Take a Turn for the Nurse Tonight!

Posted in Burlesk, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS with tags , , , on August 27, 2014 by travsd

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Victor Heerman: Unsung Hero of “Animal Crackers”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , on August 27, 2014 by travsd

 Heerman

Today is the birthday of Victor Heerman (1893-1977), best known today as the director of the Marx Brothers‘ Animal Crackers. 

Later dissed in interviews by Groucho, Heerman was in fact as experienced as they come, and was instrumental in making a classic out of the Marx’s second feature. Heerman had been raised in the theatre. His mother was David Belasco’s head costumer. Heerman had started out as an actor and theatre manager, then started working at Thanhouser Studios as a scout around 1910. Then he worked as an assistant to Henry Lehrman at L-KO. By 1916 he was writing and directing comedies for Mack Sennett and Fox Sunshine and other comedies.

Heerman directed very few talkies. It was Heerman who made a manageable movie vehicle out of the unwieldy play that had been Animal Crackers, cutting a substantial portion out of the script before the camera even started rolling. And it was also Heerman, known for his disciplined sets, who kept the anarchistic Marx Brothers in line throughout the production.  After the early 30s Heerman concentrated on screenwriting with his wife Sarah Mason. They won an Oscar for their screenplay for Little Women. They also wrote Imitation of Life, Magnificent Obsession and Stella Dallas. He retired around 1950.

To learn more about comedy 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 find out more 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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Century of Slapstick #46: The Masquerader

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on August 27, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the 100th anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin comedy The Masquerader (1914). The film is one of many Keystone and Chaplin comedies to be set in an actual movie studio, with Chaplin and cohorts like Fatty Arbuckle and Chester Conklin essentially playing themselves. When we first see Chaplin, he is out of make-up — probably a big treat for audiences of the time. He puts on his tramp get-up in a dressing room he shares with Arbuckle (just like real life). Then he proceeds to cause all manner of havoc, and gets chased off. Returning to the set in the garb of a woman, he entrances the director Charlie Murray for awhile. Then returns to form, eventually getting chased by everyone at the studio, and falling into a well. (When you didn’t have an ending for your Keystone comedy, “…and then everyone falls in the water” would do well enough!

To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy 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 find out more 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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The Day the Slapstick Got Too Real

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , on August 24, 2014 by travsd

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On this day in 1919, comedian Harold Lloyd suffered a most grievous accident while taking some publicity photos for his new series of two-reelers.  Lighting what he thought was a prop fuse bomb, he stood and posed with it. The bomb, however, turned out to be real, and it blew off half of Lloyd’s right mitt, blinded him for several days, and temporarily disfigured his face.

Unlike Wile E. Coyote, flesh and blood comedians don’t spontaneously regenerate — but Lloyd bounced back to an astounding degree. In his autobiography, An American Comedy he confides that he was mostly worried about the damage to his face. Permanent scars could wreck an actor’s career. But so could an injured hand wreck a comedian’s. Back then, most comedians did their own stunts, and silent comedy called for as many dangerous stunts as any western or action film. Lloyd himself became known for his “thrill comedies”, films where his character would be trapped in precarious circumstances at the top of skyscrapers. The wild thing is, he made most of these films AFTER his disfigurement, hiding his missing digits with a special prosthetic glove. Sometimes it would be disguised as a genuine hand; less often he would just wear gloves:

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But any way you slice it, they don’t make ‘em like THAT any more.

To learn more about slapstick 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 find out more 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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Shelly Watson’s “One Enchanted Evening”

Posted in Burlesk, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS with tags , , , , on August 23, 2014 by travsd

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Sweet Soubrette Tonight

Posted in Music, PLUGS with tags , on August 23, 2014 by travsd

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Laurel and Hardy in “Bonnie Scotland”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , on August 23, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Laurel and Hardy feature Bonnie Scotland (1935).

In this classic, the boys break out of jail and stowaway on a cattle boat to get to Scotland to collect Stan’s inheritance, left to him by his recently departed grandfather.  After expending all their resources getting there, they learn that all he was bequeathed were some bagpipes and a snuffbox. After a further succession of mishaps (the best part of their movie), they are thrown out of their rooms and accidentally wind up enlisting in the British army, which sends them to India, where the bulk of the film is laid, making the the title of the movie a sort of bait and switch. In essence, we switch from a Robert Burns riff to a Kipling one, and the unfolding movie seems to parody The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, and to presage Gunga Din. It then unfortunately gets bogged down with a romantic subplot involving Laurel’s cousin Lorna MacLaurel (June Lang) and her beau (William Janney). Luckily, Sargeant Jimmy Finlayson is on hand to help liven up this section of the film, which is divided between this romance and the military/political intrigues in colonial India. It’s a bit of a bore actually, making us pine for the film’s early scenes. In the end, a big swarm of bees saves the day, and the movie, just barely.

To learn more about slapstick 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 find out more 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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