Reposted: The 22nd Talkartoon: Silly Scandals, My Second Look


I thought, and Wikipedia confirms: this is the first time Betty Boop’s gotten the name “Betty”. She doesn’t have a last name yet. Looking at this cartoon yet another time, I’m struck by how huge the stage is, and how big the putative production is. I suppose it isn’t preposterously out of line for what real productions were like at the time. But it still seems like, wow, that’s a lot of penguin dancers the show has to pay for. No wonder movies creamed this sort of show. Probably I shouldn’t watch this and think about what the weekly payroll would have to be. Well, it’s better you learn that I’m like this sooner or later.


I’ve looked at this Talkartoon before. It was part of my sequence of Betty Boop firsts. This is credited as the first cartoon in which Betty Boop is named, and that’s half right. She’s named Betty, at least, which is a step up from what she’s been before. And it’s animated by Grim Natwick, at least according to Wikipedia; the animator goes unnamed by the actual credits. From the 23rd of May, 1931 — two and a half weeks after Twenty Legs Under The Sea — here’s the next Bimbo cartoon, Silly Scandals.

So in 1930 everyone who was capable of making a sound recorded a version of Walter Donaldson’s You’re Driving Me Crazy. I’m up for that. It’s a solid, catchy song about the sense of obsession with a lost love. And the singer avoids sounding terrible about their obsession. I’m surprised it hasn’t been used more in cartoons. But perhaps its use was limited by how the song doesn’t make sense unless there’s a credible target for this obsession in the cartoon. And once you get past Betty Boop there’s a shortage of female cartoon characters who are, at least in-universe, supposed to be sexy. Desirable, perhaps, but someone who could appear on stage with a racy song and not seem at least a bit ridiculous for doing it? Might have to wait for Jessica Rabbit there.

This is listed as one of the early Betty Boop cartoons. There’s good reason to call this Early Betty: she’s nearly reached the canonical character design. She’s got Mae Questel’s voice. She’s doing Betty Boop things: singing and receiving a male’s gaze. She’s not the lead of the cartoon; rather as in Dizzy Dishes, she’s just something that Bimbo stares at for the middle third of the picture. (Also as with Dizzy Dishes, someone else gets her “Boop-oop-a-doop” line.)

But it’s a Bimbo cartoon. He gets some nice business early on trying to sneak into the vaudeville theater. The best business is also the first bizarre visual gag here, his pulling up his own shadow to disguise himself as an umbrella. I like that sort of endlessly-morphing world joke in cartoons. They were more common in silent cartoons, which also tended to be high-contrast black-and-white stuff. Without having to worry about grey value or, worse, actual colors you could turn one shape into another with a minimum of distractions. After sneaking in there’s Betty’s song, and a bunch of standard someone’s-in-the-way-at-the-theater jokes. They’re done well enough, they’re just ordinary. And yeah, there’s a couple iterations of Betty’s dress falling down and revealing her bra. It’s not a very racy joke, but it is the sort of thing they’d never do after the Motion Picture Production Code got serious in 1934.

Bimbo once more ends up helpless and caught in a bizarre, surreal environment. It’s a good story shape. And it lets the cartoon close with a minute of weird body-morphing gags, hands and feet growing to weird shapes. And then 25 seconds of pure special effects, dancing circles and spirograph shapes and all that. It’s the sort of close that unimaginative people are joking about when they say the animators must have been on drugs back then. But it’s also structurally weird. The story has got the structure of “Bimbo transgresses/is caught/is thrown into a wild, surreal punishment” that he’s been through several times already. But the transgression — sneaking into the theater — isn’t one that the magician could have known about. Unless the transgression is just meant to be laughing at the flower trick not going according to plan. But that’s not a lot of transgression; if the magician can’t take someone giggling when a flower sasses him back, he’s in the wrong line of work.

There’s two blink-and-you-miss-it gags. The first, that I like better, is the curtain lifting to reveal two janitors shooting dice and getting the heck off stage fast. The other is just the curtain lifting again to show the tattered, ugly base. There is a solid bit of body horror, in the magician (meant to be the Faintly Mickey Mouse character this cartoon? He hasn’t got the ears but the snout and nose are evocative) terrifying a dog into becoming two strands of sausage links. Creepy stuff.

60s Popeye: Fleas a Crowd, a cartoon with a chaser


This is an unusual one! Fleas a Crowd is one of ten Popeye shorts produced by Gerald Ray. He produced more of the Beetle Bailey shorts, and far more of King Leonardo cartoons. If I haven’t missed, I’ve only done two other Gerald Ray shorts before, Popeye’s Junior Headache and the fascinating and mysterious Take It Easel. Bob Bemiller is listed as director again. There’s no story credit and the IMDB doesn’t try to guess at one. Here’s the cartoon from 1960, in any case.

This is a weird one. I like it, although I don’t know how much of that liking is that I like any weird cartoon. It’s the rare Popeye cartoon in which Popeye and Olive Oyl, though both present, never directly interact. She just watches him on stage; he never shows awareness she exists. Olive Oyl is on a date with Brutus, and stays on a date with him, too. Brutus and Popeye barely interact either. They aren’t even on screen at the same time until 5:19, and that for a moment. Popeye’s fleas beat up Brutus. There can’t be another cartoon where the main triad all appear but have less to do with each other.

So we have Popeye as ringmaster to a flea circus at the Thimble Theater, a joke admirably not dwelt on. It’s just there for everyone who spotted Ham Gravy hanging around a couple weeks back. Jealous of how Olive Oyl looks at Popeye’s flea mastery, Brutus sets a wind-up dog to steal the fleas. Then it’s mostly a Popeye-in-pursuit cartoon. Like those cartoons where he’s following the Jeep or the sleepwalking Olive Oyl or something.

Popeye sitting up in the dogcatcher's wagon. He's surrounded by loosely drawn dogs, all yellow or brown, and all looking at him. He's speaking and pointing to his head.
“I mean, this is what happens when you work the Gus Sun vaudeville circuit, yaknow?”

The story’s solid if routine. But creative bits keep poking out, regularly enough I stay interested. Popeye’s fleas, for example, are named Damon and Pythias. When Popeye realizes “I’ve been flea-napped”, Olive Oyl passes out, as though in a Victorian melodrama spoof. The fleas leave a “Dear John” letter for Popeye. “We regret to inform you that due to circumstances beyond our control we are forced to continue leading a dog’s life. PS: heeeeeeeeelp.”

All of this could have been done with plainer but still functional dialogue. They chose to be interesting in the small stuff.  For example: the fleas perform the Damon and Pythias Waltz.  There is nothing waltz about the dance, and nothing waltz about the tune (Swanee River).  Another and great example of this is when Popeye lets the dogs out of the dogcatcher’s wagon. Not the elephant jumping out, although that’s a great absurd moment. Notice that the dogs are not all the same model. I don’t think there’s any two that look quite the same. The joke would have been just as good if it were ten duplicates of the same dog and then the elephant. That Gerald Ray’s animators did more than they had gives the cartoon a higher-quality look.

In 1978 Peter Pan Records released a 7-inch disc adapting the story to audio. The adaptation ends up a good bit longer than the original cartoon and I don’t recognize any of the voice actors. Apparently, they were all the same guy, Harry F Welch, who possibly played Popeye in a couple of theatrical cartoons. Nobody’s sure. It has some delightfully clumsy moments of characters saying what they’re seeing. But as an old-time-radio enthusiast, I have to say: not the clumsiest. The comparison also gives some insight into how much value the pictures, even of these cheaply-made cartoons, adds to the story. Also how much the amount of time available for the same beats affects the story.

The 22nd Talkartoon: Silly Scandals, My Second Look


I’ve looked at this Talkartoon before. It was part of my sequence of Betty Boop firsts. This is credited as the first cartoon in which Betty Boop is named, and that’s half right. She’s named Betty, at least, which is a step up from what she’s been before. And it’s animated by Grim Natwick, at least according to Wikipedia; the animator goes unnamed by the actual credits. From the 23rd of May, 1931 — two and a half weeks after Twenty Legs Under The Sea — here’s the next Bimbo cartoon, Silly Scandals.

So in 1930 everyone who was capable of making a sound recorded a version of Walter Donaldson’s You’re Driving Me Crazy. I’m up for that. It’s a solid, catchy song about the sense of obsession with a lost love. And the singer avoids sounding terrible about their obsession. I’m surprised it hasn’t been used more in cartoons. But perhaps its use was limited by how the song doesn’t make sense unless there’s a credible target for this obsession in the cartoon. And once you get past Betty Boop there’s a shortage of female cartoon characters who are, at least in-universe, supposed to be sexy. Desirable, perhaps, but someone who could appear on stage with a racy song and not seem at least a bit ridiculous for doing it? Might have to wait for Jessica Rabbit there.

This is listed as one of the early Betty Boop cartoons. There’s good reason to call this Early Betty: she’s nearly reached the canonical character design. She’s got Mae Questel’s voice. She’s doing Betty Boop things: singing and receiving a male’s gaze. She’s not the lead of the cartoon; rather as in Dizzy Dishes, she’s just something that Bimbo stares at for the middle third of the picture. (Also as with Dizzy Dishes, someone else gets her “Boop-oop-a-doop” line.)

But it’s a Bimbo cartoon. He gets some nice business early on trying to sneak into the vaudeville theater. The best business is also the first bizarre visual gag here, his pulling up his own shadow to disguise himself as an umbrella. I like that sort of endlessly-morphing world joke in cartoons. They were more common in silent cartoons, which also tended to be high-contrast black-and-white stuff. Without having to worry about grey value or, worse, actual colors you could turn one shape into another with a minimum of distractions. After sneaking in there’s Betty’s song, and a bunch of standard someone’s-in-the-way-at-the-theater jokes. They’re done well enough, they’re just ordinary. And yeah, there’s a couple iterations of Betty’s dress falling down and revealing her bra. It’s not a very racy joke, but it is the sort of thing they’d never do after the Motion Picture Production Code got serious in 1934.

Bimbo once more ends up helpless and caught in a bizarre, surreal environment. It’s a good story shape. And it lets the cartoon close with a minute of weird body-morphing gags, hands and feet growing to weird shapes. And then 25 seconds of pure special effects, dancing circles and spirograph shapes and all that. It’s the sort of close that unimaginative people are joking about when they say the animators must have been on drugs back then. But it’s also structurally weird. The story has got the structure of “Bimbo transgresses/is caught/is thrown into a wild, surreal punishment” that he’s been through several times already. But the transgression — sneaking into the theater — isn’t one that the magician could have known about. Unless the transgression is just meant to be laughing at the flower trick not going according to plan. But that’s not a lot of transgression; if the magician can’t take someone giggling when a flower sasses him back, he’s in the wrong line of work.

There’s two blink-and-you-miss-it gags. The first, that I like better, is the curtain lifting to reveal two janitors shooting dice and getting the heck off stage fast. The other is just the curtain lifting again to show the tattered, ugly base. There is a solid bit of body horror, in the magician (meant to be the Faintly Mickey Mouse character this cartoon? He hasn’t got the ears but the snout and nose are evocative) terrifying a dog into becoming two strands of sausage links. Creepy stuff.

Statistics Saturday: Seven ‘Kabibble Kabaret’ Exchanges That Are Not Actually Jokes


I can’t help it. They’re awful and yet compelling for some reason. I’m sorry, so very sorry. Dates are when the vintage Thimble Theatre reprint with the Kabaret exchange appeared on ComicsKingdom.com which you should totally subscribe to if you like comics at all. The vintage strips alone are worth the price.

  1. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Is music the food of lovers? — Z.V.
    I know a lot of couples that are on a more than eighteen day diet. (17 June)


  2. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Do you know what love is? — T.V.
    No — but I was kicked by a mule once! (24 June)


  3. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Does a jilted lover really die of a broken heart? — L.R.
    I do not care to discuss the movies (5 July)


  4. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Shall I propose marriage to a girl I know only for a week? — T.G.
    If she remembers you, I think it O.K. (7 July)


  5. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Do women like men who ignore them? — L.R.
    You can’t ignore that kind, brother. (8 July)


  6. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    What do you think of husbands who go on vacations without their wives?
    Why, then, think of the husbands (16 July)


  7. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Why do lovers always quarrel? — L.R.
    Can you imagine what they could do with a reason? (21 July)


L.R. has a lot of problems.

(You can nearly correctly suppose everything else parsed as a joke, specifically, “wives they so awful amirite fellas”. Honest. If you were trying to do a bit about hacky, misogynistic comedy of 1930 you wouldn’t imagine boldly enough to get at some of that stuff.)

Something For Fans Of Bad Stuff


Comics Kingdom runs a bunch of vintage comic strips. Among them they’ve got the original, 1930-era Thimble Theater. That’s from the time when Elzie Segar introduced Popeye to his comic strip. The current storyline is the one during which Popeye really took over. He’s going up against the Sea Hag, that’s just all about Popeye. None of the former cast is ever going to be the protagonist again.

Thing is, the last couple weeks, they’ve been running something extra. Whatever source Comics Kingdom has for the daily strips has included a weird little extra. It’s billed “Kabibble Kabaret — By Hershfield”. It’s from humorist Harry Hershfield, who created the ancient comic strip Abie the Agent and who apparently ran this in Chicago papers in 1922, and New York City newspapers from 1926 to 1935. And this little panel, a quick little daily joke, is exquisitely bad.

They’re mostly hacky, ancient jokes about what an awful thing marriage is, like:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Do couples profit by their mistakes? – J.J.Z.

No = LAWYERS

Some are almost incomprehensible anymore, like this one originally from the 8th of January, 1930:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Do women like cavemen? – N.Z.

Most men are afraid to prove it

What Hershfield and the totally non-made-up N.Z. are getting at is this old idea of the different types of seductive men. One of the types was the forceful-brute-caveman type. I know this because I like silent movies and there’s a streak of comedies wherein, like, Harold Lloyd has a fantasy of dressing up like Fred Flintstone and dragging off a Jobyna Ralston-class actor. It’s solidly funny because, well, Harold Lloyd could be funny putting on his glasses. Here, well, it’s just weird. Lloyd probably should’ve used it on a Nola Dolberg type instead.

In the main feature, among other stuff, a cop that's lost at sea with Popeye declares, 'Well, blow me down!' And Popeye says, 'Quit stealin' me stuff - ya ain't no sailor.' In the Kabibble Kabaret, 'Dear Mr Kabibble, Shall I leave my husband while he's rich? - K.V.. Answer: That will make him the world's richest man.' Yeah.
Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre and Abe Hershield’s Kabibble Kabaret for the 14th of January, 1930, rerun the 27th of June, 2016. Putting aside everything else, it’s pretty great that Popeye has been in the comic strip not quite a year at this point and in the third panel he has to tell the cop to stop stealing his lines. It’s neat seeing how modern-meta they could be back when you didn’t know how much they did that. (Sad to say the cop seems to be dropped after this story. He’d be the most interesting character in Thimble Theatre if he didn’t have the bad luck to be up against Popeye. You have to feel for him. It’s like being stuck in Wings with Paul McCartney sucking up all the oxygen.)

I have been cutting down on how much stuff I read for its ironic value. Too much snark is a bad thing for the soul. But this — this really hits some magic combination. The jokes are escapees from Fred Allen’s Graveyard of Dead Jokes. The social mores have shifted enough it’s hard to get why many of them are supposed to even parse as jokes. And they’re told so compactly that rather than having telegraphic snap they read almost like gibberish. Take this:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Shall I give my husband a lecture when he comes home late? – T.R.

He probably came from one — they go on for days sometimes

It’s like they’re designing this specifically for me to find it compelling.

And I will admit there’s a couple salvageable jokes there, or ones that I can imagine working with the right delivery. And the occasional one that I think just works as it is, eg:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Is love what it used to be? – N.K.

Why, what was it?

Still, though, overall. Wow.

On Reflection


The guy who sneezed for vaudeville audiences was in at least two of the Gold Diggers Of 193- movies. He was, yes, showing off his talents for the big screen. Maybe he was in all of them. I’m not sure. But I definitely didn’t make that up. I don’t know if there were performing coughers. He was pretty funny as a sneezer, but I don’t know whether he was the top sneeze performer of the day or if he was an adequate performing sneezer who happened to be friends with the producer. Maybe the professional-sneezing community was driven crazy by the movies, thinking, “that post-nasal drip? His only good sneezes he stole from Muriel anyway!” Maybe the world has lost the record of a professional sneezer so good she or he could make you explode with a feeling of entertainment.

The important thing is I’m still deciding whether I’m up to reading up on the history of socks.

And finally, the hipster bar near us where pinball league meets is scheduled next month to have a Tim-Burton-Movie Body-Painting Contest. I do need help having a reaction to this.

I Am Certified As Breathing


I had a little medical test recently. It wasn’t anything big. I don’t have any big medical issues. To date the only medical emergency in my life was when I was a toddler and managed to hoist a spare tire enough that it could roll over and break my pinky toe. That might raise the question of how a toddler could hoist a spare tire, let alone move it enough to hurt anybody.

But parents know that toddlers have supernatural abilities to move things they’re not supposed to. Look away from an eighteen-month-old for ten minutes and there’s a fair chance they’ll have tipped the detached garage over onto their cousin. NASA’s original plans for the Mobile Launcher Platform that rolled Saturn V moon rockets to the launch pad for it to be dragged by a pair of 24-month-olds who’d be told they were “over-tired” but that the rockets had “Halloween inside”. The toddlers were replaced with pairs of 2,750-horsepower diesel engines only when the necessary launch windows implied rolling out to the launchpad in the late morning, when even kids wouldn’t buy the over-tired line. And yet there was still thinking as late as 1968 that they could keep some kids in artificially lit caves so they wouldn’t know they could not be “over-tired” at 10:35 am. Even so one rogue 16-month-old made off with the SA-500F structural facilities test article rocket and it hasn’t been seen to this day.

So past that exceedingly minor emergency room visit I’ve had a boring medical history. That combination stomach flu and back pain a couple months ago was my biggest health news in decades. But I did decide finally to talk with my doctor about an ongoing little issue. I’ve had this nagging cough for a long while. I’ve had it so long I don’t really notice it. But my love did, and pointed out that when I get up I’ll get into these coughing fits that last for up to twelve hours and that get loud enough to rattle fur off our pet rabbit. In my defense, our pet rabbit sheds a lot of fur and I’m not sure we could attribute any particular cloud of fur to any stimulus.

I saw the wisdom in asking about it, though, and the doctor thought it conceivable I might have a mild asthma. It’s also possible I just have too much postnasal drip. Or it might be that I kind of want attention, but without saying things or interacting with people. Coughing a lot is a way to get public acclaim without having to actually feel anything for other people. It’s not so acclaimed as it was in the days of vaudeville, when you could have professional coughers, and I’m not even sure I’m making that up. I know there were sneeze artists on the vaudeville circuit and that totally happened. One was even in one of those Gold Diggers Of Year Here movies. Probably someone held audiences spellbound with their coughing prowess.

Scheduling my appointment got a little weird, since the original appointment last month got cancelled when someone (not me) drove his car repeatedly into the entrance of the medical center. The local news speculated he was angry with the medical center for some reason, and I suspect they’re right. But I admit I haven’t heard his side. He might insist they were the ones running their medical center into his car over and over. I wouldn’t argue, not while his car’s still running. My pinky toe’s still recovering.

The breathing test was done by breathing into this gadget about the size and shape and color of an off-brand Commodore 64 disc drive. They’d hooked up a rubber mouthpiece to it, so I’m sure they didn’t really just recycle my old Excelsior 2000 for this. The guy running the test did ask if I’d ever smoked, which I haven’t, or if I’d been exposed to second-hand smoke, which is a silly question. He could see on my form that I was born in the 70s. Back then you walked through clouds of smoke in every restaurant, office, movie theater, library, microchip-manufacturing clean room, Apollo space capsule, and anywhere within 25 feet of any street or highway. Also we used blocks of lead dissolved in benzene for automobile fuels.

But while the results haven’t been fully analyzed and the doctor hasn’t made his report yet, the first impression was that my breathing looks good. My breathing results were close to expectations. And they were very repeatable except for the time I coughed mid-test. I don’t expect mild asthma to have been the problem. Maybe I am just needy.

Betty Boop: Silly Scandals


Since last week I showcased the first Betty Boop cartoon, I thought to change things up a little bit by this week showing the first Betty Boop cartoon. This reminds us of the need to have a clear conceptual theory of what constitutes a Betty Boop cartoon. The character began as an unnamed dog-human critter, but reappeared in Fleischer Studios Talkartoons, with her design gradually becoming more human, the character gaining some personality. In this cartoon, Silly Scandals, she gains a name — at least, she gets to be called Betty — and she’s almost completely made the transition to extremely slender, wide-headed human. She’s still got dog ears; those wouldn’t last much longer.

Still, she isn’t the star of this cartoon, released the 23rd of May, 1931. Bimbo is. He’s still the vaguely genial presence that every early-30s cartoon had, here, sneaking his way into a vaudeville show. What saves the cartoon from being too generic is that the famed Fleischer Studios strangeness is hard at work here. Any cartoon character — well, any silent cartoon character; the habit strangely faded away once sound came in and grey-washed art came into vogue — might morph into an umbrella to sneak around somewhere; it’s a rarer mind that has the sun hide behind a cloud and pull a drawstring to start the shower. And the final sequence, with a hypnotized Bimbo subject to a string of body-shaping manipulations, finds that boundary between “technically impressive” and “unwitting nightmare fuel” and charges right over like it’s trying to start a war. And then it gets dazzling. It’s an amazing production all around.

Betty Boop: Stopping The Show


Since last Friday I shared the Betty Boop cartoon which inaugurated the Color Classics line of cartoons, I thought, why not this week show the cartoon that inaugurated the Betty Boop line of cartoons? And the answer is that it’s a little tricky to say what exactly started the line of Betty Boop cartoons. Her first appearances were in the Talkartoons line, with the character growing out of an unnamed female character playing against an unnamed male character that would grow into Bimbo and then go away. The Talkartoons are just what the name suggests, full-sound cartoons not tied to the Screen Song follow-the-bouncing-ball format. They began as a string of one-shot cartoons, but discovered Betty Boop and to a lesser extent Bimbo, and within two years were basically a Betty Boop series.

In 1932, the Talkartoon series was ended, and the Betty Boop series, as identified by the proscenium on the title screen, began. This one, Stopping The Show, is the first in that string of cartoons, which ran from 1932 to 1939. Stopping the Show was released the 12th of August, with Betty Boop’s Bizzy Bee released the 19th, and Betty Boop M.D. released the 2nd of September, in case you worried the Fleischers didn’t know what a character they had in her. The pace would eventually slacken to a mere twelve Betty Boop cartoons a year.

This is a basically plotless cartoon, structured around an idea done several times in the 30s: reproducing a mixed vaudeville/movie-theater’s evening program in the space of one reel, producing a fine act of recursive merriment. Betty Boop doesn’t even appear until the short is halfway through, and that to do a couple of impersonations. But you do get a newsreel (remember newsreels? Of course not, because everybody forgot they existed somewhere around 1955, although they staggered on in production until 1967, when they were completely forgotten), a cartoon extremely-short, and then the impersonations.

The first impersonation goes unannounced, which I think is the result of some post-release editing of the cartoon: Betty Boop’s impersonating Helen Kane. This impersonation was cheeky at least: Kane’s “boop-boop-a-doop” in singing “That’s My Weakness Now” was ripped off to give Betty Boop a singing voice (and name). Wikipedia says the Kane impersonation scene was removed after Kane complained; she was suing Paramount (unsuccessfully) for appropriating her singing style at the time. The title card stand, as it is in this print, certainly removes something before naming Fannie [sic] Brice. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had explicitly named Helen Kane.

The Fanny Brice impersonation is of Betty singing a song a song about being an Indian, and, well, as ethnic jokes from 1930s cartoons go it could be worse. I don’t know whether this is a song the actual Fanny Brice was known for at the time.

Statistics Saturday: Subjects I Go To The Library Looking For A Book About Versus Subjects Of Books I Come Out With


Subject I Go In Looking For A Book About Subject Of Book I Come Out With
Amusement Parks Madame Blavatsky
The Taiping Rebellion Muzak’s Contributions to World War II
Niagara Falls Containerized Cargo
The Gemini Program The History of the Accordion
Oxygen Alexander von Humboldt
The Oort Cloud Comic Strips
Science Fiction, Criticism The Cherry Sisters
The Cherry Sisters Lawns
Dictionaries Languages for Extraterrestrial Squirrels
The Great Migration Public Swimming Pools
The Customs Wall of India Wood
Magnetism The Grand Canyon

PS: You would be shocked to know how much of this is not joking.

Harold Lloyd in “Among Those Present”


For today I’d like to point to the 1921 Harold Lloyd comedy Among Those Present. It’s a piece about 35 minutes long and has what I think of as a distinctly 1920s setting: people ill-fit to uppertendom. It’s easy to imagine the Marx Brothers going crashing through things, but Harold Lloyd — who’s introduced here as the bellhop and gets woven into their lives for reasons that make sense within the genre. I doubt I could pass this off as naturalistic, although I like the idea of a world where Lloyd’s bellhop might say (as in one of the title cards) something like “Gee! If I only had the glad rags — I could act like any of those swells” without it being at least a bit of an affectation. Anyway, it’s Harold Lloyd; it’s outstanding comic acting and the occasional brilliant stroke of directing (as note when Lloyd’s character gets his first look at Mildred Davis’s, or the shadow on the stable door as shown about 31 minutes in), a bunch of animal stunts, and some pantslessness.

The title cards are a treat, at least to my tastes. They’re written by H M Walker, who’s got a slightly rococo style that I enjoy. If you aren’t amused a bit by, for example, “Evening — Twelve hours and a thousand yawns before the fox hunt. A wonderful and worthless gathering of 14-carat lounge lizards and re-painted wallflowers”, maybe the occasional illustration (on this card, of lizards) will spruce things up for you. And maybe imagining the text as read by the narrator from Rocky and Bullwinkle will sell you on it.

And I’m using this chance to reblog from the journal of Trav S D, an expert on vaudeville and comedy history. His book No Applause — Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, is outstanding in explaining vaudeville not just as a set of performances but also as an industry, a way of organizing performances which made compelling sense for its era and which doesn’t quite anymore, even if many of the acts would probably stand a good chance of going viral today. It’s very easy in reviews of older performers to focus on the performances; Trav S D’s book made me pay attention to how important the network of theaters and of booking agents and management were to making vaudeville.

The Platonic Stooge


A little while ago the Three Stooges’ short Hello Pop, from 1933, was discovered. It had been lost, thought to be destroyed in a 1967 archive fire, but it turned out it was just hiding out in Australia after running up some debts with a mob of wallaroos. Happens to the best of us. Here’s the thing that captures my imagination: this was the only Three Stooges short thought to be lost. So as far as the human intellect is able to understand, there are no missing or absent works from the whole Three Stooges catalogue of films. The complete record is there.

Now what this makes me think of is the remarkable fact that, again as best we can determine, there aren’t any lost works of Plato. There aren’t any references we can find to a book he’d written that’s now lost, which is staggering considering that your typical ancient Greek writer — your Hipparchos or Aporia or Hypochondria or the like — ran about eighteen lost works to one that anyone ever actually saw. Aristophanes is thought to have pitched two or three plays into the wine-dark sea for every one he had performed just because that was the thing to do in that time. So it’s stunning we have any complete sets of any of the ancients, especially when it’s one of your name-brand greats like Plato.

So of all the things that the Three Stooges and that Plato might have in common, who would have guessed that there were any?

The Big Novelty Act


I ran across this bit in Anthony Slide’s The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville:

Of the genuine freak acts, one of the most revolting, but popular, was Willard, the Man Who Grows, billed as “the star attraction of the Wintergarten, Berlin”. Clarence E Willard was featured in vaudeville during 1913 and 1914, and could add 7 1/2 inches to his height of 5 feet, 9-3/4 inches. He could extend his arms to anywhere from 8 to 15 inches, and could make one leg 4 inches longer than the other. As “Wynn” noted in Variety (October 17, 1914), “Willard is one of that strange species of novelty that one must see to appreciate.”

I really kind of have to agree: I’m not entirely clear how “becoming seven and a half inches taller” could be an act, exactly, yet I’d be interested in seeing it, so apparently that is an act. And that fact means I can’t fairly make a joke about how, like, yeah, in 1913 the only other public entertainment options were watching baseball from before they bothered mowing the lawns inside the ballparks and catching the latest Balkan War. But I also don’t see what extending an arm eight to fifteen inches could do to be revolting. The best I can get is creepily unsettling. Maybe I’m not thinking about it hard enough.

Because I Felt Like Writing A Dopey Gag


“So, I couldn’t help noticing your horse there … ”

“Yeah, he gets a lot of attention.”

“Don’t see many horses that cluck.”

“He’s very sure he’s a chicken.”

“And you’d get him treated but … ”

“Yup. Need the eggs.”

“Figures. Now, me, I’ve got a chicken that thinks he’s a horse.”

“Going to take him to an animal psychiatrist?”

“Never. I like him thinking he’s a horse.”

“You need your chicken to pull stuff?”

“No, I just hate eggs.”

[ Thanks for indulging me. I’ll try to do better in the future. ]

Wheeler and Woolsey: Say It With Flowers


Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey were a vaudeville and early movies comedy team with at least one vocal hook that’s still sort-of remembered-ish, in that if you see a guy wearing big, Harold Lloyd style glasses and going “WhooOOO-oh!” that’s Woolsey getting referenced. Their movies feature a lot of moderately aggressive, Groucho Marx-ish dialogue in which conversation gets reduced to nonsense. They’re not as sentimental as the Marx Brothers(!), which results their rampaging chaos being more surprisingly mean-spirited when it gets taken out on an undeserving victim, so they’re harder to enjoy, but I do.

This is an exchange from 1934’s Kentucky Kernels, with Woolsey courting Margaret Dumont, who’s playing against type as the Margaret Dumont character.


Woolsey: Good morning, Mrs Baxter, you look perfectly charming this morning.

Dumont: Oh, do you really think so?

Woolsey: No, but I had to say something. And I always say it with flowers. [ He takes a rose out of his jacket and gives it to her. ]

Dumont: Only one rose?

Woolsey: Well, you know me; I don’t talk much.

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