Silent Movie Theater regular was last survivor of silent era

Bob Mitchell, organist for the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax and the last surviving organist from the silent film era, died July 4 in Los Angeles. He was 96.

Mitchell was also the first house musician at Dodger Stadium, starting in 1962, when the baseball team moved to Chavez Ravine. At the time, he was director of the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir, which appeared in more than 100 films.

Mitchell started playing in a Pasadena theater at age 12, providing accompaniment for films including Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” But talkies arrived when Mitchell was 16, and he became the organist for a Catholic church, where he oversaw the choir. The boys’ choir sang in films including “That Girl From Paris,” “Going My Way” and “Blondie in Society.”

Alumni of the choir include members of the Lettermen, the Modernaires and the Sandpipers.

He served in the Navy during WWII and played keyboards for the Armed Forces Radio Orchestra under the direction of Meredith Willson, who wrote “The Music Man.”

Mitchell started accompanying performances at the Silent Movie Theater in 1992, improvising all the music without the aid of a score. He was forced to take a break when the theater’s proprietor, Larry Austin, was killed by a hired gunman, and the theater closed for two years. He returned when Charlie Lustman reopened the theater in 1999.

Mitchell also played for years for the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats series, including a performance in May.

A memorial service will be held at 9:30 a.m. today at Christ the King Catholic Church, 624 N. Rossmore Ave., Los Angeles.

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