Pete Smith was a film producer and narrator of “short subject” films from 1931 to 1955.
Smith was a publicist at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who was recruited to overdub the actions of trained dogs in the studio’s “Dogville” comedies. Smith’s speaking voice was distinctively nasal, and he would go on to narrate the studio’s sports reels. Smith would embellish the action by running certain scenes in reverse or adding his own pungent commentary. Both the studio and the moviegoing public picked up on Smith’s flair for comedy, and soon he had his own series, Pete Smith Specialties.
Smith made more than 150 shorts, almost all of which were comedy documentaries. They were made as filler material for MGM’s cinema exhibition packages, which typically consisted of a feature film, a B-movie or a serial, plus one or two “short subjects” of various types, such as animated cartoons, newsreels and documentaries. The Smith shorts were typically 9 to 11 minutes long, shot in black-and-white, with many of the laughs generated by the highly ironic voice-over narration delivered by Smith himself.
The subject matter of the individual films was enormously diverse. Among the topics Smith cast his affectionate but jaundiced eye upon were: Emily Post-style household hints, insect life seen through a microscope, military training and hardware, and dancing lessons. There were even several “series-within-the-series”, such as lighthearted general-knowledge quizzes, professional football highlights, quirky looks at many different kinds of animals, and “Goofy Movies”. Smith narrated a patriotic short for the U.S. Government, The Tree In a Test Tube, filmed in color, featuring Laurel and Hardy in a demonstration of household wood products, with Smith explaining the various exhibits for the viewer.