Sunday, February 28, 2016

The End Of February Is A Comedy Geek Birthday Bonanza



Well, it's time for the weekend blog post and Your Correspondent is looking underneath tables, beds and car seats - and possibly where former NBA player Lamar Odom disappeared to - trying to find where the #*%!&^ that writing mojo went to. That said, today's topic du jour is the fact that a slew of artists, actors, comics and musical comedy performers - every one responsible for TONS of laughs - were born in the last few days of February.



First and foremost, there was Tex Avery, a.k.a. The King Of Cartoons, born February 26, 1908 in Taylor, Texas.



Among other things, Tex Avery was. . .
  • Rescuer of various members of the Warner Bros. cartoon staff during a ski trip mishap
  • Blind in one eye, due to a prank gone terribly wrong at the Walter Lantz studio.
  • A descendant of Judge Roy Bean
  • The guy who brought the animated cartoon business out of post-Production Code of 1934 (and Disney envy) doldrums by joining the Warner Brothers cartoon studio in 1935 and subsequently creating Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.


The "Termite Terrace" boys in the summer of 1935: (from left) Virgil Ross, Sid Sutherland, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Bob Clampett




Tex moved on to the MGM cartoon studio in 1942 and created more indelible characters there: Droopy, The Wolf and Red Hot Riding Hood (as well as the somewhat less indelible but weirdly funny anti-character Screwy Squirrel).





In the field of live-action comedy, only Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Charley Chase, Frank Tashlin and Ernie Kovacs could go toe-to-toe with Tex Avery. His timing, visual gags and concepts are still original and unequalled.







Jim Backus



Celebrated, among other things, as the voice of Mr. Magoo, the irascible old coot created for UPA cartoons (some directed by the inimitable and quite brilliant John Hubley, many directed by ex-WB animator Pete Burness), Jim Backus.



Born on February 25, 1913, Jim Backus was a remarkable character actor who excelled on stage, screen, television, radio and recordings. He could play everything from the mealy-mouthed father of James Dean's character in Rebel Without A Cause to the garrulous Thurston Howell III in Gilligan's Island to Tyler Fitzgerald, a pilot so stone drunk as to make Foster Brooks, Jack Norton, Arthur Housman AND W.C. Fields swear off old-fashioneds FOREVER, in It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.



The early Magoo cartoons in particular are a scream. The premise is not so much that the ever-cranky Quincy Magoo is nearsighted, but that he is so bullheaded that he refuses to see. Funny, that describes just about all of us fallible humans at least some of the time.



Once the Magoo character became less bilious and his rough edges got smoothed over, this cartoon buff did not find him nearly as funny, but the Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol TV special remains an all-time favorite bit of holiday entertainment.



Backus also recorded some very funny novelty records.






Tony Randall



Born on February 26, 1920, Tony Randall could handle everything from dramatic to light comedy roles beautifully. This blogger and many of his contemporaries first saw Tony in George Pal's fantasy classic The 7 Faces Of Dr. Lao, a film in which he excelled in multiple and diverse roles.



Investigating his career reveals that Tony frequently did amazing work in television - one episode of the The Alfred Hitchcock Hour cast him as a suave and charming adman who also happens to be a raging alcoholic on his way to becoming a psychopath - as well as in movies, especially the lead part in Frank Tashlin's satiric masterpiece Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?





As the kinder, gentler version of Felix Unger in TV's version of The Odd Couple, Tony could also be fall-down hilarious. Randall and Klugman repeatedly get big laughs just by the way they speak, move and delineate those characters.




Jackie Gleason



Last Friday was the 100th anniversary of Jackie Gleason's birth. Many of us grew up on Honeymooners reruns and the "from Miami Beach" 1960's Jackie Gleason Show featuring Frank Fontaine and The June Taylor Dancers. Among his signature characters: Ralph Kramden, Fenwick Babbitt, Charlie the Loudmouth, Rum Dum, Joe The Bartender and The Poor Soul, Jackie's homage to two comedy greats from silent movies, Lloyd Hamilton and Harry Langdon.



Have yet to cease marveling and laughing out loud at the comic chemistry between Gleason and Art Carney in The Honeymooners.



My personal favorite character by The Great One, hands down, is bon vivant Reggie Van Gleason III.




Betty Hutton




"A full-fledged actress with every talent the noun implies. She plays in musicals because the public, which can do practically nothing well, is willing to concede its entertainers only one talent." Preston Sturges



Born on February 26, 1921, Betty Hutton was a show-stopping musical performer and among a group of brassy comediennes - Martha Raye, Cass Daley, Mabel Todd, Joan Davis, Judy Canova - who hit showbiz like a tidal wave at the end of the 1930's. Here's Betty, already showing star power as a comic big band singer for the Vincent Lopez Orchestra in this 1939 Vitaphone Melody Master band short.



Betty and the rubber-faced (and rather Jim Carrey-like) Cass Daley both lended their shy, retiring, low-key and demure musical comedy personas to the 1942 film The Fleet's In.



Betty is best known for her successful star turn in the MGM version of Annie Get Your Gun, a vehicle originally slated for Judy Garland, who had to bow out of the project for health reasons. One conjectures Betty could have handled all kinds of character roles and dramatic parts quite well, but having excelled to such a degree in musical comedy, that was where she would be typecast.



In many of her films, Betty Hutton's skills as a physical comedienne combine with a rather remarkable ability to put over enjoyably zany songs that suit her megawatt personality to a T.



When Betty sang with great humor, as she does in this production number from The Perils Of Pauline, and tackled comedy roles with gusto, it's a good bet that Lucille Ball was watching and taking detailed notes!




William Demarest




One of Betty Hutton's key co-stars was the great character actor William Demarest, born on February 27, 1892.



One of the things that makes the Preston Sturges comedy The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek such a great film is what happens when Bill Demarest plays scenes with Betty and the ever-bemused Eddie Bracken.



Demarest's curmudgeonly yet versatile persona would make him an in-demand character actor for decades, well into the television age. Many of us born in the 1950's and early 1960's remember him as the pancake-making "Uncle Charley" in My Three Sons but later discovered his classic movie work (as we would also find Evil Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity and The Apartment).


William Frawley



And speaking of curmudgeons, here's the guy whose claim to fame was playing a fella who would make the early cranky Mr. Magoo look like a sweetheart, the inimitable Fred Mertz from I Love Lucy, William Frawley, born on February 26, 1887.



The veteran character actor who preceded Bill Demarest in My Three Sons after his stint on I Love Lucy, William Frawley had a lengthy and wide-ranging career in show business (he even appeared in some silent movies), very aptly described in the following excellent article by character actor, comedy historian, cartoon voice artist and writer Eddie Deezen.



Last but not least, there's the great Zero Mostel, the gifted, versatile character actor, comedian and star of stage and screen Zero Mostel who was born February 28, 1915.







To all of the above, for the fun, entertainment and joy you created, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog can't thank you enough.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

More Workout Options For Exercise Haters



Still admittedly in the "rather cook than exercise" department, perhaps it is possible to get off the collective duff - and we don't mean Duff Beer - by watching Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton in The Cook, who both cook and dance with exceptional panache.



Another dancin' man: John Candy as Uncle Buck. We'll let that Three Stooges sound effect at 0:48 - rather jarring presented in a non-cartoony setting - slide because Mr. Candy is SO funny and that song, Laugh Laugh by the Beau Brummels is as catchy as it was in 1964.



To bring something remotely resembling enthusiasm to a Let's Dance decree and increase those "steps per day", emulate how gracefully Laurel & Hardy do the soft shoe here.



Better yet, do that Ed Norton and Ralph Kramden mambo from The Honeymooners.



One could get inspired by Zero Mostel, who thrilled audiences coast-to-coast by dancing up a storm starring in Fiddler On The Roof.



Zero was pretty darn wonderful doing a bit of terpsichore with Tommy Tune on The Dean Martin Show.




And then there's running, a very tough sell for anyone to whom sprinters wearing designer activewear bring to mind not good health but the tinhorn dictator authority wielded by overzealous high school gym teachers. At least in this clip from the 1928 Mack Sennett Studio comedy Run, Girl, Run we can enjoy Carole Lombard, who offscreen was a perennial Olympic gold medalist in good-natured bonhomie and the fine arts of friendship, hilariously ribald stories and outrageous one-liners.



Let's go bowling. . .



Then again, scratch that - let's not go bowling. Unlike Fred Flintstone, this blogger lacks classical ballet training.



Now Fred Flintstone was also a heckuva golfer and one today largely does not have to worry about losing a club or a ball inside the stomach of a critter on the endangered species list.



A certain key influence upon Fred Flintstone also gave golf a whirl. . .



Mr. Magoo thought he was the next best thing to Ben Hogan, Arnie Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.



And then there's Ridolini.



Unquestionably, Ridolini demonstrated fervor for the game on and off the links, but the only thing and Tiger Woods had in common was quite another game altogether: compulsive womanizing. There's more on that in the new bio of Ridolini.



In getting that ol' heart rate up, perhaps handball might be a good choice, too. Then again, maybe not.



Here's a panorama of sheer sporting ineptitude that would not make much of an infomercial (in that "do my workout program and you'll lose 26 pounds in 5 minutes" genre). The following compilation comprises some of the best films to ever emerge from the Mouse Factory - all of which we at this blog would love seeing on an official remastered Blu-ray release. Here are seven classic cartoons that demonstrate the comedy mojo of Disney's "Goof Unit", led by director Jack Kinney, in all its glory.



We close this disgustingly healthy post with The Goof's comeback, produced four decades later, Sport Goofy in Soccermania, directed by Darrell Van Citters.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Psychotronic Paul Exercise Video by Paul F. Etcheverry



Unlike his father’s intrepid WW2 generation, this blogger did not fight in The Battle Of The Bulge. Did not even serve tea cakes at the U.S.O.



Then again, EATING tea cakes and losing the admittedly exponentially less titanic struggle against an ever-expanding waistline - kind of like the 1962 New York Mets playing the '62 San Francisco Giants - well, that is quite another matter altogether!



Fitness? Closer to the regimen of Johnny LaRue than exercise guru Jack LaLanne.



The very thought of jumping around in a class recalls The Little Richard Simmons Show, a brutal but funny SNL sketch in which Eddie Murphy sand-blasted exercise programs, TV "sweatin' to the oldies" star Richard Simmons, anyone dealing with weight issues and especially rock n' roller Little Richard.



And there’s also the abject fear of executing John Candy’s maneuver on an exercise bike from Who Is Harry Crumb?



Exploring that subtopic of "if you could be. . . like Little Endorphin Annie", it seems that instructors in exercise videos are too perky and those in the classes invariably way too happy! That said, we get it - if the “Let’s Exercise!” DVD or streaming video is full of miserable bastards, and the class consisted entirely of the dour dwarves who repeat "we're happy to be saaaaaaaaaaad" in Ted Eshbaugh's epic cartoon The Sunshine Makers as a mantra, the result would not be boffo sales.





With the full awareness that Alexander Woolcott, Oscar Levant, Billy DeWolfe or Clifton Webb (in his Laura role as Waldo Lydecker) would not have quite worked as an exercise class leader, unquestionably an ingredient seasoning an exercise video that would be surefire for comedy geeks, 1960's pop music fans and culture vultures in general would be to do exactly what The Monkees - Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith - do at 0:48 of the opening titles of their TV show.



One must resolutely poo-poo the very idea of a spinning class unless it only involves listening to jazz giant Herbie Nichols play The Spinning Song or consists entirely of the following maneuver, seen performed by noted workout junkie Homer Simpson.



The writers of The Simpsons clearly intended Homer's spinning move as a homage to the bit's originator, Jerome "Curly" Howard.



A fast-paced dance class would certainly be a hard sell, but if it was possible to hire this dance instructor. . .



Another strategy that would make yours truly just a tad more copasetic about doing knee lifts and June Taylor Dancers/Rockettes kicks to an exercise video would be to replace any segment in which a perky, smiley AND overly enthusiastic instructor yells WOOOOOOO! with the following routine.



And speaking of bustin' a move, how about hiring whoever taught these two randy sailors the samba!



For the Psychotronic Paul workout video, another surefire exercise routine would be the "choo choo-train" bit - starts at 4:23 - from Tex Avery's Looney Tune cartoon Porky The Wrestler.



Following the "coo-choo-train" bit would be doing a little dance known as "The Freddie", among the signature tunes of early to mid 1960's popsters Freddie And The Dreamers.



Of course, we could just GIVE UP, say "why bother" and watch clips from producer Joe Rock's 1920's slapstick comedy series TON OF FUN instead.



The stars: Frank "Fatty" Alexander, Hilliard "Fat" Carr and Kewpie Ross - three very large and very funny guys.



These are admittedly guilty belly laughs, but laughs, nonetheless.



Yes, count this correspondent squarely - no, make that roundly - among those who number among "The Heavy Parade" and find both moralistic finger-waggers and obnoxious fitness gurus equally cringe-worthy.


Monday, February 08, 2016

Today: Last Day Of 2nd Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon



The 2016 Buster Keaton blogathon, which began on Stupor Bowl Sunday, continues on through today, bringing splendid writing about classic movies as the debates about Broncos vs. Panthers fade into the rear view mirror.



Alas, this blogger could not participate this time around, but a slew of fine writers and historians have contributed top-notch essays for the 2nd Buster Keaton Blogathon.



Here's the lineup:

Big Riot V Squad - Buster Keaton and the Passing Show of 1917

Critica Retro - Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton: when the student surpasses the master

Dinner And A Show (tgreywolfe) - Buster and the Tragic Mask

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. - TV episode - The Awakening

The Lost Laugh - Ghostly Gold & Grand Slams: Buster Keaton At Educational and Keaton & Karl (Buster and Karl Dane)

MIB’s Instant Headache - The Buster Keaton Short Films Collection

MOON IN GEMINI - Seven Chances

MovieFanFare - Three Ages

MovieMovieBlogBlog - Our Hospitality

Nitrate Glow - The Top 10 post-1940s Buster Keaton appearances and a review of Buster Keaton: The Persistence Of Comedy by Imogen Sara Smith.

An Ode to Dust - Doughboys

The Scribe Files - Buster, Italian Style

Second Sight Cinema - Buster Keaton's Most Amazing Stunt

Silent-ology - Thoughts on Le Roi des Champs-Élysées

Silver Screenings - Buster Keaton: Last Action Hero

Special Purpose Movie Blog - Big Joe Roberts: An Appreciation

thefyuzhe - Favorite Buster Keaton poses

Welcome To My Magick Theatre - The Tintype Daredevil: The Cameraman



We extend respectful tips of the Buster Keaton pork pie hat, Roscoe Arbuckle's derby, Charley Chase's straw boater AND the Max Linder top hat to film historian Lea Stans of Silent-ology for hosting the blogathon.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Psychotronic Paul's Pre-Super Bowl Entertainment



This blogger is a sucker for football cartoons and simply MUST watch all of these before the Super Bowl kickoff.













And then there's the Marx Brothers. . .



And then there's that Three Stooges gridiron opus, Three Little Pigskins, that features, in the supporting cast, a very young, platinum blonde Lucille Ball.




And then there's Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. . .



.


For more, read 50 Funny Football Films on the Travalanche website.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Post #900: Yet More Wonders Of 1950's Technology!



About the following. . . well, don't ask - I don't know. Comely greeters welcoming out-of-town attendees at an Oscar Mayer sales meeting?