Archive for July, 2014

Irwin Corey Turns 100!

Posted in Comedy, Jews/ Show Biz, Stand Up, Television, TV variety with tags , , , on July 29, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the 100th birthday of Professor Irwin Corey!

Corey’s is essentially a vaudeville act, although he introduced it two decades too late for vaudeville. (He launched his act in the 1940s). Billed as an “The World’s Foremost Authority” he would unleash a meandering stream of doubletalk. His appearance, with the air of distraction, the messy suit with tennis shoes, and the Einstein-esque tousled hair was what sold it.

When I was a kid in the ’70s Corey was a staple of television talk and variety shows like Merv Griffin and The Tonight Show, and he had cameos and small parts in movies like Car Wash (1976).

As far as I can tell he is still performing! There are some VERY recent clips of him on youtube, and I hear he did a radio interview only this morning. There is a big birthday celebration for him tonight at the Actor’s Temple. 

To find out more about the history of show business, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.

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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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Hall of Hams #79: Maria Ouspenskaya

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Romani (Gypsy), Russian, The Hall of Hams, Women with tags , , , , , , on July 29, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya (1876-1949). Film buffs know her well as the mysterious Gypsy fortune teller in The Wolf Man (1941) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). What I did not learn until recently was that she was instrumental in bringing Stanislavski’s “Method” to American shores. A member of the Moscow Art Theatre, she decided to remain in the U.S. during the company’s 1922 American tour. She settled in New York and taught acting at the American Laboratory Theatre until she founded the School for Dramatic Art in 1929. More about her influence on American acting can be found here. 

In the mid 1930s she went to Hollywood. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the film Dodsworth (1936). Other major films she appeared in included Waterloo Bridge (1940) and The Shanghai Gesture (1941).

To find out more about the history of show business, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.

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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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Fatty’s Tintype Tangle

Posted in Comedy, Fatty Arbuckle, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2014 by travsd

Fatty's Tintype Tangle

Today’s the anniversary of the release date of the Roscoe Arbuckle comedy Fatty’s Tintype Tangle (1915). Fatty’s photograph (tin type) is accidentally taken with a woman he happens to be sitting next to on a park bench (Louise Fazenda), causing much trouble in both their homes when their spouses find the tintypes. This Mack Sennett short also features Edgar Kennedy as a jealous husband.

To learn more about silent and slapstick film please 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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To find out more about  the history of 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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Of Charlot and His Revues

Posted in Frenchy, Impresarios, Variety Theatre with tags , , , , , on July 26, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great impresario André Charlot (1882-1956), whose great career radiated across the great show business capitals along with the march of history, westward, from Paris to London to New York to Hollywood.

Charlot learned the show biz ropes in his native country in famous venues like the Folies Bergère and the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. In 1912 he moved to London, where he became one of the managers of the Alhambra Theatre, and mounted his famous series of revues, fostering the talents of the likes of Beatrice Lillie, Gertrude Lawrence, Noel Coward, and Ivor Novello. These intimate annual musical comedy shows, which prized writing and individual performance over spectacle, were a major staple of the London theatre until the Great Depression finally took its toll in 1937. Andre Charlot’s Revue of 1924 was a major smash of the Broadway stage, making Bea Lillie a star of the American theatre as well. Charlot also collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock and others on the interesting 1930 revue film Elstree Calling, and produced successful radio versions of his revue for the BBC called Charlot’s Hour.

In 1937 he moved to Hollywood where he initially staged versions of his revue for night clubs. Starting in 1942 he became a bit player in movies, acting in dozens (often uncredited) through 1955.

To find out more about  the variety theatreconsult 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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Today on TCM: 3 Slapstick WWI Comedies

Posted in Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2014 by travsd

There’s something chilling? ironic? depressing? that this World War One centenary year is taking place at the very same time that World War Three, 3.5 or Four (depending on how you count) seems to be breaking out. I am really tired of things exploding onscreen and off. But…comedians have found things to laugh about even amidst the bleakness of warfare.

This month TCM is showing tons of movies about the First World War, and today, three famous comedies on the subject:

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2:00pm (E.S.T.) The Better ‘Ole (1926) 

I’m very excited about this one – -I’ve wanted to see it for ages, and never have. Based on a 1917 West End musical stage hit, it stars Sydney Chaplin (Charlie’s brother. To learn more about Sydney, see my article here.) The film was directed by Chuck Reisner and was one of the very first Vitaphone films (there’s a music soundtrack but no dialogue or sync sound)

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3:45am (E.S.T.) Shoulder Arms (1918) 

Charlie Chaplin’s World War One comedy Shoulder Arms (initially called Camouflage), was first planned to come in at five reels, about fifty minutes, which was no shorter than many features in those days.  As originally conceived, the film would have had an opening act showing the Little Fellow’s home life with his wife and kids. Then it would take him into the process of being inducted into the army. It would then have had a closing act wherein the Little Fellow is celebrated as a war hero, before inevitably being awakened from a dream. Chaplin eventually decided to cut it to just the middle – the Little Fellow’s service in the war.

As comic subject matter this was unprecedentedly dark, not just for Chaplin, but for the movies. No one had ever done a comedy that included trench warfare, gas masks, bullets, barbed wire, and No Man’s Land. Not only was Shoulder Arms the first war comedy, it was also the first black comedy, introducing a side of Chaplin that would come to full flowering in The Great Dictator and Monsieur Verdoux. It’s hard to imagine much of Stanley Kubrick’s work, for example, in particular Paths of Glory (1957) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) without the precedent of Shoulder Arms. Fortunately, Chaplin had already inoculated himself against charges of being unpatriotic or unserious about the war by participating in a nationwide bond drive and making the propaganda film The Bond. And the fact that Shoulder Arms was funny covered all manner of sins. Memorable takeaways included scenes where Charlie made his way through enemy territory disguised as a tree, tried to sleep in an underground barracks neck deep in water, and used his gas mask as protection against limburger cheese.

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4:30pm (E.S.T.): Doughboys (1930)

Doughboys is Buster Keaton’s Shoulder Arms. It’s probably his best talkie feature, certainly his best one for MGM. Buster plays a millionaire who accidentally enlists in the army during World War I. The movie was co-written by legendary comedy scribe Al Boasberg and co-stars Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards (whose most famous role is Jiminy Cricket in Pinnochio). Because Keaton’s character is more like a human being in this one, and the story hangs together better, it is closer in spirit to his silents even if there are still very few gags. Keaton has a funny musical duet with Cliff Edwards and a funny dance number in the army talent show. There are also a couple of Keatonesque gags. One of them–very grim—has Keaton propped up in a trench looking like a corpse and suddenly popping up awake. The whole movie is almost ruined by an extremely annoying drill sergeant who keeps yelling. What movie executive thought this kind of thing was funny, I’ll never know, but there sure is a lot of it in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Still, it’s a movie worth seeing.

To learn more about silent and slapstick film please 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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To find out more about  the history of 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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My Sixth Fringe Show — But Who’s Counting?

Posted in Indie Theatre, ME, My Shows with tags , on July 23, 2014 by travsd
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Trav in “Misshapen Jack” in 1998 NY Int’l Fringe Festival

The happy news that I’ll Say She Is  will be in this summer’s New York International Fringe Festival provides a nice opening for this update re-blog on the topic of the Fringe.

On the pilot episode of the tv version of Indie Theatre Now  I remarked on the fact that the city now has scores of annual theatre festivals…at which point I heard something like a stifled snicker from one of the guests, essentially expressing the sentiment “Ffffffffp. Yeah.  Right. ‘Other’ festivals!”  I doubt the response came from Fringe Artistic Director and Co-Founder Elena K. Holy; she’s too ladylike. No, no. It could only have been her rambunctious, trouble-making co-founder John Clancy, whom I suspect also shot a spitball even as he collected tacks to put on my chair. But well may he gloat. His response (if he made it — it could have been the radiator) was the correct one. NY Fringe is the granddaddy, the Jabba the Hut of all the New York festivals. 95% of the others wouldn’t exist if this festival hadn’t blazed a trail. I won’t bore you with the impressive statistics (or impress you with the boring statistics). The bottom line is that the NY International Fringe is now a New York Institution, and it introduces tens and tens of thousands of people to all kinds of worthy and off-beat indie theatre on an annual basis.

My relationship to it over the years has been a complex one. I’ve probably looked at it through more lenses than almost anyone over the years: participant, conscientious objector, audience member, critic, adjudicator, FringeU panelist, gadfly, and even – just to keep me humble – rejected applicant. I have played a major role (producer, director, playwright, lead actor) in five Fringe shows; I’ll Say She Is will be my sixth. And I was accepted three additional times but found myself unable to participate on those occasions. NY Fringe’s existence has enriched my life immeasurably. I want to marry it.

Here then a brief chronicle of me and Fringe over the years…

1997. As I mentioned in a previous post, the inaugural year of the Fringe was one of abstention for me. Disgruntled by the prospect of a participation fee and a selective screening process, the anarchist in me aligned with the RATs that year. (The NY Times and Village Voice both covered the brouhaha). More than this, however, after a decade of going my own way, I indulged in the ultimate act of alienation by presenting my own one man “festival”, which I called “Beyond the Anti-Fringe.” Productions consisted of my play Nihils which I presented at an Alphabet City squat called Bullet Space, performances of Misshapen Jack the Nebraska Hunchback in a community garden, and my two hander Hecate and Beckett the Existential Magpies
in Dead God, Dead Dog, Dead Ducks
, which was included as part HERE’s American Living Room series.

1998. The depth of my commitment to abstention may be measured by the fact that it only took me one year to drink the Kool-Aid. In the Fringe Festival’s second year I presented my one man rant Misshapen Jack the Nebraska Hunchback, a very Fringey show, and was rewarded for doing so by mention in two New York Times pieces (http://www.nytimes.com/1998/08/27/theater/theater-review-sometimes-delightful-never-easy-it-s-fringe.html and also http://www.nytimes.com/1998/08/09/magazine/sunday-august-9-1998-theater-no-chickens-will-be-harmed.html).  I also performed in Surf Reality’s Fringe extravaganza “the 101st Congress of Unnatural Acts” and wrote for the Fringe journal Propaganda, then edited by David Cote who as at that time also editor of Off, which I also wrote for.

1999. Addicted to drama, in the third year of Fringe, I joined up with an ill-fated splinter festival called Pure Pop, formed by one of the Fringe’s co-founders Aaron Beall [see earlier post]. Earlier in the year I’d had a successful run of my American Vaudeville Theatre at Todo Con Nada. Since I had this association with the venue at the time, it was really only natural to extend it by being involved with Pure Pop. But the whole thing started to melt down. For one thing, the “venue” turned out to be an Orchard Street  storefront that was being used a storage space. To use it, we’d have had to move some merchant’s junk for him. Find yourself another sucker, bub! After this debacle I ended up doing some writing for the Fringe journal Propaganda again this year.

2000. Having learned my lesson, in 2000 I brought my country musical House of Trash, which had had a successful run at HERE earlier in the year, to Fringe. While some folks had only seen the HERE version, and the play has been produced subsequently, I continue to consider the 2000 Fringe version (which starred me in the central role of Preacher Bob) as the definitive production.

Trav S.D. as Preacher Bob in the 2000 NY Fringe production of "House of Trash"

Trav S.D. as Preacher Bob in the 2000 NY Fringe production of “House of Trash”

2001. This year, my follow up show to House of Trash was accepted into the Fringe Festival. This was my musical about the Manson Family called Son of Nothing (a.k.a Willy Nilly). As we started the process, the director of the show (for whom it was written) started to freak about the fact that he wouldn’t know the venue –or be able to design lights and sound for it — until the last minute, which is one of the admitted challenges of Fringe. So I was forced to pull the plug. The play finally made its Fringe debut in 2009 under the direction of Jeff Lewonczyck.

But that’s not all the drama from that year! I was also invited to participate in a Fringe U panel on the subject of whether the Fringe should be allowed to exist. I really didn’t want to participate, but was guilted into arguing “against” because they couldn’t find enough panelists. The idea of publicly arguing against the Fringe’s right to exist filled me with no end of anxiety. So much so that I resorted to converting my participation into a sort of Dada spectacle, standing and spouting poetic non sequiturs rather than answer any questions properly. And, in it’s way, I suppose it was as good an argument against Fringe as any. Alexis Soloski describes it in the Village Voice here:http://www.villagevoice.com/2001-08-21/theater/britney-s-school-for-alien.

Also in 2001, Greg Kotis (creator of Urinetown) and I were asked (as two “Fringe success stories” to comment on our favorite shows from that year in Time Out New York. I also reviewed many Fringe shows (perhaps a dozen) that year for nytheatre.com.

2002. This year, I presented my show Sea of Love in the Ice Factory Festival, but I wrote thisVillage Voice feature about that year’s Fringe: http://www.villagevoice.com/2002-07-02/theater/theater

2003. Abducted by aliens.

2004-2007. During these years I was simultaneously out of work and writing and promoting my book No ApplauseTo keep a hand in, I mounted several extremely small scale, barebones shows from my personal repertoire in the Brick’s annual summer festivals (Cold FireMisshapen Jack, a vaudeville revue and Nihils). The core Bricksters, I should note, are mostly folks who either met in the context of the NY Fringe, or at Todo Con Nada, run by Fringe co-founder Aaron Beall. The organizers may affirm or deny this, but the way I see it, the Brick festivals, while imminently legitimate in their own right, are playful parodies of Fringe, acorns from the Fringe’s oak.

Also in 2006, I reviewed several Fringe shows for Time Out NY.

And in 2007 — my first rejection from Fringe. The show I pitched was uncharacteristic for me — an extremely serious work, a chorale about Sept. 11, which R.J. Tolan had signed on to direct. The script was very far from finished however (perhaps about 25% finished) and I hope it was on that basis the production was rejected! Also, this year, I interviewed numerous Fringe participants for the Indie Theatre Now podcast.

2008. My play Tenth Life of the Tom Cat (a.k.a Family of Man) was accepted into Fringe, but lacking funds, and feeling a need for rewrites, I withdrew. But I did cover the festival for the Village Voice again:http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-08-05/theater/the-new-york-international-fringe-festival-returns.Also, this year, I interviewed numerous Fringe participants for the Indie Theatre Now podcast, and reviewed nine Fringe shows for the Voice.

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2009.  Willy Nilly finally made it to Fringe and was a sold out and extended hit (read more here)

2010. Produced elsewhere, but reviewed some Fringe shows

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2011. Another major homecoming. In this year’s Fringe I presented The American  Vaudeville Theatre’s 15th Anniversary ExTRAVaganza to spectacular houses at 45 Bleecker. More about that here. 

2012. I did a show in New York Music Theatre Festival (NYMF) instead, which featured Noah Diamond, the mover and shaker behind I’ll Say She Is

2013. I have no idea what the hell I did last year. Oh, yeah Chain of Fools.

2014. Now! I’ll Say She Is! Please go see it! Details here.

Stars of Vaudeville #758: Gus Elen

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, British Music Hall, Singers, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , on July 22, 2014 by travsd

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Originally posted in 2013. 

Today is the birthday of Gus Elen (Ernest Augustus Elen, 1862-1940), one of the first of the so-called “coster comedians” of the English music hall. Elen began achieve success in the English music hall around 1891 with songs like “It’s a Great Big Shame”, “Arf a Pint of Ale”, and “If It Wasn’t for the Houses in Between”. He was often compared with Albert Chevalier.

In 1907 William Morris booked him for the fledgling U.S. opposition “Advanced Vaudeville” circuit and enjoyed considerable success (although it can’t have endeared him to the Keith-Albee people). By 1914, Elen was effectively retired although he did briefly re-emerge in the 1930s.

To learn more about Gus Elen, check out a new biography and CD here: http://www.guselen.co.uk/

And now, “If It Wasn’t for the Houses in Between”:

To find out more about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.safe_imageAnd 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 etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

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