Archive for bit player

Stars of Vaudeville #1039: Arthur Pat West

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2017 by travsd

April 19 is the birthday of Arthur Pat West (1888-1944).

Today West is best remembered among vaudeville fans for his 1929 Vitaphone short Ship Ahoy, in which the stout little man comes out in a sailor suit, does a rather rude comedy monologue and sings a couple of funny songs while pretending to play the guitar.

Originally from Paducah, Kentucky, West (sometimes billed just as Arthur or Pat) had been in a team called Arthur and Lucille West with his wife Lucille Harmon. In the ’20s, he was cast in a number of Broadway shows: the Fanchon and Marco musical revue Sun-Kist (1921), The Ziegfeld Follies of 1923Paradise Alley (1924), and Captain Jinks (1925-1926) with Joe E. Brown. 

After Ship Ahoy, West performed in at least one other Vitaphone Gates of Happiness (1930) and remained in Hollywood where he worked as an (often uncredited) bit player for the rest of his life. Initially, he was in Columbia comedy shorts and B movies, but he worked constantly and in the late ’30s through the ’40s he wound up in numerous classics, usually playing a bartender, waiter or similar kind of character. You can see him in Bringing Up Baby (1938), You Can’t Take It With You (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Babes in Arms (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), The Great McGinty (1940), The Bank Dick (1940), Sullivan’s Travels (1940), Ball of Fire (1941), The Outlaw (1943), To Have and Have Not (1944), and Road to Utopia (1945), among dozens of other pictures. Keep an eye out for him!

To find out more about vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on early  film please see my 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

Happy Birthday, Dick Miller

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Movies (Contemporary) with tags , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2015 by travsd

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Well, someone else has a birthday today — prolific character actor Dick Miller (b. 1928).

I first knew Miller from his role as the man who eats flowers in Roger Corman’s original The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), which, for a time, was my favorite movie. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered A Bucket of Blood (1959), also by Corman and Charles B. Griffith, in which Miller starred. But most of Miller’s role were of the walk-on variety.

Bronx born Miller had started out playing bit parts for Corman’s low budget horror, sci-fi and delinquent pictures around 1956. He worked for Corman and American International Pictures in scores of films, including The Terror (1963), The Wild Angels (1966), The Trip (1967) and Big Bad Mama (1974). He also got story credit on two pictures in these years: the low budget western Four Rode Out and Jerry Lewis’s WWII comedy Which Way to the Front? (both 1970). As Corman and his alumni grew more famous and mainstream, Miller continued to play bit parts in their films. Thus he is in almost every film ever made by Joe Dante, including The Howling (1980), the Gremlins films, Innerspace (1987) and The ‘Burbs (1989), and Martin Scorsese’New York, New York (1987) and After Hours (1985). Quentin Tarantino cast him in Pulp Fiction (1994) but most of his scenes wound up on the cutting room floor.

He was recently the subject of a documentary called That Guy Dick Miller (2014). I highly recommend it! Dick Miller is 87 years old at the moment and still working! See his long list of credits here. 

 

Stars of Slapstick #217: Jimmy Aubrey

Posted in British Music Hall, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on October 23, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Jimmy Aubrey (1887–1983).

The son of an American-born gymnast, Aubrey was born and raised in Lancashire, England. He got his start in music hall with Karno’s Speechless Comedians, where he worked with Syd and Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and many of the other physical comedians we have written about in these annals. He jumped ship in 1908 during an American tour, as Chaplin, Laurel and many others would later do. For several years he worked primarily in American vaudeville, and then in 1914 began to make comedy films. From 1914 through 1916 he starred as “Heinie” in a series of Starlight Comedies for the independent Mittenthal Film Company. Starting in 1916 he worked at Vitagraph with the likes of Hughie Mack, Larry Semon and Oliver Hardy. From 1919 through 1925 he starred in his own silent comedy shorts for a variety of studios with his trademark “double brush” mustache. Starting in the late 20’s he worked mostly as a comical supporting or bit player, working in hundreds of movies through 1953. He worked in every genre of film, and many of the films are classics (read the IMDB list here). About a quarter of his sound era work was in B movie westerns. Read a wonderful article about that work here.

To learn more about comedy film history don’t miss my 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. For still 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.

Stars of Slapstick #215: Tammany Young

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on September 9, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Tammany Young (1886-1936).

Best remembered today as one of W.C. Fields’ many stooges, the diminutive Young actually worked with most of the major comedians of the day and even starred in his own comedy series. His career began in the silent days. After getting his toes wet in a couple of bit parts, from 1914-1915 he appeared in a series of shorts for Komic Pictures Co. with Fay Tincher and Tod Browning, and directed by Eddie Dillon. Most of these are “Bill and Ethel” pictures, with Young as “Bill the Office Boy” and Tincher as “Ethel”. He can also be spotted as an extra in Chaplin’s first short Making a Living (1914).  After the stint with Komic Pictures, he played bit parts in features (including Griffith’s Intolerance) through 1923.

From here, oddly enough he began to work on Broadway, with roles in seven shows through 1931, most notably the original production of The Front Page (1928-29). At the same time, he continued to appear in pictures. He was in a series of shorts with boxer Bennie Leonard (who played himself) in 1925. He also had a small role in Sally of the Sawdust (1925), where he established the relationship with Fields that would lead to six more pictures with him: Six of a Kind (1934), You’re Telling Me! (1934), The Old Fashioned Way (1934), It’s a Gift (1934), Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) and Poppy (1936). Other comedians Young worked with included Jack Benny (Taxi Tangles, 1931), Eddie Cantor (The Kid from Spain, 1932), Mae West (She Done Him Wrong, 1933), Joe E. Brown (Six Day Bike Rider, 1933) and a bunch more in ensemble pictures like Hallelujah I’m a Bum! (1933) and Gold Diggers of 1933. 

For a bit player, Young was a very well known show biz character. He constantly wound up as a bold-faced name in newspaper columns for being a gate-crasher, much like a certain indie theatre devotee one could name. He died in his bed without warning in 1936, the victim of heart failure.

To learn more about comedy film history don’t miss my 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. For still 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.

Happy Birthday, Toby Wing

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Hollywood (History), Movies, Women with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Toby Wing (Martha Virginia Wing, 1915-2001). The child of an assistant director at Paramount, she and her sister Pat began getting roles in silent films in 1924. The good-looking Toby (nicknamed after a family horse) became one of the Goldwyn Girls at the age of 16 and started getting parts in Mack Sennett comedy shorts in 1932. In 42nd Street (1933) she was prominently featured in a number opposite Dick Powell. This ought to have proved a turning point, but it didn’t. Though Wing was to become well-known in Hollywood, her notoriety did not translate into regular decent movie star parts. She did graduate from the chorus to speaking roles, she remained best known as a sex symbol and model, playing memorable bit roles and walk ons in major films, and gradually working her way to some leads in some B movies and shorts. She was also well known for the men she dated, including Jackie Coogan, Maurice ChevalierAlfred Vanderbilt, Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. and Pinky Tonlin. In 1938 she retired from show business to marry airline pilot Dick Merrill. See her list of films here.

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.

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For more on early film history don’t miss 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

Willie Best, a.k.a. “Sleep ‘n’ Eat”

Posted in African American Interest, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Television with tags , , , , , on May 27, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of William “Willie” Best a.k.a “Sleep ‘n’ Eat” (1916-1962).

Like a character out of one his own films, Best came to Hollywood as a chauffeur, driving a vacationing couple – and just stayed to partake of the Milk and Honey. Almost instantly he became a successful character actor in comedy ensembles (he is sometimes unjustly described as a bit player which makes him sound like an extra — but he sometimes got substantial roles).

He is less well remembered today than Stepin Fetchit for two reasons, I think: one, he stopped using his more colorful but demeaning handle after about a half dozen movies, whereas Fetchit used his screen name throughout his career; and two, Best died sadly young, aged 45, so he didn’t live long enough for the late career appreciation that guys like Fetchit, Mantan Moreland and other experienced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Ironically, Best’s stereotypical African American representations were far less heinous than Stepin Fetchit’s.

It is not surprising to observe that his first film was Harold Lloyd’s Feet First (1930) – – Lloyd had also given Sunshine Sammy his start. Best worked with many of the great comedy teams and franchises of the day: with Shirley Temple (in the kind of roles we usually associate with Bill Robinson) in Little Miss Marker (1934) and The Littlest Rebel  (1936); with Wheeler and Woolsey in Kentucky Kernels (1934), The Nitwits (1935) and Silly Billies (1936); with Our Gang in General Spanky (1936); the Blondie films Blondie (1938) and Blondie on a Budget (1940); the Maisie films (Maisie Gets Her Man, 1942), and several of the Scattergood Baines comedies with Guy Kibee. One of his best roles was in The Ghost Breakers (1940) with Bob Hope , in which he was fifth billed and had something approaching a real role to play (although he was still a stereotyped servant). His list of credits is LENGTHY, mostly spook comedies, mysteries, horror films and westerns. And just as Mantan Moreland was comic relief in numerous Charlie Chan films, Willie Best served a similar function in Mr. Moto films. A drug arrest ended his film career; he worked in tv sit coms in the early 50s, then retired. Cancer killed him at age 45.

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 Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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