Articles on this Page
- 08/27/15--09:02: _A Favorite Website:...
- 08/27/15--09:07: _A Tribute to Armstr...
- 08/27/15--09:22: _A Note on the Samue...
- 08/27/15--09:28: _Comedy Routine of t...
- 08/27/15--09:35: _Comedy Spotlight: T...
- 08/27/15--09:44: _Comedy Routine of t...
- 08/27/15--09:58: _A Phantasmagoria of...
- 08/27/15--10:28: _Why I Could Not Wat...
- 08/27/15--11:26: _Comedy Routine of t...
- 08/27/15--11:42: _Comedy Routine of t...
- 08/27/15--11:51: _Comedy Routine of t...
- 08/27/15--12:00: _Comedy Routine of t...
- 08/27/15--12:15: _Flugel Street Revis...
- 08/28/15--09:58: _The Straw Hat Armag...
- 08/28/15--12:35: _Broadway’s Funny Ye...
- 08/28/15--19:48: _Shame on Me
- 09/26/15--09:10: _A Taste of Minsky's
- 09/26/15--10:25: _A Brief Comparison ...
- 09/26/15--10:34: _Random Bits for Sep...
- 09/26/15--10:59: _Funny Fruit in the ...
- 08/27/15--09:02: A Favorite Website: "Another Nice Mess"
- 08/27/15--09:07: A Tribute to Armstrong and Ashton
- 08/27/15--09:28: Comedy Routine of the Day: "The Dice Bit"
- 08/27/15--09:44: Comedy Routine of the Day: “Who Died First?"
- 08/27/15--10:28: Why I Could Not Watch More than 15 Minutes of Trainwreck
- 08/27/15--11:26: Comedy Routine of the Day: "Crazy House"
- 08/27/15--11:42: Comedy Routine of the Day: "Ghost in a Pawnshop"
- 08/27/15--11:51: Comedy Routine of the Day: "Jonah and Whale"
- 08/27/15--12:00: Comedy Routine of the Day: "Go Ahead and Sing"
- 08/27/15--12:15: Flugel Street Revisited
- 08/28/15--09:58: The Straw Hat Armageddon
- 08/28/15--12:35: Broadway’s Funny Year: 1948
- 08/28/15--19:48: Shame on Me
- 09/26/15--09:10: A Taste of Minsky's
- 09/26/15--10:25: A Brief Comparison of Road Warrior and Hondo
- 09/26/15--10:34: Random Bits for September
- 09/26/15--10:59: Funny Fruit in the Family Tree
Wow, I love Dave Lord Heath’s website "Another Nice Mess: The Films of Laurel and Hardy." This place is paradise for someone researching the many comedy films from the golden era of 1915 to 1951. I have found the site’s extensive actor database to be particularly useful. Let’s pick an actor at random. Okay, how about Edward Dillon? Check it out:
Keep up the good work, Mr. Heath. You have made online film history research better than it ever was.
|The "Let Me Entertain You" musical number is a highlight of a Melbourne State Theatre production of "Gypsy."|
Armstrong and Ashton, a female singing duo, toured with an act called "The Soubrette and the Boy" from 1907 to 1911. An alternate title that the singers used for the act in their early days was "The College Boy and the Dainty Miss." The gimmick of the act, as the titles suggest, was that one of the women dressed up as a man. It is similar to the Hovick sisters' act, which was recreated in the musical "Gypsy." Armstrong and Ashton were categorized a "sister act," which was a term that was applied to a female pair whether the two women were sisters or not. The following review of the act was printed in Variety on August 21, 1909.
Armstrong and Ashton make up a neat little "girl" number for light place. Both are on the plump "pony" style of feminine architecture. One dresses as soubret, the other in male attire. The absence of a snappy dancing routine takes a good deal away from the act, which is made up for the most part of singing. A duet at the finish was their best number. Neither has a good enough voice to carry off a solo. One of the pair does a fair impersonation of Harry Lauder staging "Daisy." A change into the Scotch comedian's military rig and back to the same soubret dress as worn at the opening was the only costume change. Their appearance is the girls' stand-by.So, sadly, their one big write-up in Variety was less than flattering. The critic, known only as "Rush," did not like the ladies' singing or their dancing. But, at least, he did like their appearance and he did like their Harry Lauder impersonation. I believe that Rush meant it as a compliment when he described the women as "plump." He seemed to be making the point that they looked like curvy chorus girls. Would he make mention of a male singing duo being plump? Probably not. The women were mentioned more favorably in Variety's out of town reviews. Boston correspondent Ernest L. Waitt praised them for "good dancing, unusually good mimicry," a Springfield correspondent said they were "well liked," a Johnston correspondent said they were "very good," and an Atlanta correspondent rated them as "good." I like that one simple word "good." You can at any time tell me that I am a good writer or a good person and I will be ecstatically pleased.
I never got to see Armstrong and Ashton's act obviously, but it had to have been entertaining to have played continuously in New York and Philadelphia for four years. In any case, I thank these young women for their efforts to entertain my scraggly forebearers.
Samuel Goldman has been cited in articles as a potential originator of the famous "Slowly I Turned" burlesque routine. Goldman's authorship of the routine is based solely on an undated, handwritten script included in papers donated by Goldman's wife to the University of Chicago.
The script is by no means proof that Goldman created the routine. Actors and producers in vaudeville and burlesque were required to know stock routines. They couldn't commit all of the dialogue and stage business to memory, which meant that they had to keep a written record of the routines. Since these routines were not published, an actor had to create his own personal transcripts. A classical actor will maintain a complete library of Shakespeare's plays so that he can be prepared to perform any of these plays when the occasion arises. But the fact that an actor has a copy of "Hamlet" in his personal effects does not mean that the actor wrote "Hamlet." By all indication, Goldman had an undistinguished career in the theatre. This is Goldman's obituary as it appeared in Billboard on May 19, 1945.
I can find no record that Goldman ever appeared in the Broadway productions of “Cocoanuts” and “Animal Crackers.” The truth is that I can find nothing on Goldman in my usual research sources.
The "Dice" bit that Abbott and Costello performed in Buck Privates was for years tied to blackface comedians. This fact becomes evident in just a cursory examination of Variety reviews. In November, 1926, the routine was performed at the American Roof Theatre. Variety wrote, "Coulter and Rose, two men 'in cork,' set the comedy ball a-rolling with argumentative chatter pertaining to a dice game. . ." In July, 1930, the "Dice" routine turned up again at Chicago's Capitol Theatre in the "Good Fellows" revue. Variety wrote, "For comedy, Seven and Eleven, a male blackface team doing a comedy dice game routine, were just right for this house, and a punch right along." Variety reported that, in February, 1932, blackface duo Harrison and Elmo performed the "Dice" bit at Chicago’s Paradise theatre as part of the "Darktown Follies" revue.
The award-winning film Whiplash was not the first narrative piece to detail the trials and tribulations of the drummer. Gaumont introduced a myriad of whiplash cases in a violent and hair-raising story about a drummer called The Lost Bass Drum.
A drummer of a regimental band is on his way to an engagement when he gets into an altercation and loses control of his drum, which goes rolling down an incline in the street. The drum creates a great deal of havoc, knocking down the various people that get in its way. The rolling drum is similar to the rolling pumpkins that wreaked havoc earlier in the year in Gaumont’s The Pumpkin Race. As it turned out, the rolling drum and the rolling pumpkins were forerunners to the rolling boulders that menaced Buster Keaton in Seven Chances (1926).
And what about the rolling canned goods in Jerry Lewis’ The Disorderly Orderly (1964)?
"Who Died First?" was once a popular routine in vaudeville. The routine involved a husband and wife who are being plagued by creditors. The couple decide to fake the husband's death to stall off payment. The husband pretends to be dead on the sofa as the first creditor, the butcher, shows up at the house to collect the money that he's owed. The butcher tells the wife that she is fortunate that her husband died because the man was no good. As the butcher goes into a rant about the terribleness of the husband, the husband can barely contain himself and reacts repeatedly while the unaware butcher stands with his back to him. According to the script, "[t]he man abuses [the husband] with all sorts of names." The wife agrees with the butcher's assessment of her husband, which gets the husband even more upset. The butcher congratulates the wife for being free of her rotten spouse and expresses his passion for her. He grabs hold of the woman and tries to kiss her. This causes the agitated husband to assume a series of ludicrous positions on the sofa. The husband freezes when the butcher turns towards him. The butcher notices the angry expression on the husband's face. The wife explains that he died from cramps. One by one, other creditors show up at the home. A similar scene plays out each time. The couple decide that their plan isn't working out well and it might be better for them to reverse roles. When the creditors return, the husband explains that he miraculously came back to life and his revival so shocked his wife that she died of heart failure. An undertaker, who was summoned earlier by the creditors, arrives at the home and is surprised to find the husband still alive. The husband nervously tries to explain the situation to the official, but he only manages to confuse the man. The undertaker, trying to clarify the situation, asks the husband, "Who died first?" The banter that follows between the two men closes the scene.
According to burlesque historian Andrew Davis, "Who Died First?" was originally published as a Negro sketch in 1874. Husband and wife team Bob Ferguson and Mary Murphy were still performing the routine as late as the 1950s.
Critics have never hesitated to express their displeasure over a bad film. W. Stephen Bush, a critic with Moving Picture World, didn't hold back his feelings in regards to a 1915 embezzlement melodrama called The Running Fight. The man devoted the first two paragraphs of the review giving vent to his unhappy feelings. He wrote:
A hypercritical person may find flaws in every film and it is no credit to a reviewer and certainly no service to an exhibitor to go searching for imperfections. The average audience is not hypercritical though it is by no means willing to overlook glaring faults. A few faults must be condoned, but when they crowd upon each other making confusion worse confounded, when the picture degenerates into a phantasmagoria of nonsense and the best of us are unable to distinguish the head from the tail, the feature becomes impossible as an entertainment except perhaps for the flashes of involuntary comedy, of which there were not a few in the last three thousand feet of this production.
I always knew that autos were liable to "skid," but this is the first feature I have seen "skid." There is a plot in this story; we are assured of this by the synopsis, but the trouble is to find it. It's like a string of eels, you can't get a good hold of it at any point. The space of this paper is too valuable to point out the irreconcilable improbabilities of the story, to enumerate all the instances of a lack of coherence and a lack of dramatic purpose. At some points the film is overcharged with action and at other times there is no action whatever. The most dramatic thing in the last two reels was the fugitive criminal going to a barbershop and getting shaved. It would serve no purpose to trace all the inconsistencies of the play, one might as well try to take a census of mosquitoes on a moist evening along the shores of the Hackensack. They obtrude themselves upon even the most unsophisticated of patrons. The feature is padded and badly assembled, but these are curable faults and might easily be removed. The defects in this picture I regret to say lie much deeper.
A print of the film has preserved by the Library of Congress. London After Midnight is lost and yet this film has survived.
A Film Daily critic complained about the improbability of the action in a Tom Mix western called The Cyclone. He wrote, "Another [scene] that for sheer improbability rivals even the wildest slapstick trick is the climax scene where hero rides his horse up to the roof of a gambling and opium joint and then crashes through its three stories to the basement below, still remaining in the saddle. The funny part about this is that the horse is just as good as new when it's all over. No beast but a stallion made of iron could stand that drop and still count no broken legs when the trick was over."
This scene could have been no worse than the highly implausible bus crash sequence in this year’s Terminator Genisys. A school bus does a triple flip in mid-air, crashes back down to the ground, rolls over several times, and finally smashes into a heavily fortified bridge railing. The passengers emerge from the bus as if they had merely hit a small bump in the road.
My final message today, I am sorry to say, is that the film industry has always produced its fair share of turkeys.
Some audiences get so hung up on the jokes about teabagging, crabs and, uh, spear fishing for doo-doo sharks that they fail to identify the catharsis of mining the pain and awkwardness that gives birth to a lot of that brand of humor. . . If, as the 19th century nursery rhyme makes abundantly clear, most girls are made of sugar, spice, and everything nice, then Amy Schumer might not be like other girls. It’s not that the 34-year old Schumer – the Emmy-nominated bawdy brain trust and filthy fox behind Comedy Central’s smash hit series, Inside Amy Schumer, and writer/star of this summer’s sweet and salty box office triumph, Trainwreck– is made of snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails, like the XY set among us. She just furrows her own flamboyant footpath, a beacon of blueness, a lioness of lewdness, a fulmination of feculence, a kingpin of vulgarity on the cultural landscape, the unwitting, bewitching artiste behind what’s widely referred to as ‘the most feminist show on TV’. . . [S]he actually possesses a zany, irrepressible knack for rhapsodizing in blue, riffing mellifluously on fur burgers and purple-headed womb brooms, ranting, blustering, and straggling her way through the modern world as empowered nymph, libidinous lass, and ingenious ingénue. If every generation gets the hero it deserves, then it’s clearly Schumer’s moment to charm and intoxicate an entire epoch of fanboys, townies, and urban betties.I have seen Trainwreck described in a single review as "hilariously boozy,""proudly profane" and "deliriously dirty." The author of that review, Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty, praised the film for being "one of the freshest and filthiest coming-out parties." Nashawaty made it clear that he was not at all off-put by Schumer’s "prickly persona" in the film. Nashawaty found appeal in Schumer's character, who he described as an "irresponsible good-time gal" who "hook[s] up with sketchy guys and totter[s] home in heels while shielding daylight from her bloodshot eyes." He concluded, "[Schumer's] created a decidedly new kind of screwball heroine - one who isn't ashamed of screwing, or screwing up." Bad behavior with no regrets and no apologizes is intolerably annoying behavior.
My article today is not so much a review of the film as it is a review of the craze that has developed around the film. I could walk out on the film after 15 minutes, but I regret to say that that I am unable to walk out on the craze. The praise for Schumer within social media and the entertainment media is something that cannot be avoided. It is important to note that people were praising this film to high heavens when all they had to see was the trailer. Pre-love of a film is, in the purest sense, unconditional love. No matter what you produce, say these fans, I will blindly adore it. A man on my Facebook page surmised that these critics wrote their worshipful reviews before they even saw the film, kept the review on hold in their email queue, and waited for the film to be released to finally press the "Send" button. So, if the fans can praise the film based on the trailer, I can criticize the film based on the opening 15 minutes.
So, what else do Schumer's followers have to say?
Cath Clarke of Time Out wrote, "You forget how limited so many movies' ideas of women are until Schumer launches into an extended tampon joke. It's a film about everyday sexism and double standards."
Christopher Orr of The Atlantic wrote, "This is a film that belongs not to its director but to its star, who, if there is any justice in the world, is about to ascend from cult icon to mass phenomenon."
Sean Means of Salt Lake Tribune wrote, "If you didn't already know Amy Schumer is the funniest and most fearless comedian working today, her raucously funny Trainwreck will educate you."
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, "Sweet is not how Schumer wants Trainwreck to go down. She wants to explode rom-com clichés and replace them with something fierce and ready to rumble. Done."
Wow, this is a religious movement and a political movement combined.
The critics have hailed the film as a feminist manifesto. The film has been called smart and sly for the way it reverses gender stereotypes. To start, a manifesto does not make a good comedy film. Second, comedy films have been reversing gender stereotypes for more than a hundred years. It’s nothing particularly clever or unique.
To be honest, I do not entirely understand Schumer's advocates. They speak in a bizarre new language. Andrew O'Hehir of Salon wrote, "People are at liberty to think she’s not funny, of course, or to suggest that any particular Schumer assault on the great shibboleths of race and sex and gender is poorly calibrated. But they are always in grave danger of being rendered utterly foolish by the deep Socratic game of Schumer’s blond, bland, slutty persona, by her shrewd performance of cluelessness." I have no idea what that means. Is O’Hehir saying that Schumer is only pretending to be get drunk and fall down to elicit critical thinking?
Erin Free of Film Ink described the film as "deeply humanist." Ms. Free, herself, hardly is one to advocate the humanist philosophy. She opened her review looking for blood. "Unbelievably," she wrote, "there are still a few imbeciles out there who actually think that women are incapable of being funny. . ." Calm down, comedy is not war.
Christy Lemire of Roger Ebert.com describes Schumer as "slyly deadpan." That is true, but I am not sure if this deadpan act works well for Schumer. Bob Newhart is deadpan. Deadpan works better on the small screen than the big screen. Schumer needed to do more to dominate the film. It is hardly a strong debut when every goofy actor who walks on screen upstages her. I didn't laugh at Schumer, but I did laugh at this actor. . .
and this actor. . .
and this actor.
Schumer is praised for her fearlessness in attacking taboos. But nothing is commendable about Schumer’s cheap and lazy Tourette Syndrome-style shock comedy. Jokes about "purple-headed womb brooms" are nothing more than dick jokes. Jokes about "doo-doo sharks" are nothing more than crap jokes. I am obviously not the target audience for Schumer as I do not need a catharsis to relieve me of a crabs anxiety. It is fine if Schumer wants to corner the market on the crabs audience, but it hardly makes her a goddess of comedy. Tampon jokes do not make you fierce and fearless. They make you gross. If Andrew Dice Clay wasn’t hailed as a genius for his abundant dick jokes, then it doesn’t make sense to hail Schumer as a genius for her dick jokes. The word "fearless" has become overused by media commentators. It is not fearless to reduce the human experience to sex organs, bodily fluids, and tampons.
The director, Judd Apatow, has so little faith in his characters having anything interesting to say to one another that he has to set up a conversation with the characters in bathroom stalls, which is supposed to provoke uncontrollable gales of laughter from the audience. The little that I saw of the film leads me to believe that, in its conception and execution, the entire film resides in one big bathroom stall.
Let me tell you the scene that got me to give up on Trainwreck. Two sisters find an old photo of their late mother. Imagine this is a photo of your own mother. What memories would it bring back?
All Schumer can think to say is, "Mom was so fuckable then. She had the best tits. When she would lay down, they would just stay put." Reducing motherhood to a firm and fuckable body is the ultimate objectification of a woman. How does that make Schumer charming, fearless or foxy? I could accept this if it was an isolated joke. Maybe, it is too painful to express her deeper feelings about her late mother. But this type of sex talk is all that we get from Schumer. It becomes grating after a while.
It isn't just that Schumer's character is promiscuous that bothers me. She is drunk and promiscuous, which is a condition that can lead to serious consequences. Schumer's character is not seen to be making a clear, free and responsible choice to have sex. She falls into bed recklessly and compulsively. She is not even seen deriving much pleasure or relief from the sex act. Apatow is irresponsible to celebrate this sort of bad-girl shtick. The filmmaker suggests that an amusing mix is to be found in booze, banging and blackouts. Yet, this is the same person who has expressed his total disgust of booze, banging and blackouts in context of the Cosby scandal.
A person with an unhealthy fixation on sex is not funny. This sort of person is juvenile and creepy. I could find a comedy film engrossing if it provided a frank discussion of sexual issues. But Trainwreck is not Carnal Knowledge. It is not even American Pie. It presents irresponsibility as a good time and immorality as empowerment. The fact that Schumer abandons her bad behavior at the film's end has upset the comedian's hardcore fans, who are crying "cop-out." "In the end," lamented John Wirt of The Acadiana Advocate, “it's just an old-fashioned love story." Rafer Guzman of Newsday wrote, "Overall, Trainwreck feels less like a reinvention and more like business as usual. Despite Schumer's subversive instincts, the romantic comedy remains unchanged." Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail wrote, "[A]fter a period of growth, it all ends in cheers and kisses. For followers of Schumer’s sacred-cow-slaying TV sketch-comedy series Inside Amy Schumer, this will be tough to swallow: It’s like hearing that Jon Stewart has a secret admiration for Donald Trump. . . Whether you look at Trainwreck as Schumer selling out or buying in, it feels like a compromise." This great disappointment was expressed best of all by Time Magazine’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, who dismissed the film's final message for being "a little too conservative in insisting that all's square in love and war." I suppose that a less “square” ending would have been Schumer vomiting and shitting herself.
I once wrote a fairly sketchy article about the burlesque routine "Crazy House." You can find the article here. It embarrassed me that I could find so little on such a significant routine. But I am not one who is easily discouraged. I remained patient and persistent and I have since been able to uncover further information on the subject. Let me share that information with you today.
"Crazy House" casts the Comic as a new night watchman at an insane asylum. The watchman is instructed to watch that patients don't escape. The watchman is determined to do his job well, but the irrational behavior of the patients create unending problems for him. Andrew Davis, author of "Baggy Pants Comedy: Burlesque and the Oral Tradition," wrote, "The scene is a fast-paced hodgepodge of entrances and exits, as various lunatics enter, interact with the Comic, and exit quickly." It has been difficult to research the routine because it has wound its way through a long and varied history with a variety of names. The "Crazy House" routine was known for a time as "Dr. Dippy's Sanitarium."
The name "Dr. Dippy" was a ready comic label for an amiable quack. Dr. Dippy and his dippy sanitarium appeared in various forms of entertainment. Happy Hooligan, Frederick Opper’s lovable comic strip hobo, wandered across Dr. Dippy's Sanitarium in the comic supplement of the Hearst newspapers. In 1906, Biograph produced a 7-minute film called Dr. Dippy's Sanitarium, which was a loose reworking of the stage sketch. David Coleman, author of "The Bipolar Express: Manic Depression and the Movies," provided the following summary of the film:
The four mental patients who constitute the diverse assembly include a bearded man who prefers to crawl like an animal rather than walk erect, another man who wears a ridiculous paper hat and is obsessed with throwing knives at people, a top-hatted patient who attacks anyone within reach with his bare hands, and a nymphomaniac who bats her eyes at the new attendant with evident, invitational lust. The inmates react with jealousy when they perceive her interest in the new man, and a melee between asylum guards and the inmates breaks out. During the fight, the new man flees but is chased down by the now escaped, enraged inmates. They shove him into a huge wooden barrel and roll him with maniacal glee into a lake. After rescuing him, they tie him up and throw knives at him for enjoyment. Just then, the asylum's guards arrive and rescue the new man, distracting the inmates with a pie.While they are preoccupied eating the pie, the guard is able to sneak away to safety.
As meticulous as Coleman’s description is, he left out a few details. At one point, a female somnambulist passes through the scene. She is an ethereal figure. She is, according to Psychiatry historian Richard Noll, "gliding about in a flowing white gown." She has a flickering candle extended before her to light her way. The Moving Picture World furnished additional details about the madcap ending. The patients roll the barrel over a barbed wire fence and, after they remove the watchman from the barrel and tie him up, they situate him as a target for their knife-throwing by fastening him to the side of a building.
Of course, the stage-bound version of the routine did not have the patients rolling a barrel into a lake. Nonetheless, they still were able to wreak havoc on the hapless watchman. At least six theaters in New York City had the routine as part of their program in 1908. The theaters were Pastor's Theatre, Empire Theatre, Columbia Theatre, People's Vaudeville Theatre, Gayety Theatre, and Olympic Theatre. The quality of the performances, according to the critics, varied considerably. The routine was performed at Pastor's by the Cleodora Trio. Variety wrote of the act,
"A Night in a Sanitarium," is much like our old burlesque friend "Dr. Dippy's Sanitarium" and several other pieces that have been used under as many different titles. The trio have nothing new to offer between the keeper of the crazy house and the inmates. There is opportunity for fun of a rough order, but for the most part these opportunities have been overlooked. Two men and a woman compose the trio. The keeper does fairly well but receives little aid from his associates. The woman evidently thinks that an insane woman does nothing else but scream.An alternate title like "A Night in a Sanitarium" varied so little from the "Dr. Dippy's Sanitarium" that it is hard to understand why the title was changed at all. The routine was billed at one theatre under the title "Dr. Knutt’s Sanitarium." Does changing the doctor’s name from Dr. Dippy to Dr. Knutt make a significant difference? It’s just makes life difficult for diligent researchers like myself.
The Variety critic was upset by the comic who performed the routine at the People's Vaudeville Theatre. He wrote, "The calibre of this number may be understood from the fact that the Irish comedian said ‘hell’ four times and ‘damn’ twice."
Harry Hasting delivered "Dr. Dippy's Sanitarium" to the Gayety Theatre and the Olympic Theatre. Variety liked that Hasting transferred the routine to an outdoor location. The critic regarded this as "[Hasting] turning the old piece inside out."
Forget about the screaming lunatic woman, or the comedian shouting "hell" and "damn," or the exterior location. At the time, the prime specialist of the routine was Billy Hart, who had developed his own version of the scene called "Female Sanitarium." The unique aspect of Hart's adaptation was that, just as the title suggested, his attendant character found himself accosted exclusively by female patients. Newspaper records show that Hart regularly performed this routine as a member of "The Cracker Jacks," the Columbia Wheel's stock players, between 1907 and 1911. Hart's version of routine remained a staple of the Columbia Wheel long after Hart's departure. Variety published the following review of the Cracker Jacks' show on October 21, 1911:
The burlesque is a rewritten version of "Dr. Dippy's Sanitarium." This good old standby is made hilariously funny through the good work of the comedians with some able assistance by the women principals. Mr. [Johnny] Jess gets his innings in the "Dip" piece and he takes advantage of every opportunity. Mr. [Johnny] Williams and Chas. Ascott are his able assistants. The piece must have been new to the Columbia audience. They simply screamed at the familiar business, not surprising either, for it is still funny as Williams, Jess and Ascott handled it.The routine was still on the bill when the Columbia Wheel debuted its "Step On It" revue in September, 1923. Variety was unenthusiastic to see "Old Dr. Dippy's sanitarium. . . dragged out [again]."
The routine continued to flourish after its busy year in 1908. In 1909, the routine was added to the programs of the Grand Street Theatre, Grand Opera House and Orpheum Theater. The Dockstader Minstrels debuted the routine at the Grand Opera House in March. Pat Rooney, Irish dancer and comedian, rolled out the act in the Orpheum’s "Hotel Laughland" revue in April.
In November, 1912, the American Roof Theatre presented a modified version of the routine called "Fun in a Turkish Bath." The funny faces and funny lines were delivered by George Niblo and Marty Semon. Clearly, though, the act was not modified enough. The Variety critic grumbled, "The comedy goes pretty far back in the burlesque field."
In March, 1920, Sliding Billy Watson presented "Dr. Dippy's Sanitarium" at the Olympic Theatre. Variety reported, "Watson and his company getting a world of fun out of the ancient burlesque classic." Still, the critic made note of "objectionable business" during a part of the scene in which Watson examined a female patient.
The routine had sexual elements for most of its history. The female patients in Hart's version were likely pretty chorus girls. Other versions of the routine included a shapely nurse who did bumps and grinds. That, my friend, is burlesque.
I found an old script for the classic "Ghost in a Pawnshop" routine in the Greg Rouleau Papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The routine includes three characters at work in a pawn shop - the proprietor, a first clerk, and a second clerk. The proprietor suspects that the second clerk is using his key to the business to break into the shop at night and steal merchandise. He gets the first clerk to hide with him in the shop after closing to catch the thief in the act. When the second clerk appears, the proprietor gets into a struggle with him and hits him on the head with a club. It soon becomes obvious that the second clerk is dead. The proprietor decides that they must promptly hide the body, take inventory of the shop, and flee the country. The first clerk is very frightened. He is worried that he will be arrested for the murder, which makes him reluctantly agree to cooperate with the proprietor. The proprietor calls out items from the stockroom while the clerk sits at a table and writes the items on a sheet of paper. It is specified in the stage directions that the clerk is seated with his face towards the audience. He has a lit candle on the table so that he can see what he's writing. He repeatedly dips a pen into an inkwell as he writes out the items. The ghost of the dead clerk suddenly appears behind him and touches his cheek. The clerk becomes terrified. He shouts out for his boss, but the ghost is gone before the boss returns to the room. The boss tells the clerk that he is mistaken about feeling something touch his cheek. He quickly returns to the stockroom and resumes calling out items. The ghost reappears and removes the inkwell. As the clerk goes to dip his pen in the inkwell, the ghost's hand is waiting for it and takes a firm grip of the pen. The clerk shouts and the boss races back into the room. It is pretty much the same business as before. The proprietor doesn't see the ghost and tells the clerk that he is imagining things. The two men are going over the inventory list when the ghost appears a third time. Neither the proprietor nor the clerk see the ghost as it creeps up behind them and blows out the candle. The proprietor says that it was simply a draft that blew out the candle and he lights it again. The ghost blows out the candle a second time. Eventually, both men see the ghost, which brings the routine to a lively finish.
Greg Rouleau, who preserved this script in his personal records, worked as a magician and stock performer in vaudeville during the late 1930s. He accumulated many of his scripts while employed as a stock actor with the Winninger Players, a popular troupe which had been established by Frank Winninger and featured many members of the Winninger family. The most famous member of the family was character actor Charles Winninger.
An old routine was never the same once it found its way to Abbott and Costello. Abbott and Costello refashioned routines to accommodate their unique performing style and they managed in the process to make a routine funnier than it had ever been before.
Take, for instance, the "Jonah and Whale" bit. This is one of my favorite Abbott and Costello routines. I have wanted so badly to learn where this sad and silly banter came from, but its origins have long remained elusive to me. But, finally, I came across a script of "Jonah and a Whale" that predated the Abbott and Costello version. The script is part of Greg Rouleau Papers, which have been archived at the Wisconsin Historical Society. It isn't called "Jonah and the Whale" because the story doesn't have a Captain Jonah. It does have a captain, but our seafaring hero is referred to simply as "the captain." As it turns out, this bit was originally an ethnic joke designed to be delivered by a monologist. Unlike the Abbott and Costello version, the humor did not derive from a straight man repeatedly interrupting the comic. There was no talk of crab apples, or a jack-knife dive, or the Immaterial Ocean.
The story, itself, is pretty much the same. A large whale is following a ship. The ship's captain sees this as a bad omen and wants to frighten away the whale. The script reads, "[The captain] grabbed a three legged stool and threw it at the whale, who immediately swallowed it, but kept following the ship." The captain now realizes that the whale is hungry. He orders the crew to toss overboard an entire case of oranges and a large bunch of bananas. The whale swallows the oranges and bananas, but the creature is obviously still hungry because it continues to swim vigorously after the ship. The captain decides that they must throw a live man overboard to satisfy the whale's appetite and be saved. Because no crew member is willing to sacrifice their life, the captain orders the men to draw lots. It is a Greek sailor who draws the unlucky lot and must be fed to the whale. But even this generous meal doesn't stop the whale and the crew must engage in a bitter battle with the creature. In the end, the whale is killed with a harpoon and its corpse is hauled on board the ship. The crew cuts open the whale. The joke ends as follows: "What do you think. There was that Greek seated on the three legged stool trying to sell the oranges and bananas, three for five cents."
I have long been aware of the ethnic stereotype of the Italian fruit seller, but this joke appears to capitalize on a stereotype of a Greek fruit seller.
It is an appealing joke, but perhaps it takes too long to get to the punchline. How do you solve this problem and, at the same time, adapt the joke to a double act? Abbott and Costello found a way around both problems perfectly.
In the past few months, I have made an effort to trace Abbott and Costello routines to their origins in minstrel shows, medicine shows, vaudeville entertainment and burlesque revues. I have now uncovered further background information that I would like to share.
Abbott and Costello performed the routine "Go Ahead and Sing" in Buck Privates (1941) and In Society (1944). In the traditional version of the routine, the Comic gets in trouble with a police officer for singing in public. The officer explains the noise ordinance and impresses upon the Comic the need for him to be quiet. Once the officer departs the scene, the Straight Man encourages the Comic to ignore what the officer had to say and continue singing.
Straight Man: "You ain't afraid of him, are you?"
Comic: "I should say not." (Sings again very loudly.)
Of course, this brings the officer back. He is angry and attacks the Comic. The routine continues in this vein, with the Straight Man repeatedly goading the Comic to sing even though it will inevitably bring the officer back to deliver a beating. Abbott and Costello discarded the singing in the scene. Costello manages in other ways to create a noise disturbance. He plays a radio in Buck Privates. . .
. . . and he honks a car horn in In Society.
The "Go Ahead and Sing" routine was a mainstay on burlesque's Columbia Wheel burlesque circuit. In 1925, Billy Cochran and Eddie Dale performed the routine as part of the Columbia Wheel’s "Puss Puss" revue. During the same year, Lewis White and Doc Dorman performed the identical silliness as part of the Columbia Wheel’s "Happy Moments" revue.
The routine was for a time associated with the skinny, raspy-voiced comedian Tom Howard. Howard performed "Go Ahead and Sing" as part of the 'Greenwich Village Follies" revue in 1926. Partnered with Joe Lyons, he toured with the act following the run of the revue. The team presented the act at New York's Broadway Theatre in June, 1926. Variety described Howard and Lyon’s comic doings as follows: "[Howard] and a violinist attempt to sing while the circus manager tells them to stop, the gag being that after each warning, the fiddler yells, 'Go Ahead and Sing,' while Howard, a bit dubious, clowns before beginning [to sing]." Variety said of the act, "Funny only in spots, but considering the present dearth of comedy in vaudeville the turn passes muster."
In 1930, Howard performed the skit in a one-reel Paramount comedy called, appropriately, Go Ahead and Sing (1930). Motion Picture News noted, "Tom Howard tries to do a little panhandling in this comedy, singing to the accompaniment of his wop pal's fiddling. They are in front of a hospital and an attendant comes out to ask them to stop. But the fiddler says it doesn't mean a thing, telling Tom 'Go ahead and sing.' He does and the attendant gets tough, warning them they must stop, with the same result. Finally, he socks Tom with a baseball bat, while the fiddler is repeating his 'Go ahead and sing.'"
I have been looking at old burlesque scripts lately. Often, it seems, these scripts were typed out hurriedly with no attempt by the author to conceive a title. It didn't matter, though, because a comedian didn't need a title to make a sketch funny. Over the years, these routines were called by a variety of names. For instance, "Flugel Street" was better known by burlesque performers as "The Union Bit" or "The Straw Hat Bit."
Flugel Street?! Oh, why did you have to remind me of Flugel Street?
I have written about the "Flugel Street" routine before. Check here and here. But I am a persistent researcher and I have continued to explore various backstreets in my efforts to reach the notorious Susquehanna Hat Company.
An early version of "Flugel Street" was published in Bert Lahr's biography, "Notes on a Cowardly Lion" (p. 361-365). The sketch has the Comic come out on stage to sing an Irish dance song and find his efforts thwarted by a pair of disagreeable union musicians. Apart from the union theme and a couple of straw hats getting destroyed, this is far different than the "Flugel Street" routine as we know it today. Not one line of dialogue or one stage direction references a hard-to-locate hat company on Flugel Street. Even more apparent, the scene takes place on a bare stage as opposed to the sidewalk setting that appeared in later versions. It is puzzling that the routine appears in the book under the title "Flugel Street," but there is a simple explanation for this. After my experience with a number of untitled scripts, I believe that an actual title was never typed across the heading of Lahr's script. This was, in all likelihood, a classic case of retroactive nomenclature on part of the book's author, John Lahr. After all, "Flugel Street" was the ultimate title of the routine and it is the only title with which the readers of the book would have been familiar.
The routine was the creation of producer and sketch writer Billy K. Wells, who featured the routine in his revue "Maids of America." A Billboard review of "Maids of America" that was published on March 15, 1919 made reference to a scene played "Somewhere Near Fleugel Street" and noted that the action principally involved the Sweatband Hat Company. The reviewer wrote, "[The] hats came in for the usual comedy destruction" (Billboard, March 15, 1919, p. 10). We now have the street, we have the hat company, and we have the broken hats. Here, in 1919, we have "Flugel Street."
Within months after the routine was introduced, other burlesque companies were hurrying to find room for the popular skit in their programs. On February 19, 1919, the New York Clipper published a review of the Star Theatre’s "Paris by Night" revue, which presented a potpourri of proven burlesque routines. The paper noted, "A few of the bits seen were 'The Kiss,''Women Haters' Union,’ 'Buzzing the Bee,''I Don't Know,''Give It To Me,''Union Bit,''Something Nice,' and a dish breaking bit."
On October 15, 1919, the New York Clipper reported some traditional burlesque shtick in effect at Kahn's Union Square Theatre. The paper noted, "The 'Union' bit got many a laugh the way it was offered by [Harry] Bernard, [Jack] Gibson, [Roy] Sears and the orchestra." The fact that the orchestra played a role in this comic business suggests that this may have been the version of the routine that was published in Lahr’s biography.
Will Howard and Inez De Verdier were touring with the "Flugle Street" routine in 1922. According to Variety, the pair performed "the ‘union’ bit entailing the use of a ‘plant’ and the wrecking of two straw hats." The routine was so well-established by this time that the paper referred to it as a "burlesque tidbit of yesteryear."
Sid Rankin, a critic with Zit's Review, was introduced to the Minsky update of the "Flugel Street" routine when he attended a show at Brooklyn's Werba Theatre in 1934. He regarded the skit, as performed by Joey Faye and Jack Diamond, as the big hit of the show. Rankin acknowledged that this was the old Billy K. Wells routine, although he noted that the scene "had been changed around somewhat from the original script."
Return here tomorrow to learn about the 1920s straw hat armageddon that was unleashed by the success of "Flugel Street."
Other reviews of "Paris by Night" included mention of the "Imaginary Dog" and "Lighting a Cigar" bits. I wish that I could tell you more about every routine mentioned in these reviews. Unfortunately, some of this material has been lost to time. The "Give It to Me" and "Lighting a Cigar" bits must have been a favorite of patrons because this material had been held over from the theatre's previous revue, "World Beaters." "Women Haters' Union" was a simple little sketch that became popular with burlesque audiences. The Comic and Straight Man form a women hater's union as a way to save on dating expenses, but an attractive woman crosses the stage and drops a handkerchief and this simple act quickly puts an end to the union. George Ward and Charles L. Sherman toured internationally with an extended version of this sketch. The "Imaginary Dog" bit was originally a circus clown act. Red Skelton made it part of his stage show in the 1930s. No one could do better than Skelton in creating pantomime business with an imaginary pooch. Three different versions of this skit are included in Skelton’s papers at the Indiana Historical Society.
Selected Reference Source
The quotes from Billboard and Zit’s Review come from Andrew Davis' excellently researched book "Baggy Pants Comedy: Burlesque and the Oral Traditions." You can buy the book here.
The year was 1919. The "Flugel Street" routine had debuted only the year before and already it was a burlesque standard.
Seeing how uproariously audiences laughed at straw hats being destroyed inspired a number of other comedians. These comedians believed that the routine could be just as funny if it was stripped down to its bare essentials. Did anyone really care if the comedian had his hat destroyed by a union worker embroiled in a strike against the local hat company? The act of destroying a patsy's hat needed just as much context as the act of smashing a pie into a patsy's face. Just tear apart a straw hat, they thought, and the audience will love it. Let’s call it the Gallagher Principle. A comedian needs no reason to destroy things. Destroying stuff is funny.
September 19, 1919
Variety Artists’ Forum
In Variety of Sept. 12, I notice where Harry Barrett claims to be the originator of the throwing of the "boomerang" straw hat.
I wish to state he is quite correct as far as the novelty of straw hats is concerned. The material we have used for a number of years over numerous circuits. The act was billed as "The Original Barretts." I was a student and later years a partner with Harry Barrett. Therefore I am entitled to do all comedy bits and juggling material with straw hats that I originated while a partner with Harry Barrett and after we had dissolved partnership in the season of 1916.
Harold Baker (of Johnson, Baker and Johnson)(Note: It was hardly unusual to submit a letter to Variety to take credit for an act. The letter that preceded this one had Wilber C. Sweatman, a ragtime musician, claim that he had originated the business of playing two clarinets at the same time.)
Several years later, Baker was still playing with boomerang hats, although one of his Johnson partners had by now left the act.
Variety, April 26, 1923. Review of appearance at the Palace Theatre, Chicago:
Johnson and Baker open with hat juggling and comedy, in which the work of the comedian is 95 percent or more of the act. The catching of straw hats thrown by people in the audience and the return of the hats pretended to have been thrown out by accident give extra comedy interest, and the head catches of the comedian are truly astonishing as well as being fine comedy.Believe it not, the duo was still at the same act five years later. The advantage that vaudeville had over film and television was that it did not burn through material.
Variety, February 22, 1928. Review of appearance at the Rivera Theatre, Chicago.
Johnson and Baker, opened with one of those boomerang acts utilizing scads of straw hats. Managed for fair laugh.But other teams of jugglers provided their own versions of the act. This sort of act seemed to go over especially well in Chicago.
Variety, October 13, 1926. Review of appearance at the Capitol Theatre, Chicago.
Moran and Stanley threw straw hats all over the theatre and had the crowd in an uproar. Their familiar vaudeville turn was new to the picture house and lined up as the third show stopper.Variety, February 29, 1928. Review of appearance at the Congress Theatre, Chicago.
Gabby Brothers opened with their straw hats of boomerang propensities, eccentric diablo tossing and smartly-passed Indian clubs.Still, the straw hats took far greater abuse from the comedians. Let us now look at the top annihilators of straw hats on the comedy scene. In the following passages, you will come across the terms "nut,""nutty" and "nuttism." Keep in mind that a "nut comedian" was, at the time, a well-established category of comedian. Vaudeville historian Frank Cullen described the nut comedian as having "an original personality and unique style" and "readily abandon[ing] narrative and logic to follow a momentary whim to get laughs." Cullen noted, "[An audience] never knew where the nut comedian was headed or what impromptu event would send him veering off course. . ."
Jack Rose was born in London in 1888. His name at birth was John Hale. At the age of 18, he left behind England to become a vaudeville comedian in the United States. At first, he billed himself as "Happy Jack Hale," but he eventually became known on stage by the catchier name Jack Rose. It took a few years before he received attention in the press. By then, he was working in Chicago as part of the trio Rose, Young and Freeman. Rose went on to create a double act with George Clifford. The duo toured as part of a burlesque company called "The Cherry Blossoms."
Rose had a knack for getting into trouble with the police. The first time that one of his arrests made it into the newspapers occurred in August, 1914. Rose had the bad judgment of skipping out of a hotel without paying his bill. He was sentenced to 60 days in the Detroit House of Correction. Unfortunately, Rose found after he had served his sentence that his troubles were not yet over. The following item appeared in Variety:
When Jack Rose, 26-year old actor, stopped out of the house of correction last Saturday after serving a thirty-day sentence for defrauding the Hotel Pontchartrain, three Buffalo detectives were on hand to greet him. Thirty minutes later he was en route to Buffalo, where another charge of defrauding a hotel awaits him.By 1917, Rose had a new partner, Earl Lehman. Lehrman played straight man in comedy bits and provided piano accompaniment while Rose sang. Rose maintained his act in this essential form for the remainder of his career. The one element of the act that Rose periodically changed was the piano-playing straight man.
Rose's partner in 1918 was Mike Bernard. At the time, the act was receiving frequent write ups in Variety. The act had developed into a madcap improvisation. One night, a Variety critic was startled when Rose suddenly stopped singing and chased Bernard off the stage. Once he was composed, the wild comedian explained to the audience that his partner had been playing too loud and chasing him off stage was something he "just had to do."
Rose was playing good theaters, including the Palace, the Majestic and the Winter Garden. The owner of the Winter Garden, J. J. Shubert, became good friends with Rose and frequently employed him as a master of ceremonies.
Rose's life outside the theater was not going as well. The comedian was arrested for getting into a fistfight in September and, for an undisclosed reason, he was admitted into Chicago's American Hospital for surgery in October.
Rose often clowned in public. Variety reported, "Rose's antics at the Polo Grounds has made him well known to all baseball fans. One of his favorite stunts is to break up his hat or toss it out onto the diamond." The fact that the crowds at the stadium laughed so heartily at him destroying a hat gave him an idea for his stage act.
The New York Clipper, September 24, 1919. Review of appearance at the Eighty-first Street Theatre, New York.
Jack Rose, who terms himself as a "Specialist for the Blues," appeared in a nut act that scored. He opens with a nut song and puts his gags over in a manner that scores a laugh every time. Although a greater part of his act is given over to slapstick in which a half score of straw hats are destroyed, his personality is that of a natural nut making his bit a sure hit.Variety, October 29, 1919, Review of appearance at the Colonial Theatre, New York.
With numerous straw hats, Jack Rose was next with his nut offering. If Rose is not a natural born nut, he certainly has acquired the knack of being one, because it is hard to credit mere imitation to such a creditable performance.Variety, November 28, 1919. Review of appearance at the American Roof, New York.
Jack Rose was topping the bill at the Roof the last half and deserved his elevation, for he carried off the comedy honors easily. Rose was on next to closing and broke a few extra straw hats in appreciation of the audience's approval. He also interpolated another ad lib piece of business when he climbed down into the orchestra and found a seat for the leader between two of the female patrons. He introduced the leader, saying: "Customers, this is the leader. Leader, meet two of the customers." Then he asked for suggestions and played various shouted requests on the piano.The New York Clipper, December 17, 1919. Review of appearance at the Audubon Theatre, New York.
Jack Rose is one of the few acts that this theatre has held over for a full week. Rose now has a pianist with him. He put in some new songs for his second half, and some new gags, among them a satire on mind-reading, ala Billy Gibson and Wellington Cross. He went off to a big hit and also gave his pianist a bow which the latter deserved.Variety, January 19, 1921. Review of appearance at the Palace Theatre, Chicago.
Jack Rose, supported by Sophie Tucker, Blossom Seeley, Bennie Fields, Jules Buffano and a lot of personal pals out front, made the Monday matinee a family affair. His vaudeville return in the theatre where for weeks during the run of "Scandals" ["George White's Scandals of 1920"] he appeared every Monday afternoon, blowing his whistle from his seat and working as an impromptu volunteer "plant" to all the chummy headliners, was a hearty compliment to this really lovable on-and-off clown. Rose has lots of friends here. He never missed a professional night while in town in any garden, and he kept the whole Hotel Sherman population ahowling many an hour many a night in the lobby. Now that he is back where they can do as much for him — as much as they can, anyway — the reciprocity shows, and it showed at the first performance resoundingly. After the main portion of his act he pointed out the stars in the seats and the audience made them come up. Miss Tucker sang a song, with Buffano at the piano, and Rose broke it up with his nuttisms.
Beneath the hat wrecking, falling, oohing mannerisms of the unashamed jester, Rose has a good deal of comic artistry. He handles himself with an easy grace and he can point a joke as few men can. With an eccentric lyric that fits him he can turn vaudeville circles. He has now at the piano a perfect assistant in James Steiger, a masculine type of pianist who really chips in nifties with effect. Rose sang four or five songs, told a couple of stag stories (cleaned up) so wittily that nobody got really mad over them, and, after the assemblage of the mighty for a chorus, and Miss Tucker's contribution of a huge florist's horseshoe of radishes, onions and cauliflower, he did a gentlemanly comedy encore, made a modest speech and retired the overwhelming panic of this show. He probably would have been that without a familiar face in the audience. Rose has an act worth any spot in any theatre anywhere.Variety, February 2, 1921. Review of appearance at the State-Lake Theatre, Chicago.
Jack Rose, with Jimmie Steiger at the piano, clowned, sang numbers, blew his whistle to everybody's satisfaction and a smashing applause hit. Jack can stay around here for six months and still be new. He may be nutty, but he knows what he's doing and never oversteps himself once.Rose's act grew in popularity over the next three years. Variety called Rose "probably the best cabaret entertainer in America today." How could breaking hats and blowing a whistle be so entertaining? A Variety critic addressed this very issue in a review. He wrote, "The psychology of laughter is indeed an interesting study. Here is a man who does nothing intrinsically funny in itself, and yet he projects across the footlights an indefinable something that makes you laugh with him, and at him."
Variety, May 6, 1921. Review of appearance at the Colonial Theatre.
Jack Rose, "nut" comedian and singer, is ably supported by Jimmy Steiger at the piano, a feeder who does so with no apparent ostentation, which makes a splendid foil for the "crazy" comic, who destroys a straw hat every so often - to the hilarious delight of the assembled multitude.Variety, May 6, 1921.
Jack Rose, the "nut" comic, who played his first Palace, New York, engagement a few weeks ago, has received one of the longest routes ever issued out of the Orpheum Circuit offices as a result. Rose will open on the Orpheum Circuit in August and plays consecutively until next June. The blanket includes the Junior Orpheum houses and the Interstate Circuit.Variety, October 28, 1921. Review of appearance at the Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco.
Jack Rose, Jimmy Stelger at the piano, caught on with a bang next to closing, stopping the show. He works strictly within propriety in original nuttism fashion. He also can put comedy songs over. His breaking of half a dozen straw hats and loaning of feminine headgear from the audience send him away to howls.Rose inspired imitators, as the following review will show.
Variety, December, 1921. Review of appearance at the Columbia Theatre, New York.
[Sam] Stein sings a popular song to the piano, with exaggerated "nut" delivery, finally breaking straw hat a la Jack Rose. Crossfire conversation with [Billy] Smith follows, Stein working in a French accent for laughs.Variety, January 27, 1922. Review of appearance at the Palace Theatre, Chicago.
Jack Rose in the next to closing spot, coming on at 10:35, did not have much of a task in corralling the audience. Jack started off on "high" and kept stepping along at that pace throughout. Rose has achieved the distinction of polishing his offering up and giving it that touch of finesse which is relished in the high-class vaudeville theatres. His "bit" of leading the orchestra seems to go as strong as ever. It seemed as though the folks could not get enough of Rose and Jimmy Steiger, his accomplice, for at 11:05 he stopped the show cold and the audience were still insisting on Jack coming out and clowning some more. But Jack in a speech showed good showmanship by calling the attention of the audience to the lateness of the hour and the fact that still another act was to appear.Rose got married in February, 1922. It was a troubled relationship from beginning to end. Variety reported:
Jack Rose cleared the matrimonial hurdles for a second time. He returned Friday morning from Valparlso, Ind., with Mrs. Jack Rose No. 2 clinging to his arm. Mrs. Rose was formerly Jeanette Odette, a member of Ziegfeld "Follies" chorus. Recently she brought suit against Rose for $50,000, claiming breach of promise. This meant nothing to Jack while he was touring the Orpheum Circuit and away from Chicago. Two weeks ago when he returned here to play at the Palace, Rose met Miss Odette on the street. She smiled. Jack said "Hello." They were together, never to be separated again.Variety, July 26, 1922. Review of appearance at the Riverside Theatre, New York.
Jack Rose admitted having played every other Keith house except this — maybe they're too particular up here, he said — but was forced in as an added starter to sub for Gordon Dooley and Alan Coogan, out through knee injury to one of the team. Rose was No. 4 and proved an exceedingly bright interlude, jazzing things up considerably with his "nutisms." Jimmy Steiger accompanying at the baby grand is now on the rostrum. Formerly he worked in the trench as Rose's sole accompanist. He is more of a straight than an ivory tickler, although he did the feeding formerly also to a lesser degree. The changes in Rose's methods are obvious. He still breaks a half dozen straw hats and still "nuts" and clowns unashamedly and unaffectedly, but there is finesse in his methods now.Variety, July 28, 1922. Review of appearance at the Palace Theatre, New York.
Jack Rose opened after intermission in his nut specialty, doubling from the Riverside. Rose is assisted by Jimmy Steiger at the piano, who straights, sings and handles the box while Rose is monologing, crossfiring and breaking straw hats for wows.Rose received a less than favorable review when he made a visit to England.
Variety, September 1, 1922. Review of appearance at the Victoria Palace, London.
Jack Rose, billed as "Dr. Jack Rose, Specialist for the Blues," with Jimmy Steiger at the piano, palpably nervous, did more than well, but he needs some advice before he can connect for his full value with English audiences. As a matter of fact Rose is an Englishman who ran away from home 17 years ago. His sister is manager of the Kennington theatre here, and should have given him some advice before he opened. His principal weakness is in rhapsodically announcing to the audience, "I'm a nut." In England a "nut" is a "dude," and he should have substituted the phrase "I'm balmy," or "I'm up the pole," or some similar colloquialism. Other deletions necessary are "My God," which is regarded here as sacrilegious, and "hell" and "damn." All of which has probably been told him by now. The downstairs and balcony attendance "got" him nicely, but there was a noticeable silence on the part of the gallery folks, who didn't seem to understand what he was doing.
Variety, April 9, 1924. Review of appearance at the Palace Theatre, Chicago.
Jack Rose broke five hats, cut up generally and impressed decidedly. When last seen Steiger presided at the piano in the trench. Now he's on the rostrum at a baby grand while Rose at one stage descends into the trench to conduct the orchestra. Among other things he dons a pair of boxing gloves while wielding the directorial wand. One crack, aimed at his partner, was: "Any guy who talks so much must have a touch of female in him somewheres."Rose continued to get into trouble off stage. In January, 1924, Rose got into an argument with theatrical attorney Harry Sacks "Hecky" Hechheimer in the lobby of the Hotel Sherman. The fight ended with Rose punching Hechheimer in the face, breaking the attorney's nose. Police arrived quickly and arrested Rose.
And, then, we have this story. . .
July 2, 1924
Wife of Comedian Alleges She Was Substitute for Battered Straw Hat
Mrs. Janet Lawson Ross, former chorus girl bride of Jack Rose, the comedian, who kicks the stuffing out of straw hats, is suing Jack for divorce on the ground of cruelty, she claiming to have been substituted for the straw kelly. This Jack denies, saying he may have played with her, but never roughly.
Mrs.Rose recites that John once insisted that she do a disrobing act in a "swell cafe on the north side of Chicago," and hastened the performance by tearing the dress off her back, to the delighted entertainment of a dining room full of guests. Jack says she must have caught the dress on a nail.Rose reached the top tier in the theatre world when the Shubert Brothers cast him in "The Passing Show of 1924." Variety was complimentary of Rose's performance in the show:
Jack Rose was in the asylum bit and he served well. Had he been worked into the second set skits the comedy values might have been increased. His scoring appearance was in his specialty next to closing in the first section. He broke up six straw hats during the monologue, not the least comic stunt being a quick change of lids at the entrance, walking thence each time for a fresh supply.In August, 1925, Rose crashed his car and was arrested for reckless driving.
Variety, February 10, 1926. Review of appearance at the Palace Theatre, Chicago.
The latest was Jack Rose who played the Palace and Albee last week doubling from both houses and plugging the Shuberts in each stand. Rose was allowed more laxity at the Palace than any act that has played the house this season. He used the words "hell" and "damn," mentioned he was working for the Shuberts and playing the Palace as a side line and took other liberties.In April, 1926, Rose saw a doctor to complain about stomach pain. He assumed that he was suffering from an ulcer, but tests showed that he had contracted intestinal cancer. His doctor recommended surgery to remove the cancerous tissue. Rose was willing to have to surgery, but he didn’t have the money to pay for it. Shubert turned over the Winter Garden Theatre for a benefit show. Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker were reported to have worked hard to organize talent and sell tickets. The benefit brought in more than $16,000 from ticket sales, collections and pledges. A significant amount of the pledges came from Broadway producers Albert H. Woods and Rufus LeMaire.
Variety noted that, at the benefit, "Rose clowned with visitors." But Rose was less jovial with his close friends. Variety later reported:
Standing at Broadway and 47th Street the day before he had to enter the hospital, some friends were trying to be jocular in dismissing the danger. "Kid all you want to," he said, "this is going to be the finish."At first, Rose seemed to be in good spirits after his surgery. Variety reported, "[Rose] has been cheerful while confined, ‘gagging’ as usual with his callers." The truth was, though, that he had no reason to be cheerful. The surgeon had found the cancerous growth to be highly developed. Rose had come for treatment too late and there was nothing doctors could do to save him.
Sophie Tucker got Rose set up in an apartment and got a nurse to take care of him. Rose's mother and sister traveled from England to spend time with him.
Rose became delirious with visitors and caretakers. He shouted violently at his sister. It became clear that he was having hallucinations. Variety explained that, according to his doctor, the hallucinations and the other mentally unbalanced behavior had "aris[en] as an effect of the operation." Delirium brought on by anesthesia and other surgical complications does happen at times. Authorities committed Rose to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital after he contacted police in hysterics and demanded that they arrest his sister.
Rose died on May 29, 1926. His death received extensive coverage in Variety. William Morris, president of the Jewish Theatrical Guild of America, published a memoriam that read,
Variety summarized Rose’s career as follows: "In vaudeville Rose did a single turn of the nutty variety, smashing a few straw hats while on the stage in his apparently wild deportment. In his comedy talk he would also become 'nutty' at times, making 'cracks' now and anon which startled the initiated." He was said to have been as nutty off stage as he was on stage. Variety described him as a "natural freak."
Rose's act lived on past his death.
Variety, July, 1927. Review of appearance at Victoria Palace, London.
Then came Wright and Marion, a man and woman in cross-talk, who have also appeared in America, but are in reality Eastenders. The man depends principally for his comedy on breaking his straw hat, a la Jack Rose, handling the woman vulgarly, accompanied by occasionally suggestive jokes. They got away nicely.Variety, July 4, 1928. Review of appearance at the El Capitan Theatre, San Francisco.
Between changes of scene, an unprogrammed comic pulled a Ted Lewis and then tore up straw hats a la Jack Rose. . .In 1941, a warm tribute was paid to Rose in a Variety column. The comedian was called "a great nut act with plenty of talent."
Inglis started out with a more creative sort of hat act, but he eventually saw that he could entertain audiences just as easily by savagely tearing apart hats.
The New York Clipper, August 4, 1920. Review of appearance at the Proctor’s Theatre, New York.
Jack Inglis, formerly of Duffy and Inglis, opens his present act with a song and is followed around the stage by an assistant with whom he subsequently has some talk. A nut Indian song is next rendered. Inglis seated, playing on a tom-tom. A table is then brought forth by a couple of stage hands containing quite a number of hats. Inglis does a recitation and uses various hats to illustrate the characters of which he is speaking, i. e. a conductor, a fire-man, etc. As the recitation nears the end, in the excitement of the climax, the wrong hats are used with considerable comedy effect. It was this bit that was good for the best laugh in the act.But this act, as creative and enthusiastic as it had been, was not the act that was referenced in Inglis' obituary when the comedian died on April 25, 1938. Variety reported, "[Inglis] had been on the vaudeville stage for more than 30 years, his trademark being penchant for tearing up straw hats."
Like Rose, Inglis did not come to a good end. Variety noted, "[Inglis] had been in poor health for the past six years, and two years ago both legs were amputated. In spite of this, he had appeared, at numerous benefits, working in a wheeled chair."
Variety, July 14, 1926. Review of appearance at the Majestic Theatre, Chicago.
Continuing the battle against a small audience and empty seats Sid Lewis nutted his way to a strong finish busting three straw hats on the way. Sid tells gags getting first the orchestra leader, then the drummer, then members of the audience to act as his straight. An audience helper, no doubt a plant, sang the expected ballad, the one touch that keeps Lewis from being pretty unique. Lewis is great for the stuff around here.Variety, July 18, 1928. Review of appearance at the American Roof, New York.
The show [in] the first half had a tough time getting the audience started, which mitigated against hits. Sid Lewis slammed them for the first clean-up. His nutty way of making wisecracks, kidding the boys out front and banging away at his own [back]drop with his cane and smashing a few straw hats to back up his billing got them.The curse of the hat destroyers struck again. It was March 7, 1934. Lewis was en route from Nashville to a booking in Sheffield, Alabama, when his car skidded and turned over several times. He died within hours after being admitted to the hospital. Lewis was 47 years old.
Barr, Mayo and Wren
Variety, June 18, 1923. Review of appearance at the City Theatre, New York.
Barr, Mayo and Wren, following with another session of talk, made the show a bit gabby along here. The noises also affected this act somewhat. It's a combination of fop, sap, and woman doing straight at times. The comic doing the sap breaks up a straw hat for laughs. Figuring on a basis of the act doing three a day or 21 shows a week for a season of 40 weeks, that means the destruction of 840 straw hats. At two a day and 14 shows a week, in 40 weeks, 660 straw hats a season. And in ten years that would make 5,600 hats. But it's great for the hat business. The trio does some excellent close harmony for a finish.
Straw hats were most heavily played, two being soaked in succeeding acts on the bill, the first with [Dave] Thursby and the second with the Warren and O'Brien turn.
|W. S. Van Dyke|
W. S. Van Dyke, M-G-M's adventurer-director, almost lives for the end of the Summer season, when he revels in pounding on all unsuspecting straw hats and breaking them.Take a look at this inscription that Van Dyke wrote on back of a photo: "To you Herman - and for God's sake, keep your damned old straw hats out of my reach when I'm hungry!"
Van Dyke is just the type of off-centered individual who belonged on Flugel Street.
Jack Rose took an upward stride with The Cherry Blossoms, who toured as part of the Western Burlesque Wheel. Variety described the group as "clever burlesquers" capable of "bright talk" and "catchy songs." The New York Clipper wrote of the troupe in 1903: "Pretty women, fine costumes, good comedians and lively burlesque and vaudeville contributed an entertainment well worth while." The comedians would present at least two extended comedy routines in every performance. Their most popular routines included "Quarrelsome Neighbors,""The Wrong Mr. Tobasco" and "Look Out Below." They performed an early version of "Crazy House" called "Dr. Dippy's Sanitarium." They sometimes staged spoofs of popular plays, an example of which was a burlesque of "Brewster's Millions" called "Booster's Millions." John H. Perry was, according to Variety, their "prime fun provider." He occasionally appeared in sketches as a comic tramp, which had been his specialty before he joined the group. A Variety critic found the production to be a rough assembly of acts, but he was grateful that the comedians did not resort to slapstick or action that was "tiresome or offensive." He wrote, "[The show] is clean and wholesome in its purpose and serves well as an entertainment. The chorus does some strenuous work in a series of musical numbers, three being splendid." The chorus was always the main treat for the audience. The New York Clipper called the chorus "a bewitching array of feminine beauty." An effort was made to keep the dance numbers interesting and creative. Variety wrote of the show after a Boston appearance: "The costuming is new and bright and the idea of having a bunch of girls come out in the uniform of policemen is clever."
The comedy acts varied in style and talent, as the following reviews will show.
Variety, November 1907. Review of appearance at the Howard Theatre, Boston.
Frank Ross, "the singing Jew," tells some pretty old jokes, sandwiched in between one or two new ones, and he also gets off some decidedly raw ones.Variety, October, 1910. Review of appearance at the Empire Theatre, Chicago.
Minnie Granville and Eddie Mack, principals with "the Cherry Blossoms," have developed an excellent act, presented as a number in the show's olio. The Italian character drawing by Mack is one of surpassing excellence. He is not exaggerated in either costume or dialect; makes his "wop" a man of humor and intelligence, in contrast to the general run of this sort of character now being shown. Miss Granville makes up excellently, looks the part of a cleanly Italian girl, but constantly neglects her dialect. She could easily remedy this defect by paying closer attention. The act introduces a hurdy-gurdy, the singers drawing it onto the stage when they enter and taking it with them when they depart. For one of their songs Mack plays the barrel-organ to accompany Miss Granville, both using the orchestra for a second number which takes them off. There is an excellent line of comedy talk between songs, Miss Granville "feeding" for Mack's good results. The act would make a fine vaudeville interlude.In closing, let me bring up a strange footnote to this story. I found this ad for a 1917 play called "Lily of the Valley."
Note that the supporting cast includes Jack Rose, Jack Inglis and Sid Lewis.
I wish that I could climb into a time machine and ride freely on the time currents to 1948. My arrival in this time period would undoubtedly provide me with wondrous opportunities. I could head to Yankee Stadium to see Joe DiMaggio hit three consecutive home runs. I could attend Harry Truman's dedication of the Idlewild airport. I could, if determined enough, wrangle a test ride in a Tucker 48 Sedan. But I don't have a great interest in baseball, airports, or cars. I see those things as having far less value than a man who can stand firmly before a theatre audience of a thousand or more and use a funny line or a funny expression to get the audience to choke the building with a deafening roar of laughter. That is, indeed, something special to witness. The sole reason that I would travel back to 1948 would be so that I could enjoy one of the best years of comedy on the Broadway stage. In 1948, the Broadway season was saved by three burlesque veterans - Bobby Clark, Bert Lahr and Phil Silvers. Clark followed a long run in "Sweethearts" with an even longer run (414 performances) in "As the Girls Go." Lahr starred in "Burlesque," which ran for 439 performances. Silvers topped them all with 727 performances of "High Button Shoes." One newcomer, Sid Caesar, joined Broadway’s illustrious comedy ranks with 429 performances of "Make Mine Manhattan."
It is with great pleasure that I now offer a pictorial tribute to the comic heroes of this bygone Broadway era.
Phil Silvers in "Top Banana"
|Silvers with Jack Albertson|
|Silvers with Joey Faye and Rose Marie|
|A. P. Kaye, Reginald Denny, Jeraldine Dvorak and Clark|
|Clark with Cora Witherspoon|
|Clark with Jeraldine Dvorak|
|Clark with Lillian Bond|
|Clark with Cora Witherspoon and Reginald Denny|
|Ethel Morrison, Clark and Reginald Denny|
|Reginald Denny, Ethel Morrison and Clark|
|Reginald Denny, Lillian Bond and Clark|
|Clark with Mary Boland and Walter Hampden|
|Clark with Irene Rich|
|Clark with Gregg Sherwood and Truly Barbara|
|Lahr with Betty Grable|
|Lahr with Frances Williams|
|Lahr with Ethel Merman|
|Benny Baker, Betty Grable and Bert Lahr|
"Seven Lively Arts" 1944 (December 7, 1944 - May 12, 1945)
|Lahr with Beatrice Lillie|
"Hotel Paradiso" (April 11, 1957 - July 13, 1957)
"Foxy" (February 16, 1964 - April 18, 1964)
Between his Broadway shows, Lahr managed to find time for films and television.
|Lahr with Charlotte Greenwood in Flying High (1931)|
|Lahr with Claudette Colbert in Zaza (1938)|
|Lahr with Joan Davis and Shirley Temple in Just Around the Corner (1938)|
|Lahr with Patsy Kelly in Sing Your Worries Away (1942)|
|Lahr with Virginia Mayo in Always Leave Them Laughing (1949)|
|Lahr with (left to right) Vince Edwards, Jack Carson, Janis Paige, Max "Slapsie Maxie"' Rosenbloom in Mister Universe (1951).|
|The Second Greatest Sex (1955)|
|Lahr with Stanley Holloway in TV version of "The Fantastiks" (1964)|
|"Ed Sullivan Show" (1967)|
|The Night They Raided Minskys (1968)|
Vaudeville historian Frank Cullen wrote, "[Clark] made a few television appearances, including a maddeningly dull William Saroyan playlet on Omnibus in which Bobby and Bert Lahr were directed to sit on stools and spout pseudo-French."
|Clark and Lahr sneer at Omnibus host Alistair Cooke.|
Comedy court adjourned.
I received avid feedback on my recent series of articles on the history of Abbott and Costello's burlesque routines. Unfortunately, not all of the feedback was positive. One person insisted that "Who's On First?" was an old minstrel show routine that dates back to the Civil War era. This person may be right, but I can find no credible evidence that supports this claim. Another person insisted that Joey Faye is the sole creator of the "Flugel Street" routine. I have done exhaustive research on "Flugel Street" and I stand by what I have written on the subject. Faye, himself, admitted that Sidney Fields co-wrote the Minsky update with him. The routine undoubtedly bears much of Fields' style of humor. However, I do have a significant correction to make in regards to my article on the "Who's On First?" routine. I was wrong about that date that Phil Silvers and Rags Ragland first teamed up at Minsky's Gaiety Theatre. Click here for more information.
I have gotten copies of two different "Flugel Street" scripts that were written by Faye.
The first script was only designed for two actors. The delivery man was to be played by "Irv," which was most likely Irving Benson. Faye was to play two roles - a police officer and a young woman. The script does not clarify how Faye was to make the transition between these two characters. Presumably, he was to walk away as the police officer and suddenly return as the young woman.
The second script was worked up for Red Buttons and Robert Alda, who had been a comedy team in burlesque. Button was to play the delivery man and Alda was to play the police officer. Faye gave his wife, Judy, the role of the woman and he gave himself the role of a stutterer who comes along at the end.
There is one significant segment from these scripts that did not carry over to the Abbott and Costello version. The segment starts with the delivery man pulling a letter out of his back pocket to show the officer his delivery instructions.
Police Officer: So, if you want to mail a letter, put a stamp on it and go right next door to the mailbox. You don't have to go to Floogle Street to mail a letter.The following dialogue is only included in the "Irv" script. The letter has caused the delivery man so many problems that he tosses it to the ground, which now gets the officer to charge him with littering.
Delivery Man: Look, I don't want to mail the letter. The letter doesn't even belong to me. . .
Police Officer: Oh, it's not your letter. . .
Delivery Man: No, it's not my letter.
Police Officer: . . . tampering with the government mails. Do you know that you can go to jail?
Delivery Man: Look. . . I'll put the letter in my back pocket. . .
Police Officer: Aha! Trying to pull a gun, eh?
Delivery Man: I don't even carry a gun!
Police Officer: You don't carry a gun. Oh, I know, a gun is too noisy. You carry a knife. Go ahead, stab me, stab me, I can take a cut.
Delivery Man: Just a minute, Buddy, what harm can a little piece of paper do?It was the sign of a good burlesque routine that the routine could withstand innumerable variations.
Police Officer: What harm? Suppose a fella comes along and lights a cigarette. . . throws it on the paper. . . the paper ignites. . . blows against the building. . . the building ignites. . . bursts into flames. . . suddenly half the city is on fire. . . so you're a firebug. . . you're an arsonist. . . you run around burning up cities.
I have had much to say recently about Minsky's "Flugel Street" burlesque, which was intiated with great enthusiasm by Joey Faye and Sid Fields. The only record that I had of this "Flugel Street" variant was Faye's scripts. But my articles drew the attention of Thomas Williams, who hosts a Phil Silvers website called Gladaseeya!. Williams directed me to a radio recording in which the Minsky version of "Flugel Street" is faithfully performed by Phil Silvers and Rags Ragland.
I recommend that you visit Mr. William's site at http://www.gladaseeya.co.uk/.
Road Warrior (1981) was influenced in many ways by the John Wayne classic Hondo (1953).
|A bitter loner and his mongrel dog.|
|A bitter loner and his mongrel dog.|
Lloyd Hamilton discarded his checkered cap to be the grand marshal of Straw Hat Day.
I thank Steve Rydzewski for letting me know that these photos of Ham and Bud have been posted to ebay. I believe that the first photo is from The Blundering Blacksmith (1917) and the second photo is from For Sweet Charity (1916).
A carnival's distorting mirror is always a good prop to use when photographing a comedian.
Many comedy films have included a scene in which the comedian has had to awkwardly carry about a dead or unconscious person, but this action was typically limited to a single scene. Three Girls About Town (1941) was the first feature film in which the comic leads spent most of the film's running time dragging around a corpse. This was almost 50 years before Weekend at Bernie's (1989).
Here are two clips from the film.
An expressive comedian could draw a steady stream of laughs trying on a variety of hats. An example of this comic business could be found in an early Hepworth film. The film's title is, to my knowledge, unknown.
Here we have Norma Nichols, Larry Semon and Frank Alexnder in The Rent Collector (1921).
My favorite oldtime music hall singer is Harry Champion. Champion amassed a large repertoire of songs.
Many of them were, according to Wikipedia, "sung at breakneck speed and often about the joys of food." Champion's food songs included "Boiled Beef and Carrots,""Taters,""A Little Bit Of Cucumber,""Yorkshire Pudden,""Let's Have a Basin of Soup,""Hot Meat Pies, Saveloys and Trotters,""Put a Bit of Treacle on my Puddin', Mary Ann,""Oh! That Gorgonzola Cheese" and the rather blunt "I Want Meat."
But he also had great success with non-food songs, including "I'm Proud Of My Old Bald Head,""It's Cold Without Your Trousers,""My Wife's Sister's Pussy Cat" and "Never Let Your Braces Dangle." I enjoy so many of Champion's songs in this category that I had a hard time selecting a single one to post. I decided in the end to post three additional songs. I hope that you enjoy them, too.
The actor, with his diminutive stature, his rotund figure and his pronounced lisp, made a striking comic character. He further distinguished himself, according to Wikipedia, with his "elastic facial expressions, including his 'pop' eyes."
From 1892 to 1912, Payne was the principal comedian at London's prestigious Gaiety Theatre, which specialized in colorful and lighthearted musical comedies. In many productions, the actor was aided in his comic turns by George Grossmith, who functioned in their act as a classic straight man.
In 1900, a theatre critic with the Pall Mall Gazette described Payne as "inimitably funny" and said that he "danced as he only can dance."
Here is a scene from the television show.
I found it a pleasant surprise to learn that Payne and Grossmith had starred in a film.
More can be found about Payne at http://www.edmundpayne.co.uk/.
Digging deeper into his family history, Malone found a second comic singer, Daniel Lowrey. Lowrey, who was Malone's 4 x great grandfather, went on to become an important impresario in Dublin.
Malone has always recognized an enthusiasm for music and performance in his family. "In my DNA," he said, "there’s a little switch for singing and it’s on."