Archive for Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, VISUAL ART with tags , , , on December 24, 2016 by travsd


I snapped this on the wall of the Lambs Club last month during Fields Fest. It’s by the pin-up artist Alberto Vargas, a favorite of both the Mad Marchioness and myself.

Merry Christmas from W.C. Fields

Posted in Comedians, Hollywood (History), VISUAL ART, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , on December 25, 2015 by travsd


It’s well known that W.C. Fields was a comedian, a screenwriter and a juggler — probably less well known that he was an amateur cartoonist. His drawings were interesting, original, funny and very much reflective of his personality. I came upon this one somewhere online a few months ago. There are ironies and meaning aplenty here. Fields the curmudgeon wasn’t crazy about Christmas. And also he died on Christmas day, 1946.

Mink Stole: OMG, It’s Christmas!

Posted in Contemporary Variety, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Music, PLUGS, Singers, Women with tags , , , on December 12, 2014 by travsd


Just a few words of enthusiasm for Mink Stole’s terrific holiday show, now playing at the Laurie Beechman Theatre through December 14.  OMG! It’s Christmas is a funny, frequently dark cabaret set with Mink at the mic, backed by Her Wonderful Band (her words, not mine, although in this case I won’t contradict her assessment): Glenn Workman on piano and accordion, Dylan Kaminkow on bass, and Skizz Cyzyk on drums. (The latter actually gets a prominent work-out on her rendition of “Le Petit Tambour” a French version of “The Little Drummer Boy”.

Light and dark intermingle like rum and egg nog in the show; an appropriate tone is set by her opening number, Tom Lehrer’s cynical  “A Christmas Carol”. She then slides into Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmastime is Here” (from A Charlie Brown Christmas) like a comforting pair of slippers. Other stuff in the show: a version of “O, Christmas Tree” with adorable original lyrics, Shemekia Copeland’s sexy “Stay A Little Longer, Santa”, Willie Nelson’s tear-jerker “Pretty Paper” and the perennial “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (including an intro to the song I never knew existed). And in the name of inclusiveness, the Jewish singalong “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena”.

The cruelest, most perverse thing she did during the show was force the entire audience to sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. (I shudder like Burl Ives’ snowman in “Rudolph” to even remember the experience). As the fifth of ten children, such group activities must be second nature to her. While it does contain a couple of hilarious stories about her old John Waters crew, the show really feels more about Mink’s childhood and her family. She tackles her task with a lot of honesty and sincerity and generosity, not steering from a family tragedy that’s colored Christmas for her, but not allowing herself to get maudlin either, wrestling that underlying sadness into a self-mocking, ironic place which is of course the defining character trait of the Dreamlander.

Anyway, the Laurie Beechman is decked out in wreaths and garlands and pretty white lights and at present it is also showcasing a Christmas Star. Go here for more info and tickets. 

On the Christmas Pantomime

Posted in British Music Hall, Clown, Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Variety Arts (Defined) with tags , , , , , , , on December 21, 2013 by travsd


A timely topic and one I warrant has been a source of confusion for many Americans  travelling abroad during the holidays. Pantomime is one of those theatrical terms, like burlesque, vaudeville, cabaret and many others, that possesses several forms and meanings. The kind we aim to discuss today is NOT the silent, French Marcel Marceau type. Nor is it the ancient Greco-Roman type (which I bet most of you don’t care about anyway, although I sure do!) Today we speak of the British Panto, which has long been an annual Christmas tradition in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and Canada.

As we have written about many stars of the Panto here (Joseph Grimaldi, Dan Leno, Little Tich,  the Hanlon-Lees, Lily Morris, Bert Errol, Wilkie Bard, Nellie Wallace, G.S. Melvin, Bessie Bonehill, Wee Georgie Wood, Ada Reeve, et al) we thought it high time we provided a little more detail about what it was (and is).

British Panto evolved ultimately from the commedia dell’arte, an Italian import that gave the world a rich pantheon of comical stock characters (Harlequin, Columbine, Pantaloon, etc etc). In England this evolved into the Harlequinade in the early 18th century, a silent form (spoken dialogue being illegal in all but a couple of licensed theatres) very much focused on a small handful of the original commedia characters, the lovers Harlequin and Columbine and their escape from Pantaloon). The Harlequinade was initially presented on a bill with such entertainments as opera and ballet.

As time wore on, the show began to incorporate magical transformations by Harlequin, in which the presentation shifted to the telling of a story from classical mythology, a fairy tale or nursery rhyme. Eventually the Harlequinade fell away completely in the 19th century, leaving only the fairy tale (Puss in Boots, Jack and the Beanstalk, etc etc). The modern Panto is very much NOT silent. But there are several other distinctive features that make the Panto a unique theatre form:

* Drag. The Panto makes much use of comedy drag in the form of the Pantomime Dame (a guy dressed as a woman), and the Principal Boy (a gal dressed as a guy)

* Audience participation. The audience is coached by the actors to shout certain traditional things, such as “He’s behind you!” when the hero doesn’t see the villain creep up.

* Double entendres. The Panto is a family entertainment as opposed to a children’s entertainment. While the kids watch the fairy tale, the actors often make downright obscene jokes, but told in an oblique way designed to go over the smaller kid’s heads.

* Panto animals. Since time immemorial, the inclusion of a couple of actors in a horse or cow costume has been de rigeur

* Celebrity guests. A feature of the modern panto, at least the big productions, is that well-known tv and movie stars will drop in and take part.

Yes, the panto continues to be a living, breathing thing. Here is a random poster for a contemporary British panto from a couple of years ago featuring one of my favorite comic performers Dame Edna:

dame edna everage dec 2011

No panto in the U.S., you ask? Well, we had very little theatre at all back when we were British colonies. There was some panto activity here in the 19th century (see my article here on George L. Fox) but it didn’t stick. But fairy tale theatre of a sort was all the rage in the late 19th/ early 20th century in the form of what were called “extravaganzas”. I’ll no doubt be treating of them in future.

For more on the variety theateconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 


For more slapstick and clown history don’t  miss 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



Prepare to be Terrified By… “Santa Claus’s Punch and Judy”

Posted in Movies, Ventriloquism & Puppetry with tags , , , , , on December 12, 2013 by travsd


Another in our series of Christmas themed posts…

This one came onto my radar about a week ago and it seemed truly fitting for this blog, not just because we like odd, psychotronic, low-budget films, but because I like to talk about traditional theatre arts and we haven’t yet talked about the odd phenomenon of the Punch and Judy Show.


The roots of this formalized traditional puppet show go back to commedia dell’arte in the 16th century. Mr. Punch started out as the traditional commedia character Pulcinella (Punchinello). The shows were originally done with marionettes; towards the end of the 18th century glove puppets became the convention since they were cheaper and easier to operate and transport. Usually all the puppets are done by a single puppeteer, known as the Professor or Punchman.

The character of Punch is instantly recognizable with his commedia style outfit, hunchback and hooked nose and chin. And above all his voice which is high pitched and filtered through a mouth-device known as the swazzle or swatchel, which sounds just like a kazoo. It is a matter of debate whether any Punch show can be called genuine which doesn’t make use of the swazzle. I saw one when I was a kid that didn’t. The thing is, it’s tricky to use the swazzle, as none of the characters speak through it, so the puppeteer has to constantly be switching…and his hands are in the puppets.

At any rate, you know the plot: it’s the ULTIMATE slapstick universe, with Punch beating his Baby, his wife Judy, the Policeman, the Devil, a Crocodile and many other characters, and hopefully, all of them getting their licks in on HIM (otherwise it’s just unseemly). To me, a good latter day Punch show would have Judy beating the heck out of Punch too, otherwise it’s just a wife-beating show and that’s creepy. (As in the clip below).


At any rate, Punch and Judy shows have long been a tradition in the UK. For the first couple of centuries they were adult entertainment. When it was its height in popularity in the early 18th century, Henry Fielding had a Punch and Judy theatre. By the time of the Victorian era it began to be formalized into an entertainment for children, and the Punch puppet theatre became a ubiquitous sight at fairs, carnivals, seaside resorts, birthday parties, and…Christmas entertainments. The tradition also took root to a lesser extent in the U.S.  I certainly HOPE you’ve seen a live one, but if you haven’t you can see a Punch and Judy show in any of half a dozen Terry Gilliam films, or in the Marx Brothers movie Monkey Business, or in the film Charade, or any one of a thousand other places.

This little movie was made by an outfit known as Castle Films in 1948 for the home market (films that were made for, and distributed to folks who had their own home movie projectors). The puppeteer was a gentleman named George Prentice. The film is odd….there is no preamble. We join Santa and a bunch of children in medias res. He briefly gives out some gifts, and then a child’s request for a Punch and Judy show lets him off the hook. He magically materializes the puppet theatre and steps back, letting the Punch show take over:

To find out more about traditional show business past and presentconsult 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 silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss 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


The Lemon Drop Kid: An Overlooked Christmas Classic

Posted in Bob Hope, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , on December 11, 2013 by travsd

Lemon Drop Kid LC1 RES

If — and I use the word knowing there’s no “if” about it — I repeat, “if” you happen to find yourself in the grip of “Christmas Special” ennui this holiday season, as a result of having seen the same holiday programs dozens of times year after year after year (however much you loved them initially)…I say IF you find yourself in that condition, I may have an antidote. A charming movie with a Christmas angle made in 1951, and one you may not have seen, and if you’ve seen it, you probably haven’t seen it to death.

The Lemon Drop Kid is a great mash-up of stuff. It’s a Damon Runyon story, not unlike Guys and Dolls. It stars Bob Hope, who must stretch in at least two directions: one, to speak the Runyon patois and seem a streetwise heel, and two, to be heartwarming, for in this department Bob Hope is generally no Bing Crosby. And he pulls it off for the most part. Hope plays a gambler and tout who accidentally causes a gangster (Fred Clark) to lose $10,000. In order to pay it back, he starts an old folks home so he can raise donations. Naturally, along the way he starts to feel bad about the scam, and begins to actually want to help the old folks even as he makes it up to Moose Moran.

Other notables in the film include Jay C. Flippen, William Frawley, and none other than Tor Johnson. Yes! Tor Johnson! If you don’t believe me, look at the picture above! The film was co-directed by Frank Tashlin. An earlier version in 1934 featuring everybody’s favorite, Lee Tracy in the Hope role. 

Because it takes place at Christmas it’s at least sort of “honorable mention” holiday film, and does promote generosity. The film is also the cinematic source of the popular holiday song “Silver Bells”, memorably sung by Hope and Marilyn Maxwell, although Bing had had the hit with it the year before. Here it is!

For more on comedy film history don’t miss 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


To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 


On the Peculiar Historical Phenomenon of Donny and Marie

Posted in AMERICANA, Child Stars, Television, TV variety with tags , , , , on December 9, 2013 by travsd


Alright now, this morning we’ve had posts on Redd Foxx, Tim Moore and Uncle Remus…Now to shift all the way to the other end of the color spectrum. For today is Donny Osmond’s birthday (b.1957). And while I cringe to observe it, I suppose there is a point in mentioning here the variety show Osmond had in the late 70s with his sister Marie, television variety being a necessary chapter in the history of vaudeville.

Donny and Marie aired from 1976 to 1979. My sister and I (being a brother and a sister) were quite into the show, at least when it started. I rapidly grew out of it, though. By the time I hit 12 or so, I was growing by leaps and bounds and fare like Donny and Marie began to seem pretty silly and embarrassing to me.

It’s weird to go back and watch these shows now; my perspective has shifted yet again. The Donny and Marie of the 70s are now young enough to be my children, so I don’t feel the same degree of revulsion that I would have had a couple of decades ago. Their bag, of course, was that they were Mormon and clean-cut, part of the Nixon and post-Nixon era backlash against the counterculture that formed one of the threads of American society at the time. I recall in one sketch, the big joke was that Donny as Rhett Butler said to Marie, “Frankly, Scarlet I don’t give a …darn.” (Because Mormons aren’t supposed to swear). Ugh. Paul Lynde, a regular on the show reportedly hated the gig because “he didn’t like children”. I suspect that it was because he didn’t like these children.

At any rate, theirs was one of the very last of the true prime-time television variety shows. It bears investigation if only on that score. Here’s the entire 1977 Christmas edition of their show…if you dare.

To find out more about show biz past and present (including television variety)consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


And don’t miss 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


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