Today’s Bob Woolsey’s birthday.
Typically what I’ve done in the past on this day is re-post my blog on Wheeler and Woolsey, a neglected comedy team who’ve grown on me tremendously over the last few years. Today, I thought I would do something a little different. A few months ago on TCM, I managed to catch Everything’s Rosie (1931), one of Woolsey’s few solo vehicles, directed by Clyde Bruckman. Early in their careers, Wheeler and Woolsey were each tried as solo stars by RKO as an experiment and to bolster their box office value in case the team didn’t work out.
Everything’s Rosie was so interesting and enjoyable to me I was tempted to store it in my DVR queue in perpetuity. I found it hilarious; I wanted to steal every joke. Yet, though it was a modest box office success in a year when the Depression caused almost every other Hollywood picture to flop, its panning by the critics was near universal.
Intellectually, I can see why. It is an almost total rip-off of W.C. Fields’ Poppy: Woolsey plays a shady but lovable circus carny with a young female ward (Anita Louise) and the plot arc is near identical (the girl falls in love with a young local rich boy, and she and Woolsey are persecuted and framed because they are showfolk.) While Fields’s film Poppy wasn’t made until 1938, he had starred in the original Broadway play of it in 1924, and a silent screen version Sally of the Sawdust in 1925. Woolsey had been in the Broadway version. Even today, Woolsey can’t help but seem derivative, with his echoes of Groucho Marx, Walter Catlett, George Burns and the now equally obscure Bobby Clark (though Woolsey was much bigger star than the latter two at the time). And I can imagine that, in that day, its barrage of vaudeville one-liners (Al Boasberg was one of the writers) must have seemed passe and corny. Vaudeville was dying an agonizing death at that very moment. But from the perspective of distance, I see only charm and hilarity. Everything’s Rosie is a film I aim to own and steal from copiously. Happy birthday, Bob Woolsey! You were taken from us too soon, in my book!
For more on comedy film history 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 find out 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.