Archive for the AMUSEMENTS Category

Coney Island Film Clips

Posted in Amusement Parks, BROOKLYN, Coney Island, Hollywood (History), Movies, Movies (Contemporary), My Shows, Silent Film with tags , , on August 12, 2017 by travsd

This is an unusual post for us. It’s designed to be a kind of appendix to the talk I am giving at the Coney Island Museum today, Coney Island and the Movies. But if you weren’t at the talk, you may find it useful and enjoyable too! Just click on the links below to go the clip on Youtube (for as long as the clip remains available on Youtube.)

Shooting the Chutes, Sea Lion Park (1896, Edison) 

Rube and Mandy at Coney Island (1903, Edison, directed by Edwin S. Porter)

The Electrocution of an Elephant (1903, Edison, depicts the execution of the rogue elephant Topsy at Luna Park) TRIGGER WARNING: This depicts just what is described.

Coney Island at Night (1905, Edison, directed by Edwin S. Porter) 

Boarding School Girls at Coney Island (1905, Edison)

At Coney Island (1912), Mack Sennett and Mabel Norman cavort around Luna Park and Steeplechase in one of the very earliest Keystones, made only a year after the Dreamland fire. Ford Sterling tries to romance Mabel, but his wife turns out not to like the idea. 

Coney Island (1917, starring Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton and Al St. John against backdrop of the beach, the Surf Ave Mardi Gras Parade, and the rides at both amusement parks) 

Ford Motor Company Footage of Luna Park, The Bowery etc, ca. 1918

Canned Thrills (Silent Pathe documentary, 1920s showing Steeplechase and Luna Park)

Harold Lloyd in Speedy (1928: 5 minute scene from a feature length silent film, where he brings his date to Luna Park) 

Meet Me Down at Coney Isle (1930, Fox Movietone)

Let’s Go Coney Island! (British Pathe doc, 1932) Just two minutes, rides at Steeplechase, Human Cannonball at Luna Park) 

Shorty at Coney Island (1936 Paramount short starring a chimp at Steeplechase)

Coney Island (Trailer for 1943 Fox film with Betty Grable, George Montgomery, Charles Winniger etc. Not shot on location; strictly studio sets) 

Newsreel (before 1944, showing Steeplechase, Luna Park, independent rides (roller coasters), sideshows and the beach)

Coney Island, USA (1952, documentary)

Little Fugitive (1953)

The Clown (1953. Red Skelton drama has scenes at Steeplechase. No clip)

Imitation of Life 1959 (Douglas Sirk. Scene where Lana Turner and Juanita Moore meet is set at Coney Island in 1947. No clip.)

Carnival of Blood (1970, Low budget horror movie, especially good for coverage of games and dark rides)

1970 Home Movie 

1973 student documentary

Annie Hall (1977, Under the Tornado) 

The Wiz (1978, part of Coney Island sequence, on the Cyclone)

Great raw news footage with Gabe Pressman following 1978 fire that destroyed the Tornado

Scene from The Warriors (1979) 

Requiem for a Dream (2000, set in Brighton Beach, no clip)

The Notorious Bettie Page (2005, pivotal scene on Coney Island beach, no clip)

Also Brooklyn (2015), Mr. Roboto (2015 tv series), and the upcoming Woody Allen film Wonder Wheel (2017).

Also: Info about many more films from 1897 through 2004 at this link. 

 

Ten Tramp Comedians

Posted in Clown, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2017 by travsd

This weekend is the National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa. I have always been partial both to the hobo ethic itself (I’ve been working on an essay about that very thing for a while now) and the image of the Tramp Comedian or Clown. The first costume I can recall ever wearing was a tramp/clown get-up for a Halloween parade when I was about four years old. It captures the imagination — the rootless wanderer, riding the rails, hitting the road, no ties, bindlestiff on his shoulder. Samuel Beckett put a core of such characters at the center of his masterpiece Waiting for Godot, the first non-children’s show I ever saw in a theatre. And it’s the theme of one of my favorite terrifically strange movie musicals Hallelujah I’m a Bum

The theme is romantic, sentimental. And, in the hands of the right comedian, it is funny. Here’s a handful of some prominent ones from vaudeville, circus and films (there were scores, maybe hundreds of others besides these). Just click the links below to learn more about the performers.

Charlie Chaplin

Tramp comedians had long been popular in vaudeville and music hall when Chaplin decided to take his screen character in that direction, thus becoming the most popular tramp in the entire world. Not only were there other tramp comics in the world, but there were several that looked like Charlie’s. Chaplin was said (by some) to have taken his took from Billie Ritchie ; in turn Billy West stole his look and act from Chaplin.

Nat M. Wills

Billed as “The Happy Tramp”, Wills may well have been America’s most popular stage tramp from the turn of the century to his untimely death in 1917. He was a star of vaudeville, Broadway, and some of the very first comedy albums.

Harrigan

Harrigan was widely emulated in vaudeville from the late 19th century through the early 20th as the first tramp juggler. 

W.C. Fields

One of the many to emulate Harrigan early in his career was the young W.C. Fields, shown here in his tramp get-up around the turn of the century

Emmett Kelly a.k.a Wearie Willie

Circus performer Emmett Kelly’s sad clown make-up and costume were so much imitated it became a cliche.

Red Skelton as Freddie the Freeloader

Stage and screen Skelton had a repertoire of many characters; his clown “bum” Freddie may have been the most beloved.

Lew Bloom

Bloom was the first of the tramp comedians, preceding even Wills or Harrigan. He was known as “The Society Tramp”.

George Dewey Washington 

African American comedian George Dewey Washington affected a tramp look in Broadway and in films.

To learn more about vaudeville, including specialties like tramp comedians, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

 

 

 

 

The Courtney Sisters (featuring Florence, Georgie Jessel’s First Wife)

Posted in Sister Acts, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2017 by travsd

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August 11, 1892 was the birthday of Florence Courtney (Florence Grismer). With her sister Fay, she was one half of the vaudeville singing duo The Courtney Sisters. Joe Laurie, Jr. called them “one of the first great harmony sister acts”. Originally from Texas, the Grismer family moved to Missouri, and then finally to New York, where their mother pursued a career as a model and the daughters tried to break into show business.

They’re already making a noise in vaudeville by 1912; by that point they were already popular enough to feature on sheet music, like this immortal classic from that year:

In 1914, Florence married ragtime piano player Mike Bernard, a rake who had previously had an affair with Blossom Seeley, fathered children out of wedlock with a Ziegfeld girl, and was to marry two other times. Not surprisingly, they divorced two years later.

The Courtney Sisters made it all the way to Broadway, appearing in the shows The Little Whopper (1919), Blue Eyes (1921), and Snapshots of 1921. 

In 1919, Florence met and married Georgie Jessel.

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One gets Jessel’s side of their rocky romance in his typically self-serving autobiography So Help Me. The Courtney Sisters were big time when the Florence and Jessel got together, whereas Jessel was still kind of second tier. But that was the year his own career broke out as well. The way he paints it, everything conspired to undermine the marriage. First both husband and wife were too busy. Fay was against her sister’s marriage, afraid it would break up the act. Then Jessel was out of work and not bringing in dough. Then he was working again. Then there were affairs because they were apart. They separated almost immediately, then got a formal divorce in 1921. Then they got back together, then broke up again, then remarried in 1923.  Meanwhile, the Courtney Sisters had broken up; Florence appeared solo in five Broadway shows through 1925. Then she did retire from show business and became intensely religious, which further alienated Jessel. So they were frequently separated, she didn’t like to go out and party more, and had lost the “whoopie” energy that had attracted him in the first place. There were plenty of affairs. Still, they didn’t get divorced again until 1932. Perhaps out of spite she kept “forgiving him” which was pretty clearly what he didn’t want. He had begun seeing Norma Talmadge during their marriage; she was to be his second wife in 1934.

When Florence passed away in 1989, she had remarried; her surname was then Mayehoff.

To learn more about vaudeville, including acts like the Courtney Sisters, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

The Pickens Sisters: Singers of High Society

Posted in Broadway, Child Stars, Singers, Sister Acts, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2017 by travsd

Jane Pickens (1908-1992) of the Pickens Sisters was born on this day. She’s chiefly on my radar because I’ve lived and recreated in Newport, Rhode island, where she was a longtime resident (summer and otherwise) and there is a theatre there named after her.

Jane was the musical leader and arranger of the trio that first included her sisters Grace and Helen. Grace later became the group’s manager, replaced by the fourth sister Patti. The girls were Southern belles from Georgia, taught to harmonize by their mother. Their father, a wealthy cotton broker, loved to accompany them on piano. In the early 1930s, they moved to New York’s Park Avenue and became involved in New York, Long Island and Newport Society. They often sang at private functions, with a specialty in what were then called “Negro Spirituals”. Fortunately, a search was on at the time to find female trios to compete with the popular Boswell Sisters. The Pickenses were spotted at a party and quickly landed both a radio deal and a recording contract.

Their radio shows ran from 1932 through 1936. They appeared in the 1933 Vitaphone short 20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang, and in the 1933 feature Sitting Pretty. Next came the Broadway revue Thumbs Up! (1934-1935). Jane sang solo in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.

The group split up when several sisters left to get married. Patti married radio actor Bob Simmons, with whom she performed for a time as Pickens and Simmons. Jane, the most serious about music, studied at several prestigious schools, and continued her career as a solo. She appeared on Broadway three more times: in the revue Boys and Girls Together (1940-1941), as the title character in Regina, a musical adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes (1949), and the musical Music in the Air (1951). She also made several appearances on television variety shows through the mid 1950s, and even briefly had her own such series as a replacement in 1954.

Jane was married thrice, to T.J. Russell Clark (whom she divorced), stockbroker William Langley, and Walter Hoving (the head of Tiffany and Bonwit Teller, and father of the Met Museum’s Thomas Hoving). In 1972 she ran as the Republican against Ed Koch for a New York Congressional seat (unsuccessfully, of course). Newport’s Jane Pickens Theater, named after her, opened in 1974. She died in Newport in 1992. Patti, the youngest sister, was in the midst of plans to record a tribute album to her deceased sisters when she too passed away in 1995.

Theda Bara: The Screen’s Premiere Vamp

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2017 by travsd

Aw, man, this late in the day this guy can still be properly fooled.

I had never probed too deeply into the background of silent screen actress Theda Bara (Theodosia Burr Goodman, 1885-1955), whose birthday it is today. Or, if I did, it was a long while back and I’d forgotten about it. I’ve long known the basics, of course. Theda Bara was the quintessential screen vamp, one of Hollywood’s top silent stars, who played all the great wicked sirens of literature and history. And she was extremely influential. Many stage and screen actresses emulated her. In my book and a blogpost I’d used a picture of the young Mae West in full Theda Bara drag early in her career. And there are great cultural bellwethers like this:

What I didn’t know — or perhaps forgot — was the extent of the hoodwink at the center of her career. I’d assumed that, much like, say, Nazimova or Pola Negri, she was an exotic foreign female from Eastern Europe or someplace. But, no. While her father was indeed a Polish Jew, Theda herself was a straight-up American girl from Cincinnati. Naturally, the movie flacks of her day put out quite different, more colorful stories about her background, that she was an Egyptian princess or something, and maybe I subconsciously swallowed that over the years. But, no, she’s much more like one of my favorite vaudevillians, Olga Petrova, a big (huge) delightful, imaginative invention, a projection, a fantasy. I love it so much when the pretend spills out beyond the stage and screen to create another dimension in the real world. Technology makes it harder to accomplish, but I think some occasionally manage.

Bara even had a couple of regular old, quotidian years at the University of Cincinnati! She did some local theatre, then moved to New York, where she appeared in the play The Devil in 1908 using the pseudonym Theodosia De Cappet. She then barnstormed with touring stock companies, returning to the New York area in 1914. That year, she got a part as a gang moll in Frank Powell’s film The Stain, made for Pathe Freres. It was Powell who discovered her and made her a star, casting her as “The Vampire” in his next picture A Fool There Was (1915), made for Fox, which was then based in Fort Lee, NJ. She became a contract player for Fox and their top star. Her screen name was adapted from her childhood nickname + a shortening of her maternal grandfather’s surname. Studio p.r. men, however, have out that it was “Arab Death”, with the letters switched around.

Maybe her best known film and the one that caused Theda Bara to relocate to Hollywood in 1917. Today all but a few seconds of it are lost

One would know more about her today if her career had gone longer and if most of her films hadn’t been destroyed in a horrible fire. Only six of her films survive in their entirety out of approximately 40, and they aren’t necessarily representative ones. Her surviving films are The Stain (1914), A Fool There Was (1915), East Lynne (1916), An Unchastened Woman (1926), and two very uncharacteristic comedies for Hal Roach, Madame Mystery (1926), and 45 Minutes from Hollywood (1926). Only two of these are from the meat of her career, the Fox period. Gone forever apparently are such tantalizing titles as The Devil’s Daughter (1915), Sin (1915), Carmen (1915), The Serpent (1916), The Eternal Sapho (1916), The Vixen (1916), Camille (1917), Cleopatra (1917), Madame Du Barry (1917), The Forbidden Path (1918), Salome (1918), When a Woman Sins (1918), The She-Devil (1918), When Men Desire (1919), and The Siren’s Song (1919) — although there are plenty of publicity stills and movie posters to raise our curiosity.

“Romeo and Juliet”. Bara as a virgin?

Periodically, she did try to break out of her typecasting, as when she played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (1916), and the title character in an adaptation of Boucicault’s Kathleen Mavourneen (1919), one of her last films for Fox. There was public outcry among Irish-Americans when she essayed the latter — it was considered a profanation to have a wicked woman play a part they considered sacred. Back then, it was common for the wider community to confuse screen actors with the parts they played.

Poli’s was a vaudeville circuit — it looks like they made an exception in this lucrative case

Tired of playing the vamp, Bara broke her contract with Fox, and returned to the stage, starring in the 1920 Broadway play The Blue Flame (in which, ironically she played another femme fatale), which then went on tour. She was trashed by critics, though tickets sold like crazy. Despite the financial success, she cut the tour short unwilling to endure the embarrassment any longer. I’ve read some of the reviews; they were truly mean.

In 1921, she married film director Charles Brabin. She next toured vaudeville for a while, presenting herself as a celebrity as opposed to an actress (i.e., she spoke with audiences about her experiences; she didn’t risk acting in a play). In the mid 20’s she attempted a very brief cinematic comeback, starring in The Unchastened Woman for Chadwick Pictures in 1925, and then the two comedy shorts for Hal Roach. It’s not the craziest development in the world. For example, Mae Busch had also been one of the screen’s greatest vamps, and then in middle age she wound up being one of Roach’s most dependable comedy actresses.

After this she retired for the most part, although she did do an art theatre revival of Bella Donna in 1934 (presumably in the Nazimova part), and a few isolated but high profile radio appearances. She died of stomach cancer at age 70.

For more on vaudeville including performers like Theda Bara and Mae West see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available wherever fine books are sold, and for more on silent film consult Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,  released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc.

Sherry Britton: A Stripteuse with Brains

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Burlesk, Women with tags , , , , , , , on July 28, 2017 by travsd

Burlesque performer and actress Sherry Britton (Edith Zack, 1918-2008) was born this day. Originally from New Brunswick, New Jersey, Britton danced during the heyday of the national burlesque circuits in the 1930s, and then in nightclubs after the circuits folded throughout the 1940s (including a 7 year residency at Leon and Eddie’s on 52nd Street, NYC’s jazz neighborhood). Britton usually made her entrance in classy gowns and a tiara, disrobing to classical music. As she matured, she gradually switched to singing in cabarets, and acting in plays and musicals, appearing in nearly 40 regional productions over the years. As befitted her sometime billing “Great Britton: The Stripteuse with Brains”, she went back to school during her retirement, graduated from Fordham University with a pre-law degree at age 63.

Three Terrific Trav S.D. Talks on Coney Island

Posted in Amusement Parks, BROOKLYN, Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Hollywood (History), Human Anomalies (Freaks), Little People, ME, My Shows, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2017 by travsd

Look, Looka, Looka! Come One, Come All! Come to the Coney Island Museum 3 Saturdays in August and Hear 3 Great Trav S.D. Talks! Stay all day at the beach! Go on the rides! And cap off the day with informative and coolicious true stories in my Fun-Filled Fact-o-rama! Here’s what’s coming up:

Saturday, August 5, 5pm: Coney Island 101

A rare chance to get the big picture of The People’s Playground’s many incarnations as an amusement district, from its early days as a resort with hotels and racetracks, to its numerous storied amusement parks, sideshows, vaudeville and burlesque houses, cinemas, restaurants, and of course, beaches, right up to the present day (and guesses about tomorrow). Trav S.D., author of the books No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous and Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nicklodeons to Youtube lays out the whole amazing narrative in this colorful illustrated talk.

Saturday, August 12, 5pm: Coney Island and the Movies

It stands to reason that America’s premiere Amusement district would play a key role one of America’s favorite entertainment pastimes: going to the movies. Coney’s amusement parks were a center for some of the world’s first nickelodeons, and many cinemas graced the neighborhood through the first half of the twentieth century. At the same, Coney Island was immortalized in films, from the earliest silent days, all the way to Woody Allen’s upcoming period comedy Wonder Wheel, scheduled to be released in November, 2017. Author and blogger Trav S.D. leads this entertaining illustrated talk, and shares some entertaining clips.

Saturday, August 19, 5pm: More than Munchkins: A History of Performing Little People 

For centuries Little People have been a mainstay of popular entertainment. In this illustrated talk, author and performer Trav S.D. traces the historical ups and downs of very short-statured entertainers from medieval times through the era of P.T. Barnum and dime museums, to side shows and circuses, to vaudeville, to movies and television. Along the way, we trace the evolution of the Little Person’s image in popular culture, from one of cruel derision in the age of the court jester…to one of glamour, as personified by sex symbol and Emmy-winning actor Peter Dinklage…to a virtual return to carny days on reality tv.

Admission to the Coney island Museum and these talks is a mere $5 for Adults, $3 for Seniors, Kids (under 12) and residents of  Zip Code 11224. More info and directions about the Coney Island Museum and Coney Island USA are here.

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