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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

Stars of Slapstick #212: Bill Wolfe

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, W.C. Fields, Westerns with tags , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Bill Wolfe (1894-1975) that cadaverous looking scarecrow whom W.C. Fields used to stick in a lot of his movies. In the accepted vaudevillian fashion, Fields loved using freakish human beings as sight gags: fat people,bean poles, midgets, twins, etc.

According to author James Curtis, Fields picked Wolfe out of a line up for Poppy (1936), at the behest of director Eddie Sutherland. The gag in Poppy, later to repeated in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) is that Wolfe, the most gaunt, starving, poverty-stricken looking character imaginable, keeps asking Fields as the circus manager for the money he owes him, and Fields keeps and evading him and double talking his way out of it. Fields also employed him in You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939), My Little Chickadee (1940), The Bank Dick (1940) and Follow the Boys (1944) as well. Other comedians or comedy auteurs Wolfe supported included Harry Langdon (Long Pants, 1927), Laurel and Hardy (Way Out West, 1938), and Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels, 1941)

It’s funny to know that Wolfe was from New York City and had a background in burlesque. He had the look of a country bumpkin (as a type he was not unlike Slim Summerville) and the vast majority of his credits were in westerns (scores of them) usually as a bit player or an extra. His last credit was the Randolph Scott oater The Nevadan (1950), in which he played the role of “barfly”.

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.

 

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