Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Knights of Knavery

I found these scans on eBay last week while window shopping. They're from the Columbia and RKO promotional books for the years 1932-33 and 1937-38 respectively and are meant to pique exhibitors' interest in the Wheeler and Woolsey features for those years. Talk about your studies in contrasts. Columbia president Harry Cohn lured Bert and Bob away from RKO in 1932 for a one-picture deal that resulted in the team's most outrageous picture, So This is Africa!. STIA! was clearly just a glint in Norman Krasna's eye when this bee-yootiful advance annoucement was published so the two-page spread simply promotes the requisite elements for any W&W picture: Bert, Bob, Bob's cigar, and tiny women crawling all over them.

click on thumbnail for full-sized image

The copy appropriately praises the team to the skies:
The "Maniacs of Mirth" make their debut on the Columbia program. Their reputation is world-wide and they need no introduction here. Their antics in "Rio Rita" placed them at once in the first rank as comedians. Columbia's plans for these two "Knights of Knavery" will further establish them firmly as the screen's stellar comedians! A recent poll of the public taste in pictures showed that the great majority, young and old, rich or poor, male or female, preferred comedy! Give your audience what they want -- by the Kings of Comedy!

Columbia will spare nothing to make this picture the funniest that Wheeler and Woolsey have ever made! It's a corking story filled with action, pretty girls, new gags and antics that will leave your audience gasping for breath between the laughs!
Columbia may have short-changed the team financially will their ill-conceived (for Bert and Bob, anyway) work-for-profit scheme, but they certainly lived up to their promise to deliver a top-notch W&W vehicle. As far as I'm concerned, STIA! was the best picture W&W had made up to that point, thanks primarily to Krasna's no-holds-barred screenplay. And if what remains after the Hays Office got finished cutting it into coleslaw is any indication, the original cut was probably the team's funniest feature, period. I rather doubt Columbia intended to screw over the team for a one-shot, and highly profitable, picture. The studio's publicity and the feature itself seem ample proof that Columbia was extremely happy to have Bert and Bob on their roster. The story of Bert and Bob's return to RKO has been told in such a way that suggests that the deciding factor for their departure was Columbia's withholding of the team's percentage of the profits.. their only pay. As STIA! was one of Columbia's biggest moneymakers of 1933, this would have been the very definition of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs and I personally don't believe it. I find it much more likely that Bert and Bob, impatient and wary of the "revolutionary" work-for-profit scheme, accepted RKO's more conventional counter-offer before the profits on STIA! had begun to materialize. When W&W left, Columbia (Cohn) spitefully withheld the money.

Anyway, contrast that snazzy two-page W&W announcement with this one from RKO's 1937-38 promotional book. I suggested in an earlier post that, after 1936, RKO didn't care about the team that had saved the studio's bacon during the Depression. I now present Exhibit A.

Christ on a pogo stick! I rather like the streamlined, Mike and Ike-shaped Bob, but what the hell has happened to poor Bert?? What did he ever do to the RKO publicity department that would compel them to portray him as maniacal, gap-toothed ghoul?? The copy:
The Bellylaff boys in one hoky-poky howler.
'Nuff said.

Labels: ,


Blogger East Side said...

That RKO "hoky-poky howler" tagline reminds me of Fox's publicity department referring to Laurel & Hardy as "numbskulls" and "idiots" (or words to that effect). Big studios have never been that good at selling comedy because the people who run them have no sense of humor. Only Hal Roach did with any smarts and taste.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

The key difference between Fox's publicity for L&H and RKO's for W&W is that Fox genuinely cared that they had Laurel and Hardy on the payroll. Yeah, the "nitwitz" campaigns Fox set up for the Boys are awful and completely miss the point, but they're also an honest (if misguided) attempt to reframe L&H's "out-moded" comedy in a market now dominated by Abbott and Costello. RKO, on the other hand, was simply bored stiff with W&W by 1936-7. While the studio once mounted lavish campaigns for the team, at the end, they were basing publicity on things interns scrawled on cocktail napkins. "Hoky poky howler"??

8:56 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home