Blondie on the Radio (No, Not Debbie Harry!)

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, Radio, Women with tags , , , , , on September 15, 2014 by travsd

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As we noted earlier, today is Penny Singleton’s birthday (for more on this star of stage, screen and radio go here). Singleton was best known for her role as the title character in the screen and radio adaptations of Chic Young’s comic strip Blondie. The films were produced between 1938 and 1950; the radio show almost as long, 1939-1950. The radio version ran on CBS through 1944, then switched to NBC through 1949, then ran on ABC for its last year. Her co-star on both was Arthur Lake as her whiny, lazy, dim-witted husband Dagwood Bumstead. Singleton left the show in ’45 and was replaced by Patricia Lake (Arthur Lake’s wife).

To learn about the history of show businessconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Fay Wray: Twas Beauty Killed the Beast

Posted in Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies, Silent Film, Women with tags , , , on September 15, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Fay Wray (1907-2003).

For decades she was unfairly known for only one role, that of Ann Darrow, the reluctant love interest of the title character in King Kong (1933). This was because it was the only one of her over 100 screen roles that was regularly shown in the late twentieth century. Since then thankfully access to a great many of her other films allows for a much more thorough assessment. (I caught her in Frank Capra’s 1931 Dirigible on TCM a few weeks back – -excellent!)

A native of Canada, she had been in films for a decade by the time of King Kong. She started out in bit parts in Hal Roach silent comedies such as Charley Chase’s What Price Goofy? (1925) and Should Sailors Marry? (1925) with Clyde Cook and Oliver Hardy. In 1926, the beautiful starlet was voted one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. While she starred in films of all genres, for a couple of years she was closely associated with horror and was dubbed a “Scream Queen”. In addition to King Kong, her scary movies included Doctor X and The Most Dangerous Game (both 1932) and The Vampire Bat and Mystery of the Wax Museum (both 1933). She continued to act on film and television for another quarter century, and then re-emerged from retirement one last time in 1980 to act in Gideon’s Trumpet with Henry Fonda, Jose Ferrer and John Houseman.  She reportedly turned on offer from Peter Jackson to appear in a came in his 2005 King Kong remake (she was still alive when it was in production).

Now here’s one of my Gothic favorites, containing a Fay Wray performance that ought to be better known: The Most Dangerous Game.  Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) is one of the best villains in all of cinema.

To learn more about early film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Wheeler and Woolsey in “Rio Rita”

Posted in Broadway, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , , , on September 15, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the film Rio Rita (1929), the cinematic debut of the comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey. The movie was an adaptation of the 1927 Broadway hit, starring Wheeler and Woolsey and produced by Florenz Ziegfeld. The ’29 version replaced the stage Rita (Ethelind Terry) with the box-office insurance of Bebe Daniels. The film was later remade in 1942 as one of the first film vehicles for Abbott and Costello. Here is a charming clip from the original film:

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Gertie the Dinosaur Turns 100

Posted in Comedy, Movies, Silent Film, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , on September 15, 2014 by travsd

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A century ago today (according to IMDB)  influential cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay released his creation “Gertie the Dinosaur”. The titles in the clip below are lines McCay would have spoken to the animated film as part of his vaudeville act. The scenes at the end are a recap of the framing device that begins the film (available in a different youtube clip) in which fellow cartoonist George McManus bets him that he can’t make such a film.

For more on silent film history don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To find out more about vaudeville past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Arbuckle, Keaton & St. John in “The Cook”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , on September 15, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle comedy The Cook (1918), featuring also Buster Keaton and Al St. John.

This is one of the more catch-as-catch-can of Arbuckle’s Comique series, consisting of three diverse, barely-related sections. Plot is of little concern.

In the first, we have lots of kitchen stunts and gags, with Fatty as the cook and Buster as a waiter. Fatty careless twirls a meat cleaver and tosses it around. Arbuckle throws vessels full of liquid to Keaton to catch – -and he does. Buster dances along with a performing belly dancer, and then Fatty joins in, adorning himself with kitchen implements and sausage links. All the patrons in the restaurant stand and watch him dancing in the kitchen. They applaud. Then Al St. John comes in and starts his own trouble.

Now a vastly different interlude. The kitchen staff eats spaghetti. (They clearly just had some spahhetti gags they wanted to do and stuck them in where they could.) Buster puts his spaghetti in a coffee cup and neatly trims it, so he can just raise the cup to his lips and eat it. Others do various spaghetti slurping gags, making faces, etc. Arbuckle turns his spaghetti with a hand mixer. Then he knits with it.

Finally, we are on to the third highly unrelated set piece. Fatty leaves work driving a goat cart, and carrying a long fishing pole. Much as Mack Sennett had in The Curtain Pole (1909) he knocks people over with his fishing rod and gets in trouble with the police. He winds up at an amusement park and does some ocean fishing.  St. John chases a girl up a roller coaster. And then — as happens in too many silent comedies to count — everyone falls in the water.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Cirkus Amok In Prospect Park!

Posted in BROOKLYN, Circus, Contemporary Variety, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies, Indie Theatre, PLUGS with tags , , , , on September 15, 2014 by travsd

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Yesterday was so gorgeous we had to take a lengthy constitutional through Prospect Park and came upon the happy surprise of Woman-with-a-Beard Jennifer Miller and her joyous troupe Cirkus Amok in performance. They are never less than 1,000% charming, and whomever’s making those costumes and props gets three thumbs up! They have 7 more free performances scheduled for this season: check out their calendar here. 

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Stars of Slapstick #193: Billy Gilbert #2

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on September 15, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of silent screen comedian and stunt man Billy Gilbert (William Victor Campbell, 1891-1961), sometimes known as “Little Billy Gilbert” (he was 5’3″ tall and weighed 120 lbs). We call him “Billy Gilbert #2″ to distinguish him from the more famous comedian of the same name from the sound era, although Billy Gilbert #2 came first chronologically.

Born and raised in Hollywood, he first worked as a clown, acrobat and daredevil, who specialized in high dives. Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park is one of the places where he worked. In 1913, he went to work for Keystone as a stunt man, bit player and sometimes property master. He was often to be seen among the Keystone Kops, and he appears in countless comedies starring Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle in the years 1914-1915. In 1917-1918 he directed four Harold Lloyd comedies for Hal Roach. Throughout the rest of the silent era he appeared in countless comedies for Mack Sennett, Fox, Reelcraft and others. He made a few on camera appearances in the sound era but mostly transitioned into his fall-back specialty as prop master.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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