of different countries: Portugese escudos, English shillings, French francs, German marks, Canadian dollars, Cuban pesos, and of course the US dollar bill. Each of them containing signatures of people unfamiliar to me but who, at one time, apparently played an important part of my father’s WWII history.

I can’t help but thinking that each one of these bills told a story to my father. I imagine he could not only remember each person whose signatures he obtained but the circumstances in which he collected them. (And I’m definitely sure he’d remember whether he ever had to pay out for leaving his short snorter behind in the barracks.)

But his short snorter is mine now. And if Lenny Burns, Arthur Bach, Eddie “Mulla Bone” Redlan, or any of the other dozen names from 1945 displayed on it should ever ask me to produce it, I’ll be ready.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

And Devil Makes Three

I love it when people bring in family treasures that they’ve inherited or found but have no idea what memories may be contained within them. It is a mystery that I can help to solve. Today, a woman brought in boxes from her home that contained reels of film, carousels of slides and envelopes of photographs. And tucked away in the bottom of one of the boxes were two 45rpm records  containing recorded messages along with a written letter that came from a soldier stationed in Germany in the early 1950s.

I’ve yet to transfer the audio but I glanced at the letters from 1952 that the soldier wrote home describing life in post war Germany. He was excited because Gene Kelly was in the area making a film and some of the Americans stationed there were going to be tapped to be extras in his movie.

Upon investigating, it would appear that the film in question was “The Devil Makes Three” which was made in 1952 on location in Germany and starred Gene Kelly and Italian actress Pier Angeli. The film was about a man who returns to Germany after the war to track down the German family who protected him when his plane was shot down. While there he uncovers a neo-Nazi group still operating in the shadows.

I don’t know if the writer of the letter ever appeared in the film. All I know is that he was excited that he might be among those chosen. I did find out why Gene Kelly was appearing in a film shot on location in post-war Germany.  It turns out that in 1951 the US Congress passed a law that allowed a significant tax break to any Americans who lived abroad for 18 months or longer. During that time those ex-pats would not have to report any earnings they received while out of the country.

Kelly was one of the first Hollywood stars to take advantage of this new law. The Devil Makes Three was the first of three films Kelly made overseas during this time. While some believed Kelly’s move was purely financially based, others thought that Kelly moved to get away from the McCarthyism running amok in the US at the time because his wife, Betsy Blair, was known to outwardly support several left-wing Communist causes and he felt he could protect his family better outside of the country.

While his film was not received warmly upon its release it has endured largely because it provides a real time perspective of post war Germany. Its final scenes were even shot in Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden before it was demolished in 1953. 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Voices of Yesteryear

June 11, 2020

Three vinyl records came into my studio the other day. These weren’t the commercially made rock or pop albums most of us grew up with. These were homemade disks recorded at 78 rpm that were made over 75 years ago. I know this because it was written on the label.

In the 1940s, there were dozens of “Voice-O-Graph” machines sprinkled up and down the Coney Island boardwalk. They looked like telephone booths and by inserting 25 cents, you could actually record your voice and have it scratched into the grooves of your own personal record for all of posterity.

The three records I received and transferred to digital audio files for their preservation had my client’s father crooning familiar standards and pop favorites in the style of Bing Crosby. What a wonderful treasure for the family to have. Sure, there are scratches and pops throughout the recording but that only adds to the charm of being able to hear voices from the past, recorded as they lived through what for them was their present. All three records were dated June, 1944… shortly after the D-Day invasion. The songs were upbeat, filled with hope and promise, with just a tinge of melancholy. I’d say it was a perfect capsulation of the mood of that time. I am honored to have been a part of preserving this personally impactful and historic moment.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

What’s in Your Time Capsule?

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We, at Home Video Studio, are kind of in a time capsule business. People bring us items that have been buried for 50, 60, even 70 years or more and ask us to unearth their secrets. And sometimes, after we’re done, they let us keep some of the old capsules themselves.

The camera pictured above was given to us by one of our clients. It belonged to his family, most likely his grandfather.  It is an Agfa Movex 16mm camera circa 1930s, complete with leather case and light-gauge. It was a German camera and what makes it remarkable to me is the film that we transferred for the client that brought it in. There were 4 reels of 16mm silent film and after transferring the footage and watching it back we were mesmerized to find that our client’s grandfather, most likely with this camera, was seated in the stands of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, filming the games.

The final reel was taken much later and showed a jeep ride through the rubble-strewn street of post-war Berlin.

I’m not able to show you the actual footage we preserved for our client but I found a website with some pretty spectacular still photos of that historical event.

https://historycollection.co/a-look-inside-hitlers-1936-nazi-olympics-through-amazing-photographs/

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Mule Train

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As you might imagine, we here at Home Video Studio are blessed to witness a great deal of historical footage. People bring us their films, videos, audio recordings, photos, etc… and we convert them to a digital form to protect and preserve them against future loss.  And every so often, in between the birthday parties and vacation footage, we sometimes get to be witness to some incredible historical events.

This week, we’ve been transferring some 8mm film for a client. The earliest date on one of the reels was 1942. It turns out that a large portion of the film was taken from the battlefield of the European campaign of WWII. There was one particular section that captured my attention.

It was apparently shot in Italy. The footage was of a caravan of mules carrying supplies along a city street. I had never thought about it before but I’ve since learned that the mule train was a popular mode of transport during the war. The Mule Corp in Italy had the manpower of more than five divisions, and more than 30,000 mules, and was a vital part of the supply chain.

Without the mules, needed supplies, like ammunition, medical kits, food supplies… would not have reached the fighting men who needed them. There were roads or pathways in the mountainous regions of Europe that vehicles simply could not reach. And so the mules were put into service. The need for them was so great, infantry divisions would often commandeer every mule they came across, giving its owner a voucher that he could later redeem from the US Army. Near the end of the war, the Americans were paying up to $250 for each animal. Upon the war’s conclusion, all available mules were distributed to Italians who had fought alongside the US as well as local farmers.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Devil Boats

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My reference points regarding PT boats have always been restricted to two sources: JFK’s exploits described in his book, Profiles in Courage; and the TV sitcom McHales Navy. Needless to say, neither really explained much about this unique and highly specialized craft. While the stories I read or watched regarding PT 109 and PT 73 captured my interest, they did not shed a lot of light upon this particular type of warcraft.

I have been working on a documentary for a nautical family and one of the facts that came out during the interviews was that the patriarch of the clan fulfilled his WWII service by building PT boats for Vetnor Boatworks in New Jersey.

I was surprised to learn that the PT boats were made from plywood, not steel. They were fast, highly maneuverable, and relatively inexpensive to build. The PT stood for Patrol Torpedo Boats. They were nicknamed Devil Boats by the Japanese or, as a whole, the Mosquito Fleet because they were small, fast, and a continual nuisance to the Japanese Navy.

A little research shows that the PT boats came into existence because in 1938, the US Navy sponsored a design competition for companies to devise a highly mobile attack boat. When the US entered into WWII, there were no less than 12 companies designing and building these attack boats for the US government. As time went on, the design became more standardized and two companies stood out among the rest: Elco, based in Bayonne NJ; and Higgins, based in New Orleans.

When I learned that the boats were wooden, I expected to discover a high casualty rate among them but instead found them to be surprisingly resilient. Of the 531 ships that were put into wartime service, only 69 (13%) were lost. And of the estimated 63,000 men who served on the PT boats, 331 (less than 1%) were killed in action. There are only a few of these boats that remain in existence today as most were destroyed at the end of the war due to the high maintenance that wooden boats require.

My client attributes his woodworking skills (which are considerable) to those days in the Vetnor Boatworks. This is just one story among many that were revealed while interviewing family members for this documentary. We are honored that they have chosen us to tell their story.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitizing of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.