Archive for French

Repose en Paix, Pierre Étaix

Posted in Clown, Comedy, Frenchy, Movies (Contemporary), OBITS with tags , , , , , , on October 14, 2016 by travsd

Something fitting about Dario Fo and Pierre Etaix passing away within hours of each other. French clown, actor and comedy film-maker Etaix (1928-2016) was one of the happy discoveries I learned about when researching my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to YoutubeI seem to recall first hearing about the artist from Steve Massa, and there was a big screening of his films (which had long been unavailable) at the Film Forum a couple of years ago.

Etaix is often associated with Jacques Tati (for whom he assistant directed, and with whom he got his start) but his character and his style are very different. He was also in the Jerry Lewis movie The Day the Clown Cried (1972), which it looks like we’ll all finally get to see at some point in the not too distant future. Etaix had many more screen credits as an actor than as a director. He only directed a few films; most of them are available on Youtube. I watched ’em all. This one is probably my favorite, and how perfectly timed for Hallowe’en (there’s more than a little Hammer Horror parody in the fantasy sequences here–very well done) . The film is called Insomnia (1961).  Even so, I hope you sleep well, grand-père drôle!

Anna Chandler: Singer of Italian and Hebrew Songs

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Anna Chandler (1884-1957). Pennsylvania native Chandler was only 16 years old when she married Keith-Albee booker Jack Curtis Sr. For the next 30+ years she was to be a regular fixture on the Keith and Orpheum circuits as a singer of Italian and Hebrew songs in an operatic mezzo soprano. In 1911, she appeared in the Broadway farce Jumping Jupiter. By the middle of the decade her visage was gracing the cover of sheet music, she was cutting records, and she was commonly spoken of by reviewers as one of the top “single women” in vaudeville. In 1928, billed as “Vaudeville’s Favorite Daughter”, she appeared in a Vitaphone short, singing and doing French dialect. For the next 20 years, she appeared in several notable Hollywood films, normally in bit parts. She was in The Big Broadcast (1932), Broadway Bill (1934), Gold Rush Maisie (1940), and The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), among others.

Chandler’s daughter was Beatrice Curtis, vaudeville partner and wife of Harry Fox.

For more on vaudeville 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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Armand Kaliz

Posted in Broadway, Frenchy, Hollywood (History), Jews/ Show Biz, Movies, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Armand Kaliz (Armand Kalisz, 1887-1941). Kaliz was born in Paris; of Polish Jewish parentage.

By 1907 Kaliz was in New York appearing in both vaudeville and the Broadway musical The Hoyden. One finds constant references to Kaliz appearing in vaudeville at least through 1919. He appears to have worked most consistently in dramatic and comedy sketches with a a partner named Amelia Stone, sometimes managed by Alf T. Wilton. At least one of these sketches was written by Edgar Allan Woolf. He also appears to have had a fine singing voice and appeared in musical sketches in vaudeville, and one later Broadway musical The Kiss Burglar (1918), although an arch review of that show by Dorothy Parker might explain why he didn’t do more Broadway work (she made fun of his accent (Found that in the indispensable Dorothy Parker: Complete Broadway 1918-1923 — thank you, Kevin Fitzpatrick!). He appeared on more on Broadway, in the hit revue Spice of 1922, which he also produced (it ran for four months, which isn’t too shabby).

By that point, Kaliz had also been a film actor for several years. It was for the cinema that he removed the troublesome, unnecessary “s” from his last name. He began his film career in 1917, still very much the silent era, and there he found his accent to be no encumbrance to his success. Films included The Siren (1917), Let’s Get a Divorce (1918) and The Stolen Bride (1927). He also had good roles in the earliest years of talkies including Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929), The Aviator (1929), The Unholy Three (1930), Little Caesar (1931), and the Frank Fay comedy  God’s Gift to Women (1931). But his accent does seem to have caused him trouble in sound pictures and he quickly slid down the pecking order to walk-ons. By Flying Down to Rio (1933), his character is “One of Three Greeks”. Almost of his role from the end of the ’30s to his death in 1941 were uncredited.

To learn more about early 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 more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

For Bastille Day: How the French Invented Film Comedy

Posted in Comedy, Frenchy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2015 by travsd
Well known phallic symbol

Well known phallic symbol

The following is an excerpt from my 2013 book  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, published by Bear Manor Media, available from Amazon.com etc etc etc

…Just as jazz, the quintessential American music, was born as a hybrid between German marches and the syncopated playing styles of African-Americans, it might be useful to think of American screen comedy as the love child of another foreign import, the French farce, mixed with the limitless extravagance of the American imagination. As with the march, we start out with a fairly rigid European structure, pleasurable to experience, but a foreign import nonetheless. In skillful hands the French farce is as seamless as a series of geometric proofs, its symmetries and proportions all laid out according to strict, innate, universal laws. While some of Mack Sennett’s films may seem free-wheeling and plotless, many others borrowed their spines directly from pre-existing farces. At Keystone, Sennett actually had a translator on staff, converting the plots of French plays into English synopses for his use. It is a fallacy that Keystone worked without prepared scenarios. It would be more accurate to say that they sometimes worked without scenarios. Most of the time they actually had a working document prepared ahead of time, which they could then deviate from as the mood struck them during production. The films generally have some kind of funny or ironic story arc borrowed from farce.

Mack Sennett, "The Curtain Pole" (1909)

Mack Sennett, “The Curtain Pole” (1909)

As in farces, coincidental interaction rules the day in a Keystone comedy. If the hero flirts with a woman in one scene, and then runs afoul of a random gentleman in another scene, it’s a sure bet that those two will turn out to be a married couple later on, and that our hero will only learn this crucial information when he is hiding under the wife’s bed. These are some Keystone plots: A married woman with whom our hero had earlier flirted sleepwalks into his room, forcing him to hide on the roof when her husband comes home (Caught in the Rain, 1914). Two strange men accidentally switch jackets, each of which has something incriminating in the pockets, which their wives then find. Then they all meet in the park, adding pandemonium to the domestic strife (His Trysting Place, 1914). Two husbands flirt with each other’s wives in the park. Each woman calls a policeman to arrest the mashers, but now the women have since become friends and agree not to press charges against each other’s husbands (Getting Acquainted, 1914). None of these plots would have been out of place on the French stage or screen of the time.

While these scenarios are funny, they have another element, one Sennett seems to have imported almost by accident, like some disease hitching a ride with an invading army. This element is of course sex.  Recall that at the time, women wore corsets and weren’t allowed to even show an ankle in public, or even walk down the street unaccompanied. The art of the time was a reflection of the culture. Consider, for example, the raciest, “filthiest,” most controversial English-language play of that day: Mrs. Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw. A modern reader of the play might be forgiven for being a little confused by its reputation. The words “sex” or “prostitute” are never mentioned in the play, let alone references to the various acts the title character is supposed to have engaged in. Meanwhile, by contrast, all of the characters in French farces behave like dogs in heat. In Feydeau’s The Lady from Maxim’s (1899), a married man wakes up to discover that he has brought a prostitute home with him.  In Through the Window (1882), a strange lady walks into a man’s house and requests a bout of revenge sex so that she can get back at her husband.  In Hotel Paradiso (1894), a couple has every intention of engaging in an extramarital affair, but a chain of incidents prevents them from even getting to touch each other.

Inspired by this alternate reality of French permissiveness, Sennett attempted to transplant something like it to his native soil. This new universe is one where sexed-up slobs habitually just walk up to random girls and try to make their time. Borrowed from both the farce and the melodrama, it may be the most frequently used plot device in Keystone films. A guy spies a girl, starts talking to her, won’t leave her alone, trouble ensues. This kind of behavior was even more frowned upon in Sennett’s day than in our own and for all the same reasons. A woman’s reality in these films is downright dangerous. In Between Showers (1914), for example, the girl (Emma Clifton) is bothered by no less than four different men. She must feel like she’s got pork chops tied to her legs. Sometimes in these comedies it’s as though life has reverted to pre-civilization, where cavemen are just prowling around, on the hunt for women to bag and drag back to their huts by the hair of their heads. Indeed, in His Prehistoric Past (1914), that’s literally the plot of the film.

Max Linder, Father of Screen Comedy Before Either Sennett or Chaplin

Max Linder, Father of Screen Comedy Before Either Sennett or Chaplin

It’s not just sex that begins to rear its ugly head in the Keystone films, but on occasion even the scatological. The French are a freer culture; they have no hang-ups about the lower body. This is the nation of Rabelais, Voltaire, and de Sade. These are not people who pretend that certain bodily productions don’t exist. The action in Feydeau’s Hortense a dit: je m’en fous! (1916)* is precipitated by a cat peeing on a coat. In the Max Linder film Max’s Hat (1913), a dog pisses on our hero’s chapeau right on camera! By contrast, you don’t see a lot of urine in the American and English stage and screen during the Edwardian era. But the French influence will be felt. A few months after leaving Sennett, Charlie Chaplin would mistake a leaky baby bottle for a peeing baby in Easy Street. It’s more polite but it’s the same idea. And there were plenty of people who thought it was rude enough in 1916.

* Translates roughly as “Hortense said, “I don’t give a fuck!”

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 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.

 

Monsieur E. Bihin, the French Giant

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Frenchy, Giants, Human Anomalies (Freaks) with tags , , , , on December 15, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Jean Antoine Joseph Bihin (1805-1873). A native of Belgium, he grew to a height of between 6’8″ to 8′ feet (reports vary). Beyond this advantage, he could act and sing, and was a skilled strong man and comedian. After achieving fame touring fairs and circuses across western Europe, he moved to the U.S. in 1840. He worked at P.T. Barnum’s museum, where he once got into a fight with Colonel Goshen. Barnum interceded by demanding they save the altercation until there were time to properly promote it and sell tickets. Bihin also worked with Colonel Nutt in a 1862 production of the play Hop o’ My Thumb. He is also reputed to have done some p.r. work for the Union during the Civil War, and is reported to have been married from 1849-1863. The marriage is said to have ended in divorce on the grounds of cruelty. (This and the fact that M. Bihin is said to have employed the N word during the brawl with Goshen begins to paint a not very flattering portrait of the man. But information is admittedly scant).

He is buried in Green-wood cemetery so look here for a photo of the marker ere long.

To find out more about  the history of show businessconsult 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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And 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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Renée Adorée: The Big Parade, etc.

Posted in Child Stars, Circus, Frenchy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Renée Adorée (Jeanne de La Fonte, 1898-1933). She started out performing in French circuses with her parents at the age of five, migrated to theatre in young adulthood and made a couple of films in Britain before coming to Hollywood in 1921. She was a major star of the silent and early sound era; her biggest film was King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925). Her previous stage experience served her well during the sound period, although to bolster her rep in 1928 she did undertake a tour of big time vaudeville, Her last film was Call of the Flesh (1930) with Ramon Novarro; she died of TB shortly after its release.

Here she is in a portion of the carnival story The Spieler (1928) with Alan Hale and Clyde Cook:

To find out more about vaudeville 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.

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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 amazon.com etc etc etc

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Maurice Chevalier: From Paris to Paramount

Posted in Acrobats and Daredevils, Dance, Frenchy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Singers with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2013 by travsd

Maurice Chevalier was never in American vaudeville but he deserves an honorary nod here due to his origins in French music hall and his success as an American recording artist and star of early Hollywood musicals in the 1930s. Born in Paris on this day in 1888, he began as an acrobat and singer in cafes at age 13. By 1909 he was the partner of France’s biggest female singing star Fréhel, before displacing her with another major star Mistinguette and a long term engagement at the Folies Bergere. He served in World War One, was injured, and taught himself English in a German prison camp. Released in 1916, he entertained English and American soldiers for the duration of the war and made his first trip to London for a smash engagement at the London Palace. These forays paved the way for his Hollywood career which began at Paramount in 1928. There followed another four decades of international fame before he passed away in 1972. However, let me just add:

To learn more about entertainers like Maurice Chevalier 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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