Saturday, March 31, 2007

Give a Stooge a Job

by Kevin Kusinitz

The idea of Hollywood getting cozy with Washington is nothing new. Franklin Roosevelt was probably the first to understand the possibilities of getting the presidential message out via movies. Then, as now, movie folk were thrilled to be so close to real power; FDR, a master at stroking egos, was happy to oblige. He must have known he had them in his pocket when the dancers in Footlight Parade proudly displayed his image with placards held over their heads.

Still, my favorite LA/DC co-production is an M-G-M short made circa 1933 on behalf of the National Recovery Administration. No official title, no credits – just an on-screen introduction of “an eminent authority on the NRA” – who turns out to be Jimmy Durante.

Now, I know around these parts Durante’s something of a lowlife, thanks to his oft-maligned partnership with Buster Keaton. But Jimmy isn’t our focus now – even if he does perform an extraordinary tongue-twisting number in one, seemingly-breathless take. Jimmy’s pitch to the on-screen audience is to end unemployment by hiring more workers, going to more doctors, etc. Forget that people could barely pay for just one of anybody or anything during the Depression – “Give a man a job!” he shouts to a banker, a hypochondriac (that’s where the doctors come in) and, finally, an exterminator.

That’s where it got interesting. While I was burning my video copy to DVD, I caught something I’d never realized before. The exterminator’s voice -- was it possible… wait, let me take a good look… the profile… Yes! The bug killer with the slicked-back hair was Moe Howard!

Now, Curly’s solo appearance in Metro’s Roast Beef and Movies was common knowledge, as were the Stooges’ TV appearances, commercials and Moe’s various supporting movie roles in his later years. But this propaganda short? I didn’t recall Moe mentioning it in his autobiography, nor in any book, for that matter. Had I discovered a holy grail of Stooge cinema?

I was ready to take my bows when I searched YouTube for a link to provide you lucky readers. I scrolled down the comments and… well, let’s just say I was a day late and Stooge short. You’ll recognize Moe – he’s the guy who looks like Shemp.

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Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

Just took a look at the comments attached to the YouTube file and discovered that it was former Third Banana contributor and comedy knowitall Nick Santa Maria who pointed out Moe's presence. WE'RE EVERYWHERE, I tell you!

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the credit, Aaron...I knew you wouldn't let me down.

11:00 PM  
Blogger Rob Bates said...

People really shouldn't hold that Buster Keaton thing against Jimmy Durante. I think he holds up very well today; his songs are funny and no one can deny the force and charm of his personality.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

I don't hold it against Durante one bit. I hold it against MGM. Jimmy was a beautifully undisciplined force of nature. MGM should have teamed him with Ted Healy when they had the chance (they barely notice each other in "Meet The Baron") instead of hamfistedly building Jimmy's career at Buster's expense.

8:53 PM  

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