Friday, August 25, 2006

"Flippin' kid..."

Grough.. I mean Brough.. must have been the luckiest man in showbusiness history. Despite a contemporary reputation as the UK's answer to Edgar Bergen, he was anything but and his tremendous 1950s fame says much about how desperate postwar British audiences were for entertainment. Peter Brough's radio series, Educating Archie, wasn't so much a showcase for his talents as it was an exercise in camouflaging his shortcomings.. even to the point of downplaying Brough's ventriloquism. Brough, as Brough, is largely absent from Educating Archie.. meaning, of course, that Educating Archie was essentially a radio series built around a man affecting a squeaky voice. Nevertheless, the series does have its moments, mostly thanks to a supporting cast that includes such notables as Sid James, Max Bygraves, Tony Hancock, Harry Secombe, and a very young Julie Andrews. The show's theme-song is nicely catchy, too.

These episodes of Educating Archie come courtesy of Please right-click on the titles and choose "save as" so as not to overtax their server.

Guy Fawkes Day (10/30/1950)
The Cinema (10/19/1951)
The Sharp Crease (12/11/1952)
The Red Ink (2/11/1954)
The New Bypass (10/3/1956)
Archie In Australia (9/18/1957)
Brough Gets Fit (10/15/1957)
Around Britain in Eight Days (3/1/1959)

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

More Stuff on Grough

by Geoff Collins

Great galls of fire! New readers may wonder what this is all about, but our diehard fans - both of 'em - will recall that a while ago I wrote a piece about legendary 1950s dummy Archie Andrews and his rubbery-lipped operator Peter Brough. They were sensational on BBC radio but the inevitability of television appearances soon revealed Brough's diminishing ability to hide the lip movements. Fortunately Brough's dad died [did I just write "fortunately Brough's dad died"???] and so Brough had a convenient excuse to leave showbusiness and take over the family textile business. It must be said, in all honesty, that Brough was a terrible ventriloquist. Even as early as his 1943 pre-Archie routine on (haven't mentioned that for a while!) he was using a cigar to hide his lips, so his dad's demise couldn't have come at a more convenient time.

My original article, detailing the recent sale of Archie for £34000, can be reached on our archive; but the story requires an update. Archie, who is now sixty years old despite being permanently fourteen, was recently interviewed for the Guardian newspaper, and this fascinating article can be found here.

It's almost impossible to improve upon the daftness of this concept: a ventriloquist on the radio. America did it first, with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy; and while Bergen was undoubtedly technically superior to Brough, his film appearances - especially The Goldwyn Follies - often reveal him to be locked into an alarming clench-jawed facial spasm while Charlie is talking. Oddly enough he seems to recover a bit when Charlie stops talking. I wonder why.

Britain can claim something even more bizarre than this: a magician on the radio. In 1979 I had the good fortune to be able to have a long conversation with South African-born drummer Joe Daniels (1909-93),who in the 30s and 40s was Britain's answer to Gene Krupa ("Joe Daniels and His Hot Shots in Drumnasticks"). We spoke of many things, specifically his long tenure with Harry Roy's band and his blackface double-act with Harry's violinist Maurice Sterndale (in 1931 they toured in Variety as the Two Black Aces and made a 78 for Sterno, very much in Moran and Mack vein but with musical interludes). Joe was more interested in unloading his lifelong grudge against holiday-camp king Fred Pontin, for whom he worked in the jazz-free wilderness of 1960s England; so we never got around to discussing his elder brother Sid Daniels (1900-82),alias Sirdani. Joe's lively little band can be seen on the Pathe website - this clip is Highly Recommended - and Pathe also has two examples of Sid's act. In the earliest clip "Sirdani the Indestructible!" Sid sticks various objects into himself (the Pathe site must be running white hot already!) stamps about on broken glass, and demonstrates an ancient art, handed down through countless generations: eating gramophone records. All this is accompanied by a sickeningly crunchy soundtrack. Ugh!

By the end of the 30s Sid had developed a much less repellent presentation (this later clip is excerpted as part of a cobbled-together wartime compilation feature, What the Public Wants). Sirdani was now a more conventional magician, suave and smooth and with a Chico Marxian mock-Italian line in comedy patter, coaxing members of the audience to participate in the tricks with his catchphrase "Don't be fright". He was enough of a showman for this to work well on radio, as he charmingly described the tricks to the listeners and encouraged them to try it for themselves. There was even a book, Don't Be Fright - Radio Magic by Sirdani. Now that's adaptability - and it's also British Variety at its best. Thirty years later, curly-wigged-but-actually-bald Geoffrey Durham was doing a similar act, mock-Spanish this time, as The Great Soprendo; and he was hilarious. One act influences another, and that's what keeps show-business going. We've discussed this before and we'll do it again: Harry Weldon influenced Sandy Powell; Norman Evans influenced Les Dawson; Fred Sanborn influenced George Carl and all those silent, huge-jacketed, too-short-trousered European clowns,; Max Miller influenced Cheerful Charlie Chester; Ted Healy influenced Jack Carson, Milton Berle and any number of acerbic chat-show hosts; Sid Field influenced Howerd, Grayson, Morecambe, Hancock... and Eddie Cantor influenced Kermit the Frog. Let's argue!

We've deviated a bit from Archie Andrews; but it now remains to be seen whether Archie will entertain a whole new generation in the hands of an efficient vent who actually cares about the act, and who isn't thinking about the profits from his shirt factory. Archie's geen in his gox far too long. We'll keep you posted. Gye-gye everygoddy.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Paul Was Here: Sleuthing on a Budget... or Why None of Us will Ever Have Any Privacy Again, Ever

My free time of the past several days has been spent cleaning up images from Paul McCullough's mother's scrapbook (courtesy Paul's nephew Mike Brick) in preparation for adding the best bits to the all-too stagnant Clark and McCullough Database. Among the newspaper clippings are many candid photos of Paul and his friends and family, undated and usually unmarked with no corresponding documentation, which unfortunately relegates a good many of them to the "unknown" file. But at least a few can be pinned down thanks to handy identifiers and landmarks in the photos themselves. Take for instance this snapshot of Paul, his mother, and assorted friends (and family?).

No documentation, although, from the clothes and Paul's appearance, it can be readily assumed to date from the early 30s. There are however many signs and distinctive buildings.

To the left, a building with a sign reading "Kress" and a tower with a peaked roof.. to the right, the "La Plaza Theatre" and a nice clock.

A quick Google search of "La Plaza Theatre" and "Kress" brings up a postcard on Ebay of Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, Florida. Here's a good one from the late 30s with three of our identifiers; the Kress sign, the peaked tower, and the clock. But what about the La Plaza Theatre?

Here it is to the far right of this mid-20s postcard. That marquee is much bigger than it seems in the candid photo! All four of our landmarks are here.

Here are two postcards of the La Plaza Theatre from the teens, before the huge marquee was added. According to the Cinema Treasures site, the La Plaza, located at 504 Central Ave. (now a parking lot), opened in 1913 and had over 2,000 seats. Perhaps Clark and McCullough played there at some point? And where, exactly, are Paul and company seated? GOOGLE KNOWS ALL!! GOOGLE SEES ALL!!

This 1935-6 postcard shows that they would be sitting under the red arrow, right in front of the Plaza Hotel (next door to the extremely strangely named "X-Ray Shoes" store). It's easy to assume that Paul and company were staying at the Plaza. Does anyone have any shots of the Plaza Hotel today? Does it still exist?

On to the next photo. This one is fairly simple. Again, this must be the early 30s. A Google search for "Buenaventura Mission" pulls up the Mission San Buenaventura in Ventura, CA. Paul is probably leaving the mission after Mass.

Here's the mission on a 1930s postcard.

Here's the mission today, restored to its much nicer 1782 appearance.

This one was tricky. Obviously, Paul and his friends are still in Florida, most likely the same trip that saw them in St. Petersburg. The building behind them is plainly a hotel, and it must be the Hotel Floridian (duh).

A Google search brings up a postcard on Ebay of a Hotel Floridian on Miami Beach as seen from Star Island. I couldn't find a better (or closer) image of the hotel than this. Further Googling reveals that the hotel is long since demolished.

Again, this must be the same early 30s trip. That's Paul in the middle accompanied by the thin and chubby fellows from the previous shot. Clearly they're in front of a bridge crossing the Suwannee River. Photoshop tinkering brings out the name of the bridge located above the plaque; Hillman Bridge. The Hillman Bridge, now abandoned, is located near Suwannee River State Park on old US Highway 90 in Ellaville, FL.. itself mostly abandoned.

Here's a postcard of the bridge from the late 40s.

Here's a recent shot of the Hillman Bridge (from the opposite end) that I found on Webshots. Jeez, that's depressing..

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Requiem for a Professional Patsy

Reader Greg G. has brought to my attention this incredible new Lloyd Hamilton DVD set from Looser Than Loose. "Ham" Hamilton will be familar to anyone who has read Walter Kerr's indespensible critical history of silent comedy, The Silent Clowns. In it, Kerr deftly analyzes Hamilton's Move Along (1926), presenting it as an example of the strengths of quirks of silent comedy as a whole. Lloyd Hamilton's best known character, the vaguely prissy, precise, and put-upon sap of his 1920s shorts, was plainly the inspiration for Jackie Gleason's "Poor Soul" right down to the flat cap. Despite his strong popularity and respect within the industry for his talents (Keaton once referred to Ham as "one of the funniest men in silent pictures."), attempts to move into features met with very limited success, leaving Hamilton largely confined to Educational shorts until his untimely death in 1935 from complications following stomach surgery. As Glenn Mitchell writes in A-Z of Silent Film Comedy, Hamilton also had the severe misfortune of having worked for studios "with the worst survival rate." The vast bulk of what must have been Ham's finest work, his 1920s Educational series for director Jack White, went up in flames in the devestating 1937 Fox vault fire, leaving little more than tantalizing fragments of the career of the silent era's most unsung comic talent. The Looser Than Loose set appears to pull together most of what remains, from the early "Ham and Bud" Kalem shorts co-starring the diminutive Bud Duncan (much, much later to appear at Monogram as Snuffy Smith), to the two-reel abridgment of Ham's first feature, His Darker Self (1924), and tosses in a disc of mouth-watering extras besides (drool). Now where'd I put that spare $65...
Disc 1: Ham and Bud, Beyond Redemption and deodorant
"Ham" in a Harem (Kalem, 3/30/15)
"Ham" and the Sausage Factory (Kalem, 2/12/15)
The Spook Raisers (Kalem, 7/29/15)
The Great Detective (Kalem, 7/18/16)
The Love Magnet (Kalem, 10/10/16)
The Deadly Doughnut (Kalem, 4/14/17)
The Bathtub Bandit (Kalem, 10/31/17)
- with Ethel Teare

Disc 2: The Misadventures of a Poor Soul, Part One
Jonah Jones (Educational, 9/21/24)
- with Babe London, Dick Sutherland
Careful Please (Educational, 2/7/26)
- with Louise Carver, Stanley Blystone, Eddie Boland, Glen Cavender
Nobody's Business (Educational, 3/29/26)
- with Dick Sutherland, Stanley Blystone, Eddie Boland
Bonus Features:
Nothing Matters (Educational, 1926)
- with Stanley Blystone, Eddie Boland, Anita Garvin. Reel one only
A Flyer in Flapjacks (Kalem, 2/20/17)
- Ham and Bud with Ethel Teare

Disc 3: The Misadventures of a Poor Soul, Part Two
His Darker Self (G&H, 3/16/24)
Crushed (Educational, 11/23/24)
- with Blanche Payson
Move Along (Educational, 7/25/26)
- with Glen Cavender
Bonus Features:
Hooked (Educational, 2/8/25)
- 16mm fragment: approx. 5 minutes
Good Evening Judge (Kalem, 8/8/16)
- Ham and Bud

Disc 4: Ham Speaks!
Good Morning Sheriff (Educational, 5/18/30)
- with Eddie Baker, Lige Conley
Toot Sweet (Educational, 11/10/29)
- with Will Hays
Don't Be Nervous (Educational, 7/7/29)
- with Heinie Conklin, Dick Sutherland, Glen Cavender, Leo White
Bonus Features:
Hollywood on Parade (6/5/32) - Lloyd Hamilton and a galaxy of stars
The Model Janitor (Kalem, 2/13/17) - Ham and Bud with Ethel Teare

Disc 5: Extras
Bonus Ham and Bud Short: Raskey's Road Show (Kalem, 6/15/15)
April Fool (Educational, 11/21/20)
- directed by Charles Parrott (9.5mm fragment)
Jonah Jones press sheet
Unidentified Ham and Bud
- possibly Rival Fakers (11/21/16)
Oh No! What Happened to Bud Duncan?
Casper's Weekend (F.B.O., 1928)
- with Thelma Hill, Kit Guard
Glass Slide Show
Photo Gallery
Bonus Ham and Bud Short 2: The Phoney Cannibal (Kalem, 4/27/15)
Unidentified Fox Sunshine Clip
- probably from His Musical Sneeze (2/23/19)
Ben Model's Lloyd Hamilton Theme

Liner Notes by Steve Massa
Music tracks digitally restored from vintage recordings by
Looser Than Loose
Original piano theme composed and played by Ben Model

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Radio Free Joe

Lord help me.. I have Joe Cook on the brain! I've spent more time than I care to acknowledge trying to track down Joe's radio shows.. even going so far as to actually attempt spending money in the effort. I first caught notice of Joe's radio career while window shopping on Ebay a few years ago. I was startled and depressed to discover that what appeared to be the bulk of Joe's personal estate was being cast to the four winds. Letters, photos, home movies, scrapbooks, etc., all very rare windows into the life and career of this unique and extremely talented comedian being scattered.. permanently diffused, useless for research. None if it was within my price range, either. Certainly not the huge and almost certainly one-of-a-kind transcription discs of Joe's radio appearances. In desperation, I sent out emails to both buyers and sellers but to no avail. Money walks. I had little doubt that, given the scarcity of the material and Cook's extreme obscurity, that I'd go to my grave without hearing Joe's contributions to the world of OTR (sob).

Well, I was wrong. It seems today that there's no media so obscure that it won't be digitized and made available somewhere, and Joe Cook's radio work is no exception. The good folks of the Old Time Radio Researchers Group have made available, on, a set of all known extant episodes of The Shell Chateau (aka The Shell Show), including five hosted by Joe, some of his last radio work as a headliner. The Shell Chateau had been created in 1935 as a vehicle for Al Jolson, but restless Jolie was chronically hard to pin down to a schedule and his role as host and star attraction was frequently filled in by others, such as Wallace Beery. Starting on January 7th, 1937, Joe Cook took over as host and revamped the variety hour into a "Three-Ring Circus of Entertainment", featuring not only performers but sports celebrities, cartoonists and other notables of the day. Cook hosts The Shell Show with his customary affable cheeriness, but the show, with all and sundry reading awkwardly from scripts (especially the non-performers), sounds downright atavistic in comparison with the earlier, vibrant Jolson episodes. But it's downright hard not to like a series that has the devil-may-care audacity to feature opera stars, animal trainers, ballerinas, and Betty Boop all on the same bill of fare. Nonetheless, Cook makes a far less interesting master of ceremonies than he does a featured comedian. Much of Cook's time is spent trying to salvage interviews with mike-shy guests with puns and gags, and this general overexposure tends to take the luster off those occasions when he grabs the spotlight for one of his trademark monologues or novelty numbers.

Incidentally, Toto the Clown (Armando Novello), one of the guests on the 1/23/37 show, is the same Toto who, back in 1918, ditched his series of shorts with Hal Roach, thus making room at the Roach studio for Stan Laurel. On the show, Toto makes his entrance in a tiny clown car while Cook describes the action for the listening audience ("Here he comes now in his famous automobile! The smallest automobile you've ever seen! It's only two feet high! You could almost park it in your vest pocket!"). Toto, who is announced as speaking in public for the first time, is a true eccentric with a thick accent who throws Cooks repeatedly by diverging from the script. It just doesn't get much stranger than this, folks.

Shell Chateau 37-01-16 Guests - Sonja Henie, Larry Adler, Betty Boop (Mae Questel)
Shell Chateau 37-01-23 Guests - The Happiness Boys, Rube Goldberg, Toto the Clown
Shall Chateau 37-02-06 Guests - George O'Brien, Enzio Pinza, Mitzi Green
Shell Chateau 37-02-13 Guests - Effrem Zimbalist, Jean Hersholt
Shell Chateau 37-05-29 Guests - Walter Hampton, Connie Mack, Bert Lynn ("inventor of the electric guitar")

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

You're All Right Jack!

by Geoff Collins

Why can't I resist these things? I just bought a cheap DVD of black-and-white Warners Porky Pig cartoons - in a supermarket, of all places - and, surprise, surprise, the last cartoon on the disc isn't a Porky at all. It's the fourth Looney Tune ever made, complete with full original credits: The Booze Hangs High (1930). One quick glance through this and you know why the production code came in. It tells the uplifting story of two baby pigs, their dad, and Bosko the Talking [insert whatever he's supposed to be] who all get totally bladdered on bootleg liquor and form an unsteady Butcher's Shop Quartet. At one point Papa Pig belches immoderately and up comes a half-digested corn-on-the-cob, which he quickly re-locates by opening a trapdoor in his stomach. That's Entertainment. It's a long way from What's Opera Doc.

Speaking of male voice quartets and That's Entertainment....

I owe Jack Buchanan an apology. His surname should have given me a clue; he's a Third Banana in disguise. How did I describe his dancing?: "He clomped about all over the stage like an Afghan hound in tap-shoes." Ooohh... Sorry, Jack. Well, at least I'm not the one who described him as a "smarmy British wimp". To be fair, how could anyone follow the fleet-footed Fred Astaire? And yet, in The Band Wagon, Jack accomplishes exactly that, in a smooth, plaintive soft-shoe version of "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan". I guess I'll have to change my opinion. Of course, this superb duet has nothing to do with comedy. However, The Band Wagon is full of comedy, and much of it is provided by Jack as egotistical, self-absorbed producer Jeffrey Cordova, a dazzling parody of multi-credit genius Jose Ferrer. Jack simply walks away with the picture.

Yes, you've guessed it; I also treated myself to the Special Edition two-DVD set of The Band Wagon. As is usual with these MGM-worshipping packages, there are a few extras: documentaries, commentaries and a copious supply of talking heads, mostly facelifted into immobility, as well as the welcome sight of veteran screenwriter Adolph Green, who looks permanently aghast, as if he's just been shot.

But there's one little gem hidden away that took me completely by surprise: a Vitaphone Varieties short, Jack Buchanan With the Glee Quartet. Thanks to the magnificent efforts of, many missing-disc Vitaphone shorts are being reunited with their missing discs. Jack's short has excellent sound and picture quality. The copyright date is below the bottom level of my screen; but I suggest this was made in New York, 1929; and it's a beauty.

Jack emerges from behind a theatre curtain. Even his ill-fitting tuxedo can't disguise the fact that he's astonishingly young and good-looking. (We've become accustomed to a craggier Jack than this). He takes the audience into his confidence: he's been asked to take the place of one of the members of the English Glee Quartet "who is unable to appear through indisposition". He hasn't had time to rehearse, he says, and he hopes this won't be apparent...

On with the show, and it's soon clear that Jack is indeed seriously under-rehearsed, but it's a slow number, and he just about gets by. Then one of the Quartet announces "an old English hunting quartet: The Fox Has Left His Lair". Shocked reaction from Jack - it's the first he's heard of this, and it's a fast number, with lots of actions - but earnestly he tries to keep pace. Mostly he's a beat or two behind the others, sometimes surprisingly ahead. He gets jostled, falls down, trips over nothing, loses his shoes and one of his cuffs (the other dangles about on a piece of string), gets his foot trodden on twice, and is generally pushed around until, at the finish, three pretty girls in hunting costume come onstage and pair up with the members of the Quartet.

Jack's face lights up in anticipation but alas! when his girl comes on, she's hefty and he immediately collapses beneath her bulk. Gamely he regains his composure and gives her a back-breaking piggy-back-ride off-stage. Fade Out.

It's quite possible, likely even, that this was a stage routine. Despite Jack's preamble, it must have been meticulously rehearsed but looks completely spontaneous; and now we know where Sid Field got his "tripping over an invisible obstacle". Jack was easily Fred's equal in that his air of relaxed urbanity was the result of dedication and hard work. Sadly his comparative obscurity today stems from the fact that so many of his films are unavailable or just plain missing. As a suave smoothie who suddenly finds himself in a situation of rapidly-unraveling humiliation, Jack was the British Max Linder; and he could sing and dance too. In this little Vitaphone short, he provides six minutes of flawless physical comedy. Jack, I take it all back. I salute you.

Banana. Buchanana. I should have guessed. Perhaps it's time for a look at Bananna Neagle.

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