Archive for February, 2014

Lady of Burlesque

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, BOOKS & AUTHORS, Burlesk, Hollywood (History), Movies, Women with tags , , , , , on February 28, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of film director William Wellman (1896-1975). Responsible for many masterpieces, today we celebrate one we thought would be of especial interest to our readers: 1943’s Lady of Burlesque.

Based on Gypsy Rose Lee’s surprisingly well written first book The G String Murders (1941), the brilliance of this story is that it straddles (Nyah! That’s what I said! “Straddles!”) murder mysteries and backstage soap opera, with the added twist that it gives us one of our few glimpses into period burlesque by Hollywood.

And there is big irony here. Gypsy had left burlesque in 1937 to come to Hollywood as an actress. There was a hue and cry and outrage by the public. The studios backpeddled and did what they could to shovel her striptease past under the rug. They only stuck her in a few pictures, and they made Gypsy go by her given name, Louise Hovick. And then United Artists goes and makes this picture which is TOTALLY about burlesque! (The other irony is that by 1943 the burlesque industry, i.e., the circuits and the New York showplace theatres was for all intents and purposes already dead).

Granted, we don’t see anybody get naked. Barbara Stanwyck plays the Gypsy stand-in, and she’s terrific in it. Her leading man Michael O’Shea is a big dud, but another saving grace is the presence of real life burlesque comic Pinky Lee in the cast. As a mystery, it’s so-so, the joy is in the journey, it’s just full of great little details and relationships and characterizations that bring this historical scene back to life. For most contemporary variety performers it’s really the dream. That huge theatre, and we’re the only show in it! Those huge dressing rooms!

To learn more about 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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Buster Keaton in “Parlor, Bedroom and Bath”

Posted in Buster Keaton, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Buster Keaton talkie Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931). Directed by Eddie Sedgwick, the film was adapted from a sophisticated Broadway farce that had earlier been made as a silent with Eugene Pallette. This one puts Keaton alongside Cliff Edwards, Reginald Denny, and Charlotte Greenwood, with a lot of claptrap about Keaton’s bumbling character masquerading as the world’s greatest lover. As  John Lennon said about The Beatles movie Help!, “It’s like having clams in a movie about frogs.” We regret to say that it belongs in the “deservedly forgotten” pile; its interest is more historical than pleasurable. Also: it was filmed at Buster’s house!

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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To learn more about 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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Charlie Chaplin in “Between Showers”

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Charlie Chaplin, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2014 by travsd

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Today marks the anniversary of the release date of the Keystone comedy Between Showers. This funny silent comedy short is one of only a couple where two of my favorite comedy stars Charlie Chaplin and Ford Sterling can be seen side by side, literally duking it out. (Sterling was about to leave the studio; Chaplin had just come on.) The two men squabble over who gets to help a young lady over a mud puddle. To settle the dispute, we have Keystone Kop  Chester Conklin, who isn’t very helpful. I guess the title is supposed to imply that it has recently rained, but it also suggests to me that Charlie hasn’t bathed recently.

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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To learn more about 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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Dame Ellen Terry: 70 Years an Actress

Posted in LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Silent Film, The Hall of Hams, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great English actress Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928). A professional for almost seven decades, her life interacted with almost everyone of consequence in the English-speaking theatre  during her time.

A second generation thespian, she began appearing in the Shakespearean productions of Charles Kean at age eight, an association that ended with his retirement in 1859. In 1863, while appearing as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream she was first painted by the prominent artist George Frederic Watts. The two married in 1864, raising Terry’s profile among London’s cultured elite, but the 30 year age difference proved a sticking point and the two were separated in less than a year. Still technically married to Watts, she began an extra-marital relationship with architect Edward William Godwin. The affair produced two out-of-wedlock children, Edith and Edward Gordon Craig, both of whom were to become distinguished and influential theatre professionals in their own right. The scandal compelled Terry to retire for several years. In 1874, she and Godwin parted ways and she returned to the theatre.

In 1878 she began her most famous and lasting association as Sir Henry Irving’s leading lady at the Lyceum Theatre, where she played “all the great roles” over the next two-plus decades. It was during this period that she conducted her famous (entertaining, coy, flirtatious) correspondence with George Bernard Shaw. This finally bore fruit in 1903 when Terry took over management of the Imperial Theatre, concentrating on the works of Shaw and Ibsen.That venture was a bust, however, and she returned to being a jobbing actress. In 1918, she began to act in films as well, appearing in seven movies over a period of four years. Her last performance was in The Bohemian Girl with Ivor Novello.

Prepare to be amazed! Her voice and visage have been preserved! You can hear her and see her move, she, who acted with Charles Kean in 1856!

To learn more about 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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And 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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Defending the Honor of Hal Roach Against the Ignorance of Christies

Posted in African American Interest, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2014 by travsd

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In an otherwise terrific piece by Barbara Hoffman in today’s New York Post about a new Basquiat auction and showing at Christies, I came across this humdinger in a quote by Christies’ VP Jonathan Laib about a Basquiat work called “Famous Negro Athletes”:

“The crown [depicted in the work] is said to be taken from the film company that made the Little Rascals, which is completely racist”.*

Well, “the film company that made The Little Rascals” is discovered easily enough by Googling — take ya two seconds. It’s Hal Roach Studios, of course (and later, MGM). Neither of these companies used a crown in their logo. If I had to guess I would venture that it was a reference to the logo for the Negro baseball league’s Kansas City Monarchs:

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They don’t have researchers or fact checkers at either Christie’s auction house or the New York Post?

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Worse than that, the statement amounts to an outrageous and incorrect slander. Mr. Laib may know a lot about art (though judging from his high appraisal of a Pepto Bismal bottle with a dollop of paint on it by Basquiat, I doubt it), but he sure doesn’t know much about the history of American popular culture.

By contemporary standards, yes, the characters of Sunshine SammyFarina, Buckwheat and Stymie play like stereotypes — but in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the Our Gang/ Little Rascals series was at the very vanguard of progressive race relations in mainstream American culture. An entirely INTEGRATED gang of friends who play together, help each other, share candy, have each others backs? This, in the age of the Ku Klux Klan??? Of “Strange Fruit” and lynchings?  And Sunshine Sammy, by the way, was the first African American ever signed to a long term movie contract. This was Hal Roach’s vision — WAY ahead of the curve of the rest of the country at the time….this includes the other movie studios, vaudeville (which was segregated), professional sports, any other realm you care to name.  So it is REALLY unfair to dismiss him and this movie series as “completely racist”. “Racist,” yes — except for the entire REST of the country which was way MORE racist. You stand corrected, Mr. Laib.

(And I love Basquiat, by the way. I am just not too impressed by that Pepto Bismal bottle).

*The remark is among the picture descriptions; scroll up to it with the arrows.

For more on comedy  film history 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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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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Stanley “Tiny” Sandford: Roach Heavy

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2014 by travsd
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Tiny grabs hold of Charley Chase. He could probably toss him like so much flotsam

Today is the birthday of the great comic heavy Stanley “Tiny” Sandford (1894-1961).

Sandford was usually an uncredited bit player, often cast as bouncers, cops, bullies, boxers, and the like. An Iowa native, his first film credits are for several shorts from Chaplin’s Mutual period, The Floorwalker (1916), The Count (1916), The Immigrant (1917), and The Adventurer (1917). He next bounced around among various studios, occasionally getting small parts in major movies like Chaplin’s The Gold Rush and Larry Semon’s The Perfect Clown (both 1925.) Around the same  he began working regularly for Hal Roach, appearing in dozens of comedy shorts and features in support of Laurel and Hardy (far too many to list, all the way through Our Relations in 1936), as well as Charley Chase, Clyde Cook and others.  For reference: he’s the guy who dunks hardy in the drink in Babes in Toyland.  Sandford supports the Three Stooges in Woman Haters (1934), Wheeler and Woolsey in Mummy’s Boy (1936), and on and on and on. He also appeared in some none-slapstick vehicles, such as Show Boat (1936). And Chaplin continued to employ him throughout, in The Circus (1927), Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940). Sandford retired after 1943.

For more on slapstick film history 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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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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Charlie Chaplin in “The Pilgrim”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Clown, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Westerns with tags , , , , , , on February 26, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of Charlie Chaplin’s last comedy short The Pilgrim (1923). The Pilgrim is essentially a remake of Chaplin’s earlier pictures Police and The Adventurer, fleshed out with an exotic locale (south Texas) and a high concept premise: escaped criminal Charlie masquerades as a clergyman in a small western town in order to evade the law. When his old cellmate shows up and robs the old lady he boards with, Charlie heroically retrieves the money. Still, the law insists on punishment. The sheriff offers him a choice: back to jail, or freedom in Mexico – which appears to be a hotbed of rampant violence. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Charlie ends the film by making his usual exit down the trail, this time with one foot in each country. A symbolic statement to make for an author who was himself divided, one part moral reformer and one part lawless anarchist. Later, Chaplin went back and wrote a score for the film, including an adorable cowboy theme song, which I think of as an indispensable part of the experience.

Here is one of the film’s most praised scenes, where Chaplin’s escaped criminal finds himself in the position of having to deliver a sermon. He tells the story of David and Goliath to us — in hilarious pantomime. Also in the cast are Edna Purviance and Sydney Chaplin.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy film history 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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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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