Friday, September 15, 2006

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 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.

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Blogger East Side said...

Shortly after "Minnie's Boys" opened, Dick Cavett had Shelly Winters, the "boys" and Groucho himself on for an entire 90 minutes. In addition to being interviewed, they did the "Fun in Hi-Skule" sketch. I don't know if this episode is available on DVD. The actors seemed to be well-cast, but the show lasted only two months. (The guy who played E.F. Albee was Roland "Bad Charlie Chan" Winters. I wish he'd been on the show instead of Shelly Winters.)

Did you ever see that movie short with the faux-Weber & Fields? I think those poseurs would qualify as fourth bananas.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

A FAUX-Weber and Fields??? Lead me to 'em!! This is the first I've heard about them.

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is an early sound film, and for a while some people thought it was Weber and Fields (some compilatgions with it still perpetuate this). Then the scholars noticed that under the make up they were about 50 years too young!

9:27 AM  
Blogger East Side said...

Anonymous has it right. The copy I have -- somewhere or other -- is from Blackhawk Video. I don't know if it's still in business.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

I'm assuming that this is a reference to the DeForest Phonofilm they were supposed to have made (frames from which appear in Silent Clowns). So if they weren't Weber and Fields, who were they? Were they billed as W&F?

9:05 AM  
Blogger East Side said...

There's no way this is a Phonofilm; it appears to have been shot circa 1930 in a theatre. One camera, located in the orchestra seating area, no close-ups. The orchestra itself is in the shot the whole time. It's done in one long take, perhaps better to disguise the fact that we're watching a couple of phonies. They do a routine, then sing a song that seems to be called, "Just Because She Makes Them Goo-Goo Eyes." No credits, either. At the beginning, they await a cue from an offscreen director before going into their routine. I have no idea who they are; I'm not sure anybody does. They sure look like them, though -- sound like them, too -- but apparently it's not them!

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fake Weber and Fields, noted as such, appear in the 1997 "Vaudeville" documentary that was part of the American Masters series.

11:15 PM  

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