Streets of New York (1939): Earliest Surviving U.S. TV Footage

[October 6th, 2016 Update: I was able to find an archived version of the blog post.]

[August 31st, 2016 Update: The video clip and the blog post mentioned below are no longer accessible.]

In August, The Paley Center for Media posted a short clip from a very old television play titled “The Streets of New York.” Ron Simon, the Center’s Television and Radio curator, has written a wonderful discussion about both the program and the clip itself. Why am I mentally kicking myself for not having seeing it earlier? Because “The Streets of New York” was broadcast on Thursday, August 31st, 1939–it’s among the earliest TV footage from the United States known to exist.

According to Simon, the silent footage was uncovered by the American Film Institute at an estate sale some years back. It made its way to the Paley Center and Simon was able to identify it–which is an incredible achievement when you think about it. Now, roughly one minute has been posted at the Center’s website. A total of eleven minutes exist. Here’s the entry from the Center’s database:

This home-made kinescope (without sound) shows fragments of one of the Thursday Night Programs broadcast by the predecessor of WNBC-TV, the experimental NBC station W2XBS. The melodrama, about a family’s descent into poverty, is presented as a play within the program. Also shown are shots of patrons entering the Lester Wallace Theatre to watch the show, cards that direct theater patrons in proper behavior, and a “dramatis personae.” Fragmentary scenes include Badger (played by Norman Lloyd) and Bloodgood (played by George Coulouris) plotting together and Bloodgood setting a house on fire.

Yes, that’s producer/actor/director Norman Lloyd, who appeared in a variety of early W2XBS broadcasts. However, I cannot identify him in the footage available at the Paley Center’s website but he may not be in that scene. I was aware that the Center had this footage for quite some time. You can view it in person in New York City or Los Angeles. But I never thought it would be made available online. I implore everyone to take a minute to watch the footage here.

Incredible.

Revised August 31st, 2016


12 Comments

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Didn’t I comment about your previous article, on W2XBS’ TV schedule covering 8/31/39, that Norman Lloyd WAS a part of that experimental telecast, “The Streets of New York”? Apparently, someone decided to “preserve” a portion of that telecast by aiming a 16mm movie camera at a TV monitor during the actual broadcast, with “background” footage of the production as well. A shame it wasn’t a “sound” camera, but that’s often the case in some “historic preservations”…

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Well, I’ve seen it, and the “kinescope” (albeit silent) is amazing! I can imagine what it must have been like seeing “The Streets of New York” on one of RCA’s TV sets in someone’s home in New York in August 1939. I’m quite sure I saw Norman Lloyd at the beginning…and Jennifer Jones {acting under her real name, Phyliis Eisley} as indeed part of the cast near the end of the excerpt shown on the Paley Center For Media website ‘RGJ’ described. The fact that television could be presented as a marvel of communication AND an experimental medium was evident in that priceless footage….perhaps one day, minus the “business” and commerce surrounding TV these days, that feeling and vision can be recaptured…

  • Rachel Newstead says:

    I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I ran across this 1949 promotional film from NBC, which I’m assuming was intended to demonstrate their kinescope filming method to advertisers or station owners. Particularly of note is the section starting at about 1:19, in which they show their early experiments in capturing video. One early kinny is allegedly from 1938, pre-dating the “Streets Of New York” clip by a year. This is followed by a clip, taken directly off the TV screen, of the second Joe Louis-Billy Conn fight in 1946. It can be found here, courtesy of YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uC-g-eB6Rjs

  • RGJ says:

    I have seen that footage before. I wish there was more information available about both the promotional film and the footage said to be from 1938. I also wrote about two other RCA promotional films that might include footage of the 1939 New York World’s Fair filmed from television sets. I believe these various promotional films have been floating around for years; I wonder if NBC has copies and, if so, knows more about any early footage included.

  • Robert Shagawat says:

    Actually the NBC Kinescope promotional film purports to show pre-kinescope recording of live TV (but silent) from as early as 1934. Also, I think all of you are aware of the November 1938 BBC telecast captured in freak atmospheric skip in Riverhead NY and filmed (again silent) from the NY receiver, with this recording available on several sites now including YouTube.

  • Matt Rose says:

    This is a bit off-topic, but I saw footage of NBC’s first experimental TV broadcast (July 7, 1936) on Youtube. While granted it is not a kinescope and was filmed alongside the TV cameras, it is still pretty cool to see.

  • Paul Lindemeyer says:

    This film (in two parts totaling about 45 minutes) was long believed to have been destroyed after one showing in 1936.

  • Dale Bonifant says:

    Where was the Streets Of New York clip? I kept scrolling through “see more” and gave up…how many panels does one have to go through?

  • JMH says:

    Does anyone know if the one-minute excerpt-of-an-excerpt of STREETS OF NEW YORK is online somewhere? The Paley Center appears to have taken it down, because the link in the blog post above sends me to something else entirely (IIRC it’s Robert Osbourne talking about Lucille Ball!).

    And for those of you who managed to see the brief clip while it was available — was it clear whether the broadcast was shot from multiple cameras or just one?

    • Robert says:

      Unfortunately, the footage previously available at The Paley Center website is nowhere to be found. It’s been eight years since I last watched the footage so I’m afraid I can’t remember much, certainly nothing to confirm whether multiple cameras were used.

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