It’s an essential part of Hawaiian music but the ukulele was so popular on the United States mainland in the 1910s and 1920s that “with ukulele arrangement” became ubiquitous on sheet music of the period. The movies followed right along with major stars strumming the cute instrument. Ukuleles aren’t just mini guitars, the strings are in different arrangements and it creates a different sound!
Gloria Swanson was probably the most famous uke player in movieland. She played while she was happy, of course, but the instrument was also used to convey her broken heart, as it was here in Don’t Change Your Husband.
Swanson repeated the trick five years later in Manhandled, in which she played a shop clerk who may or may not be ready to settle down.
Alma Rubens strummed away on the instrument in She Goes to War, her last film before her early death.
The gents got in on the act too and Richard Barthelmess briefly considered using it as a weapon in The Love Flower.
The ukulele can be irresistible, as shown by Harold Lloyd in Captain Kidd’s Kids. So next time you’re held prisoner by flapper pirates…
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