Saturday, June 16, 2007

Willie, West, and McGinty

Greg Hilbrich of The Columbia Shorts Department drew my attention this week to these incredible YouTube clips of the vaudeville team of Willie, West and McGinty, "The Comedy Builders". I had only read about them prior to seeing this footage and was completely ignorant of the fact that they had committed their long-running slapstick act to film. And not just once, either; at least three times between 1930 and 1937, not counting their numerous television appearances during the 1950s. Professional clown Pat Cashin, the poster of these videos, writes that Walt Disney would take his staff "to go and study their act for performance, timing and structure", something that will become glaringly clear once you watch the team in action. Their "incompetent construction workers" routine clearly formed the inspiration for many of those Mickey/Donald/Goofy shorts of the late 30s in which the trio clumsily attempts to load a moving van, clean a clocktower, etc... and all of those shorts are about 1/10th as funny as Willie, West, and McGinty (and they would have to be: who cares if an animated character could pull off these physical gags? That the team is flesh-and-blood is what makes the gags tick!).

Clip one: Willie, West, and McGinty in Plastered, their 1930 screen debut for Paramount, directed by Norman Taurog (who more or less turned the camera on and walked away).

Clip two: Willie, West, and McGinty on The Colgate Comedy Hour in 1951. The same act, but take a look at how much some of the gags have improved over time. Incidentally, Bobby Clark was the host of this particular episode so, yes, Virginia, at least one of Bobby's Colgate shows exists! Hallelujiah!

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Blogger East Side said...

That short was hilarious! Non-stop laughter all the way, choked at least once on my water. Why have I never heard of these guys? Jeez, just that constant "Hey!" kept getting funnier every time. When Laurel & Hardy start a project, there's at least a semblance of progress, but these guys go absolutely nowhere for 10 straight minutes. The Three Stooges must've caught their act at some point. Difference is, these guys appear to be in genuine physical danger with every gag. Any more of their stuff available anywhere? And are they British? One of them sounds like Charlie Hall from the L & H movies.

PS-- One of the music cues was "Why am I so Romantic" from "Animal Crackers" the same year. But I swear I got more solid laughs from this short. Truly inspired stuff.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

I wish I knew more about them. I'm betting they're English, but I really have no idea. As for other films, they made an appearance in "The Big Broadcast of 1936" as carpenters and in a 1937 Vitaphone short, "One on the House", in a truly breakout role as carpenters.

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A recent issue of Vaudeville Times had an overview article on them. The team changed membership a few times over the years.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

I figured as much. The photo shows FOUR members! I need to find that VT issue!

9:03 PM  

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