THE INVENTOR OF THE SONOVOX
This article originally appeared in Time Magazine on July 24, 1939

For many a sentimental reader, the books of Novelist Harold Bell Wright (The Winning of Barbara Worth, The Calling of Dan Matthews) made many a dream seem to get up and walk. Last week the aged author's solemn son Gilbert went his father one better: he made real people talk like waterfalls, braying donkeys, barking dogs, slamming doors, locomotive whistles. The appropriate place: Hollywood.

Six months ago, while Gilbert Hunger Wright was meditatively scratching the bristly whiskers on his Adam's apple, he noticed that queer sounds came out of his mouth. When he silently mouthed words, the sounds caused by scratching his whiskers were formed into words. Fascinated, Gilbert Wright, who was once an engineer and radio operator, began to experiment further. Finally he came up with a device which his father, who by that time was also interested, christened "Sonovox."


Dave Sharp doing the Sonovox thing (1995)

In the Sonovox, a sound recording of a waterfall, a vociferating animal, rattling dice or whatnot is fed through wires to two little biscuit-shaped gadgets which are placed on each side of the throat against the larynx. These gadgets transmit the sound vibrations to the larynx, so that the sound comes out of the throat as if produced there. The sound is shaped into speech by mouthing the desired words. Thus a grunting pig, relayed through the human voice-box, can be made to observe: "It's a wise pig who knows his own fodder."

Walt Disney, as might have been expected, immediately offered to buy the exclusive Sonovox rights for cinema cartoons. Perhaps in the future Donald Duck will utter his irate comments in a real quacking duck's voice.


1941 Sonovox Demonstration

Gilbert Wright, now a writer, used to be a cowpuncher, a lifeguard, a utility technician, a tutor. Born 38 years ago in Kansas, he graduated (1925) from the University of California, where he studied physics and mathematics. He taught math at a military academy for a year, took to writing short stories. Unwilling to capitalize on his father's fame, he used the pseudonym of "John Le Bar." Liberty found out who he was some years ago; since then he has signed his own name to his fiction.

He has had cinema jobs off and on, worked on the original screen play of Thanks for Everything. Twice married, he has two children by his first wife.

Proud of the Sonovox, he does not regard it as a main-line achievement. Said he: "I'm a writer by trade. If I haven't got a writing job, fine -- I'll fool around with this thing. But it's writing I want to do."

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