The term “silent film” is a slight misnomer. While cards were used to display descriptors and dialogue, the films were usually accompanied by a soundtrack played on a Wurlitzer organ, which could duplicate any sound effect needed. The grandest theater “palaces” had full symphonic orchestras, while the smallest houses used only a piano.
From the beginnings of film production in the mid-1880s, the art of motion picture making matured and gained popularity. By the 1920s, when radio was still struggling with growing pains, many Americans made going to the cinema a ritual, averaging visits three times a week. While projecting images onto a screen enabled an entire theater to view a movie, pre-electric amplification was not loud enough, thus the need for live accompaniment.
Sound film was introduced as early as 1923 with short, usually commercial, films. Screenings of a new sound-on-film technology retroactively fitted to silent films was immediately popular. The major studios rushed to acquire and adapt the technology for making studio films with synchronized sound.
While the transition from silent films to talkies was inevitable, many among the stars and the viewing public felt that sound film was the epitome of tackiness and expressed their distaste. Many silent film stars, such as Clara Bow, feared what talkies meant for their careers. But progress could not be stopped and with the release in 1927 of the first feature-length talkie (actually a hybrid of half silent/half talkie),The Jazz Singer, the era of silent films began to wane. However, it was many years before all movie theaters were wired for sound, so silent films were still being made, especially by smaller studios.
The last silent film ever produced in Hollywood was released by Paramount International in 1935: Legong: Dance of the Virgins. Initially, it was shown only outside the US because of concerns about nudity in the film.