Archive for the Drag and/or LGBT Category

Charlie Chaplin is “A Woman”

Posted in Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , on July 12, 2014 by travsd

ccwoman

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin short A Woman (1915).

In this Essanay comedy, Chaplin plays his usual park masher, who ends up coming home with Edna Purviance and her mother (Marta Golden), whom, I must say are not very discriminating about whom they bring into the house. When the father (Charles Inslee) comes home, the Little Fellow runs upstairs and dons feminine garb as a means of escaping the house without getting his neck broken. Later after the father has made a pass at him, Charlie (now “Nora”) uses that fact to blackmail the dad into letting him date his daughter. And I must say he doesn’t make a bad looking woman!

A little over ten years ago, I worked up a screenplay with the intention of filming a re-make of this short, which is still on my to-do list as part of my series of silent comedy experiments like this one. ‘Til then, there’s Chaplin’s original version:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Arbuckle, Keaton & St. John in “Good Night, Nurse!”

Posted in Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2014 by travsd

 1918good-night-nurse01

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the  Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle comedy Good Night, Nurse (1918), featuring Buster Keaton, Al St. John and Alice Lake. 

This short seems at least partially inspired by Chaplin’s The Cure (1917). Arbuckle plays a drunk. When we first meeting he is loitering in front of a drug store in the middle of a monsoon, fruitlessly trying to get a cigarette lit. (BTW, that woman with an umbrella who blows by is Keaton, in drag). Fatty caps off his evening by bringing home a couple of busking musicians, a tambourine girl, and an organ grinder and his monkey. This enrages his wife, who sends him to a sanitarium the next day to dry out.  Keaton plays a scary doctor(when we first meet him he is wearing a bloody smock). St. John is his assistant. They put Arbuckle under ether for some unspecified procedure. Then Arbuckle “wakes” and makes several escape attempts, one with nymphomaniac Alice Lake (who immediately wants to break  back into the sanitarium once they’re out) and one with Fatty in the obligatory drag as a nurse. Found out, he flees, and through a contrived set of circumstances winds up in a footrace, which he triumphantly wins, only to be immediately caught again by Keaton and his orderlies. Which of course all turns out to be a dream (he’s still under the ether). Pound for pound (no pun intended), one of the best of Abuckle’s Comique shorts, I think

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers

Posted in Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on May 15, 2014 by travsd

60010401150ad9176d53e0c427fc78a7

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Keystone comedy Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers (1915).

This was among the first silent films I ever saw. It came on a videotape I got for Christmas in high school, which also included Love, Loot and Crash and one or two others. I think it was actually in the Beta Max format!

In the film, three mashers (Harold Lloyd, Edgar Kennedy and Joe Bordeaux) wait around a hotel lobby at a seaside resort, looking for action. Then arrives a very Scottish looking mothball magnate (Walter C. Reed), his wife Billie Bennett, and his eligible daughter (Roscoe Arbuckle in drag!).

After much fooling around in the lobby, the family settles into a room. The suitors come up. Lots of fisticuffs with Fatty , which then evolves into dancing, and soon a total melee. The father kicks them all out. Then Miss Fatty puts on her ridiculous striped bathing suit, with cap and parasol. They all frolic on on beach. Fatty falls asleep on a rock. Wakes up, surrounded by water. The tide has come in . (Did this inspire a similar scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?). The three guys try to rescue her and fail.  The “surf Kops” too try, fail and fall. Finally she just makes her way back by herself. Notices her parasol is broken, starts to cry.

Now you can watch it too:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

 

 

Century of Slapstick #37: A Busy Day

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , on May 7, 2014 by travsd

foto1

Today is the 100th anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin film A Busy Day.

This one is priceless — priceless! Directed by the man Mack Sennett himself, this is one of his patent “improv at a real event” shorts, set against the backdrop of a real-life wharf opening in nearby San Pedro, California. Why do I say “priceless”? Chaplin plays a woman in the film, from beginning to end, in drag.

Charlie plays Mack Swain’s bothersome wife. There is a lot of Kid Auto Races at Venice business with a newsreel camera, several fistfights, some silly dancing, and in the end Ambrose (Swain’s usual Keystone character) can’t take it any more and throws the Mrs. off the dock.

Silent comedy is definitely a field where brevity is the soul of wit. This one clocks in at six minutes.

For more on 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 etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500To find out 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.safe_image

Stars of Vaudeville #866: Edgar Allan Woolf

Posted in Broadway, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on April 25, 2014 by travsd
w/ frequent collaborator Florence Ryerson

w/ frequent collaborator Florence Ryerson

Sorry for that tiny photo — writers leave behind much smaller graphic footprints than do performers.

Today is the birthday of Edgar Allan Woolf (1888-1943). Woolf was one of the best known vaudeville writers, and there were only a scant handful (among the many hundreds) who managed to achieve anything like name recognition, usually by going on to bigger and better things (George Kelly and Al Boasberg are two I have written about here).

And the reason why should be plain. I won’t say the word “hack” because what they did deserves more respect than that. Let us say say, these were very practical writers. They were fashioning special material for actors and and comedians and singers in order to earn a living. They weren’t precious about it, they wrote to please customers, and there was perhaps an emphasis on quantity over quality. At one point, Woolf is said to have had 60 sketches on the road with different vaudeville acts. Among those he wrote for were Pat Rooney Sr and Mrs. Patrick Campbell, although dozens of other names pop up in connection with him.

So we vaudeville fans know his name in this context, but his shadow grew longer. He actually had a substantial career as a Broadway playwright and Hollywood screenwriter. He wrote close to a dozen Broadway plays and musicals between 1904 and 1921. The most famous of which today is Mamzelle Champagne (1906), due to a bit of notoriety unrelated to Woolf. It was a performance of this show that Harry K. Thaw shot Stanford White over the little matter of Evelyn Nesbitt. (The way Woolf used to tell it at Hollywood parties, his mother, who was present, stood up and screamed, “Oh my God! They’ve shot Edgar!” The show, apparently wasn’t very good.)

roofgarden400

Another notable Woolf show was 1919’s Roly Boly Eyes a starring vehicle for minstrel man Eddie Leonard. 

Woolf was already writing dialogue for talkies as early as 1928, which has to make him one of the first writers brought out to Hollywood to script talking pictures. He had a hand in over three dozen pictures at MGM, and became a sort of popular, well known Hollywood character. Flamboyantly gay, he gave weekly parties for writers and directors, and cooked Sunday morning brunches at Louis B. Mayer’s house. Most of his movies were forgettable, but he did supply dialogue to Freaks (1932) and Mad Love (1935) and was one of the credited screenwriters on The Wizard of Oz (1939), which is probably what he is best known for today.

mdQGvGfzj5-LNIZXvwif75g

His name was in the papers once more in 1943, in connection with his tragic death. True to his generous character, Woolf cared for a blind dog. Investigators pieced together that he tripped over the pooch at the top of his stairs one morning. He was found at the bottom of the staircase with his skull broken.

 

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.

safe_image

 

And 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

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

Tonight: The Murray Hill Show

Posted in Burlesk, Contemporary Variety, Drag and/or LGBT with tags , , on March 8, 2014 by travsd

1920288_10152343711169673_801539404_n

Yankee Doodle in Berlin

Posted in Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on March 2, 2014 by travsd

tumblr_mk3so8ScBj1rb5nc0o1_1280

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Mack Sennett feature length comedy Yankee Doodle in Berlin (1919). This WWI-era patriotic comedy is doubly interesting to us: 1) because it stars so many greats from the Sennett stock company: Ford Sterling (as the Kaiser!), Ben Turpin, Mal St. Clair, Marie Prevost, Charlie Murray, both Chester and Heinie Conklin, and the Bathing Beauties; and 2) the star of the picture is Bothwell Browne, a vaudeville drag performer whose only starring film this is. (For more on Browne go here). This was Sennett’s most ambitious film up to that time, and only his third feature. Unfortunately he gambled on the war lasting longer than it did; it was already over by the time the film was in theatres.

The plot is just what you think it would be. Browne is an army captain who goes undercover in the Kaiser’s Germany, disguised as a woman. As long as Sterling or Turpin makes a pass at him, that’s all I ask! The film is actually available to purchase and I aim to do just that (Go here). In the meantime, here’s a preview:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500 To learn more about show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Laurel and Hardy in “Twice Two”

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , , , on February 25, 2014 by travsd

twice_two__fav_scene_

Today is the release date of the hilarious Laurel and Hardy comedy Twice Two (1933). As the title implies, this is a doubling comedy, a device the team often relied on (see also Brats, Our Relations, etc). Here, the boys play their own wives! (Actresses supply their voices, a slightly disturbing effect). The plot is almost nil — an Anniversary dinner party, punctuated by squabbles, and thrown cakes. But I find it one of their funniest; the gimmick is enough to see it through. It was directed by the excellent James “Paul” Parrott, Charley Chase’s brother.

For more on slapstick 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

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

 

Nazimova in “Salome”

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Silent Film, Women with tags , , , on February 15, 2014 by travsd

Nazimova_Salome3

Today is the anniversary of the release date of Salome, starring Alla Nazimova (1923). The film has long been regarded as the notorious Nazimova’s Waterloo. A star of films since 1916 and on stage since long before that (see more about her overall career here), at a time of growing conservatism in Hollywood (mere months after the Arbuckle scandal broke) Nazimova rolled the dice and decided to self-produce a self-consciously arty version of Oscar Wilde’s Biblically inspired tale of incest, blood-lust and provocative nakedness.

The timing for this ambitious experiment couldn’t have been worse. Though versions of Salome and its wicked “dance of the Seven Veils” had been a bona fide craze for years, that vogue was over, old news, and the country was now pulling into a period of conservatism. People were tired of Nazimova’s antics, which were much more in tune with the Babylonian teens than the Calvin Coolidge twenties. On top of this, the movie is highly expressionistic, if that’s the word, filmed on an interior stage with sets and costumes designed by Natacha Rambova, based on Aubrey Beardsley’s original illustrations for the published version of Wilde’s play, and lots of stylized movement, gesture and dance. Somehow it never transports us though. Where The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari had used similar techniques and managed to launch us into the dream-space, in Salome  we are somehow always aware of the edges, of the studio walls just beyond the movie set.

At the time there was much difficulty getting the film released, and even more getting audiences to see it. Within a few months Nazimova left Hollywood, although she would return to appear in several films in the 1940s. Salome’s reputation has improved in the present era, both due to the enhanced statuses of Nazimova and Wilde as gay icons in recent years, but also because there is a market for films as apparently uncommercial as this. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is very interesting — certainly much more interesting than plenty of films that were hits in 1923.

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 Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

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

safe_image

Stars of Vaudeville #856: Vardaman

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on January 17, 2014 by travsd

ManselVBoyle

Today is the birthday of the female impersonator Vardaman (Mansel Vardaman G. Boyle, 1877-1945).

Vardaman was born in Santa Cruz, California and raised in Butte, Montana, where he first worked as a store clerk, stenographer and book-keeper before getting involved in local amateur productions where he donned his first skirts. This led naturally into vaudeville. From 1903 to 1913 he was working some of the top houses of the west and midwest, billed as “Vardman, the Auburn Haired Beauty” and “Vardaman, the Gay Deceiver”. In 1913 he embarked on a word tour that included the U.K., South Africa and Australia. In 1916 he toured the U.S. with the burlesque company The Champagne Belles.

By the the 1920s he was getting long in the tooth and no longer able to pull off a Pretty Little Miss. For a while he tried vaudeville under the handle “LaVardy” but by 1925 he had packed it in. For some years he lived with film star J. Warren Kerrigan. For a time he also lived with the family of Flint, Michigan theatre owener Louis Sunlin, as a live-in private cook. He passed away in 1945 in relative obscurity.

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

safe_image

And 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

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,347 other followers

%d bloggers like this: