Joe Rinaudo, President of Rinaudo’s Reproductions, has a passion for antique phonographs, hand crank motion picture projectors, and mechanical musical instruments.
Among these, his most prized possession is the American Fotoplayer.
So what is an American Fotoplayer ???
The fotoplayer (“foto” from photoplay and “player” from player piano) is a wonderful contraption that was built to provide music and sound effects for silent movies. These machines appeared around 1912 and were used in medium sized theaters. Fotoplayers were in expensive to operate because you didn’t have to be a musician to play them as they were also playable by way of player piano rolls.
The fotoplayer used a fascinating combination of piano, organ pipes, drums, and various sound effects designed to narrate the action of any silent film.
Pedals, levers, switches, buttons, and pull cords were all used to turn on the xylophone, beat a drum, ring a bell, create the sound of thunder, or chirp like a bird.
When sound films came into being in the late 1920’s, the fotoplayer became passé.
Of the thousands of American fotoplayers made during their heyday, sadly less than 50 survive, and of those only 12 are known to be in playing condition.
This machine was originally built in 1926 in Van Nuys Calif. and shipped to a theater in Saskatchewan Canada. It was meticulously restored by Mr. Rinaudo in 1976.