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!