During my recent sojourn at Slapsticon, I saw an obscure Hal Roach talkie starring one of the worst, unfunniest comedians I have ever seen. Just painful. No instincts, no character, no timing. He did a bunch of physical business, but somehow it didn’t register as comedy. I later learned that this was Ben Blue. And all the other film buffs who were there agreed with me. The pits. But someone must have liked him. George Burns called him one of the funniest comedians he’d ever seen. The odds are good that these opinions sprang from his live performances and the quality never made it onto celluloid.
Ben Blue (born this day in Montreal in 1901) got his start just like Milton Berle and Bob Hope — by winning a Charlie Chaplin impersonation contest. He was a drummer in comedy dance bands, and an eccentric dancer and pantomime in his own right (eventually opening his own dance schools). His antics cracked people up. He actually headlined at the Palace several times 1929-31 and during its revival in 1952. He starred in several comedy film shorts for Hal Roach, Vitaphone et al from 1932 through 1934, and appeared in feature length movie musicals and the like in the 30s and 40s, e.g. Panama Hattie and For Me and My Gal (both 1942).
In the 40s, he ran several nightclubs, including the famous Slapsie Maxie’s and his own Ben Blue’s. He did a lot of tv variety work in the 50s. Oddly, a couple of his most memorable film appearances came late in his career. He was the bi-plane pilot in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and the Paul Revere figure in The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming (1966). He passed away in 1975.
And now here he is with Shemp Howard in the 1933 comedy Here Comes Flossie. You’ll see what I mean – -Shemp is much funnier than Blue is:
To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy please check out 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
To learn more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.