Monday, October 03, 2011

The Woman No Man Can Resist

"I won't make more than two pictures a year because I don't want to. I don't read books. I hate exercise. I like to sleep late and I'm not in love with my work." Lyda Roberti (1906-1938)

The scythe of early death is one brutally unkind tool in the writing of film history. Die young and you're forgotten, or remembered if scandal accompanies tragedy. Remarkable stage and screen careers get reduced to a footnote.

Consider the inspired but ill-fated comediennes of the 1930's. The biggest stars were screwball comedy queen Carole Lombard and "blonde bombshell" Jean Harlow, who showed tremendous (but, alas, unfulfilled) promise as a comedienne and character actress in Libeled Lady (1936), only to die a year later. There were also the diminutive, very funny, up-and-coming comedienne, singer and dancer Marjorie White (known today for co-starring in Woman Haters, the first Columbia 2-reeler starring The Three Stooges - yes, the one in which Moe and Larry sing), the ubiquitous Thelma Todd, a stellar comedy performer often under-utilized and relegated to the role of eye candy, and the always outrageous Lilyan Tashman, whose impact and Hollywood legend were primarily offscreen. All met untimely passings. At the beginning of the decade, the great comedienne of silent movies, Mabel Normand, passed away at 37.

Today's posting pays tribute to, IMO, the funniest of all the 1930's comediennes, Lyda Roberti, who had a too-brief but eventful life as star of stage and screen - chronicled in this capsule bio-timeline from the well-researched Glamour Girls Of The Silver Screen website.

Born in Warsaw into a circus family, Lyda had already traveled the world and experienced a lifetime in showbiz before emerging as a star of movies and Broadway (among many shows, in the 1933 production of Roberta, opposite Bob Hope).

She had a certain mixture of the adorable, vulnerable and fall-down funny reminiscent of Gilda Radner 45 years later.

Lyda made the most of her appearances in eleven feature films and a handful of short subjects in 1931-1938 to rank among Hollywood's most wonderful and original comediennes. She had a prime role as "Hatta Mari, The Woman No Man Can Resist", in the hilarious Million Dollar Legs.

Lyda also co-starred with Eddie "Banjo Eyes" Cantor in The Kid From Spain, directed by 1920's and 1930's comedy powerhouse Leo McCarey.

The way Lyda plays off of ever-unsteady Eddie, as both comic and "straight man", is priceless.

She then was among many performers who co-starred in College Rhythm, Paramount's attempt at a musical comedy that would surpass its Big Broadcast vehicles at the box office - and hopefully give those "showgirls, surrealism and Hugh Herbert" Warner Brothers musicals featuring hallucinogenic production numbers by the dangerous Busby Berkeley a run for their money as well.

Among other things, comedian Joe Penner, then the hottest thing on radio with such catchphrases as "you wanna buy a duck?" "you nasty man" and "don't ever dooooooooooooooooo that" sings a love song to a duck in this movie.

In the following Paramount Pictures short subject, studio songwriters Mack Gordon and Harry Revel promote the songs from College Rhythm (and other Paramount features) plays a few bars from Lyda's production number.

And here's the complete "Take A Number From One To Ten" number. Lyda enters with style at 1:47.

In the latter 1930's, Lyda was signed by the Hal Roach Studio, after the tragic death of Thelma Todd and the firing of studio mainstay Charley Chase. She was teamed with brash and brassy comedienne Patsy Kelly for a series of short subjects and features.

Lyda Roberti's sudden passing from a heart condition on March 12, 1938 recalls the health problems that also would very prematurely end the life of singer-actor-comedian Bobby Darin in 1973.

Great stars both - and much missed all of these decades.

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