Today on TCM: A Very Timely Showing of “Julius Caesar”

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, CULTURE & POLITICS, Hollywood (History), LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , on June 25, 2016 by travsd

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Today at 4pm (EST), Turner Classic Movies will be showing the 1953 American film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

Visiting some family about a month ago, and having a couple of idle hours at bed time, I re-read this play for the umpteenth time after a gap of many years and was struck by the timeliness of it at the present moment (and even more so today — as of yesterday’s unthinkable Brexit vote). Not so much timely in terms of “the tyrant on the throne” (that’s still theoretical in the States, thank God), but in terms of the monstrousness of the mob, and the dilemma for principled leaders when “The People” go horribly wrong. There are many cases (perhaps all of them) when the experts know better…they are in a position to know better, and they have spent a lifeteime studying their fields. But here in America at least WE have spent several decades now scoffing at “elites”, with the result that millions of people are so unmoored and untethered that they’ll listen to Piped Piper demagogues like Trump and Farage whose plan of action is to essentially DROWN them and make Soylent Green out of the corpses. This in turn places existing leaders in the agonizing position of having to contemplate abhorrently anti-democratic measures to deal with the immediate problem…measures that may make things better in the short term, but may also make them worse by setting a bad precedent. Overturn the will of the people for their own good? That is a hard choice for leaders in a republic (or in the case of Britain, constitutional monarchy). There are a lot of potential Brutuses and Cassiuses in Washington and London at the moment.

It’s been 30 years since I’ve seen John Houseman’s 1953 production, but having just read his memoir Run-Through, I am reminded once again what Orson Welles lost by fatally alienating his long-term producer. In my recent post “Weep Not For Welles“, I talked about how much Welles accomplished in the post-Kane years. But the elephant in the room of course is that the split with Houseman meant years of struggle, crazy masterpieces done on a shoestring and stuck together with baling wire and chewing gum. Houseman’s Caesar, released one year after Welles’ Othello, is an illustration of what might have been.

Granted Houseman without Welles is straightforward and competent — something short of “inspired” and “brilliant”. This is not, for example, the Welles high-concept “Fascism” Caesar of 1937; it’s just a well done literal version. But the production is overflowing with prestige talent, and I’ll wager it’s better known among ordinary movie fans than any Wellesian Shakespeare adaptation, if only because Marlon Brando plays the role of Marc Antony. This, along with Guys and Dolls, was a career gambit designed to demonstrate that Brando was more than just a guy who could scream “Stella!” and mumble, “I coulda been a contenda!”  And Brando is surprisingly excellent in the role…if he is using the Method here, you might say that he is playing a Shakespearean actor playing Antony. And the balance of the cast is also crazy with stars: John Gielgud bringing the authority as  Cassius, James Mason as Brutus, Louis Calhern as Caesar, Edmund O’Brien as Casca, Greer Garson as Calpurnia, Deborah Kerr as Portia, George Macready as Marullus, and best of all (for some of us) — Alan Napier (“Alfred” from Batman) as Cicero!

And directed and adapted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz…whose brother Herman co-wrote Citizen Kane with Welles. Small world!

And one that changes surprisingly little in some ways throughout the ages.

Tomorrow: Queens of Early Film Comedy

Posted in BROOKLYN, Comedians, Hollywood (History), PLUGS, Silent Film, Women with tags , , , on June 24, 2016 by travsd

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Stars of Vaudeville #991: Jack Whiting

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Singers, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Jack Whiting (Albert Draper Whiting Jr., 1901-1961).

Originally from Philadelphia, Whiting enjoyed great success as a male juvenile on Broadway in the 1920s. One his more notable successes was Hold Everything (1928-1929) with Bert Lahr. He worked steadily on Broadway between 1922 and 1954. Whiting played the Palace during his (and the theatre’s) heyday in the 1920s, and was also one of the last acts to play there in the early to mid 30s, when it was no longer a vaunted two-a-day but a grind of several shows per, the only way to make it pay during the Depression.

He also gave a smattering of film and tv performances from the ’30s through the ’50s, though the stage remained his principal stomping ground. His first film was Top Speed (1930) with Joe E. Brown. Ironically he did not appear in the film version with Hold Everything that that also starred Brown (Lahr was passed over for the role he created). Other notable films included The Life of the Party with Winnie Lightner (1930), and  Give Me a Sailor with Bob Hope, Martha Raye and Betty Grable (1938).

He was married to Anna Beth Sully (ex wife of Douglas Fairbanks) and thus was the stepfather of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

To learn 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.

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Tonight: Rain Pryor at the Iridium

Posted in African American Interest, Contemporary Variety, Jews/ Show Biz, PLUGS, Singers, Singing Comediennes with tags , , , , , on June 21, 2016 by travsd

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I’ll Say She Is — Getting Great Notices!

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Indie Theatre, Marx Brothers, ME, My Shows, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , on June 20, 2016 by travsd

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A little more than midway through our announced run of  I’ll Say She Is, our revival of the lost 1924 Marx Brothers Broadway musical, notices have begun to pile up and it’s a most exciting general vote of approval!

Fresh off the presses is Neil Genzlinger’s rave in the New York Times just out today! Read it here. 

Then there is the Adam Gopnick essay in The New Yorker which hit a few weeks back. I’d long known Gopnick to be an aficionado of classic comedy — we spent a good deal of time together when he wrote this piece about new burlesque in which I was featured back in 2002. The I’ll Say She Is piece is here.

Then there were the two major preview features, one in the Wall Street Journal and one in Jewish Week.

And there’s a bunch more! See the full round-up here. 

Also, New Yorkers, be sure to watch On Stage on NY-1 this Wednesday. A little birdie told me David Cote’s review will air then (and I believe online afterwards as they normally do). Can’t wait!

Tickets are nearly sold out for the remainder of the run, but some remain: to get them go here. 

Some Vaudeville Fathers

Posted in Child Stars, Father's Day, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , on June 19, 2016 by travsd

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It being the annual day given to honor Paternal Progenitors it seemed appropriate to look at a few with a vaudeville connection, as we had done with Mothers previously. We have already blogged about all of these fellers. Just follow the link to read more about the gents in question.

And vaudeville fathers DESERVE a special tribute. You know who sucks? NON-vaudeville fathers. So many of our great stars FLED from stern, domineering, controlling male parents who disapproved of their career choice and their life style, only to be appropriately scorned for their obtuseness by the annals of history. There was Al Jolson’s father, the cantor, later dramatized in The Jazz Singer. W.C. Fields’ father, the produce grocer. Ed Wynn’s father, the dealer in hats. These men all wanted and expected their sons to go into the family business, tried to force the issue, and later got their noses rubbed in it. Joe Frisco’s father threw his dancing clogs into a woodburning stove. Such parenting techniques rarely work out.

Much more to the purpose are the show biz dads, who groomed their kids to join them in the family business. Here are a few:

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Eddie Foy

Eddie Foy was the ultimate of course. That is why we put him at the top, and place his picture as the header of the posts. The proud papa paraded his seven kids across the nation’s vaudeville stages, showing off their talents, and turning them into a mini-industry. The act was so well-loved it was later memorialized a bio-pic starring Bob Hope. 

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Gerry Cohan

Equally deserving of the top spot! If you’re like me, your view of the famously gentle, indulgent father will be forever shaped by Walter Huston’s loving portrait in Yankee Doodle Dandy. My mother thanks you, my father thanks you…

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Joe Keaton

Okay, maybe the famously alcoholic, short-tempered and violence prone father of Buster Keaton doesn’t deserve a mug that says “World’s Greatest Dad”, but I think the fact that Buster never disparaged him, and remained close to him, and even cast him in his movies, speaks volumes.

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Sam “Frenchy” Marx

Far from disapproving of his sons’ chosen career, he was often the designated audience plant whose job it was to cue laughter during their early days in vaudeville.

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Lew Fields

One half of vaudeville’s greatest comedy team Weber and Fields, Fields later became an important Broadway producer in his own right, and instilled in his children Dorothy, Herbert and Joseph such love of the theatre that they all became important Broadway creators in their own right.

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Arthur “A.J.” Jefferson

Stan Laurel’s father, a man of the regional U.K. theatre himself. He built Stan a toy theatre when he was a kid, and got him some of his first jobs.

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Charles Chaplin, Sr.

Okay, Charlie Senior was the textbook definition of a deadbeat dad…but he was pretty crucial to Charlie’s career in the early years, and without a doubt provided him with a useful cautionary example of the evils of drink.

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Danny Lewis

Is there any doubt that if the Lewises hadn’t grossly neglected their famous child by touring the vaudeville and nightclub circuits he wouldn’t be the man he is today. Jerry Lewis is a man who needs a LITTLE attention. The picture above shows three generations of performing Lewis men. The youngster is Jerry’s son Gary, who with his group The Playboys had some hits in the mid-60s.

To learn 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.

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Stars of Vaudeville #990: William Courtenay

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , on June 19, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday o actor William Courtney (William Hancock Kelly, 1875-1933).

Courtenay played big time vaudeville (including the Palace) but is most known as a legit actor of Broadway and early motion pictures. Originally from Massachusetts, starting in 1899 he began appearing in a series of plays with Richard Mansfield, including Cyrano de Bergerac and Beau Brummel. In 1902 he was Algy in Charles Frohman’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest. He appeared in a small number of silent pictures from 1915 through 1917, and five talkies shortly before he died. It was primarily on the fame of his stage work that he was booked for vaudeville.

To learn 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.

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