Irwin Corey Turns 100!

Posted in Comedy, Jews/ Show Biz, Stand Up, Television, TV variety with tags , , , on July 29, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the 100th birthday of Professor Irwin Corey!

Corey’s is essentially a vaudeville act, although he introduced it two decades too late for vaudeville. (He launched his act in the 1940s). Billed as an “The World’s Foremost Authority” he would unleash a meandering stream of doubletalk. His appearance, with the air of distraction, the messy suit with tennis shoes, and the Einstein-esque tousled hair was what sold it.

When I was a kid in the ’70s Corey was a staple of television talk and variety shows like Merv Griffin and The Tonight Show, and he had cameos and small parts in movies like Car Wash (1976).

As far as I can tell he is still performing! There are some VERY recent clips of him on youtube, and I hear he did a radio interview only this morning. There is a big birthday celebration for him tonight at the Actor’s Temple. 

Here he is in his heyday 1966 on The Smothers Brothers Hour:

To find out more about the history of show business, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.

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And don’t miss 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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Hall of Hams #79: Maria Ouspenskaya

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Romani (Gypsy), Russian, The Hall of Hams, Women with tags , , , , , , on July 29, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya (1876-1949). Film buffs know her well as the mysterious Gypsy fortune teller in The Wolf Man (1941) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). What I did not learn until recently was that she was instrumental in bringing Stanislavski’s “Method” to American shores. A member of the Moscow Art Theatre, she decided to remain in the U.S. during the company’s 1922 American tour. She settled in New York and taught acting at the American Laboratory Theatre until she founded the School for Dramatic Art in 1929. More about her influence on American acting can be found here. 

In the mid 1930s she went to Hollywood. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the film Dodsworth (1936). Other major films she appeared in included Waterloo Bridge (1940) and The Shanghai Gesture (1941).

Here she is in Dodsworth:

To find out more about the history of show business, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.

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And don’t miss 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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100 Years Ago Today: WWI Begins (and Its Impact on Vaudeville)

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the 100th anniversary of the day Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, thus triggering World War One.

We who have not felt the sting of a proper World War in over six decades years cannot appreciate the deuced inconvenience such a development can be, especially where important matters like show business are concerned. Prior to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, successful British and American entertainers spent a good deal of their time on boats. Performers like Houdini, Will Rogers and W.C. Fields literally had steamer trunks with customs stamps from the great world capitals plastered on them. When the shooting started, all that dried up. Americans were deprived of their favorite British Music Hall stars for the most part; though some brave Americans continue to travel to the embattled countries. Some, like the indefatigable Elsie Janis traveled right into the war zones to entertain the troops.

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Patriotism in the era amounted to a mania. Prior to America’s entry into the conflict, thespians like Alla Nazimova could present pacifist playlets in the vaud houses. Once we entered the war, such messages were out; George M. Cohan “Over There” (introduced by Nora Bayes) was more in keeping with the times. As will happen in wartime, even the most heterogenous cultural institution of all — vaudeville — spoke with a single voice on this issue. Shortly after America joined the war, Cohan called a special meeting of vaudevillians to see who would join the war effort. Every hand shot up.Vaudeville vets like Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks did their part by crisscrossing the nation selling millions in war bonds. Gummo Marx was drafted; he ended up leaving his family act the Marx Brothers and being replaced by Zeppo. At the same time, many so-called Dutch or German dialect comedians, such as Grouch Marx, feeling the weight of anti-German sentiment, dropped those kinds of characters from their repertoire. And some were to pay the ultimate price. Vernon Castle, one-half of the nation’s premier dance team enlisted in the RAF (he was Canadian) and died in a crash. James Reese Europe commanded a whole musical unit — and was finally murdered by one of his own musicians while he was still in uniform.

And now, here are Bothwell Browne and Ben Turpin in a scene from Mack Sennett’s WWI feature A Yankee Doodle in Berlin:

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.

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And don’t miss 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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Tonight: The Show and Show Show

Posted in BROOKLYN, Clown, Comedy, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS with tags , , on July 26, 2014 by travsd

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Fatty’s Tintype Tangle

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on July 26, 2014 by travsd

Fatty's Tintype Tangle

Today’s the anniversary of the release date of the Roscoe Arbuckle comedy Fatty’s Tintype Tangle (1915). Fatty’s photograph (tin type) is accidentally taken with a woman he happens to be sitting next to on a park bench (Louise Fazenda), causing much trouble in both their homes when their spouses find the tintypes. This Mack Sennett also features Edgar Kennedy as a jealous husband.

To learn more about silent and slapstick film 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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Of Charlot and His Revues

Posted in Frenchy, Impresarios, Variety Theatre with tags , , , , , on July 26, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great impresario André Charlot (1882-1956), whose great career radiated across the great show business capitals along with the march of history, westward, from Paris to London to New York to Hollywood.

Charlot learned the show biz ropes in his native country in famous venues like the Folies Bergère and the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. In 1912 he moved to London, where he became one of the managers of the Alhambra Theatre, and mounted his famous series of revues, fostering the talents of the likes of Beatrice Lillie, Gertrude Lawrence, Noel Coward, and Ivor Novello. These intimate annual musical comedy shows, which prized writing and individual performance over spectacle, were a major staple of the London theatre until the Great Depression finally took its toll in 1937. Andre Charlot’s Revue of 1924 was a major smash of the Broadway stage, making Bea Lillie a star of the American theatre as well. Charlot also collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock and others on the interesting 1930 revue film Elstree Calling, and produced successful radio versions of his revue for the BBC called Charlot’s Hour.

In 1937 he moved to Hollywood where he initially staged versions of his revue for night clubs. Starting in 1942 he became a bit player in movies, acting in dozens (often uncredited) through 1955.

To find out more about  the variety theatreconsult 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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Today on TCM: 3 Slapstick WWI Comedies

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2014 by travsd

There’s something chilling? ironic? depressing? that this World War One centenary year is taking place at the very same time that World War Three, 3.5 or Four (depending on how you count) seems to be breaking out. I am really tired of things exploding onscreen and off. But…comedians have found things to laugh about even amidst the bleakness of warfare.

This month TCM is showing tons of movies about the First World War, and today, three famous comedies on the subject:

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2:00pm (E.S.T.) The Better ‘Ole (1926) 

I’m very excited about this one – -I’ve wanted to see it for ages, and never have. Based on a 1917 West End musical stage hit, it stars Sydney Chaplin (Charlie’s brother. To learn more about Sydney, see my article here.) The film was directed by Chuck Reisner and was one of the very first Vitaphone films (there’s a music soundtrack but no dialogue or sync sound)

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3:45am (E.S.T.) Shoulder Arms (1918) 

Charlie Chaplin’s World War One comedy Shoulder Arms (initially called Camouflage), was first planned to come in at five reels, about fifty minutes, which was no shorter than many features in those days.  As originally conceived, the film would have had an opening act showing the Little Fellow’s home life with his wife and kids. Then it would take him into the process of being inducted into the army. It would then have had a closing act wherein the Little Fellow is celebrated as a war hero, before inevitably being awakened from a dream. Chaplin eventually decided to cut it to just the middle – the Little Fellow’s service in the war.

As comic subject matter this was unprecedentedly dark, not just for Chaplin, but for the movies. No one had ever done a comedy that included trench warfare, gas masks, bullets, barbed wire, and No Man’s Land. Not only was Shoulder Arms the first war comedy, it was also the first black comedy, introducing a side of Chaplin that would come to full flowering in The Great Dictator and Monsieur Verdoux. It’s hard to imagine much of Stanley Kubrick’s work, for example, in particular Paths of Glory (1957) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) without the precedent of Shoulder Arms. Fortunately, Chaplin had already inoculated himself against charges of being unpatriotic or unserious about the war by participating in a nationwide bond drive and making the propaganda film The Bond. And the fact that Shoulder Arms was funny covered all manner of sins. Memorable takeaways included scenes where Charlie made his way through enemy territory disguised as a tree, tried to sleep in an underground barracks neck deep in water, and used his gas mask as protection against limburger cheese.

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4:30pm (E.S.T.): Doughboys (1930)

Doughboys is Buster Keaton’s Shoulder Arms. It’s probably his best talkie feature, certainly his best one for MGM. Buster plays a millionaire who accidentally enlists in the army during World War I. The movie was co-written by legendary comedy scribe Al Boasberg and co-stars Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards (whose most famous role is Jiminy Cricket in Pinnochio). Because Keaton’s character is more like a human being in this one, and the story hangs together better, it is closer in spirit to his silents even if there are still very few gags. Keaton has a funny musical duet with Cliff Edwards and a funny dance number in the army talent show. There are also a couple of Keatonesque gags. One of them–very grim—has Keaton propped up in a trench looking like a corpse and suddenly popping up awake. The whole movie is almost ruined by an extremely annoying drill sergeant who keeps yelling. What movie executive thought this kind of thing was funny, I’ll never know, but there sure is a lot of it in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Still, it’s a movie worth seeing.

To learn more about silent and slapstick film 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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