Archive for the April Fool’s Day Category

Blondie and Dagwood’s April Fool’s Day

Posted in April Fool's Day, Comedy, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Radio (Old Time Radio) with tags , , , , , on April 1, 2015 by travsd


As we’ve written about before, Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton were the consummate Dagwood and Blondie in adaptations of Chic Young’s comic strip  on radio and in films from the late 1930s through the early 1950s (Singleton left the radio in the mid 40s). “Blue” on the microphone above is a reference to the NBC Blue Network. TV versions followed as well. Here, in honor of the day, is their April Fool’s Day episode.

To learn more about classic 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 etc etc etc


To learn 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.


Tomorrow on TCM: Joe E. Brown, Abbott and Costello

Posted in Abbott and Costello, April Fool's Day, Comedians, Comedy, Comedy Teams, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Hollywood (History), Joe E. Brown, Movies with tags , , , on March 31, 2015 by travsd

In observation of April Fool’s Day, tomorrow morning and afternoon Turner Classic Movies will show several comedies starring the hilarious Joe E. Brown and the much less-hilarious team of Abbott and Costello. Time to lower your brows — and then lower them some more!


6:00am (EST) The Tenderfoot (1933)

Joe E. Brown plays a no-nonsense but nonetheless funny cowpoke who comes to New York with $20,000 in his satchel to invest in business. At first he seems like the kind of guy who can’t be taken, but then he falls for a spiel by some Broadway producers and gives them all his cash. Ginger Rogers is a Capraesque heroine who goes along with the scam against her conscience but then join forces with Brown. Eventually his crazy choices turn the show around and make it a hit. Furthermore he rescues the girl from a bunch of gangsters, chasing their car on horseback, firing his six guns all the way. In the end he brings her back to his texas hometown and marries her. The final shot, of three baby Joe E. Browns, is priceless


7:15am (EST) Son of a Sailor (1933)

Here, Brown (as he often did) plays a young man living in the shadow of a more distinguished father, in this case, a swab-o. The climax (later exhumed by Laurel and Hardy for Great Guns) has the lad accidentally being used for target practice. In the end, he foils a spy ring! The comedy also features Thelma Todd. 


8:30am (EST) Fireman, Save My Child (1932)

Prior to his film career, in his down time between vaudeville and circus engagements, Joe E. Brown had played professional baseball, a skill he puts to use in several of his comedies.  Here, he’s a small town fireman who absolutely loves his job. He has invented a new “fire extinguishing bomb” (containing a chemical that smothers fires) and needs dough to manufacture it — and not incidentally to marry his fiancé. He takes a job as a baseball player just so he can better spot fires (the ball field is on top of hill) and becomes quite successful at the sport at the professional level. Meanwhile a femme fatal is working on him so she can take his money. Obviously this makes the girl he really loves unhappy. The funniest scene in the picture occurs when he is showing his fire extinguishing bombs at a company but has brought the wrong bag and sets the office on fire, nearly burning the place down. (The scene seems very much modeled on W.C. Fields’ in So’s Your Old Man and You’re Telling Me!). Anyway, of course he puts everything right in the end. And wins the (right) girl.


9:45am (EST) Earthworm Tractors

Comedy with a caterpillar. Jeo e. Brown is impeccably cast here as a natural born salesman, unstoppably cheerful, tenacious and unfazed. At first he’s a peddler of gadgets. When he can’t marry his girlfriend because his estate is so lowly he sets his sights higher and decides, almost randomly, to sell earthworm tractors, i.e., bulldozers. He ends up making good. Along the way he falls in love with the daughter of his toughest customer (which is OK because his original girlfriend has married his rival). Much destructive slapstick with bulldozers. As an added bonus, Brown has one killer stunt that reminds us of his acrobat days, where takes a flying backflip off a tree swing and lands in the water.


11:00am (EST): 6 Day Bike Rider (1934)

A bespectacled Brown in another of his small town hick roles: he sings bass in the church choir and is the station agent at the local depot. The lad is engaged to a girl and becomes jealous when a big shot bike racer comes to town and stays at her boarding house and performs bike tricks at the local vaudeville house. Trying to best the rider, Brown heckles him during the vaudeville show and gets onstage and rides blindfolded. The rider takes the opportunity to walk off with his girl. Brown gets the whole town to form a posse and chase them, but it turns out the guy just brought her home, so Brown looks bad in front of the whole town. His girl throws him over for the other guy. He blows town and coincidentally joins a team which will be racing in a big 6 day bike race (a fad of the time, similar to marathon dancing). Brown winds up in jail for calling the police on the rider yet again (he thinks the girl is in his hotel room for immoral purposes). His time in the jug is preventing him from getting to the big race  in time. The girl relents (the other guy is a cad), and springs him from jail. Brown must first ride to the race on a bike to get there on time, a scene full of crazy stunts. He of course arrives just under the wire and wins the race and the girl. Over use of stock footage and process shots prevent this comedy from being as effective as it ought to be.


12:15pm (EST): Rio Rita (1942)

Abbott and Costello’s remake of the much more charming Wheeler and Woolsey original. The tropical tale is updated to incorporate Nazis but that doesn’t begin to relieve the tedium.


2:00pm (EST): Lost in a Harem (1944)

This is Abbott and Costello’s answer to The Road to Moroccoand…well, wouldn’t you much rather be watching that? Still there are some bonuses, including a riff on the old “Slowly I Turned” burlesque routine, and the lovely Marilyn Maxwell singing along with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. 


3:45pm: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood (1945)

Abbott and Costello take a convoluted course from being a barber and a porter to being big time Hollywood agents. It takes what feels like a thousand years for them to get there.  As a bonus, their old burlesque buddy Rags Ragsland shows up as himself.


5:15pm: (EST) Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (1952)

A full color musical and co-starring Charles Laughton, who’d played Kidd before (although here he plays him more like his more famous screen character Captain Bly, a sort of terrifying monster). The pair work at an inn in jolly old England although they are plainly American. They find a treasure map for skull island and scheme to go there but they don’t need to, as they are shanghaied by Cap’n Kidd anyway. Laughton is vastly funnier than either Abbott and Costello are, effortlessly demonstrating what real talent and craft look like while they shiver in his shadow. There are a couple of boring nameless lovers who are supposed to be the main plot; waiting through their songs is interminable torture. Lots of battle scenes. Between the songs and the battles there’s about 5 minutes’ worth of comedy – exceedingly poor comedy


6:30pm (EST) Jack in the Beanstalk (1952)

Abbott and Costello’s first color film was a children’s fairy tale. There is no harm in showing it to your children (I certainly showed it to mine), but try not to accidentally watch any of it yourself. Despite the “it was all a dream” conceit, the film is no Wizard of Oz. In almost every conceivable way it is much more like the later Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961). Trivia: the Giant is played by Buddy Baer, brother of boxer Max Baer (and thus uncle of Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies). 

To learn more about early 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 Mediaalso available from etc etc etc


To learn 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.



Posted in April Fool's Day, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Marx Brothers, Movies, Silent Film with tags , , on April 1, 2014 by travsd


Just got the exciting news from the folks at Marxfest that a 23 second fragment of the lost silent Marx Brothers film HUMOR RISK, self-financed by the team in 1921, was discovered earlier this month and is now in the hands of a private archive. Previously thought destroyed in its entirety, this small portion of the film was found in the garage of the former Great Neck, NY estate of Groucho Marx. The clip is short on plot, but you can already see the beginnings of the magic that would make their later sound pictures so popular: 

Charley Chase in “April Fool”

Posted in April Fool's Day, Charley Chase, Comedy, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , on April 1, 2014 by travsd


Happy April Fool’s Day! In honor of the day we share Charley Chase’s hilarious 1924 comedy for Hal RoachApril Fool. Joke shop pranks aplenty at the expense of cub reporter Jimmy Jump in this excerpt from the short. Perhaps it will provide some inspiration for hijinx!. The score is by the ubiquitous Ben Model. 

For more on comedy film history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc


For more on 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.


Celebrate April Fool’s Day with Tall Tales & the Big Con

Posted in April Fool's Day, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Indie Theatre, ME, My Shows, PLUGS with tags , on April 1, 2011 by travsd


Fortune Telling, Con Men, Hucksters, Imposters, Myths, Legends …

They’re all the stuff of Trav S.D.’s Tent Show Tetrgrammaton. Three more chances to see it, including the perfect day of all days: April Fool’s Day.

In the inconceivable event you haven’t yet seen it yet, perhaps some of the attached clips, articles and reviews will convince you!:

* Background essays by me on Universal Rundle, Grippo, and the inspiration for the evening.
* Terrific reviews of the show by Scott Stiffler (the Villager); Adam McGovern (Comic Critique) and Mateo Moreno (Big Vision, Empty Waller).
* A podcast interview on featuring myself, Carolyn Raship, Timothy McCown Reynolds, and Sarah Engelke. Find out what’s in this mysteriously-named show, and why it has that mysterious name, by going here.
* A photoessay by the amazing Jim Moore on his web site Vaudevisuals. See gorgeous pix of the show by going here..
* An interview with Carolyn Raship on the New York Theatre Review blog. To read about her and her working directing Strega Nona, go here.
* And these two swell video previews on Vimeo, plugging The Strange Case of Grippo the Apeman and Strega Nona (click on title for link to the clip.)
To find out more about the show itself, and how to see it, go here. We hope to see you there. Only three chances left!


Stars of Vaudeville: Young Sonny, Jr. & “Pops”

Posted in April Fool's Day, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Vaudeville etc. on April 1, 2010 by travsd

It’s hard to pigeon-hole a team like Sonny and Pops. Already advanced in age at the beginning of the twentieth century, they sang, jested, played exotic musical instruments and performed acrobatics until the eve of the digital age. Walter Winchell once said of the boys: “I’d like to know how those guys got in here. They’re not on the playbill, they’re not on the sign out front, why, I’m not even sure they were on the stage just now.”

Contrary to expectation, Sonny was the elder of the two. Born in a Lower East Side tenement to Irish-Jewish parents on April 1, 1878, his early years were devoted to helping out in the family pickle works and singing on street corners in exchange for small cups of milk-and-whiskey. His repertoire was limited. The only songs he knew were “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight”. When he received requests for other numbers, he improvised new lyrics over the melodies of those two songs. One day, when fleeing from an angry mob of citizens, he tripped over a pram containing a cigar-smoking midget with a long, grey beard, spilling the passenger onto the sidewalk. The passenger, of course, was “Pops” Finnegan, already a veteran of saloons and music halls at age 13.  Pops could juggle, draw caricatures of U.S. Vice-Presidents and play the violin (the long way, with the fat end down, sort of like a cello). It was inevitable that the two young men would form a team. Their act was a compendium of all the hot trends currently in vogue. After a couple of minstrel numbers, they did some cross-talk, then performed some flips off a teeter-board before climaxing with their wow finish: a shadow play re-enactment of the ’94 Kentucky Derby to banjelele accompaniment. Soon they were performing the act nine times a day at Huber’s Museum for the princely sum of five dollars a month, plus cakes. These were the years of struggle. But the act grew marginally better, even as Young Sonny, Jr. and Pops grew increasingly …marginal.

The turn of the century was the height of the bicycle craze and Sonny and Pops weren’t caught napping. They learned to do their act astride a fashionable two-wheeler, an innovation that took them across two continents, with the added bonus that they got plenty of exercise and also saved money on train tickets. By now, vaudeville proper was in full swing. Sonny and Pops were among the dependable 10,000 acts who filled time before the advertised stars took the stage. Their August 13, 1904 performance at the Des Moines Hippodrome made such an impression the local house manager awarded it an “honorable mention”.

In 1917, America entered World War One, and Sonny and Pops did their patriotic bit by wearing small flags on their costumes during their big “Immolate the Hun” number. This brought them some attention from certain special observers of the U.S. Government, who wrote in their review in December of that year: “This has got to be watched.”

The nineteen twenties were the age of the big Broadway revues, and Young Sonny Jr. and “Pops” saw some of the best of them. When not performing their already antiquated act in small and middle time houses, they were known as a mainstay in some of the best houses the Ziegfeld, Carrol and White shows ever enjoyed. It was only a matter of time before they got their own shot at the vaunted “Big Time”. The boys made plenty of notes for that inevitable day.

Unfortunately, the stock market crash took its toll on old time vaudeville, but that wasn’t about to slow down a couple of troupers like Young Sonny, Jr. and Pops. With only a few dollars between them, the team invested in a radio receiver, which allowed the indomitable pair to listen to some of the finest programs then available to the public: The Old Gold “Pep” Hour, Buster McGoo and Wimpy, and The Raspberry Gelatin Comedy-Variety Program. All the while, they were honing their act, testing their limits, dreaming.

In 1958, the nurses at the Institute brought a television set into the day room, allowing the patients to take part in the exciting new experiment of tv variety. Here’s where the career of Sonny and Pops really turned a corner, as they reenacted some of their popular routines for some of the more alert inmates as a sort of lavish entr’acte during the commercials.

Things looked promising, but then tragedy struck. In April of 1965, while watching an episode of Hullabaloo a Go-Go, Sonny suffered an apoplectic seizure that turned out to be fatal to the team. Sonny was okay, but during the seizure he had let go of the fork he was holding, and it embedded itself in Pops’ forehead with what might have been – under any other circumstances – a humorous cartoon twang. Four months later, Pops was gone. Sonny struggled on with a succession of young partners over the next few years, but most of them walked out, frustrated with the strictures of working within the cafeteria of an old folks’ home. Sonny himself passed away in 1982. His last words were, unless you don’t know them already: “APRIL FOOLS!!!!!!!!!!!”

To find out about some REAL variety artists and 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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