Archive for the Drag and/or LGBT Category

The Lady Had a Certain KULPability

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Sit Coms, Television, Women with tags , , , , , on August 28, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the late great character actress Nancy Kulp (1921-1991). Best known of course for her role as “Miss Jane” Hathaway, the love-starved spinster secretary on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971), she played many such roles over the years, often as guest shots in situation comedies and dramas. Flat-chested, rail-thin, prim and proper, she seemed more than vaguely English, despite the fact that she hailed from Pennsylvania, and moved to Florida as a teenager. Originally trained as a journalist, in the early 1950s she went to work in the publicity department of a movie studio, where she was discovered by George Cukor, who encouraged her to try acting. She had many small parts in movies over the years (including many for Walt Disney), but it was her role as a bird-watching neighbor on The Bob Cummings Show starting in 1955 that forever cemented her profile as a highly eccentric — but very recognizable type.

"Be so good as to go, Jethro!"

“Be so good as to go, Jethro!”

As time went on, the iconography of the character she played gathered new shades of meaning. Just the other night, the Mad Marchioness and myself caught her in an episode of Sanford and Son. She had a recurring role on that show from 1975 to 1976  as the very whitest of white ladies, always to entrance and exit applause. People loved Nancy Kulp to death, much as they loved Tony Randall. I confess to being among the idolaters. She had so much class, and she didn’t apologize for it. She was absolutely willing to be 100% herself, to plunge right into the most vulnerable, humiliating sort of behavior for the sake of our amusement. Without debasing herself, mind you — just being human, but in the most courageous way. There is a ton to learn from the example of this actress.

And yes, she was of the L persuasion, research bears it out. I never make assumptions, as many seem to think it’s OK to do: “Of COURSE she’s this or that!” Of course, nothing. Kulp divorced her husband of ten years in 1961, thereafter secretly practicing her conviction that “Sometimes birds of a feather flock together.”, which is all she was willing to say on the subject. I guess there was more to that bird watching than meets the eye!

Here is a really nice clip of her The Bob Cummings Show a.k.a. Love That Bob. Genius!

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, Charlie Chaplin, 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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Charlie Chaplin is “A Woman”

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers

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

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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

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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.

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Century of Slapstick #37: A Busy Day

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

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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

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