Rare Ponce Sisters Film Supper at Six to Be Shown at Capitolfest

Ethel and Dorothea Ponce (courtesy David McCain)
Ethel and Dorothea Ponce (courtesy David McCain)

Supper at Six, a rare short film featuring singing sisters Ethel and Dorothea Ponce, is set to be screened for the first time since its release in 1933. The screening will take place at Capitolfest 20 at the Capitol Theatre in Rome, New York, on Saturday, August 12. Capitolfest, which takes place this year from Friday, August 11 until Sunday, August 13, is Central New York’s 35mm classic film festival, screening rarely-seen silent and early talking movies from around the turn of the 20th Century into the late 1930s.

In 1990, shortly before he left his native New Orleans to move to New York, David McCain began a long correspondence (by phone and letter) with Dorothea Ponce of the Ponce Sisters. Dorothea was delighted to tell McCain about her career with her sister, Ethel. Ethel (1907-1989) and Dorothea Ponce (1909-2000) were the daughters of songwriter and artists’ manager Phil Ponce and Ethel Fernandez. Phil Ponce was Fats Waller’s manager for several years. Ethel Fernandez Ponce was an extraordinarily talented pianist who had performed in vaudeville and recorded piano rolls.

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Dorothea’s sister, Ethel, was a pianist and the composer of the novelty piano solo, Holiday. The Ponce Sisters began their radio career in New York on WEAF in 1925, the same year they made their first recording on the Edison label; other recording companies which featured the duo (from 1925 to 1932) were Perfect, Gennett, Cameo, and Columbia. Featured on the prominent Old Gold Hour with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra, the Ponce Sisters recorded with legendary Whiteman alumni Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

In 1933 the Ponce Sisters moved to Cincinnati to work for WLW, billed as “the nation’s most powerful radio station.” The act dissolved in 1935 with Ethel’s marriage to Bryan Fenley. Dorothea Ponce continued on WLW as a soloist until her marriage to J. Richard Verkamp in 1937.

Not seen since its initial release, Supper at Six was photochemically restored from the original nitrate picture and track negatives vaulted at the UCLA Archive. Released December 27, 1933, Supper at Six was filmed at the Biograph Studios in the Bronx, New York. Restoration was funded by the families of Ethel and Dorothea Ponce and David McCain. Two daughters of Dorothea Ponce Verkamp will be attending CapitolFest: Fran Dillon and Natalie Schoeny. David McCain will introduce the film. Special thanks to the UCLA preservation team: Todd Wiener, Sherry Wickware, and Jillian Borders.

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Restoration of Supper at Six is lovingly dedicated to the late Ron Hutchinson (1951-2019) a founding member of The Vitaphone Project.

Information about Capitolfest, including scheduling, ticketing, and accommodation information, may be found at www.romecapitol.com.

David W. McCain, a native of New Orleans, parlayed an interest in the female singers of the past into a lifetime of scholarship. He befriended and interviewed Teddy Grace and his fascination with the artistry of the Boswell Sisters prompted him to meet Vet Boswell in 1977. He collaborated with Vet’s granddaughter, Kyla Titus, to publish the sisters’ biography The Boswell Legacy in 2014. A documentary on the Boswell Sisters, Close Harmony, has recently been completed.

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