I am proud to announce the release of my new book, I Won't Grow Up!: The Comic Man-Child in Film from 1901 to the Present.
The man-child has been an enduring subject of film comedy. He is an archetype as old as filmmaking itself. But he was not born fully formed. It took the social factors of many decades to form the features, conditions and habits of this foolish character as we know him today.
The full-fledged man-child has, in his open and willful defiance of maturity, come under fervent scrutiny in recent years. Prominent film critics, including David Denby and A. O. Scott, have questioned the meaning of the modern comedian behaving in shamelessly childish ways. The book provides a comprehensive examination of film comedy's man-child. It traces the evolution of this immature clown from André Deed, who debuted on screen in 1901, to Seth Rogen.
Classic comedies as diverse as Hail the Conquering Hero and The Apartment have relied on the maturity theme to establish a central character arc and provide lessons on the importance of growing up. The book manages, in its examination of changing cultural attitudes about maturity, to explain what it means to be an adult and what it means to be a child and how those two things are becoming increasingly confused.
Jack Lemmon in The Apartment (1960)
The book begins by examining the work of the iconic film comedians, including Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Jerry Lewis, and Bob Hope. But the book also surveys many comedy films of more recent years.
The book winds through the decades, finding films that define the man-child trend for every era. A wide variety of topics are addressed during the course of the discussion. The childish ways of the rich son has been a prime subject of comedy throughout film history. The book sheds light on this subject by examining The Navigator (1924), A New Leaf (1971), Arthur (1981), Billy Madison (1995), and About a Boy (2002).
Other comedies drew laughs by following the man-child as he left home and stumbled through the wide world. Among the many films in this category are Up in Smoke (1978), The Jerk (1979), Being There (1979) and Elf (2003).
The book provides a comparison of various regression comedies, including Monkey Business (1952), 10 (1979), Hook (1991), Mother (1996), Momma's Man (2008), The Hangover (2009) and Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003).
The same maturity dilemmas that have beleaguered the man-child have affected women in films. Film history has brought forth many examples of the woman-child. Certainly, the first popular woman-child was Mary Pickford.
She was free-spirited and mischievous in her films. Her antics invariably frustrated her caretakers.
The above image is from a 1917 film, The Poor Little Rich Girl. Pickford is still free-spirited and mischievous five years later in Tess of the Storm (1922).
But Pickford played actual little girls. "The Girl with the Golden Curls," as the actress was known, was 25-years-old when she played an 11-year-old girl in The Poor Little Rich Girl.
In the 1920s, Colleen Moore was an actual young woman who had long abandoned her dolls to navigate her way into the grown-up world.
Ginger Rogers assumed Moore's role in the 1940s. Here, Rogers performs one of many girlish roles in Kitty Foyle (1940).
Rogers sorted through girlish fantasies in Lady in the Dark (1944).
Modern filmmakers have delved even further into these types of stories. Muriel's Wedding (1994) depicts a young woman whose fantasies get the better of her. Muriel (Toni Collette), who dreams of an extravagant wedding, cannot see past the frills and flashiness of the ceremony to comprehend the seriousness of marriage.
Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch are nervous and uncertain about what the future holds for them in Ghost World (2001).
A quarterlife crisis is the focus of Laggies (2014). Although she has earned two college degrees, underachiever Megan Burch (Keira Knightley) resigns herself to working as a sign spinner for her dad's accounting firm.
It is a trend that is likely to continue.
Silent comedy films depicted beautifully romantic courtships in which the boy and girl happily ended up together.
Yes, this is Harold Lloyd getting the girl before the final fade out.
But what could we expect to happen after the courtship? Marriage only served to introduce greater challenges. Movie couples have long had to struggle together to assume their adult responsibilities as both husband and wife and father and mother.
A chapter titled "Jack and Jill" explores this topic with a look at Neighbors, Away We Go (2009), This is 40 (2012), Sex Tape (2014) and While We're Young (2015).
Could the comic fool be a responsible and loving parent?
Lloyd would overcome any obstacle on his way to the altar.
But he was easily overwhelmed by in-law relations and child care.
This is especially evident in I Do (1921).
Let's see exactly how his bottle efforts turn out.
Chaplin, however, made a perfectly fine father in The Kid (1921).
Last year, we saw Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as frightened new parents in Neighbors (2014).
This is an entire subgenre of comedy today.
Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up (2007)
John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph in Away We Go (2009)
Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts in While We're Young (2015)
I invite you to read more on this subject by purchasing my book from Amazon.
The man-child playroom has been a fixture in films for decades. When did filmmakers first introduce this merry and cozy little place?
George Cukor’s classic film Holiday (1938) may be a good place to start. Holiday is a film in which the protagonist, Johnny Case (Cary Grant), wants to avoid a man's usual social responsibilities and enjoy his life to the fullest. Johnny develops doubts about his pending marriage after he meets his fiancé's free-spirited sister, Linda Seton (Katharine Hepburn). He is pleased when Linda takes him up to the fourth floor of the Seton family's Park Avenue mansion and reveals to him a playroom hideaway. Ed Howard wrote fondly of this room on his Only Cinema blog:
The film is a tribute to remaining youthful, and there's a childlike spirit to the way Grant and Hepburn play here: riding tricycles, doing somersaults, putting on Punch and Judy shows, not to mention the witty verbal banter and playacting of their conversations. The centerpiece of the film is a New Year's Eve party where Grant and Hepburn retreat to an upstairs room, away from the snooty society crowd, along with Grant's friends (Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon) and Hepburn's drunkard brother (Lew Ayres). This small, intimate party takes place in the only comfortable room in a palatial mansion, the only room with a normal sense of scale. Throughout the film, Cukor isolates Grant in long shots of rooms that seem to have been built for eight-foot tall giants, emphasizing his discomfort with the luxury and opulence that seems to await him if he marries into this family. It's only in the upstairs playroom, with its cozy fireplace and leftover childhood toys, that Grant and Hepburn can relax and be themselves.
When this film was released, Depression-era audiences reacted with scorn at the notion of spoiled rich people who willfully shunned work. However, the film was later rediscovered by a more affluent generation, which better related to the goals and desires of the film’s free-spirited and fun-loving characters.
Still, Holiday’s playroom is more a temporary refuge than a permanent living space. It is a room that Linda long ago outgrew and has now come to again so that she can briefly retreat from the torments and miseries of adult life. The comic man-child could often find relief in a little hideaway. But it is different today.
The modern man-child playroom is more than a brief hiding place. It is a bulwark against adulthood. A man could become lost inside of this place and not be sure if he will ever emerge again. That type of situation is definitely evident in the French comedy Le Jouet (1976). François Perrin (Pierre Richard), a struggling journalist, is coerced by his newspaper tycoon boss (Michel Bouquet) to act as a playmate to the boss' neglected young son, Eric (Fabrice Greco). Richard regresses to a childlike state once he becomes trapped with the boy and various superhero icons in the boy's extravagant playroom. It becomes the central conflict of the story if Perrin will ever escape and return to the adult world.
Without reluctance, Laurel and Hardy drifted into a child’s world when they found themselves having to care for a little girl in Pack Up Your Troubles (1932).
Stripes (1981) provided a less excessive and more believable variation of the man-child's playroom. Bill Murray has equipped his living room with a golf green and a basketball court.
Nearly two decades later, Adam Sandler expanded on Murray’s Stripes abode in Big Daddy (1999).
Just a month after the release of Stripes, another man-child domain was introduced in Arthur (1981).
This trend reached a fine peak with the boldly childish haven of Pee-wee Herman in Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985).
Let us step inside for a closer look. To start, this is Pee-wee’s bedroom.
Then, we get to see his kitchen.
One critic compared Pee-wee's home to the highly stylized home that appeared in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).
It is interesting that this brightly colored comedy could, in any way, be compared to a spooky old black and white film. But there is an underlying creepiness to Pee-wee Herman and his man-child ilk. The true forerunner to Bill Murray's home, Arthur's home and Pee-wee's home was, in fact, Norman Bates' musty living space in Psycho (1960). Let us examine screen captures of Norman Bates' bedroom.
The man-child man-cave was further established in the public consciousness with Big (1988).
It is no longer a novelty today.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
Step Brothers (2008)
I Love You, Man (2009)
In I Love You, Man, the centerpiece of Jason Segel's man-cave is an official "jerk off station."
Last year, a number of filmmakers explored the Bates-like side of the man-child. We saw this in Foxcatcher, Buzzard and The Almost Man. Screen Crush's Nick Schager identified Carell's Foxcatcher role as a "dark flip-side" to the comic actor's trademark man-child character. The childlike man that Carell portrays is based on real-life heir John du Pont. As it turned out, du Pont was led by his social awkwardness and stunted emotional state to commit a brutal, cold-hearted murder.
Oh, Doctor! was a romantic comedy produced by Universal Pictures. It was adapted from a novel by Harry Leon Wilson, an amusing author who also wrote "Merton of the Movies" and "Ruggles of Red Gap." Recruited to draw the film’s romantic sparks were Reginald Denny and Mary Astor.
Reginald Denny in Abysmal Brute (1923)
Universal had been successful casting Denny as the rugged lead in sports dramas. The actor was a boxer in The Leather Pushers (1922) and Abysmal Brute (1923). He was an auto racer in Sporting Youth (1924). But Denny also showed an expertise in handling light comedy roles in two recent films, The Fast Worker (1924) and The Reckless Age (1924).
Denny plays a carefree architect in The Fast Worker. The worst problem that he must endure in the first act is the loss of a collar stud. But complications arise when he agrees to accompany a friend's family to Catalina Island while the friend remains behind to close a business deal. From the start, Denny is frustrated having to discipline his friend’s bratty daughter. But no amount of the child's brattiness can sour his mood because the trip has given him the chance to woo his friend’s lovely sister-in-law, who has come along for the sun and sand. Of course, the smooth and charming architect is a "fast worker" just as the title indicates and the sister falls instantly in love with him. The film’s working title was The Lightning Lover, but the idea of a lover as quick as lightning could be unappealing to a woman. Denny didn’t skip a beat when he got around to wooing a lovely heiress in The Reckless Age. So many women and so little time. The ladies men that Denny plays in these films are fully developed, red-blooded men who display little self-doubt or foolishness.
Oh, Doctor! was different. Denny’s fans now got to see the actor play a character who was very much a fool and had no confidence or wooing skills at all. The character, Rufus Billops, is an overly protected mama's boy who has become debilitated by a severe and persistent case of hypochondria. Under the influence of his condition, he has become delicate, skittish and whiny. His mother’s mollycoddling, though well-meaning, has in the end emasculated him.
It takes falling in love with a pretty young nurse, Dolores (Astor), to arouse a manly vigor in Rufus. He looks at a painting of a satyr frolicking with a woodland nymph and he imagines himself taking the lusty satyr’s place in the scene.
Rufus becomes so ashamed of his timid nature that he sets out with a foolhardy determination to conquer his fears. Rovi critic Janiss Garza wrote, "[H]e stops languishing in bed and starts racing cars and riding motorcycles." Dolores realizes that she cares greatly for Rufus when he gets into an accident while barreling around a racetrack in a speedy new roadster. In the film’s climax, Rufus perches himself atop a flagpole on a lofty office building. The film ends with Rufus, who has been emboldened by his daring feats, finally taking his beloved Dolores in a manly embrace.
The lamb-to-lion story had already brought great success to Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. At the time, critics were quick to point out that Denny's bespectacled Rufus Billops character looked and acted a lot like the characters that Lloyd had played in Grandma's Boy, Safety Last!, Why Worry? and Girl Shy. Lloyd's Why Worry? character was also a wealthy hypochondriac.
Oh, Doctor! was remade twice in the 1930s - first as a musical with Eddie Cantor. . .
. . . and later as a straight comedy with Edward Everett Horton.
It is my objective to spread awareness of the book in an interesting and entertaining way. I hope you check out my blog throughout the week for daily updates.
Marketing is a tricky business. As confident as I am that I Won't Grow Up! will please readers, I know very well that it is not enough to simply write a good book. I must sell the book. A reader must be sufficiently motivated to spend hard-earned cash on the latest tome before an author can marvel the reader with his rigorous research and deep insights. That can be a problem if the author lacks the unique range of skills that define a tip-top salesman. I know that, if I could translate my many regular blog visitors into book buyers, this book would quickly become a big success. But what is the best way to do that? Zig Ziglar, salesman extraordinaire, believed a great deal in positive thinking. He once said, "Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude." It would be wise of me to take Mr. Ziglar’s advice if I want to give this book the marketing push that it deserves. So, it is with a positive attitude that I hereby invite you to purchase my book.
Let me start off today by emphasizing the quality of the book. In assembling the book, I used only the purest and most natural ingredients of film research and film analysis. I have left out unnecessary fillers, binders, toxics, preservatives, and common allergens that drastically affect product quality - and may affect YOU. What I most want you to know is that the book is free of academic jargon. It was always my objective in assembling this study to provide the reader with lucid text. The topics are not buried beneath thick layers of baffling theory and opaque prose. Do not break out your academic glossary. The following words will not appear in the book: presentism, intradiegetic, chrononym, dromomatics, multivalent, valorizing.
Is there anything else that I wanted to tell you? Oh, yes, you should also know that the book was not tested on animals. For decades, mice have been forced to read books so that scientists can test for harmful effects.
The hazel dormouse was found to suffer skin lesions after reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Droopy ears and ocular discharge were side effects that mice suffered from reading Twilight. It is truly a shame.
Okay, maybe it's not a good idea to sell a book like you would sell a brand of shampoo or a new type of tomato sauce. So, tomorrow, we will look more at the content of the book. Still, it wouldn't be a bad idea if you remembered to hug a small furry animal today.
I loved spending time in the summer at my grandparents' home. It was a peaceful place compared to my own home and my grandmother's food was always great.
My grandparents never had junk food in their home. Dessert was an orange rather than a Twinkie. But, once a week, my grandmother did treat herself to a richly creamy and sugary dessert. After church on Sunday, she would go to Astoria Bakery and buy herself a sfogliatelle. I am going to go out today to find myself a sfogliatelle. This means that I am not going to be able to write much now. Instead, I will leave you with film clips to watch. In line with this week's man-child theme, these film clips feature adults acting like children.
Have a nice day.
Roscoe Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett in The Little Teacher (1915)
The Three Fatties in Back Fire (1926)
Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969)
Big Train (1998)
Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan perform the "Triplets" number in The Band Wagon (1953).
Film comedy's first man-child was French comedian André Deed. Here is Deed causing the usual commotion in Foolshead Has Been Presented with a Football (1910).
The first comedian to establish a well-defined childlike image in American cinema was Roscoe Arbuckle.
More childlike comedians appeared in films in the coming decades.
Maturity was an important theme to Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.
Keaton, who has been a disappointment to his rugged father (Ernest Torrence), is desperate to prove his daring and ingenuity by freeing his father from jail in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928).
Laurel and Hardy often looked like small children dwarfed by the world around them.
But Brats (1930) used oversized furniture and props to make the comic duo looked greatly dwarfed within the confines of a children's playroom.
Their childlike qualities were emphasized in A Chump at Oxford (1940).
Of course, other childlike comedy characters turned up during this period. These characters ranged widely from Harpo Marx. . .
. . .Cary Grant.
The comedians of this era displayed a raw and authentic childless.
It is evident in this scene from Three Little Twirps (1943) that the Three Stooges were rough and ready at addressing conflicts and complications, but the trio's poorly developed problem-solving skills had a tendency of making matters worse.
The decade introduced many man-child funnymen.
Bing Crosby and Bob Hope
One of the most important woman-child films was a 1942 Paramount release, The Major and the Minor.
The 1950s Tony Curtis acts boyishly shy and passive to woo skittish lover Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot (1959).
Jerry Lewis promoted the man-child in varied forms during the 1950s and 1960s. One of his earliest and most restrained studies of the man-child can be found in That's My Boy (1951). Junior knows that he can depend on motherly advice whenever he has a problem.
Lewis took his man-child character to an extreme in You're Never Too Young (1955).
Other man-child characters included Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts (1955). . .
Alec Guinness's homicidal heist gang in The Ladykillers (1955). . .
and Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot in Mon Oncle (1958).
Jack Lemmon was a perfect man-child for the 1960s.
Lemmon met his match when he teamed with Walter Matthau in The Odd Couple (1968). The childish squabbles between Lemmon and Matthau made the film one of the great man-child comedies of the decade.
Another great man-child duo of the period was Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in The Producers (1967).
Peter Sellers and Graham Stark review the evidence in a murder case in A Shot in the Dark (1964). Sellers' Inspector Clouseau always tries hard to appear capable, well-organized and self-assured, but he exposes his childish nature at every turn.
In Play It Again, Sam (1972), Woody Allen has no mother to whom he can turn for words of wisdom. He instead seeks guidance from a cool and confident imaginary friend, Hollywood icon Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy).
Peter Sellers finds plants easier to understand than people in Being There (1979).
Perpetually jumpy Alan Arkin is dismayed that Peter Falk has involved him in a dangerous caper in The In-Laws (1979). This is the standard faraway look expressed by the man-child, who is so often plagued by fear and bewilderment.
The man-child became more defiant during this decade. This attitude is well represented by the fraternity in Animal House (1978). . .
Cheech and Chong in Up in Smoke (1978). . .
and Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Jared Rushton and Tom Hanks in Big (1988)
Paul Reubens in Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)
In Stripes (1981), Bill Murray exhausts his girlfriend (Roberta Leighton) with his childish ways. Murray gets on his knees to beg her forgiveness, but this forces his girlfriend to look down on him as if he was truly a little boy.
Adam Sandler in Billy Madison (1995)
Bill Murray remains stuck in time until he is able to develop a rapport with other people in Groundhog Day (1993).
Molly Shannon in Superstar (1999)
Jacques Villeret in The Dinner Game (1998)
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in Dumb & Dumber (1994)
Seth Rogen stands today as the reigning king of the man-child comedy.
Steve Carell ponders his life in this scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005). This, again, is the standard man-child faraway look.
A Freddy Krueger aficionado is a terrifying man-child in Buzzard (2014).
Modern film comedy has become a haven for a wide variety of man-child characters.
Gérard Depardieu in Ruby & Quentin (2003)
Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Step Brothers (2008)
Henrik Rafaelsen in The Almost Man (2014)
Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms, in The Hangover (2009)
Danny McBride in The Foot Fist Way (2006)
Jonah Hill in Cyrus (2010)
Jason Sudeikis and Owen Wilson in Hall Pass (2011)
Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents (2000)
Thomas Haden Church and Paul Giamatti in Sideways (2004)
Joel David Moore, Christine Taylor, Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers (2005)
Steve Carell and Jonah Hill in The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
Children, in their purity, their struggles and their missteps, have been an important inspiration to comedians.
"I love the man-child," said Josh Gad. "I’ve sort of created a monopoly on naiveté and characters that are driven by obliviousness and child-like wonderment."
Ralph Allen, the co-writer of "Sugar Babies," described the burlesque comic as "a child of nature - the slave of stimulus and response." He wrote that this character "represents man stripped of his inhibitions, stripped of restraints of all kinds - free of moral pretense, innocent of education and, above all, selfish and lazy."
Burlesque comedian Harry Conley believed that, by acting like a child and getting an audience to identify with him, he was able to make an audience "become children emotionally and laugh as children."
Amy Schumer has indicated that an audience is most likely to laugh at a person who is not a fully established or fully functional adult. She said, "It makes everyone feel better to acknowledge that no one has it together." She shares Judd Apatow’s belief that people are at their funniest when they mess up. She said, "[T]he stuff you're copping to and the saddest, worst moments of your life - that's the stuff people connect to and appreciate."
Perhaps, though, children are more functional than Schumer and others believe. Red Skelton might painfully catch his hand in a mailbox while mailing a letter, but a child can handle this task in a perfectly efficient manner.
A child who trusts their parents and follows their parents' careful instructions is not a out-of-control mess. With proper guidance, a child is not selfish or lazy. It can be argued that coarse and rude behavior is not necessarily a product of childishness.
But comedians remain determined to make a connection to children.
If children play with dolls, comedians will play with dolls, too.
I hope that everyone enjoyed their time off for Christmas. Christmas is the one time of year when every man and woman can, without a twinge of shame, behave like a child.
If you have been following my blog lately, you know a few ways to identify the comic man-child. The man-child is fond of dogs.
Buster Keaton in Our Hospitality (1923).
W. C. Fields in Poppy (1936)
Vera-Ellen, Red Skelton and Fred Astaire in Three Little Words (1950)
The Three Stooges in Calling All Curs (1939)
Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in Living It Up (1954)
Christina Applegate and Will Ferrell in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004).
Jonah Hill, Seth Rogan, Jason Segel and Paul Rudd
Paul Rudd in Our Idiot Brother (2011)
The man-child enjoys taking a warm bath.
Buster Keaton and Sybil Seely in One Week (1920)
In Blazing Saddles (1974), Slim Pickens helps Harvey Korman to find his favorite bath toy, Froggy.
The man-child likes to ride a bicycle.
Al St. John
The Three Stooges
Dean Martin, Janet Leigh and Jerry Lewis during the filming of Living It Up, 1954.
So, then, you may now think that you could easily recognize the man-child. Be aware, though, that other key man-child traits are still to be discussed in upcoming posts. The traits are sometimes obvious. A man adding earmuffs to a gentleman in a portrait qualifies as clear and irrefutable evidence of a childish nature.
Uninhibited leaping is a sign of a childish nature, too. In My Girl (1991), Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky demonstrate the carefree way that children leap about in their playful escapades.
We see that leaping, too, with the comic man-child.
Bing Crosby and Bob Hope
Martin and Lewis
Martin and Lewis, again
Martin and Lewis, again
Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell, David Koechner and Steve Carell in Anchorman The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Of course, reading my book will undoubtedly turn you into a bona fide scholar on the subject.
E. H. Calvert and Groucho Marx in Horse Feathers (1932)
I have to briefly postpone the "Get to Know Your Man-child" series as my son is coming to spend a few days with me. For now, you can enjoy a couple of clips from the Colgate Comedy Hour, which often treated viewers to the childish antics of Martin and Lewis.
I always like to clean up my office and clear out my files at the end of the year.
Wow, my typewriter has a lot of dust on it!
Let us now see what I have lingering in my files.
I can never get enough of Max Linder. This is a portrait of Max that was distributed to press outlets to promote Max in a Taxi (1917).
An old comic vaudeville gag got a monstrous twist in a recent episode of Face Off.
Something more monstrous is this photo from Star Spangled Rhythm (1942), which features Arthur Treacher, Walter Catlett and Sterling Holloway performing the musical drag number "Sweater, Sarong & Peekaboo Bang."
I recently wrote an article about the Fox comedy extravaganza Skirts. A hand-colored still from the film just happened to turn up on Facebook.
Buster Keaton performed an early version of the head-caught-in-a-banister routine in The Haunted House (1921).
I always love a good animated gif.
The mirror has always been a rich source of amusement.
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis
Mary Pickford in The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)
Laurel and Hardy never turned down an opportunity to perform the hat mix-up gag. This is a threeway hat mix-up, which is a difficult trick and should not be attempted by amateurs.
Here's a hat roll trick from Charlie Chaplin.
Eddie Cantor performs an interesting variation on an old Max Linder routine in Kid Boots (1926).
One cannot discuss comedians acting like children without acknowledging Fanny Brice's popular portrayal of Baby Snooks. Brice played the impish little girl for nearly 30 years, gathering an increasing number of fans as she showcased the character in vaudeville, Broadway revues, radio, films, and a single memorable television appearance.
Snooks is best known for her featured role in a long-running radio sitcom. John Dunning, the author of On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, called Snooks "the most notorious brat of the air." Snooks had a knack for flustering her father, played to comic perfection by Hanley Stafford. Dunning wrote, "Stafford rivaled Gale Gordon and Hans Conreid among the best stackblowers in radio, erupting at least once per show as he became the focus of all Snooks' mischief."
Brice said, "Snooks is just the kid I used to be. She’s my kind of youngster, the type I like. She has imagination. She’s eager. She’s alive. With all her deviltry, she still is a good kid, never vicious or mean . . . I love Snooks, and when I play her I do it as seriously as if she were real. I am Snooks. For twenty minutes or so, Fanny Brice ceases to exist."
Jeff Kallman, who regularly writes about radio history on his "Kallman's Alley" blog, was impressed by Baby Snooks' skill at "making Red Skelton’s mean widdle kid Junior seem like a Boy Scout." Kallman noted, "You might wonder and fear at times what would happen if Snooks and Junior had ever hooked up."
No comic man-child was more attached to his teddy bear than M*A*S*H's Radar O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff). The bear was featured in nineteen episodes of M*A*S*H between 1971 and 1981.
Larry Gelbart, the creator and producer of the series, came to regret the introduction of the bear. He said, "I think we went too far with it and it got awfully coy." In 2014, Burghoff sold the bear in an online auction for $14,307.50.
Another well-known teddy bear is Mr. Bean's Teddy. Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) treats Teddy as his best friend. He even makes sure to have a gift for the bear on Christmas morning.
Mr. Bean's affection for Teddy can never be doubted.
On Gilligan's Island, Mr. Howell (Jim Backus) also had a beloved teddy bear named Teddy. Teddy made frequent appearances on the series.
"Home Sweet Hut" (Season 1, Episode 2)
"Will the Real Mr. Howell Please Stand Up" (Season 2, Episode 26)
"Allergy Time" (Season 2, Episode 28)
"Mr. and Mrs. ???" (Season 2, Episode 31)
"Up at Bat" (Season 3, Episode 1)
"Where There's a Will" (Season 3, Episode 6)
"And Then There Were None" (Season 3, Episode 13)
"Splashdown" (Season 3, Episode 22)
"Slave Girl" (Season 3, Episode 26)
In Citizen Kane (1941), a child's sled represented a capitalist's lost innocence. Perhaps, a child's teddy bear has a similar meaning to Mr. Howell, who has amassed a great fortune as the owner of several large corporations. In The Simpsons' episode "Rosebud" (1993), it is made clear that a teddy bear has a "lost innocence" meaning to the series' villainous billionaire Mr. Burns.
A childlike young woman's emotional attachment to her teddy bear is movingly expressed by Kelli Garner in a scene from Lars and the Real Girl (2007).
A teddy bear is close at hand as Miles Teller makes love to Mackenzie Davis in the man-child comedy That Awkward Moment (2014).
A stuffed bear was prominently featured in promotional photos and ads for the film.
Before I conclude this article, let me give you one last look at funny men being comforted by their teddy bears.
Hugh Laurie in the "General Hospital" episode of Blackadder Goes Forth (1989)