Vaudeville Ends und Odds
A couple of free classic comedy finds for you this week. First, a stash of ancient Weber and Fields recordings on archive.org. Joe Weber (right) and Lew Fields (left) were THE American comedy team at the turn of the century, and the unprecedented fame they enjoyed probably remained unequalled until the arrival of Laurel and Hardy. Weber and Fields, who began performing together in the Bowery in 1877, established a standard for crosstalk routines that was very much alive through the 1950s, thanks to Abbott and Costello (whose con-man v. patsy dynamic directly reflects that of W&F) and the unsung comics of the fading burlesque scene. Their brand of broad "dutch" dialect comedy may not read as particularly funny today, but there are some good gags and razor-sharp timing to be found in these nearly century old tracks. Incidentally, Weber and Fields made most of these recordings in 1912 after they had reunited following a contentious and highly-publicized 1904 split. They were still active in semi-retirement through the early 1930s, mostly in radio.
And I never thought I'd find this online. Courtesy These Records Are BenT!, the original 1970 cast recording of Minnie's Boys starring Shelley Winters. I don't mind telling you, this isn't quite my cup of thing. It's one thing to read a load of stale half-truths about the Marxes and quite another to hear them dramatized and set to music (produced by Enoch Light!). But I have to admit a fondness for Where Was I (When They Passed Out Luck), a song for the Marxes in which they enumerate their various personal strengths. You just know the actors are sitting on a fake curb while, behind them, some guy dressed as an Italian fruit merchant (with a huge black mustache) silently hawks his wares to passerby. At the end of the song, he probably shoos the Marxes away with a line like "Hey, you-a keeds! You getta way from-a my fruit stand! You-a scaring away my customers!" Chico steals an apple from the cart as the curtain falls.