Archive for the Nuts and Eccentrics Category

Tomorrow on TCM: A Rare Joe Cook Feature

Posted in Broadway, Circus, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Jugglers, Movies, Nuts and Eccentrics, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on June 1, 2015 by travsd

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Well, this old vaudeville lover is busting at the seams, and you orta be, too. Tomorrow at 10:15am (EST) TCM will be showing the 1930 film Rain or Shine, directed by Frank Capra and starring the great Joe Cook.

Almost unknown today, Cook was one of the top vaudeville and Broadway stars of the teens and twenties, easily a peer of the likes of the Marx Brothers, Ed Wynn and Bert Lahr. There’s not much film of him though, which is one reason why he has been less remembered. In addition to this feature, there are numerous comedy shorts for Education Pictures, and a 1936 western called Arizona Mahoney, which also features Buster Crabbe. The latter picture doesn’t give much sense of Cook’s crazily diverse range of skills. Rain or Shine, which is set in a circus, apparently does. So I can’t wait to see it. For more on vaudeville superman Cook, read my full autobiographical post here. 

To find out 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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For more on early film comedy 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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Stars of Vaudeville #767: Bob Burns (The Arkansas Traveler)

Posted in Comedy, Crackers, Hollywood (History), Movies, Music, Nuts and Eccentrics, Radio (Old Time Radio), Stand Up, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2013 by travsd

bazooka_fToday is the birthday of Bob Burns (1890-1956). Burns was just an Arkansas teenager playing in local brass bands when he invented his own humorous looking trombone-like instrument out of plumbing supplies which he dubbed “the bazooka.” Decades later, when Burns and his instrument were famous, U.S. army personnel were to nickname their well-known hand-held anti-tank weapon the bazooka because of the resemblance. Burns himself served in World War One entertaining troops. Following the war, he toured in night clubs, carnivals and vaudeville as the Arkansas Traveler, telling folksy, homespun stories and playing tunes on his bazooka. From 1930 through the mid 1940s he was frequently in films and on the radio. The film appearances were initially walk-ons and cameos playing his bazooka, and the radio initially local. But in the mid 30s he broke through in a big way, when he became a regular on Kraft Music Hall with Paul Whiteman and then with Bing Crosby, and was also regularly on The Fleischmann Hour with Rudy Vallee. At that point he started getting lead roles in feature films, usually playing hillbilly characters. He also got his own nationally syndicated humor column which ran in 250 newspapers from 1936-1940). (The timing of this is interesting — he seems to have filled a gap left when Will Rogers passed away). In the forties he had his own starring radio series, The Arkansas Traveler (1941-1943) and The Bob Burns Shows (1943-1947). His last film was The Windjammer (1945). After this he made the occasional tv variety appearance, but for the most part he retired and lived on his investments. From 1936 through 1939 he was married to Judy Canova. 

Here’s a little slice of Burns from the WWII era:

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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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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Stars of Vaudeville # 766: Mousie Garner

Posted in Child Stars, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Music, Nuts and Eccentrics, Sit Coms, Television, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Paul “Mousie” Garner (1909-2004). He started out in vaudeville at the age of four with his family’s act. As a young adult Garner was hired by Ted Healy as a substitute stooge in the early 30s when Healy and Moe/Larry/ Shemp were on the outs, and thus got a taste of the big time. Later he became a member of Spike Jones’ band. Ironically this presented him from becoming a legitimate member of the The Three Stooges; Garner was Larry and Moe’s first choice for a replacement when Shemp died in 1955. But Jones wouldn’t let Garner out of his contract, thus enabling the public to become acquainted with the prodigious talents of Joe Besser and Curly Joe De Rita, the fifth and sixth stooges, respectively. Garner finally got his chance in the 1970s, but only ever so briefly and not really. By then Moe and Larry were also dead, and the only “legitimate” stooge was De Rita, who’d only been with the team himself since the late 50s. This sad experiment was short lived.

Garner got plenty of work over the years as a character actor in walk-ons on sit-coms in the sixties, and guest shots on tv variety shows. His book: Mousie Garner: Autobiography of a Vaudeville Stooge is a great resource for information on the early years of show biz. His last credit (posthumous) is in The Onion Movie. 

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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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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Stars of Vaudeville #724: Peaches Browning

Posted in Nuts and Eccentrics, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on June 23, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Peaches Browning (Frances Belle Heenan, 1910-1956). In 1926 (do the math — she was 16), the young girl met (through a classified ad) and married (within weeks) real estate tycoon Edward “Daddy” Browning. Within a matter of months, an acrimonious divorce trial ensued which became one of the tabloid sensations of the era. Weird details came out. She wouldn’t consummate the marriage. He threw acid on her. He kept a live goose in their bedroom. When the smoke cleared, Peaches used her newfound fame to launch a lucrative vaudeville career. She married three more times.

To find out 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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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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Stars of Vaudeville #287: Professor Backwards

Posted in Comedy, Nuts and Eccentrics, Television, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on June 10, 2013 by travsd

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Originally posted in 2011.

Today is the birthday of James Edmondson, Sr., a.k.a Professor Backwards (1910-1976).  Edmondson was a comedian with a vaudeville nut who possessed the rare ability able to write and spell backwards and/or upside down. In the television era he was a frequent guest on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show and the Mike Douglas Show. 

A gang of moronic thugs apparently equated these occasional television appearances with great riches and tried to squeeze several thousand dollars of him. When he didn’t produce, they ended his life. This  unfortunate event prompted a classic bit of comedy on the “Weekend Update” segment of a then new television program called Saturday Night Live:

Chevy Chase: Professor Backwards, the entertainer who had the bizarre ability to speak backwards, was killed today in College Park, Georgia. Passersby apparently ignored the Professor’s cries of ‘Pleh! Pleh!'”

To find out about  the history of variety entertainmentconsult 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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Stars of Vaudeville #699: Herb Williams

Posted in Comedy, Music, Nuts and Eccentrics, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on May 22, 2013 by travsd

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Herb Williams’ (Herbert Schussler Billerbeck, 1884-1936) whole act revolved around a trick piano that fell apart like Harry Langdon’s automobile, but also was the source of many other surreal gags. Ironically, he was a legitimate, trained pianist (he studied at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music). His partners over the years included his first wife Hilda Woofus, his second wife Jean Halpin, and Tom Kennedy (a different one, I think, from the Keystone comedian). By the mid 20s Williams was a big time headliner, who played the Palace several times. Broadway appearances included Earl Carroll’s Vanities of 1930 and The Farmer Takes a Wife (1934). He was just beginning to break into films when he passed away in 1936.

And now, here he is:

To find out 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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For more on 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 Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Stars of Vaudeville # 585: Vasco the Mad Musician

Posted in British Music Hall, Music, Nuts and Eccentrics, Vaudeville etc. with tags , on January 31, 2013 by travsd

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Vasco ( 1871-1925) was a British music hall entertainer known for his flamboyant showmanship (he would often drive around town in a car adorned with signs advertising his act). Billed as the Mad Musician, he could (and did) play 28 different musical instruments during his act, with a sprinkling of comedy and acrobatics in between. He acquired his musical skills at the British Army Academy, and toured with circuses and appeared in opera as well as music hall. He appeared in American vaudeville numerous times, starting with his first appearance at the Alhambra Theatre in 1897.

To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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