July 9, 2009

Last surviving silent film organist dead

Bob Mitchell, a silent film organist, 66-year choir director and Dodger Stadium's first house musician has died in Los Angeles. He was 96.

Vincent Morton, Mitchell's caregiver, said the musician died from congestive heart failure Saturday at the Hancock Park Rehabilitation Center, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Mitchell began his career as a silent film accompanist in 1924 at the age of 12. He retired from the job in 1927 when he was 16, the year movies began transitioning from silent to talkies.

The musician was hired in 1934 as an organist at Los Angeles' St. Brendan's Catholic Church, where he organized a boys' choir that he wound up leading for 66 years. The choir appeared in movies including the 1936 film That Girl From Paris and sang Ave Maria with Bing Crosby in 1944's Going My Way

A 1941 short film about the choir, Forty Boys and a Song, was nominated for an Academy Award.

Mitchell was the first house organist for Dodgers Stadium when it opened in 1962, and he held the job for four years.

His career as a silent film accompanist was revived in 1992 and he played one of his final performances in June at Los Angeles' Silent Movie Theatre.

A memorial service for Mitchell has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday at Christ the King Catholic Church in Los Angeles.