The shortened form of the term 'Talking pictures'. A term which came into use in the late 1920's as a result of Hollywood's shift from making silent films to making films with recorded synchronized sound.
The 1927 Al Jolson musical "The Jazz Singer" is frequently attributed as being the first talking picture, however this distinction is still debated today as it was actually only a partial 'talkie'. The musical numbers were synchronized, but there were only a few scenes of synchronized dialogue. A good portion of the film still relied on the use of title cards for scene description and character development.
The first film released with complete dialogue was a 1928 gangster film released by Warner Brothers entitled 'Lights of New York'. But it was the success of The Jazz Singer that launched the new era of sound in motion pictures.
With the addition of sound came various problems for movie studios, and it caused the careers of many previously revered actors and actresses to come to a grinding (and humiliating) halt.
One of the most well-known to suffer was Clara Bow, the famous "It girl" who had enjoyed several years as a beloved silent screen goddess. In interviews many years after she had retreated into private life, she admitted that she felt "constant fear" while filming her first talkie, 'The Wild Party', in 1929. She had difficulty remembering her lines and the presence of the microphone on the set proved to be distracting for her. Unless it was hidden, her eyes would unconsciously drift and focus upon it. She also had the added misfortune of possessing a thick Brooklyn accent of which she was self-conscious. Sadly, her accent wasn't considered as audibly attractive as the lilting "Kansas City British" that was in vogue at the time and Clara Bow's career was essentially dead by 1930.
There were some actors who made the transition to sound gracefully, and there were others who positively thrived. Greta Garbo was one of the lucky ones.
Illustrative of how fickle the Hollywood machine can be, Garbo's own thick, European accent was considered by the motion picture industry as an asset and it was promoted heavily. Her first talkie, 1930's 'Anna Christie', was greeted with great anticipation and the film's advertising posters fanned the flames by famously declaring "Garbo Speaks!" In all fairness to Garbo, her sultry voice was, indeed, special and her legendary, career-defining utterance of the line "I want to be left alone" would not have had nearly the impact it did if it had been read by audiences instead of heard.
Somewhat surprisingly, even movie fans had to do some adjusting to movies with sound. Contemporary movie buffs might be tempted to look back upon the dark ages of cinema and assume there was much rejoicing in movie houses when audiences were finally able to hear the voices of their favourite film stars; however, as the following letter to the editor written in 1928 by a frustrated cinema patron illustrates, some audience members soon discovered the fun novelty of talkies came with a small, but crucial, price.
From The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin:
"Dear Editor, I took my wife and mother-in-law to see Jolson play and to hear him sing in his great song hit, "Mammy." The Stanley Theatre was packed. Just as he was singing, this person behind us began talking in a loud voice and we could not distinguish the words. When I asked this woman to please be quiet, she told me where I could go. Lets bring back the silents."