Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Third Banana One Year Anniversary/100th Post/Halloween Spectacular!

One year! One-hundred posts!! Halloween!!! And that all spells one thing!


Well, it does.. when you think about it. And so I'm happy to present (courtesy These Records Are BenT!) Hans' 1959 monster-themed novelty album Monster Rally. This album must have taken only days to record and Hans was probably in the studio for only one of those. The tracks are actually split between Hans, an RCA studio vocal ensemble billed as "The Creatures", and the nasal-voiced Alice Pearce. Pearce is best remembered today as the original Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched ("ABNER!!! LOOK!! On the Stevens's roof!!"), but was once an acclaimed Broadway and nightclub comedienne in her own right and even had her own TV variety show on ABC in 1949. The album is really just an excuse to have Hans sing Sheb Wooley's "Flying Purple People Eater", the original recording of which was number one for six weeks the previous year, but the rest of his tracks are just as much, if not more, fun.. especially "Not of This Earth", a smooth lounge ode from Hans to his extraterrestrial lover.
Her lips are formed with tempting grace.
I only wish that they were on her face.
Hans gets the science fiction-themed songs while Alice gets the horror stuff.. and, for some reason, it all seems very appropriate. You'll find Monster Rally here.

And dig this, hepcats.. The very first cartoon Hans ever contributed voice work to, Dick Lundy's Sliphorn King of Polaroo (1945). Funny or not, the Walter Lantz studio was far and away the jazziest cartoon studio of the 1940s (the Fleischers held the mantle during the 1930s with contributions from such talents as Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong). Jack Teagarden himself is responsible for the trombone solos in Sliphorn King. Conried was at Lantz for just a short while, contributing voice work to this and one Woody Woodpecker cartoon, Woody Dines Out (1945) before being drafted.

And why stop there? It take it back that a first anniversary/100 posts/Halloween just spells Hans Conried! It also spells


And, to a slightly greater degree


Bela was, of course, every comic's favorite straightghoul during the 1940s and early 50s. Always grateful for work, Bela was more than happy to lampoon his horror image, ultimately closing out his career with a comedy revue at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas in 1954 (four shows a night!!). In movies, he appeared most famously opposite Abbott and Costello in 1948, but he also made appearances with the East Side Kids (twice), the Ritz Brothers, Brown and Carney (twice), Mitchell and Petrillo, Jack Haley, Arthur "Old Mother Riley" Lucan, and, whether you consider him a comedian or not, Kay Kyser. It has to be said that Lugosi was much better suited to self-lampooning than Karloff whose performances never left any doubt in your mind that he was an actor through-and-through.. from London, no less. Lugosi's dark looks and exotic accent, given a further boost from the spooky tall tales he delighted in telling reporters about his dark Hungarian past, gave Lugosi an air of mystery that Karloff simply lacked. For many, it really did seem as though Bela had a touch of the grave about him and so, under the best of circumstances, the lampooning automatically had a bit of an edge to it. But that's under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, Bela probably returned to that particular well a few too many times. It was as if Richard Nixon not only did the "sock it to me!" gag on Laugh-In!, but came back the next season as a regular castmember. At any rate, Lugosi had it both ways on radio, doing the vampire shtick alongside Fred Allen and Abbott and Costello and turning in solid performances on Suspense and Crime Does Not Pay. His greatest opportunity in radio was Bela Lugosi's Mystery House which sadly never made it past the audition disc. Recorded sometime in the late 40s, Bela Lugosi's Mystery House is like a "Monogram Studios of the Air" and even features John Carradine in support! The story, "The Thirsty Death", was announced to be the first of a series of adaptations of plays from the Grand Guignol in Paris, although I have serious doubts that it's a genuine Guignol play. Nonetheless, Lugosi is absolutely terrific, turning in a wonderful blood-and-thunder performance that is well suited to the material. You can listen to Bela Lugosi's Mystery House here. And if funny Lugosi is more your speed, here he is on the Fred Allen Show in 1943. And get a load of this 1949 clip of Bela with Milton Berle on the Texaco Star Theater! Bela is clearly having a blast! If Ted Healy had been alive, he would have sued Berle for stealing his personality.

And can anyone establish the provenance of this 1950s snapshot of Bela? Is this a shot from the Dragnet spoof from the aforementioned Bela Lugosi Revue? In its own way, this is the scariest image of Bela ever to see print. Never forget, folks.. Comedy is where the real terror is. Happy Halloween, everybody!

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Monday, October 30, 2006


I finally finished watching all 28 of the Columbia Blondie features last night and, after scooping my brain from the floor with a dustpan, I have to admit to some mixed feelings. Columbia's venerable cash-cow has many, many standout moments and even a few entries that I consider B-comedy masterpieces, but the low-points of the series are pretty appalling, even for disposable Columbia product. Columbia's tendency to wring every last drop from a property is on full display here. While Chic Young's comic strip made a game of stock situations and formulas, Columbia rather inevitably turned that game into a scheme to cut corners. By the end, tossed to former sound man and shorts director Ed Bernds, the Blondie films were being handled as carelessly as any late-era Three Stooges short.

First, let me say that I'm a big fan of Chic Young's original strip which was at its creative peak when Columbia purchased the screen rights in 1937. Only four years prior, Young had converted his run-of-the-mill flapper strip into a mini-saga about lower middle-class family life and was soon running in over 250 papers, making it one of the most widely read strips in the nation. Despite whatever overtones of Americana the strip has picked up over the decades, Blondie was a far from idealized portrait of American life, with the flighty and hapless couple forever besieged by bottom-feeding vultures ready to strip them of what little cash and dignity they had. Even the Bumstead's friends and neighbors always seemed to have an axe to grind with the family (sometimes with good reason but more frequently out of a need to kick downward). The film series latches on to Young's somewhat cynical view of humanity from the start, but undercuts the effectiveness of this man-against-the-world theme by interpreting Dagwood as a bumbling and near-defenseless halfwit. Whereas the Dagwood of the strip could be easily identified with by readers, Arthur Lake's Dagwood is an extraterrestrial, and his victimization subsequently becomes less a comment on human cruelty than on Dagwood's intelligence. This is certainly not to say that Lake isn't entertaining. He's the series' raison d'etre, a classic clown, and the series would never have lasted 12 years without him. But he is not, in any way, Young's Dagwood, and whatever potential there might have been in bringing Young's humor to the screen was lost with his casting (Penny Singleton, on the other hand, was well-cast despite Bosley Crowther 's assertion that she played Blondie "less as a woman than as a composite statistic.").

Be that as it may, the series has some pretty unique qualities. While it can claim a certain fidelity to the strip, more importance is placed on the series' fidelity to itself. The key sets, the Bumstead home and the offices of the Dithers/Radcliffe Construction Company, remained the same for 12 years giving the movies, in that regard at least, a heightened sense of realism. Similarly, a decision was made to allow actors to "own" their roles, thus, when Jonathan Hale left in 1946, his character of J. C. Dithers was replaced rather than recast and an entire story written to introduce Jerome Cowan as Dagwood's new boss, Mr. Radcliffe. Likewise for Danny Mummert who played Alexander Bumstead's best friend Alvin Fuddle from the beginning in 1938. When Mummert was unavailable in 1945 due to his appearance in It's a Wonderful Life (along with Larry "Alexander Bumstead" Simms), his role as the sarcastic neighbor kid was taken by Bobby Larson as egghead Tommy Cooper. Stock motifs brought over from the strip, such as Dagwood bowling over the mailman while rushing to catch his bus, are shot nearly identically for each film allowing for some fun variations when Blondie or Alexander repeat the pattern. Less fun is the increasing dependency on stock formulas in the plotlines. By 1945, virtually every Blondie film ends in precisely the same way, with Blondie using some incredibly unlikely advantage to force Dithers or Radcliffe to give Dagwood his job back with a raise and a bonus (both have inevitably vanished by the next picture). Even the loose rules of farce comedy are stretched to the limit by the collections of brain-bendingly impossible coincidences that constitute the stories for such entries as Leave It to Blondie (1945). The bottom falls out the franchise soon after Ed Bernds takes over the director's chair from Abby Berlin in 1948. Cheap slapstick replaces character comedy and it suddenly seems as though no character can leave a room without knocking his or her head against the door. The final two Blondie films, both 1950, show the series in total collapse. Blondie's Hero clumsily shoehorns the cast into a hack service comedy as Dagwood bizarrely decides to join the Army reserve on a whim (the possibility of his being sent to war is brushed off with the claim that wars will end if everyone joins the reserve). Blondie and Dagwood's ride in a surprisingly fragile runaway tank is intended to be the film's comic centerpiece and bears more than a passing resemblance to any sloppy stock footage sequence from a Jules White short. Beware of Blondie is the heartbreaker, a story half written and half scraped from a wad of used Kleenex. Dagwood, left in charge of the firm (huh??) by Mr. Dithers (where Mr. Radcliffe vanished to is never explained) is immediately conned by a woman posing as an expected client. She ends up grabbing a set of pre-signed blank checks that Dithers has insanely left behind for Dagwood's use. An hour's worth of (weirdly confusing) incident revolving around the stolen checks is abruptly nullified by a late night phone call from the back of Mr. Dithers' head. "I didn't realize what I was doing when I left those checks.", says Dithers. "They're worthless! I closed my account in that bank months ago!" THE END (in other words, "There was no monster...").

Ignoble end aside, the series' highlights are plentiful, chief among them (in my mind) being Hans Conried's wonderful, showy appearance in Blondie's Blessed Event (1942). Conried nearly shoves Lake, Singleton, et al from the screen in the role of eccentric playwright George Wickley who takes up Dagwood's invitation to "drop by anytime" and ends up commandeering his household. Another standout entry, Blondie Goes Latin (1941), is a full-blown musical that allows Penny Singleton to display her much-neglected (post-Blondie) talents as a singer/dancer, and gives Lake a rare opportunity to show off his skill as a drummer.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Comedy wirelessness

"Funny new show"? Well, one out of three isn't a total loss. Jack "Baron Munchausen" Pearl's 1936-7 series for Raleigh-Kool was, indeed, a show. Ah, I shouldn't be so cruel. This was Pearl's final attempt to retain what little popularity he had left after his 1932-3 pinnacle for Lucky Strike, and it does have its moments. Pearl would work steadily in radio for the next 18 years, but it was all downhill after this. Including the "Vas you dere Sharlie?" tag in the ad was akin to saying "More of the same!", a mistake considering that audiences were not only tired of Pearl's limited bag of tricks, they were about ready to toss over "vaudeville"-style radio and its requisite catchphrase comedy altogether. Pearl's Raleigh-Kool series would last until June 25, 1937 and would be handed over to Tommy Dorsey entirely after Pearl and straightman Cliff Hall, were kicked to the curb. In my humble opinion, Pearl stands as one of the greatest cases of wasted talent in the history of American comedy; probably the finest dialect comic of his time undone by a neurotic adherence to a tired formula that he believed to be the "key" to his success. Pearl desperately needed management he never received. He was doing his Munchausen shtick to the end, closing out his radio career with a quiz show entitled The Baron and the Bee in 1953-4. You can hear a 1937 episode of Pearl's Raleigh-Kool Program for free here courtesy otr-cat.com. Cliff Hall reminds me of a proto-Bud Abbott.

Click thumbnail. No, not that one!
The one on the screen, you fool!

And for your further enjoyment and edification, here is the entirety of the page that ad was culled from. Radio Guide was, of course, the forerunner of TV Guide, and what treasure troves of information these old magazines are, especially for classic comedy obscureologists such as myself! For instance, if it weren't for this particular issue of Radio Guide (week ending Dec 26, 1936), I would never have known that burlesque comic and future kidvid host Pinky Lee was the star comic of Joe Rines' Dress Rehearsal (Sundays at 11:30 AM), thus finally explaining this radio-themed publicity photo of Pinky I found on Ebay a few years ago. What other blog brings you fascinating information like that? Hah?? Damn straight!

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Before Monty Python, The Goon Show, Benny Hill, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Beyond the Fringe and the 1960s Satire Boom, two of the greatest names in UK comedy were Flanagan and Allen. Bud Flanagan, real name Chaim Weintrop, was the team's capital "C" comic, complete with rubbery features, Cockney accent, catchphrase ("Oi!"), and crushed straw boater while handsome, well-dressed, and highly-animated Chesney Allen played straightman. In the 30s and 40s, F&A were the UK's most popular comedy team (short of Laurel and Hardy), and their reputation was entirely justified. Flanagan and Allen's routines are lightning fast and their characterizations, in sharp contrast to most American comedy teams (again, besides Laurel and Hardy.. and Laurel is from Ulverson), are warm and personable. Also quite unlike most American comedy teams of the era, F&A were almost as much a musical act as a comedy one, releasing hit records one after the other for years. Flanagan in particular was blessed with a knack for composing catchy melodies, and while neither would have qualified for Grand Opera, as a duet their weaknesses seemed to cancel each other out. Bud Flanagan composed the team's signature tune, "Underneath the Arches", and its charming happy-go-lucky-while-down-and-out lyrics do much to cement the team's wistfully nostalgic image, an image they worked hard to project from virtually day one of their teaming in 1926. So sentimental and nostalgic were Flanagan and Allen, in fact, that by the time the team had reached their Autumn Years, the nostalgia seemed redundant. Flanagan and Allen reached new heights of popularity during WWII with songs like "Run, Rabbit, Run" and "Hang Up the Washing on the Siegfried Line", but illness brought on by overwork entertaining the troops forced Chesney Allen to split the act at the war's close. Flanagan and Allen would, however, repeatedly re-team for appearances until Bud's death in 1968.

Flanagan and Allen were also highly successful in films, not only in their own starring vehicles, but also as two-sixths of the mega-comedy team The Crazy Gang, which also featured the talents of Nervo and Knox and the Stooge-like Naughton and Gold. While frequently compared to the Marx Brothers, the Crazy Gang is more of a music hall tag team, a gaggle of proudly low-brow clowns who barge into rooms in order to unload as many stale puns as possible as quickly as possible (funny if you're in the proper mood). The original Gang appeared in four features between 1937 and 1941 before Chesney Allen retired from performing to become the Gang's business manager (shades of Zeppo Marx). After the war, the Crazy Gang, now headlined by Bud Flanagan as a solo and supported by "Monsewer" Eddie Gray, reunited for a long series of West End stage revues and a fifth and final feature, Life Is a Circus (1958), to which Chesney Allen contributed a nostalgic cameo appearance.

Often referred to on this side of the pond as the UK's answer to Abbott and Costello (an answer that preceded the question by a decade), Flanagan and Allen do bear more than a passing resemblance to the American duo, especially in regard to their team dynamic and choice of material. Bud Flanagan's impulsive, childlike character is a close relation to Lou Costello's, while Chesney Allen, like Bud Abbott, plays a reproachful father figure, albeit one far more prone to giving mild shoves rather than Abbott-style slaps. At the time, F&A's brand of high-octane verbal sparring was more common to American comedy teams than their much milder British cousins and the likely answer is that Flanagan and Allen's act was the result of some interesting cultural cross-pollination. Although born in London, Bud Flanagan started his stage career in New York where, at the age of 13, he appeared in a low-rent imitation of Gus Edwards' famous School Days act before forming a double act with straightman Dale Burgess. With Bud having received his training in American vaudeville, perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that the comedy of Flanagan and Allen has a decidedly American flavor to it (in fact, when Bud was previously teamed with straightman Jack Buckland, they were billed as "Harlem and Bronx"!). In particular, the crosstalk routines the team specialized in were common in American burlesque, and their funniest, "The Whistle Routine" (seen in A Fire Has Been Arranged (1935)), is a definite rival to A&C's famous "Who's On First?".:
Ches: I've got two whistles. (hands Bud whistle) You've got one and I've got one, too.

Bud: What?

Ches: I said, I've got one, too.

Bud: You've only got one!

Ches: I know I've only got one.. and you've got one, too!

Bud: (examines hands) Well, where's the other one?

Ches: What other one?

Bud: The other one I've got?

Ches: You've only got one, and I've got one, too!

Music "sharity" seems to be all the rage (RAGE!!) at the moment so I suppose this is as good an opportunity as any for me to throw my two cent hat into the ring. I've uploaded Underneath the Arches: Flanagan and Allen to the link you'll find in the comments. This is one of the better of the various Flanagan and Allen compilations floating around, concentrating more on their music than their (frequently dodgy) comedy recordings, although it does include Splitting Up, which I consider to be their best. This backstage meta-skit by Bud about Flanagan and Allen splitting up their act vividly illustrates that F&A were, more than any other team I can think of, a comedy team obsessed with the idea of being a comedy team.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

My Brother Syd - The Other Chaplin

by Geoff Collins

Drat! Isn't it always the way? The Chaplin Collection, a massive nine-or-ten DVD set of all Chaplin's post-1918 output, including acres of goodies such as out-takes, home movies and deleted scenes, is now available in Great Britain at a fraction of its original price. Double drat. I should have waited. I should have realized that despite Chaplin's stature as The Greatest Comedian Of All Time (let's argue!) nobody actually wants to watch any of his films. He's so historical that there's only ever going to be a limited demand for these relics of a gentler age. I purchased most of the set a couple of years ago at the full price (except for the ones I harangued Ivy, as a fellow south-Londoner, into buying me as Christmas and birthday presents) - but there is some good news: one DVD had eluded me, and I bought it this week at a mega-low price: The Chaplin Revue, comprising all Chaplin's 1918-22 First National output with the exception of The Kid. Despite astonishingly clear prints, these films look ancient - but they are clearly the work of a genius - and they are very, very funny. There was only ever one Chaplin.

Whooaaa! Hold on there just one cotton-pickin' minute, buster! There was only ever one Buster, but there sure as heck was more than one Chaplin. Scott Eyman expressed it perfectly in The Speed of Sound: "Syd Chaplin was a gifted farceur who had the considerable misfortune to be brother to a genius". Exactly right. But this is no hard-luck story. Syd used his considerable misfortune to make a considerable fortune, for himself as well as Charlie, to such an extent that he was able to retire from the screen in 1928 without even having to bother about whether or not his voice was "suitable for talkies". He didn't disappear entirely: for example, his recently-unearthed home movies from the set of The Great Dictator provide a unique colour record of Charlie at work as director and performer. But Syd eventually lived very comfortably in Nice until his death in 1965 at the age of eighty; it's hardly a tragedy in financial terms.

The tragedy lies in the fact that whenever anybody says "Chaplin" we automatically think of Charlie, the Little Tramp. Syd Chaplin wasn't unique in his Considerable Misfortune. "There was only ever one Jolson"; tell that to Harry Jolson, who struggled and failed throughout his career to match his brother's incandescent glow. Frank Sinatra sang with "the Dorsey band" - i.e. Tommy Dorsey. Who listens to Jimmy Dorsey's records now? Jimmy Dorsey, Harry Jolson and Syd Chaplin should have formed the Brothers To a Genius Club; the British branch could have been managed by Tommy Fields (brother of Gracie) and Frank Formby.... on second thoughts, delete that last one.

Quite tellingly, most of Syd Chaplin's movies weren't made at Charlie's studio; nor were they preserved in Charlie's archive. Syd came over to California late in 1914 to replace Charlie at Keystone, possibly making his first screen appearance as a policeman in His Prehistoric Past. He soon established his brusque, aggressive, pot-bellied, heavily-mustached Gussle character, and he was up and running; but he temporarily abandoned performing in order to help Charlie in an administrative capacity, enabling Charlie - and himself - to become fabulously wealthy via their deals with Essanay, Mutual and First National. During the First National period, however, Syd pops up in several of Charlie's movies in supporting roles; and typically, as Albert Austin and Henry Bergman so often did, he plays several characters within the same film. Audiences at the time probably didn't notice; but we notice, and we can enjoy.

It's been said, quite incorrectly, that "selfish, autocratic" Charlie never worked with a "comedy partner" between Ben Turpin in 1915 and Buster Keaton in 1951. Yet Charlie populated his movies with a multitude of old pals as well as comedians of equal stature [i.e. 5 feet 6 and a half inches] with whom he shared some memorable scenes: Chester Conklin, Hank Mann, Jack Oakie, Martha Raye - and his brother Syd.

Charlie's first movie at his own custom-built studio was A Dog's Life; and it's a beauty. We could say "let's argue" again, but this is easily Charlie's finest film. Just watch it once and you'll see what I mean. Ten or twelve minutes in, we have the Lunch Wagon Scene. Charlie, more trampy than usual and accompanied by his hungry dog Scraps, spends three minutes nonchalantly thieving various items of food from under the nose of the lunch wagon proprietor, played by Syd in bowler hat and droopy moustache. It's Syd's scene; lugubrious and suspicious, he's trying to prepare more food but has to keep darting around, never quite in time to catch Charlie or his dog. Scraps, having finished off a whole string of sausages, licks his chops contentedly. Syd gives him the full eyebrow-wiggling glare: "I know you took 'em but I can't prove it". He swoops around the counter with ever-growing anguish as his food disappears before his eyes. This has all the elements of a Fred Karno music-hall sketch, and the idea was repeated in the TV drama Young Charlie Chaplin in 1989, as if "young Charlie really did this and remembered it years later".

Typically Syd plays two parts in Shoulder Arms. He's the Kaiser; and in a role reminiscent of Bruce Bairnsfather's Old Bill [and as a warm-up for his later Warners feature The Better 'Ole] he's Charlie's heavily-mustached army pal, asleep in a flooded dugout with only his face above the water level, and a toad perched on his foot. Charlie can't resist making waves and giving him a damp awakening. In a later scene Charlie uses the bullets flying overhead to open a bottle of beer and light his cigarette, all of this done with great panache. Syd registers "aghast" and shares this with us in a series of hilarious "camera looks".

Syd's also in The Pilgrim in a variety of roles, and he's very funny, but it was obvious that supporting his talented brother wasn't getting his own career anywhere; so he starred in some comedy features at Warner Brothers, directed by Charles "Chuck" Reisner who was a family friend and a "tough guy" supporting actor in Charlie's movies. It's now known that Martha Raye called Charlie "Chuck". Can you imagine that? Chuck Chaplin? In 1952 it was "Chuck Chaplin Out"!

In the late 1920s Syd briefly returned to England and appeared in A Little Bit Of Fluff. As we all know, British silent films hardly exist at all, but a slapsticky night-club fight sequence from this can be seen on the Pathe website [yes, readers, I've mentioned it again] as part of the unreleased Sid James compilation Laughter and Life. Syd's Warner features are elusive, although The Better 'Ole has been meticulously preserved. Kevin Brownlow saw the restored print in its proper setting - in a full cinema with a receptive audience - and rated it "among the best comedies I have ever seen" so clearly there's more to Syd Chaplin than The Man Who Made Charlie Chaplin Even Richer. As Syd spent his placid retirement in Nice, you can't help wondering what he thought about the drastic changes in public opinion about his brother, the one everybody refers to as "Chaplin". Let's not forget that there was another Chaplin, a fine English music-hall comedian who was briefly a top movie star in his own right. For a good look at Syd Chaplin, a true Third Banana if ever there was one, The Chaplin Revue is a good place to start.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Say the secret woid...

Continuing this week's Groucho theme, last night I ran across a huge cache of You Bet Your Life radio episodes on archive.org. It's quite a nice selection, really, including both the 1947 audition show and a nearly one-hour uncut episode from 1949. After listening to about two hours of YBYL, I was reminded of why, funny as it can be, I'm not that much of a YBYL fan. Don't get me wrong; I love Groucho, but there's an underlying cruelty to the show that both fascinates me and gives me a slight case of the creeps. Unleashed from the world of scenarios and carefully (or not so carefully) crafted lines, Groucho acts as comic in an endless string of double-acts with the general public acting as collective straightman. One by one, hapless non-performers volunteer to be verbally dissected by one of the sharpest wits in show business. Sure, they walk away with some cash (often good cash) and once in a long, long while a guest gets the upper hand (usually another celebrity), but, for what it's worth, the patent truth is that the deck is stacked against your dignity as an average guest of YBYL. Two things prevent Groucho from coming across as a bully. First, several decades of performing as a sarcastic eccentric had rendered him publicly toothless, a sad state of affairs that Groucho lamented in his later years. Secondly, he's brilliantly funny. So funny, in fact, that it becomes extremely easy to forget that some guest was often made to look a bit of a dolt in front of a national audience. In a way, it's a perverse reversal of the classical role of comedian as advocate for the underdog, but a highly successful one that pointed the way towards the dog-eat-dog comedy that has prevailed in America ever since. I don't believe that Groucho had any intention whatsoever to really hurt people's feelings on YBYL; his sarcastic wit was a force of nature, totally indiscriminate.. but it's hard for me not to see the series as an extension of that ultimately crippling emotional barrier he had built between himself and the rest of the planet. The public at large as one of Groucho's wives at a cocktail party.

Interestingly, the two revivals of You Bet Your Life pulled in opposite directions from Groucho's original and failed as a result. I've heard horror stories of Buddy Hackett's 1980 syndicated version, specifically about Buddy's mean-spiritedness, and while Bill Cosby was reportedly Groucho's own pick for his replacement on YBYL, by 1992 the Cos was simply too benign a host for this type of format. Only Groucho Marx could have ever made it work, which was more or less admitted by the change of title for the final season to The Groucho Show.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Groucho's Sox-Life

From a time when literacy was common and advertisers thought nothing of loading their magazine ads with a novella's worth of copy comes this 1932 Realsilk ad featuring Groucho Marx. Although it's unthinkable that Groucho really bothered to write this himself, it does have the feel of something written by one of his circle of regular scribes, peppered as it is with pre-Code sexual suggestiveness (that scabbard looks suspicious, too). A good reminder that, before MGM and the Hays office sanitized them into oblivion, the Marxes were the edgiest comics on the screen, unfettered Id masked with puns.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

"Omnia Cafeteria Rex"

At long last, I present the newly-renovated Clark and McCullough Database. I can't believe it has been seven years since I first opened the site on Geocities (before Yahoo! got their mitts on it). Also, I can't believe that I left those "speculation" and "assessment" essays unchanged since 1999. That's just embarrassing. In TC&McCDB v.4, you'll find:
  • New essays about Clark and McCullough
  • New images of Clark and McCullough
  • Links to all my Third Banana blog entries about Clark and McCullough
  • A complete history of Clark and McCullough by Paul's great-nephew Mike Brick
  • A tasteful new index page... featuring Clark and McCullough
  • and, most importantly, an off-site gallery I've set up featuring over 100 unimaginably rare photos and news clippings about Clark and McCullough culled from Paul's mother's scrapbook (courtesy Mike Brick)
And that's not all. Within the next few weeks, hardware/software problems pending, I'll be adding some actual Clark and McCullough shorts to the site, including Odor in the Court. If you like Clark and McCullough, you're in luck. If not... meh. Who knew?

On a related note, I recently realized that the George Shelton pictured among the cast of the Clark and McCullough-produced burlesque revue Monkey Shines is the same George Shelton who was a long-time panelist on It Pays to Be Ignorant, the 1940s radio gag quiz show hosted by vaudevillian Tom Howard (Joe Cook's bespectacled foil in Rain or Shine (1930)) and which I personally happen to find hilarious. As revealed in a review from the aforementioned scrapbook, Shelton, a long-time friend and former comedy teammate of Howard's, appeared in Monkey Shines alongside comic Al Tyler as Clark and McCullough imitators, performing routines C&McC had made famous. According to this page, Shelton once replaced Clark in a vaudeville act entitled "The Merry Wives of Windsor", of which I've seen no trace in these clippings. Anyway, Shelton is funny (in a very Joe E. Ross kind of way), and you can hear him here, for free, in six episodes of It Pays to Be Ignorant. "Mr. Shelton, a halfwit must have given you a piece of his mind!" "Yeah, and you're not gonna get it back, neither!"

addendumb 10/21: Refreshing my memory, I went back to Stanley Green's The Great Clowns of Broadway and noticed that "The Merry Wife of Windsor" (or "That Merry Wife of Windsor") was a skit written and performed by Clark in Michael Todd's Star and Garter (1942-3). I assume that the skit predated Star and Garter by many years and may have been one of Clark and McCullough's vaudeville turns. If this is the case, I find it more plausible that, rather than replacing Clark in this skit at any time, Shelton was allowed the use of it in vaudeville. Green notes that the skit involves Clark hiding in a trunk from Gypsy Rose Lee's jealous husband. A similar situation can be seen in C&McC's In the Devildog House (1934), in which Clark hides in a trunk from Dorothy Granger's jealous husband Tom Kennedy.. the same skit, perhaps?

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