Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bobby Clark and the Case of the Missing Skits

If you haunt eBay as regularly and as thoroughly as I do, every now and again you'll really hit the jackpot. For low-income obsessives such as myself, eBay is an absolutely indispensable research tool. My big find of the last few months is this 1944 letter from legendary Broadway clown Bobby Clark to a fan who has requested a transcript of one of Bobby's skits.

March 24th 1944

Dear Mr. Klisto,

Your letter received. Sorry I've been so long answering but I've been having trouble with my knee and have put everything to one side to try and get it back in shape again.

I have received so many letters just like yours, and have never been able to help out any of the requests and here's the reason. When the U.S.O. first went into action, almost everyone of the stage was asked to send in all the material of any kind they could. This I promptly did. I gave everything I possibly could find. So now, I am without any of the old material that I had collected for a lot of years. I was promised that all the material would be re-typed and the original sent back to me. So far I haven't seen any action on it. In fact I am now at the stage, where, if I did want to do any of the old material, blackouts, sketches, songs, etc. I would have to do it from memory.

So you see I can't be of any use to you. It seemed to me that the U.S.O. has slipped up badly in distributing the tremendous amount of material that (was) sent in to them. Where has it gone to?

With all best wishes,
Yours sincerely
Bobby Clark

It's easy to imagine as vast an undertaking as the creation of an indexed USO comedy material database being slow going under the best of conditions (and with computers!), so I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it barely got past the planning stages. But what about the material the USO requested? Every red-blooded, patriotic baggy-pants burlesque comic would have gladly offered up their material, so is the US government now sitting on heaps of old vaudeville and burlesque sketches? Is there a warehouse somewhere full of boxes bulging with material from the likes of Bert Lahr, Eddie Cantor, and Joe Cook? Would an FOIA request clear up this mystery?

What's troubling to me, at least, is that the bulk of the writing of one of America's premiere comedians has apparently been devoured by red tape. This is bad news for anyone hoping to chronicle Bobby's life and work.

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