Archive for October, 2013

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy

Posted in Abbott and Costello, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies with tags , , on October 31, 2013 by travsd

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My sharing of the trailer from Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955) may surprise readers who know how I feel about the films of Abbott and Costello. I include it because I think it is a much more entertaining mummy movie than all of Universal’s “serious” mummy sequels. It contains much more of what I want from a mummy movie, at any rate…an Egyptian setting, tombs, pyramids, guys in pith helmets and of course a somnambulant, dusty, 4,000 year old fellow walking around wrapped in ace bandages. Most of the “legit” sequels turn out to be set in the U.S. for some odd reason (probably expense) and we get far too little onscreen mummy time. The irony is that in my view Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy is the best of all the sequels to the original The Mummy. That is, until the reboot.

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 Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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On the Greatness of John Candy

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Television, TV variety with tags , , on October 31, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the late, lamented John Candy (1950-1994). “There’s always a role for John Candy,” I used to say to my pals in the SCTV days, the thrust of my meaning being that, no matter the scenario or the premise, there always seemed to be a role to fit what was then a more unusual body type: a big fat guy. And of course, as I’ve often remarked the show business world has always had at least one funny fat man on tap throughout the ages: John Bunny, Fatty Arbuckle, Oliver Hardy, Lou Costello, Jackie Gleason, John Belushi….But Candy was a new phenomenon, because, like all of his SCTV cast-mates, he had range. On the show, he memorably played Orson Welles, Julia Child, Divine, Pavarotti, Tip O’Neill, Merlin Olsen, and even, thanks to a bit of hilariously insensitive video wizardry, Herve Villechaise. Even more rewarding for the opportunities they gave for him to show off his acting chops were his recurring original characters like Johnny LaRue, Mayor Tommy Shanks, Willy B. Williams, Dr. Tongue, Yosh Shmenge, Gil Fisher (the Fishin’ Musician), and Harry, the Guy With the Snake on His Face.

It was initially thrilling to see him emerge in major movies. He’d actually been appearing in films since 1973, but in the late 70s/ early 80s had small roles in the really big pictures 1941, The Blues Brothers and Stripes. In 1984 he played the funny best friend in Splash and this is what pushed him over into star status. Sadly, like almost all of our great comedians of the last half century or more, he went on to make a string of movies that across the board have to be categorized as trivial junk. Lest ye protest this or that exception — I have to say, no, I’ve looked carefully over his filmography and I would characterize all of these movies as disposable, and that includes his 1991 experiment in pathos Only the Lonely with Maureen O’Hara.

But his television work on SCTV remains untouched.  Unfortunately, there’s little of it on Youtube (rights, you know). But here is a terrifically insightful interview about him with his friend and colleague (and one of my favorite comedians) Eugene Levy:

To find out about  the history of show business including television variety, consult 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 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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The East Side Kids in “Ghosts on the Loose”

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , on October 30, 2013 by travsd

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A better than average spook comedy featuring the East Side Kids, directed by William Beaudine, and featuring Bela Lugosi as a Nazi spy….but best of all, as the beautiful love interest — Ava Gardner, whom we are supposed to believe is Huntz Hall’s sister! That’s enough for three movies and it’s only an hour long! Them’s what I call moovies!

To learn out more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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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

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Lucy’s Halloween Nightmare

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, Sit Coms, Television, Women with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2013 by travsd

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In this cartoonish fantasy sequence from Here’s Lucy, Lucille Ball and sidekick Vivian Vance are trapped in a haunted castle by her boss Mr. Mooney (Gale Gordon) who is actually quite believable as a scary vampire. Along the way they are accosted by a malevolent Morris chair, a gorilla, a lab assistant who is a mummy for some reason (probably because that’s what costume was available), a werewolf and a skeleton. A machine turns the ladies into witches for some reason. Lucy is excellent in the role, much funnier, and much less disturbing than she is in her ordinary persona (the woman was in her sixties at this point). In the end of this absurd little sequence, everyone is doing a square dance, being called by a decapitated head that is hanging on the wall. Much better to stay in this dream than go back to the reality of Here’s Lucy, I should think.

To learn out more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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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

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A Monstrous Monkee Mash

Posted in Comedy, Music, Rock and Pop, Sit Coms, Television with tags , , on October 30, 2013 by travsd

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It was bound to happen sometime and for in January 1968 it did…The Monkees aired a spook comedy episode. Lured to a Transylvania castle by a hot Goth chick, Davy is in danger of being turned into a vampire. When his three bandmates come to rescue him, they encounter The Wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy. It shouldn’t happen to the Count Five, let alone the Monkees! 

To learn out more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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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

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Century of Slapstick #14: The Speed Kings

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Comedy, Fatty Arbuckle, Hollywood (History), Mabel Normand, Movies, Silent Film, Sport & Recreation with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2013 by travsd

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Today (according to IMDB) is the 100th anniversary of the release of the Keystone comedy The Speed Kings, a one reel short starring Ford Sterling, Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand and Barney Oldfield — as himself. Shot against the backdrop of an actual auto race (a frequent gambit of producer Mack Sennett’s) it tells the tale of Papa Ford Sterling trying to curb Mabel’s infatuation with driver Teddy Tetzlaff. Arbuckle plays a masher.

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 Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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The Hall of Hams #54: Ruth Gordon

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Playwrights, The Hall of Hams, Women with tags , , on October 30, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of that divine character Ruth Gordon Jones (1896-1985 — she shortened her name for show business). She wrote several autobiographical books, plus her early life was the subject of the 1953 film The Actress, all highly reccommended avenues for learning about the life of a barnstorming trouper in the final glory days of the American theatre. Gordon was from a middle class Quincy Massachusetts family (THAT’s what that accent is!). Star struck as a girl she wrote fan letters to several actors; Hazel Dawn wrote words of encouragement back to her. After much heated family discussion, Gordon’s father finally paid for her to move to New York and study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Her Broadway debut was as one of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan in 1915; over the next 60 years she would star in nearly three dozen plays, including works by Chekhov, Ibsen and Shaw. She was the original Dolly Levi in Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker (1955). She also wrote several plays for Broadway: Over 21 (1944), Years Ago (1946), and The Leading Lady (1948). This led naturally to screenwriting. Over 21 became a film in 1945; she also wrote A Double Life (1947) and The Actress (an adaptation of Years Ago, 1953) and with husband Garson Kanin, the two Hepburn-Tracy vehicles, Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952).

Success in front of the cameras was slower in coming, however. While the younger Gordon was pretty, she was very short and her looks were not conventionally beautiful. In the 1940s she got about a half dozen roles, the most notable of which was Mary Todd Lincoln in Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940).

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It wasn’t until her later years, when she was an elderly woman that she suddenly clicked before film and television audiences and became a modern celebrity. As an old woman she was adorable and had her own vocabulary of tics and tricks that allowed her to steal the show no matter what she appeared in. The late roles include Inside Daisy Clover (1965), Lord Love a Duck (1966), Rosemary’s Baby (1968, for which she won an Oscar), Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969), Where’s Poppa? (1970), Harold and Maude (1971), Every Which Way But Loose (1978), My Bodyguard (1980), Every Which Way You Can (1980), and lots and lots of television, including a memorable Columbo turn in 1977. Her last (posthumous) part was in The Trouble With Spies (1987).

Here’s why we loved her. This turn on Dick Cavett’s show, with Woody Allen beside her is just riveting. I forgot to mention — in addition to being brilliant, she was a nut!

To learn out more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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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

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