Died: May 20, 2000
Edward Bernds was born in 1905 in Chicago. As a teenager, he experimented with radio receivers and later became one of the first radio broadcast announcers in the 1920s. By the late 1920s, he found himself working for the United Artists Studios in Hollywood as a technician on some of the first talking pictures.
In his autobiography, Bernds recalled some of the difficulties of working with Western Electric motion picture sound equipment:
“The man who invented the light valve [for recording sound on film] may have been a genius, but the engineers who designed the other Western Electric equipment were decidedly not. Everything they provided for us was oversized and overweight. They must have come straight from designing battleship hardware, because, for studio use, they made liberal use of bronze, which resists saltwater corrosion but is heavy. Saltwater corrosion is not a serious problem in Hollywood. The engineers’ masterpiece was a portable mixing panel. It was made not of bronze but of steel, and it was portable, after a fashion; it had a pair of handles, and two strong men, changing the period of hernia, could carry it.
“The cables and cable connectors were also grossly overweight. We called the bronze connectors ‘pineapple connectors,’ because they were roughly the size and shape of large pineapples. I have a personal grudge against them. A pineapple connector broke my nose. We carried coils of cables on the roof of our sound truck. I stood on a ladder to take down one of the cables. When I lifted it, a connector, not properly secured, swung free and smashed my nose. I dropped the cable and nearly fell off the ladder.
“It was inevitable that the microphone Western Electric provided for us would also be heavy. Officially, it was called a condenser-transmitter-amplifier, or CTA for short. The nature of a CTA required that an amplifier be a part of the device; this added to bulk and weight, so that the CTA weighed about eight pounds; and, naturally, it was encased in bronze. The result was that this electronic heavyweight, which should have been light, agile, and capable of quick movement, proved difficult to move. Because of its size it was even difficult to conceal in the benighted days when we hid microphones in flower arrangements and behind curtains.”
Bernds survived these difficulties and eventually became one of Hollywood’s most sought-after soundmen. Because of his talent with creating special effects sounds, he worked closely with the producers of most of the classic Three Stooges films (his most famous sound went with the “eye poke.”) He later became a motion picture director himself. Among his films were campy classics such as The Return of the Fly and Queen of Outer Space.