The Marx Brothers and the Golden Age of Vaudeville!

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Marx Brothers, Movies, PLUGS, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , on September 23, 2016 by travsd


Opening tonight at New York’s Film Forum: an exciting screening series entitled the Marx Brothers and the Golden Age of Vaudeville. The curators actually seem to have lumped two series ideas together into one, but what care I? Both halves are well worth seeing.

If you’ve already seen the Marx Brothers’ classics to death, there are several reasons to attend this series anyway: 1) the films look better big; 2) the films laugh better with an audience; 3) several have been restored and are thus better looking prints, and, lastly 4) a couple of have a few seconds of previously missing footage restored. This last reason alone will make the Marx nuts come out in force, I know. Any new scrap of film containing  boys will be more than welcome. And September 25 our friends from I’ll Say She Is will be judging a Marx Brothers look-a-like contest!

As for the other films in the series, there are several programs of Vitaphone shorts of vaudevillians, including many previously unscreened ones, and that always gets me excited. And then there’s the recently restored Paul Whiteman movie The King of Jazz (1930) which I still have yet to see. I hope I get to make it over there! I’ll probably know everyone in the audience. It runs through Sept 29, with a kicker screening on October 25 of Vitaphone Varieties, Part 2. All the information is here. 

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


Windows on the Bowery, Part Two

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, ME, My Shows, SOCIAL EVENTS with tags , , , , , , on September 23, 2016 by travsd


An excellent time was had by all assembled (I decree it) at last night’s celebration for the Windows on the Bowery exhibition at the historic HSBC bank on the lower Bowery in Chinatown. You may recall our coverage of Part One, the Cooper Union opening, from my earlier blog post.  As you may recall, because you are paying strict and close attention to every aspect of my life, I wrote two the panels, included in the show, and these are them:



But frankly all of the panels are terific and they really made me wish for a way-back machine so I could visit all the theatres, museums, and such like that used to thrive on the Bowery back in the day.  You want a clearer picture? You want to see the rest of them? GO THERE. I told you where it is at the top of the post.

Here are some candids I took at the event:

David Mulkins of the Bowery Residents Committee, principle mover, shaker and chief bottle washer of the project talks to Ralph Lewis of Peculiar Works Project (whom I learned last night lives in one of the historic buildings!)

David Mulkins of the Bowery Residents Committee, principle mover, shaker and chief bottle washer of the project talks to Ralph Lewis of Peculiar Works Project (whom I learned last night lives in one of the historic buildings!)

Mulkins addresses the adoring throngs

Mulkins addresses the adoring throngs

HSBC Bowery Branch staff, who have every reason to be proud of this civic minded project

HSBC Bowery Branch staff, who have every reason to be proud of this civic minded project

The word in the circle is "Success". Ain't it the truth, ain't it the truth?

The word in the circle is “Success”. Ain’t it the truth, ain’t it the truth?

Tomorrow: Early Talking Comedies at City Reliquary

Posted in BROOKLYN, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, PLUGS with tags , , , , on September 23, 2016 by travsd


Merrily We Live (1938)

Posted in Hollywood (History) on September 22, 2016 by travsd

A nice take on a forgotten screwball comedy by my pen pal Carol from across the puddle!

The Old Hollywood Garden


In many ways, Merrily We Live (1938) is the neglected, younger brother of My Man Godfrey (1936). See if you can spot the similarities:

The Kilbournes, in particular Mrs Kilbourne (Billie Burke in her only Oscar-nominated performance), have a habit of hiring ‘tramps’ as servants, much to the annoyance of Mr Kilbourne (Clarence Kolb), their children Jerry (Constance Bennett), Marion (Bonita Granville) and Kane (Tom Brown), and Grosvenor (Alan Mowbray), the long-suffering butler who threatens to leave every day. One day, when Rawlins (Brian Aherne) arrives at their house to use their phone after his car rolls down a cliff (yes), they mistake him for a tramp and he is immediately ‘hired’ as their chauffeur.

Directed by Norman Z. McLeon, Merrily We Live is as wacky as it gets, endlessly delightful and absolutely hilarious. And, in my opinion, it deserves to be a lot more famous than it is. I suppose it…

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Why the World Needs More John Housemans

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, Broadway, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Impresarios, Indie Theatre, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, Melodrama and Master Thespians with tags , , , , , on September 22, 2016 by travsd


 Today is the birthday of that great theatrical man John Houseman (1902-1988). We’ve already done a biographical post on him (read that here), and we’ve done one on his late career television show The Paper Chase (read about it here).

Earlier this year I chanced to read the first volume of his three part memoir, Run Through, which he wrote in the 1970s. I found the book both inspirational and consoling. How heartening it is to know that, even for the greatest theatrical geniuses of the age, working on these now legendary productions, life was still feast-or-famine, precarious, on top of the world one minute, broke as a hobo the next, always surfing the miserable yet exhilarating metaphysical tsunami of risk — risking your reputation, your very SELF, repeatedly on the altar of the public’s approval. When looked at this way, is there any doubt that the theatre begins NOT with storytelling, but with human sacrifice? At the volcano’s mouth, at the stake, in the coliseum? It’s not just “putting on a show” — it’s KILLING yourself to put on a show, trying to make something important that will make a memorable impression on the audience, will make some kind of alchemical change in their heads. What a rush. Clearly he felt the same way, although perhaps to a less pathological degree than his partner Orson Welles. 

My other take away from this book is how badly the theatre needs more Housemans. Indie theater in particular has more than its share of wanna-be Welleses. Everyone can’t play the coddled genius in this life; someone has to pay the baby food bills. Much rarer and arguably more necessary than aspiring geniuses are willing, hard working business managers. The elephant in the room when discussing Welles, yet rarely brought up, is the fact that the “charmed” phase of his career ended when he alienated Houseman. With Houseman out of the picture, Welles’ life became a struggle instead of the cakewalk it had always been until that point.

Houseman spent his young adulthood toiling behind desks in a series of responsible positions which even he found dreary (he traded grain until the stock market crash). But it taught him worldly skills and discipline. What made Houseman even rarer, of course, was that he was such a highly cultured businessman. In fact most people today think of him primarily as an actor. He was also an accomplished writer, dramaturg and director in addition to being a producer, and was well cultivated in ALL of the arts. Thus, when it was his task to raise money for a project, he was a full creative partner and collaborator. He was necessary to the art; he wasn’t just a bean-counter in some compartmentalized department (as I’ve often witnessed in larger arts organizations). He knew whereof he spoke. Thus I say and say again:  The best thing that could happen to the arts in this country would be to start churning out far fewer Wellses, and many more Housemans. WAH! I WANT MY HOUSEMAN!

A Belated Pat Harrington Tribute

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, OBITS, Television with tags , , , , , , on September 21, 2016 by travsd


Well this is only nine months late! When Pat Harrington passed away nine months ago I briefly considered writing a brief tribute, but couldn’t really muster a meaningful link. He was most famous for playing the character of Schneider on One Day at a Time, but I never liked that show. I also knew that he had been a cast regular on Steve Allen’s various variety shows, which I liked far more, but it was before my time and I’d only seen about two or three of his appearances on those. Closer to my bailiwick is the fact that Harrington used to be a nightclub comic. (His dad, Pat Harrington Sr, whom we have previously blogged about, had been in vaudeville). And during the 70s (the height of his One Day at a Time fame), Harrington Jr was a constant fixture as a guest star on game shows and the like, so I often saw him in those contexts, and got to see the “variety” side of his persona there.

Which leads finally to my pathway in to celebrating him this morning. Harrington did a great Groucho Marx impression, and starting in 1974, he put it to profitable use by using it as the voice of the Vlasic Pickle Stork. Just as W.C. Frito had been my original introduction to W.C. Fields, the Vlasic Pickle Stork was undoubtedly one of my first introductions to the persona of Groucho Marx. Sad but true! (Leave aside the confusing mishmash of premises in the commercials: He’s a stork that delivers pickles like babies, but he’s Groucho and uses a pickle for a cigar? Who thought this up and who greenlighted it? Apparently the original justification for a stork as the mascot was that pregnant women supposedly crave Pickles. Aw, who cares — it was funny anyway.) And the Groucho-esque slogan, “That’s the best tasting pickle I ever hoid” makes much more sense when accompanied by the crunching noise of a pickle.

Vlasic still uses the stork as its mascot, and still runs the commercials, now with other actors supplying the voice. At any rate, R.I.P. Pat Harrington — the original Vlasic Pickle Stork.

Tammy Faye Starlite is Back (and My Rave About Her is Up)

Posted in Art Stars, Comedy, Contemporary Variety, Crackers, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre, Jews/ Show Biz, Singers, Singing Comediennes with tags , , , , , , on September 21, 2016 by travsd


I caught opening night of Tammy Faye Starlite in Holy War 2016 at Pangea and it was every bit as dazzling as I knew it would be. Read my rave here in Chelsea Now

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