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Entry date: 4-6-2022 - Noisy World, Inc. - Stuff I made up

Dear Friends,

As I’ve shared in previous blogs, I’m using this space to tell several different stories. Today I’m going to start working on a fictional story by sketching out some details for the background. Bear with me, friends, as this is a first draft and might go in a bunch of different directions before it becomes what it will become.


Noisy World, Inc.

In 1956, three friends started Noisy World (later to become Noisy World, Incorporated) after several discussions on the back lot of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios in Los Angeles. John Birnbaum, Arlo Rafferty, and James “Jimmy” Cuevas worked in the sound department at MGM as assistants to some of the best sound men (and women) in the business. MGM was the place to be for budding sound engineers, in those days, as the studio had unleashed some of the greatest movie musicals in the years prior.

An American in Paris (1951), Singin’ In The Rain (1952), and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) were among the biggest, most successful movies of the early part of the decade, and the three founders of Noisy World had worked on all of them. Birnbaum had worked under Norwood Fenton on Singin’ In The Rain, and when Fenton recommended him for The Great Diamond Robbery (which was starring Red Skelton) in 1954, he met Rafferty who was assisting Douglas Shearer on the film. Both single at the time, Rafferty and Birnbaum hit it off instantly and started hanging out together away the set.

While The Great Diamond Robbery was a flop, the friendship forged between Rafferty and Birnbaum was cemented as they began discussing the need for outside income. Being the low men on the totem pole in the sound department was not making them rich, by any stretch of the imagination, and over some beers one night at a place on Melrose named Bob’s, the two decided to find a house they could rent together and save a little money. These conversations took place during the summer of 1955, while the men worked on It’s A Dog’s Life (1955), which came out at Christmas time.

Rafferty knew another guy in the sound department who worked primarily on music scores, Jimmy Cuevas, who he thought would be a good fit to share the bills as well. Cuevas worked a lot with Lennie Hayton, who had been nominated for an Academy Award for best score for Singin’ In The Rain. Hayton was married to Lena Horne, so Cuevas was part of the crew assisting on Lena Horne Sings (1953) and It’s Love (1955).

In fact, Cuevas was making quite a name for himself among the sound community in Los Angeles at the time for his ability to place microphones and pick up sound in a way that others were missing. It may seem like a small thing to those who do not record sound for a living, but microphone placement in the 1950s was very important. When Rafferty suggested Cuevas as a possible roommate, Birnbaum got every excited.

All three of the future partners in Noisy World were roughly around the same age. When they initially got together at Canter’s Deli on Fairfax in September of 1955, Birnbaum was 24 years old, Rafferty was the oldest at 26 years old, and Cuevas was just a month younger than Birnbaum, but also 24. The tallest of the three was Jimmy Cuevas, who resembled the actor Jimmy Smits, who ironically, had just been born a few months earlier.

Cuevas grew up in Los Angeles and was interested in recording at an early age. His father, Dan, had fought in the Pacific in World War II and was a guitar player who often did session work around town. Jimmy would often tag along and was keen to ask questions of the engineers working at the recording studios. He had a natural ear for recording and could almost instantly tell when something was not quite right in the studio. This innate ability, most likely, is what helped him figure out how to get that great mic placement when he was doing a recording session.

Birnbaum grew up in what was then the small town of Tempe, Arizona. His parents taught at Arizona State College (later Arizona State University) and hoped their son would follow in their footsteps. Bitten by the movie bug, though, Birnbaum moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Tempe High in 1949. Short and stocky, Birnbaum looked like a cross between James Cagney and Dom DeLuise.

Arlo Rafferty had been wounded during the first phase of American involvement in the Korean war. Attached to a film crew covering what was then known as a “conflict,” Rafferty took shrapnel in his right leg, just above the knee, when the jeep he was riding in took fire from communist guerillas. He was discharged from the Army after he recuperated in a Seoul hospital and decided to make his home in Los Angeles. Rafferty had an interest in motorcycles and there was a rumor going around Hollywood that some of the characters in The Wild One (1953), may have been modeled after him.

Rafferty looked more like Eric Stoltz than Marlon Brando, but his penchant for black leather jackets and dusty Levi’s paled in comparison to his interest in recording the world around him. Portable tape recording had become the rage in the 1950s with the proliferation of magnetic tape machines being used, and Rafferty spent some of his hard-earned Army money on a Magnemite 510 E, designed by Peter Paul Kellog. He liked nothing more than going out in the world and recording every day sounds and he would listen to them for hours as if they were the latest hit record from the early rock and rollers he dearly loved as well.

So, there they sat in Canter’s Deli in September of 1955. Three young men looking to rent a house together and maybe make some recordings. They didn’t realize their company would change the world.

See you tomorrow.

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