Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Columbia Comedy Shorts

The Columbia Studios Comedy Dept. will always be remembered for the incredible track record of the Three Stooges. From 1934-58, 190 shorts were produced.

However, many other fine comedians and series were produced at Columbia during those years. We will be singling out some of the standouts in future posts. Some of the talented comics who also had long-running series included Andy Clyde, Harry Langdon, Buster Keaton and Charley Chase. Other comics with series were Hugh Herbert, Vera Vague, Shemp Howard and Schilling and Lane (a very under-rated team).

Like the Stooges all of these series had the luxury of using the great Columbia "stock" players, including Vernon Dent, Bud Jamison, Emil Sitka, Christine McIntyre, Stanley Blystone, Jean Willes, Ted Lorch, Dick Curtis and many other veterans of vaudeville and silent comedy. There were also the great directors--Del Lord, Jules White (who produced all the comedies), Ed Bernds and Charley Chase to name a few. Writers such as Clyde Bruckman, Felix Adler and Ellwood Ullman were also key to the success of these comedies.

Other than Buster Keaton and the Stooges, I can't think of any DVD reissues out there. I was able to get a handful of the shorts on VHS years ago through a private collector. They are well worth seeking out and in future posts we'll cover some of the stand-out entries. I highly recommend "The Columbia Comedy Shorts" by Ted Okuda and Ed Watz (McFarland Press), a wonderful guide to the series with complete bios., filmographies and background on all the shorts.

Till next time--Keep Laughing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Lawrence Welk Show

Yes, I'm a Lawrence Welk fan. But then again, Guy Lombardo was Louis Armstrong's favorite band. Despite the sometimes corny, overly wholesome style of the show, and the maestro's murdering of the English language, a lot of good music and jazz got played.

Lawrence Welk was a great judge of talent. He picked great musicians and fine singers and entertainers, many from the ranks of the band. As a jazz fan, the show was a goldmine of great musicians. One of my favorite trumpet men, Dick Cathcart (of Pete Kelly's fame) was a regular. (He also married Peggy Lennon). The great Pete Fountain attained national recognition from his two year stint on the show. Bob Havens, one of the country's top trombonists, was a regular for almost 25 years.

Many of these great players will be getting a post down the road; but I'd like to mention some of them; George Thow, Rocky Rockwell (a personal friend and great entertainer), Charlie Parlato, Woody Guidry (another pal) and Mickey McMahon, all trumpeters. On reeds Don Bonnee, Mahlon Clark, Russ Klein, Jack Martin, Peanuts Hucko and Henry Cuesta. Barney Liddell, Jimmy Henderson and Kenny Trimbel on trombone. Frank Scott (a great arranger), Big Tiny Little and Larry Hooper, piano.

Lawrence also had a great eye for lovely and talented ladies. From Alice Lon and the Lennon Sisters through JoAnn Castle, Cissy King, Tanya Welk, Gail Farrell and Anacani. The show was always visually as well as musically appealing. We'll be posting some of my favorites over the next months.

Till then, Wunnerful,Wunnerful!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Three Stooges in "The Hot Scots" (1948), Columbia

For our first Shemp short we chose a personal favorite and one of the best "Shemp" Stooge comedies. Shemp Howard had been a member of the Stooges since their Vaudeville and Ted Healy days. Not a fan of the arrogant Healy, Shemp left the act in 1932 to pursue a very successful solo career. (He was replaced by younger brother Curly ).

Shemp worked in a variety of film roles including the Joe Palooka series, his own shorts for Vitaphone and Columbia and numerous supporting roles with the likes of Abbott and Costello, W. C. Fields, Charlie Chan, the Thin Man and the East Side Kids to name but a few.

When Curly took ill in 1946, Shemp was asked to re-join the Stooges. He brought his own comic genius to the trio. Shemp never tried to imitate Curly. He simply went his own way and added his own bits of business to the act (including his trademark "Heep! Heep! Heep!" cry.

The Stooge comedies of 1947-9 with Shemp are some of their funniest outings. "The Hot Scots" has the boys as would-be Scotland Yard men. (Their yard work consists of trimming the hedges). They accidentally wind up on their first "case" protecting the valuables in the Earl of Glenheather's castle. Out to get the goods are crooked servants Angus (Ted Lorch), McPherson (Charles Knight) and secretary Lorna Doone (Christine McIntyre), a beautiful and versatile Stooges regular. (More on her later.)

While the Earl is called away, the boys are put through their paces by the trio of crooks. Here's where we get into the tried and true "scare" gags. Included are the old guy in a cloak and scary mask bit; the parrot that winds up in a skull and flies around and around; the bed that moves from one room panel to another. (This goes back to Keystone days.)

The gags may be old, but the boys keep us in stitches. The addition of Shemp plus the sure direction of Ed Bernds (a Stooge regular from Curly's last days thru Joe DeRita) make this a Top Notch entry. Incidentally, this short was re-made in 1954 as "Scotched in Scotland" with a new opening and some transition scenes filmed. However, most of the film is the original "stock footage." We even have a new actor doubling for Ted Lorch, who had passed on. This Columbia "chicanary" was infamous. We'll cover more of it in a later post. The closing fight with the bad guys has some hilarious trick sound work as the Stooges voices sound like David Seville and the Chipmunks.
In closing we'll echo Shemp's introduction to Lorna, "Hi, Lorna. How ya' do-in?".

Addendum- The Hot Scots is now available on DVD as part of Sony's Three Stooges Collection.(Vol. 5).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Three Stooges:We Want our Mummy (1939)

My first Stooges post is a classic episode from 1939. A personal favorite and very familiar to Baby Boomers into the Stooges. The plot involves the Stooges as detectives hired by a museum to locate a missing professor and find the tomb of King Rootentooten! Along the way the boys run into various crooks trying to scare them off.

This kind of a "scary" situation is always surefire for comics. The Stooges were the best with scared reactions and their patented shrieks of Nnnnaahhh!!! Jazz fans will love the inside joke of an Egyptian radio playing Ali Ben Woodman and his Swinging Bedouins (a Benny Goodman gag).

Of course, we have the "Uncle in Cairo who's a chiropractor" and "Let's go to Tunis for tuna sandwiches" gags. A great topical gag has Curly dressed as a mummy. When one of the crooks finds a newspaper inside of him, the heading is "Yanks Win World Series!"

This episode also features some of the great Columbia supporting players. Bud Jamison and James C. Morton play the museum curators. Dick Curtis (a great blustery villain) and Ted Lorch (a versatile character player) are two of the crooks. Eddie Laughton, who worked as the Stooges' straight man on stage is the cabbie told to head to Egypt in the middle of N.Y.C., complete with double take!

By the way, when the Stooges find Rootentooten, it turns out he was a midget and they accidentally destroyed the mummy of his wife, Queen Hotsytotsy! Great fun and a classic Stooges episode. This should be out soon on DVD.

We want our Mummy is available on Sony's Three Stooges Collection. (Vol. 2).

Till next time-SPREAD OUT!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Louis Armstrong-Black and Blue(3/22/65)with the All-Stars

For my first post on the one and only "Pops," I chose one his most inspired and impassioned performances from the banner year of 1965. Louis had been blowing strong right thru the early 60s, but through 1965 his chops seemed to be in peak form rivaling his great work of the mid and late 50s.

On his tour of the Czech Republic and Germany in March 1965, Louis had a chance to stay in one place for most of his concerts. He was constantly on the go during these tours. Often he hadn't had proper rest to perform at his usual high standard. But on the material recorded for disc and video in March'65, he plays like the Louis of old and then some.

"Black and Blue" by Pop's old pal, Fats Waller, is a tune he introduced in the "Hot Chocolates" show of 1929 and recorded that year. He performed it frequently with his All-Stars from 1947 on. The version on Columbia's "Satch plays Fats"(1955) is a classic in its own right.

The East Berlin version has Pops playing a very strong and sober lead, fully in command. His vocal is very heartfelt and sincere. He throws in some patented scat breaks, but this is a serious Louis giving his all on a tune so dear to him.

After the vocal Louis picks up his horn again for some nice variations on the theme, including a neat "I Cover the Waterfront" quote. His sound is huge and the very heart of jazz phrasing. Pops goes high for the last 8 bars, climbing up the scale to a huge high D, with that gorgeous Louis "shake" on the last note. Perfection and Classic Pops.

Although Louis would be seriously ill from late 1968 to 1969, he still had more surprises in his horn. We'll revisit some of these in the near future. This performance is on several CD issues and on a European video. All-Stars personnel is Tyree Glenn, trombone, Eddie Shu, clarinet, Billy Kyle, piano, Arvell Shaw, bass and Danny Barcelona, drums.

Wail on. Pops!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Louis Armstrong and the Three Stooges

I have to start with my two favorite entertainment icons. They will be the constant stars of this blog. And, yes, they did meet once on the Frank Sinatra Show in 1952; sharing a brief scene together. I'm sure they hung out backstage many times over the years.

LOUIS ARMSTRONG: Where does one start with Louis? He was the man who made jazz and popular music swing, influenced countless musicians and singers and entertained millions who knew nothing of his gifts as a jazz improviser and trumpet/vocal genius. I will revisit various records, films, TV shows and moments in Pop's career.

However, I want to mention the ultimate blog for Louis freaks, my friend Ricky Riccardi's "The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong." Ricky really knows his stuff and I am only here to add to the magic and never-ending fascination with Pops. Next time out, I'll pick a favorite Louis record to get started. "OH YEAH!!!"

THE THREE STOOGES: In my humble opinion, they were the greatest comedy team of all time. Some teams were subtler, some crazier. Some had more pathos or added music to their act; but for pure timeless slapstick and belly laughs, I'll take the Stooges anytime.

I guess most Stooges nuts love the Curly shorts over Shemp. But I think both Howard boys were comic geniuses. Shemp was a talented comic on his own (check out "Mr.Noisy" from Columbia 1946). Some of his best efforts rivaled Curly's.

As for Joe Besser, he was a good comic, but out of his element with the Stooges. Joe DeRita was a good addition but didn't add much to the team chemistry. (He made some funny shorts for Columbia, too.)

The classic trio was Moe, Larry, Curly and/or Shemp. Next time out we'll pick a favorite Stooges short and start the party. "WHY YOU!!!"