Archive for drunk

Charles Chaplin, Sr.: No Slouch Either!

Posted in British Music Hall, Charlie Chaplin, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2017 by travsd

Born on this date in 1863: Charles Chaplin the Elder: the father of his better known namesake, comedian and movie star Charlie Chaplin. It’s not as well known today that in his time the elder Chaplin was a fairly successful performer in his own right.

The son of a butcher, Charles Senior was still a teenager when he went on the stage. It is said that he met Charlie’s mother Hannah Hall (a.k.a. Lily Harley) while performing in a sketch called “Shamus O’Brien” in the early 1880s. In 1885 he married her, despite the fact that in the intervening months she had taken up with another man and given birth to a child. Chaplin gave the boy his surname; he became Sydney Chaplin. By ’87, Charles Senior had worked up a music hall act and began getting bookings in the halls, with a repertoire of sentimental and comical songs. In 1889, his son Charlie was born.

So far so good, eh? Unfortunately (for the family) not long after that, Chaplin’s career began to take off — and so did he. By 1890, he was popular enough to tour America (notably, he played the Union Square Theatre in New York — this was his own foray into American vaudeville. The following year he ran out on Hannah and the boys for good.

Chaplin was popular enough by this stage that his name and visaged graced the covers of the published sheet music of songs he had made popular, such as “The Girl Was Young and Pretty”, “Hi Diddle Diddle” and the comical, suggestive “Eh, Boys!”

It’s a well known story by now. While Charlie the elder was cavorting and carousing in music halls, living the carefree life, Hannah (also an entertainer, and by her son’s account a brilliant one, the one he took after) went slowly insane and couldn’t work. Chaplin offered no financial support, even when the two children were packed off to workhouses.

By the end of the decade (and the century) Chaplin had become an alcoholic and was no longer working himself. Significantly, this was the juncture when he first seems to take an interest in his namesake. In 1899, he got ten year old Charlie his first proper show business job by getting him into an act called The Eight Lancashire Lads. The younger Chaplin was about to embark on an incredible life’s journey; the older one was just ending his. By 1901, Charles Chaplin, Sr. was dead of cirrhosis of the liver.

But his mark is there for all to see in Charlie Chaplin’s life and art. An alcoholic, performing dad is something Charlie had in common with Buster Keaton. But there are contrasts. You could say that Joe Keaton’s drinking hurt his career, but it didn’t end his life. And Buster followed in his footsteps, becoming a problem boozer himself. Whereas the elder Chaplin ended both his life and career through alcohol abuse. And Charlie, Jr. only ever drank in cautious moderation. But I find it significant that he played hilarious comic drunks on stage and screen for decades. And there is also the subject of Chaplin’s relations with him. For a good long while, like his father, he put his work first and neglected his women (following periods of intense wooing). This cycle was only broken when he finally married Oona O’Neill, quite late in life, when he only worked occasionally and chose to devote all of his energy into family life…as though he were making up for lost time.

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 new 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

Frank Fontaine: A Record of Hilarity

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Radio (Old Time Radio), Television, TV variety with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of comedian Frank Fontaine (1920-1978).

Fontaine was a favorite comedian of my brother’s, and I first developed an appreciation for this artist in the same way I cultivated one for many other comedians and musicians: my older two brothers left behind their record collection when they moved out of the house. And one of the records was this:

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I must have listened to this exceedingly strange comedy record dozens and dozens of times trying to work out its mysteries. It was full of pops and scratches…my brother had clearly worn the album out himself.

As you can tell from the photos, Fontaine was not exactly a font of subtlety. He specialized in one particular character, a sort of brain-damaged, mentally challenged screwball. Originally from the Boston area, he began performing the character in amateur shows in the 1930s. Despite the strong visual impression you see on evidence in the pictures, he first gained show biz traction in radio. He won the Major Bowes Amateur Hour, and not long after that was booked for some small roles on The Jack Benny Program in 1950, returning several times through 1952. Then came television. His best known platform was The Jackie Gleason Show, where he played Crazy Guggenheim in the Joe the Bartender segments. To my eyes, his character looks like a sort of pre-cursor to many of Benny Hill’s,, with the addition of just a hint of pathos. Because, well, the guy’s not normal. 

The early fifties were sort of the height of his fame. He got some bit parts in movies, and he continued to work through the rest of his life appearing on tv variety shows, making live appearances and popular comedy records. He died at the age of 58 of a massive heart attack, altogether not such a surprising death for someone who put that much into his comedy.

For more on classic comedy 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

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Charlie Chaplin’s “A Night in the Show”

Posted in British Music Hall, Century of Slapstick, Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin comedy A Night in the Show (1915).

This short from Chaplin’s Essanay period is extremely interesting for two reasons. One is that it is essentially a filmed adaptation of the Karno music hall sketch A Night in an English Music Hall or Mumming Birds, the one in which Chaplin starred as a drunk and which brought him to the attention of Mack Sennett. Thus it is the closest thing we have to a record of the performance that led to him becoming a movie star. Secondly, the film is set at a vaudeville theatre. Thus we get to see one of the few contemporary efforts by a filmmaker to dramatize a vaudeville setting. As the film was made in 1915, even though it is fiction, it offers up many valuable details about what the experience of attending a vaudeville show was like, not just the stage performances, but what it was like to be an audience member. And, a third intriguing element – -Chaplin plays two roles: a drunken rich swell, and one of the hoi poloi up in the balcony.

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The film may contain Chaplin’s best drunk turn, in a career full of the cinema’s best drunk turns, as the top-hatted inebriate, annoys everyone else all the way into the theatre, onstage and off. In addition to a balcony full of ethnic stereotypes (blackface**, a Hebrew, a guy in drag playing a woman with a baby), we get the performers onstage: a plump belly dancer, a snake charmer, a comedy team named Dot and Dash, and a fireater. That’s a show I’d like to see!

To learn more about 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. 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.

**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad. 

 

Charlie Chaplin IS “The Face on the Bar-Room Floor”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin Keystone comedy The Face on the Bar-Room Floor (1914).

Inspired by the 1872 John Henry Titus song, Chaplin’s parody begins with the drunken tramp telling his sad, sad life story to a crowd in a bar-room. Once he was a successful artist and a rich client stole his model/ girl friend away. (The girl is played by the very fetching Cecile Arnold). A few months later Charlie sees the guilty couple together and somehow they have a whole brood of children. He bottoms out, brawls with everyone in the bar. This film (along with One A.M., A Night in the Show, and Pay Day) contains one of Chaplin’s most brilliant showcase of a his skill as a comic drunk. The scene where he attempts to draw on the bar-room floor, his bones seemingly made of rubber, is priceless. Finally he passes out. Of course — what else could he do?

For more on silent and slapstick film history, including great Charlie Chaplin shorts like “The Face on the Bar-Room Floor” don’t miss 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

Charlie Chaplin in “His Favorite Pastime”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2015 by travsd

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Today marks the anniversary of the release date of the Keystone comedy His Favorite Pastime, starring Charlie Chaplin and directed by George Nichols.

The title is intended to be ironic — apparently Charlie’s favorite pastime is getting plastered in a saloon. It’s a rewarding film for many reasons. Chaplin was an expert comic drunk; it was made people notice him when he’d been performing in vaudeville with the Karno troupe. Alongside him in this film, Arbuckle looks stiff and self-conscious by comparison. We also get to see Chaplin perform many bits for the first time of the sort that he will pull out of his bag of tricks many times over his career: he has a fight with a pair of swinging doors, he sucks up to a bully, he towels himself off with his clothes still on, he steps into a spittoon. It’s like he is pulling out all the stops here. He is responding to the public reaction to his previous film appearances, and fort the first time really letting ‘er rip.

As a result of that, he is also testing some limits, seeing what he can get away with, and he does cross the line a few times, becoming too obnoxious for us to like any more. He steals a beer from Arbuckle. When a porter holds out his hand for a tip, Charlie drops in a lit match. In the film’s most egregious turn of events, he stalks a pretty girl and follows her into her house! Luckily her husband is there to boot him out.

And lastly there is the blackface** to contend with, worn by two characters in the film, the saloon porter and the lady’s maid. This was still common in films in 1914. D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, released the following year, would pretty much put the final nail into the coffin of that discredited 19th century institution.

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 amazon.com 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.

**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad. 

The Infamous Jack Pickford

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of famous Hollywood ne’er-do-well Jack Pickford (John Charles Smith, 1896-1933).

Not a significant artist himself (although considered by his peers to have been quite talented) he rode on the coat-tails of his highly successful sister Mary Pickford’s career, and made his way mostly as a bit player and a lead in B movies (although he had played a few prestigious roles.) Unfortunately, he inherited his father’s alcoholism (it was the father’s booze problem which caused the family to resort to show business in the first place.)

Jack Pickford is best known for the scandals he caused with his drinking, drugs, and womanizing. And he had some famous wives: Olive Thomas, whose death by poisoning was one of the first Hollywood scandals; Marilyn Miller, whom he reportedly abused; and lastly the less famous Mary Mulhern. Many feel that it was the shenanigans of Pickford and his crowd that helped create a climate wherein it was necessary for Roscoe Arbuckle to be publicly punished following the death of Virginia Rappe. Pickford himself died of alcohol related causes in 1933. He was only 37.

To learn more about silent  film history please check out 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. 

Charlie Chaplin in “One A.M.”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2014 by travsd

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Charlie Chaplin  once famously said, “All I need to make a comedy is a park bench, a cop, and a pretty girl”. In One A.M., released on August 7, 1916, he proved he didn’t even need those things. All he needed to make a hilarious comedy was himself. 

One A.M. is one of Chaplin’s most extreme examples of what critic Andre Bazin called “filmed theatre”. It’s essentially a solo vaudeville turn, with the frame as the proscenium and very little cinematic intervention between the performer and his audience. Charlie plays a drunken swell, coming home at the titular hour, trying to negotiate his oddly treacherous apartment. It’s as though traps have been set all around the house. First he has a hard time getting out of his cab.  Then he enters his domicile  through the window, and has a series of encounters with a goldfish bowl, rugs, stairs, a table, a hatrack, a clock, a Murphy bed, and eventually the bath tub. Only the genius of Chaplin could keep audiences in stitches for two reels with nothing himself and a room full of furniture.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy film history including Charlie Chaplin and One A.M. 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

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