Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dixieland A la PeeWee Hunt

Trombonist/Vocalist Walter "PeeWee" Hunt is known primarily for his long association with the Casa Loma Orchestra and his cornball version of 12th St. Rag , however his Capitol lps contain much good jazz and dance music-the subject of this post.

PeeWee was born in 1907 in Mt. Healthy,Ohio. He started as a banjoist, adding trombone when he attended Ohio State University as an Electrical Engineering major. He studied music at the Cincinnatti Conservatory and started working with local bands in the mid 20s. In 1928 he joined the popular Jean Goldkette Orch. and eventually became part of a Goldkette unit, the Orange Blossoms who morphed into the Casa Orch. PeeWee was a key member of Casa Loma from 1929-43, his capable jazz trombone work and affable vocalizing were featured heavily into the swing era when Glen Gray fronted the band. PeeWee even duetted with Louis Armstrong on the band's 1939 Decca recording of Rockin' Chair and Lazy Bones.After a wartime stint as a disc jockey, followed by service in the Merchant Marine, leading a big band , a V Disc survives of the group and it's a fine swing band.PeeWee formed his own small combo working out of the Hollywood area. His sides of the late 40s were made for small labels such as Savoy and Regent, but when he switched to Capitol in 1948 he achieved his biggest success. PeeWee also recorded some excellent transcriptions with this band including Riverboat Shuffle, Weary Blues, Corrine Corrina, Dixie Downbeat, Who's Sorry Now, Dixie One Step and Wolverine Blues.

The 1946 sides give a good indication of things to come at Capitol. The sides feature crisp dixieland ensembles, a few arranged passages, good solos and PeeWee's solid trombone and affable vocals. Standards such as Muskrat Ramble, Royal Garden Blues and After You've Gone are given lively tratments. The boys recall Louis' Hot 5 outchorus on MuskratSunnySide , Basin St.and The Preacher and the Bear(a Phil Harris favorite) are nice vocal features for PeeWee. Although a midwesterner, he had a nice drawl to his singing a la Teagarden.This session featured Frank Bruno on trumpet, formerly with Muggsy Spanier's big band and a tasty player along the lines of Charlie Teagarden. Also aboard is Matty Matlock,clarinet-Carl Fisher,piano(soon to be Frankie Laine's music director- Harvey Chernap,bass and Glenn Walker on drums complete the group. This may have been a working group, I'm sure Matty was sitting in. PeeWee really hit it big with his Capitol sides starting in 1948. A 1950 photo of the band shows Bruno and Walker along with Red Dorris,clarinet and PeeWee's old Casa Loma buddy Joe Hall on piano.

PeeWee's biggest hit came about by accident. At the end of a 1948 Capitol session the boys were fooloing around with 12th St. Rag playing it very cornball. The tune was released and became a surprise hit complete with Doo-Wacka-Doo horn passage , tack piano and Rosy MacHargue's Ted Lewis-ish clarinet solo which became a part of the tune. PeeWee had to do similar corny followups but still played a high quotient of listenable, daneable jazz. His other hit was Oh! (1953) a mellow dance tune with tightly voiced horns, unison piano and a tasty cup mute solo by PeeWee. This is a format PeeWee used on many of his dance sides. Most of the early Capitol sides were issued first on 78, then 10" lp and eventually transferred to 12" lp.

The flip side of 12th St. is an old Bert Williams favorite, Somebody Else-Not Me with a fun vocal by PeeWee.

Capitol rarely listed personnel for the Hunt albums, but two standout players are Andy Bartha on cornet and clarinetist Lee Cummins. They are heard on most of the sides from the early 50s on. Bartha had a edgy Wild Bill Davison-like sound and played a nice lead, Cummins was a fluent soloist with a nice round tone. The lp Dixieland Classics collected many of the 78s and 10" sides. Favorites such as Jazz Band Ball, Royal Garden Blues, That's a Plenty, So. Rampart St., Fidgety Feet and Dixieland One-Step are all given the Hunt treatment.

Swingin' Around is a mixture of dance tunes and dixieland favorites including Mama's Gone,Goodbye, Spain, Ida, Somebody Stole my Gal, Please don't Talk about Me and Peg O' My Heart. Most of the tunes are done in the polite dance style of Oh!

Another standout lp of early sides is Dixieland Detour featuring such trad classics as Stomp Off, Let's Go, Copenhagen, Panama, Boneyard Shuffle and old favorites like Red Hot Mama and Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea with a nice PeeWee vocal. PeeWee didn't really look the part of his nickname. He was of medium height and stocky build with a professorial look of glasses and pencil mustache. He had a genial sense of humor that came out on his album covers.

Another fine lp was Blues A La Dixie (the start of that title series)-a mixture of traditional blues tunes and standards with "blue" in the title. The album dates from the late 50s.

The personnel is actually listed here- Hunt, Andy Bartha,cornet- Lee Cummins,clarinet- Jack Condon,piano- Gene Dragoo,bass (he later worked in Bartha's own band) and Cody Sandifer,drums(a veteran of Glenn Miller and Bob Crosby). Bucky Pizzarelli was added to the session on guitar. Most of these players were on subsequent lps.Sid Feller (former trumpeter and arranger for Jack Teagarden's big band)is listed as arranger, most of the Hunt lps had some aranged passages but many were just free blowing.

Highlights include a nice take on Basie's Swingin' the Blues, Limehouse Blues, Wang Wang Blues, Wabash Blues (with some of the trademark "corn")and St. Louis Blues. There are also nice danceable versions of Good bye Blues and I get the Blues when it Rains .

In 1956, Capitol teamed PeeWee's band up with popular honky tonk pianist Joe "Fingers" Carr for the lp, PeeWee and Fingers. Carr was actually studio pianist Lou Busch who found a hit format in the style of Big Tiny Little and Johnny Maddox. This album was originally issued as Class of '25 and contained favorites such as Minnie the Mermaid,Five Foot Two, The Sheik Hula Lou and The One I Love. Dixieland Classics and Strictly from Dixie use mostly earlier Capitol 78s and 10" album material-Both fine albums.

Dixieland Kickoff is an album of college fight songs-a populat theme for dixieland lps, Bob Scobey and The Dukes of Dixieland made similar albums. Bill Stegmeyer,an exellent reedman and arranger (also formerly with Miller and Crosby) handles the charts on this lp, he may have done other Hunt albums.

This was an early purchase for yours truly and as a grade school trumpeter I was knocked out by this dixieland"take"on college tunes. Years later, it's still pleasant but more predictable. However PeeWee's rousing takes on Our Director, The Victors and Notre Dame still sound good ,many years later.

One of the best PeeWee Capitols is PeeWee Hunt's Dance Party (1960?). This album is a mixture of old favorites and danceable pops. Most dixieland and big band albums of this period were made for dancing and this lp is perfect for the feet or ears. On Love is Just around the Corner and Sweet Georgia Brown , PeeWee and the boys stretch out with an extra "ride" chorus giving us a good idea of how they sounded in person. Bartha and Cumins get in some nice solo spots along with the leader. PeeWee gives us some of his engaging vocal work on Alexander's Ragtime Band(one of PeeWee's early Casa Loma records), Way Down yonder in New Orleans and Carolina in the Morning. On the mellow side we have OH!, Swingin' down the Lane, It had to be You and a lovely Sentimental Journey with nice guitar obliggatos (Bucky?). This is the Hunt band at it's best. PeeWee also recorded 3 tunes for the Dance to the Music Man lp(Sadder but Wiser Girl, 76 Trombones and Sincere)-the other selections are by Guy Lombardo, Glen Gray and Freddie Martin.

The " A la" series continued with Classics a la Dixie, Rodgers and Hammerstein a la Dixie(not available for listening) and Cole Porter a la Dixie.

The Classics album is a cute idea, familiar classical themes in Dixie style with gag titles. However the format gets pretty routine after a few tunes. Cole Porter is a nice album, his tunes work well in Dixie format (who could forget Wilbur deParis' classic album?) . Porter favorites such as Begin the Beguine, Anything Goes and What is this thing called Love? get the swinging Hunt treatment. Capitol also issued a Best of PeeWee Hunt lp featuring tunes from various albums and singles. Singles by PeeWee include 12th St. Twist (a clever update), CUBA and Blue (with Strings added) Swedish Rhapsody and Lonely Man(his last Capitol side).

The last two Hunt Capitol lps were A Hunting We Will Go and Saturday Night Dancing Party from about 1961 or 2. Dick Baars had taken over on trumpet, he was a young Midwestern musician who had worked with Gene Mayl and The Stanley Steamers. He has a cleaner,tastier style than Bartha and worked the plunger well(sort of a clean Mugsy Spanier), he also drove the ensembles well with a little more modern approach. Other players who worked with PeeWee include cornetist Tom Saunders, clarinetist Jim Wyse and pianist Chuck Robinette(probably on the later lps).

A Hunting is full of old favorites and warhorses as Muskrat Ramble, Royal Garden Blues and Indiana. PeeWee sings on Put on your Old Grey Bonnet (another Casa Loma item), Mack the Knife, Ain't Misbehavin',Am I Blue? and Doodle Doo Doo. The One I Love is done in a nice dance tempo a la Dance Party A fine album.

Saturday Night Dance Party is sort of a follow up to Dance Party except the theme of songs with girls' names is used (a common concept album for pop and jazz albums).

The band swings out on jazz standards Blue Lou, Honeysuckle Rose and I Found a New Baby.

PeeWee gives us 6 vocals (always welcome) including 2 oldies, Bessie Couldn't Help It(an early Capitol side) and How Could Red Riding Hood along with favorites Dinah, Margie, Coquette and Mary Lou. Linda is done up in the Oh! dance style and Marie gets a nice Dorsey tribute by PeeWee on open and muted solos. Baars and Cummins contribute stellar solos thruout.


PeeWee kept performing into the '70s, I recall a picture of him in a Getzen instruments newsletter looking hale and healthy with his trombone. He eventually retired to Plymouth, Mass.

where old boss Glen Gray was living. PeeWee died in 1979.

Although PeeWee made many "cornball" tunes after his 12th St. Rag success, the bulk of his Capitol work features fine, swinging dixie and tasteful dance tunes expertly played.

Sad to say there isn't a PeeWee Hunt CD available as of this writing. There are plenty of Hunt lps on Ebay and many of his selections on Youtube.

Happy Hunting!

Special Thanks to Finn from Denmark for his help on personell and providing missing Hunt recordings for listening.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Sterling Trumpet of Mr. Bose

In the history of jazz trumpet there are many unsung and underated players who left a great legacy of work but are mostly known to musicians and aficiandos.
One such player is Sterling "Bozo" Bose (1906-58). Like many great jazzmen, Sterling's career was ruined and cut short by his addiction to alcohol.
Sterling Belmont Bose was born in Florence, Alabama on Feb. 23, 1906. He spent part of his youth in New Orleans where he absorbed the city's jazz sounds and played with hometown bands such as trombonist Tom Brown.

In 1923 Sterling was in St. Louis where he worked with the Crescent City Jazzers and the Arcadian Serenaders at St. Louis' Arcadia Ballroom. He made his first recordings with the Serenaders in late 1924. The group has a similar sound to early jazz bands such as the Wolverines and New Orleans Rhythm Kings. Sterlings' style is influenced by Bix Beiderbecke but also has a bit of the "sock" style of early trumpeters Paul Mares and Phil Napolean, a driving rhythmic type of playing. His work on the old favorite Angry is especially good.

After his St. Louis stint Sterling worked his way to Detroit where he joined the Jean Goldkette Orchestra in late 1927. This was a new edition of the band after Paul Whiteman stole many of Goldkette's stars such as Bix, Frank Trumbauer, Steve Brown and Bill Challis.
His recordings with the band still show the Bix influence along with more of the "booting" rhythmic horn that would be his trademark.

On the side My Blackbirds are Bluebirds Now, Bozo's horn is a standout. He also gets a nice solo on Just a Little Kiss and swaps fours with another Bix influenced player Andy Secrest on Here Comes the Showboat. (see our earlier Secrest post).This Goldkette band enjoyed a long stay at Kansas City's Pla-Mor Ballroom.
After Goldkette, Bose who was a good reader spent a few years with the house band of Chicago's WGN. In Novemberof 1930 he joined the great band of Ben Pollack.

Besides his regular Pollack recordings, Sterling appeared on numerous sessions with Pollack musicians appearing under a pseudenem. He also became fast friends with bandmate Jack Teagarden. They teamed up on many delightful recordings during the early 30s.
Hello Beautiful is the Pollack band released under Gil Rodin's name. Bose swaps lively fours with Teagarden and adds a pretty coda, his work here is very Bix-like.
I Just Couldn't Take it Baby is a Teagarden studio session featuring Jack's vocals. Bose has two nice, relaxed choruses with a bit of the Bix flavor. He also contributed fine solos to Jack's recordings of You, Rascal You, Loveless Love and Ol' Pappy.
A Teagarden studio band of 1931 featured Fats Waller, Matty Matlock and Adrian Rollini. An unissued version of China Boy has Bose with two strutting, melodic spots.
One of his best solos with Pollack is on Two Tickets to Georgia (1933). He still had some of Bix's touches but had developed his own personal style. This punchy, rhythmic approach became his trademark. It's a great jazz sound and Sterling exelled on small group lead and hot solos.

Sterling was quite a character. He and Teagarden enjoyed many crazy adventures together. They both shared a love for liquid refreshment and used this to enhance such pursuits as midnight fishing trips and flying lessons! Bose was a fine reader and soloist but his penchant for barleycorn caused him to pass out on the bandstand on numerous occasions!

Bose remained with Pollack until May of 1933. He worked off and on with Eddie Sheasby in Chicago and did studio work for Victor Young and others. In the spring of 1934 he joined the great band of Joe Haymes. Haymes was a pianist and arranger who had done great charts for Ted Weems and led several exellent units of his own thruout the 30s. Like Bose, his downfall was the booze. During this time, Sterling did a lot of freelance recording including Chick Bullock and the Mound City Blue Blowers. Two 1935 sessions stand out.

A May '35 date with drummer Vic Berton for Brunswick produced some fine sides. Featured in the band were Matty Matlock, trombonist Art Foster and bass saxophonist Spencer Clark. Sterling's prominent lead and punchy solo is a highlight of the pop tune A Smile will Go a Long,Long Way. His lead work is a standout on Ja Da and the tricky chart of Dardanella.
Another intersting date was the Little Ramblers session of Nov. 1935. Most of the players were former Haymes men and now with Tommy Dorsey. The band has a sound quite like Dorsey's Clambake 7. These sides were offshoots of the California Ramblers and produced by Ramblers' manager Ed Kirkeby, who makes the mistake of singing 3 tunes! Along with Bose, we get nice work from Sid Stoneburn,clarinet and Adrian Rollini sitting in on bass sax.
Cliff Weston sings on A Little bit Independent which has some great driving Bose including some Louis-ish touches. Bose's lead work shines on You Hit the Spot and Life Begins at Sweet 16. On the forgetable pop, I'm the Fellow Who Loves You, our boy gets two tasty solo spots. A nice session for Bose-afiles.

The Haymes band made an exellent session for Bluebird in Feb. 1935. Two of the beat sides are The Lady in Red and Honeysuckle Rose. The Lady features Weston's vocal, Stoneburn's hot clarinet, the Bud Freeman-like tenor of John VanEps and a short,spirited Bose spot.
Honeysuckle is an exellent Haymes chart. Sid and Van Eps are joined by Bose on two stellar spots. He gets in a Bix like rip along with his driving jazz musings. The horn sections play several patented riffs some by Fletcher Henderson and some by Haymes. One can see why Tommy Dorsey decided to take over the band in the fall of 1935, following his split with brother Jimmy.

When Tommy Dorsey assumed leadership of the Haymes band in Sept. of 1935, Sterling was an important part as trumpet soloist. He has several standout solos on Tommy's full band and Clambake 7 recordings of the time. On the band's first session of Sept. 1935 he has high flying solos on Weary Blues and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Old Haymes buddies Stoneburn and VanEps are also featured. Sterling really shines on the Clambake 7 sides, Tommy's dixieland band-within-a band. Two Dec. 1935 sessions stand out. Bose's leadwork and solos on The Music goes 'Round and 'Round are a highlight, he also gets in some fun dialog with his charming southern accent prevalent. Bose,like Muggsy Spanier had a natural drive using an economy of notes that really swung a group. His work on the pop tunes, The Day I Let you Get Away and Rhythm in my Nursery Rhymes are perfect examples.
Sterling stayed with Dorsey until early 1936. The story goes that on a band busride he got in his cups and began putting down Dorsey, who threw him off the bus in the middle of nowhere! At any rate Sterling just moved over to the top band of Ray Noble.

The Noble band was a star-studded group put together by Glenn Miller who played trombone and arranged for the band. The only holdovers from Noble's British band were his drummer Bill Harty and the popular vocalist Al Bowly. Sterling joined such stars as PeeWee Erwin, Johnny Mince, Bud Freeman, Will Bradley,George VanEps and Claude Thornhill.
The band played at New York's swanky Rainbow Room and on several occaisions Sterling collapsed from drink before making the bandstand! However his booting horn shines on sides such as Big Chief DeSota, Slumming on Park Avenue and One,Two Buckle Your Shoe. On Big Chief, we get one of Sterling's engaging vocals with that Southern accent.
PeeWee Erwin enjoyed working with Bose and in his story This Horn For Hire as told to Warren Vache Sr., he remarked of Sterling's great jazz playing despite his occasional alcholic lapses. We don't know a lot about Bose's personal life but in PeeWee's book there is a photo of Sterling and his attractive wife of the time.

After leaving Noble in the summer of 1936, Bose briefly played with Benny Goodman's band in August and September,leaving due to ill health.
He left a great solo on Benny's version of St. Louis Blues(a wonderful Fletcher Henderson chart).
Bose gets two strutting blues choruses-quite unusual foe a Goodman record-most trumpet soloists with Benny were lucky to get a single chorus. Bozo makes the most of his extended spot.

After some free lancing, Sterling joined Glenn Miller's new band in early 1937. This was Miller's first attempt at leading a band of his own. This band was known as "The Band that Failed". Although a fine musical unit, Glenn was still a few years away from coming up with the formula that would make him America's most popular swing band. Sterling was with Miller thru most of '37 (save for a few dry-outs). The Decca session of March 1937 gives us an idea of where Miller was going at this early juncture

Glenn used PeeWee Erwin and Mannie Klein to bolster the brass and future Miller stars Hal McIntyre and Chummy MacGregor were aboard. Glenn's friend, Metronome writer George Simon sat in on drums. Moonlight Bay is a catchy Miller chart with a band vocal and one of Glenn's repeated riffs and rideouts-a favorite devise, Bose has an exellent, tangy jazz spot. On Anytime, Anyday Anywhere we get one of Bozo's fun vocals backed by the Tune Twisters trio (including future Miller guitarist Jack Lathrop) and a nice trumpet spot. The trumpet solo on Sitting on Top of the World (a tasty McIntyre chart) is probably by Klein or Erwin. This first band eventually disbanded, the 1938 edition would be more succesful and lead to Glenn's breakthru in 1939.

Sterling freelanced some more then joined the great Bob Crosby band in August 1938. Yank Lawson and Charlie Spivak had been lured over to Tommy Dorsey so Billy Butterfield was now playing a lot of lead and jazz. Sterling came aboard to lighten the load with the full band and BobCats. He had two outstanding records from his time with the band. Bob Haggart's chart of I'm Prayin' Humble was written with Yank in mind, however Bose gives a very personal plunger solo in the Spanier mode. On the BobCats' Loopin' the Loop, Bose spells Butterfield and his driving lead is a highlight of the side.
Matty Matlock recalled a humorous anecdote of Bose. A call girl was working at the hotel the Band was staying at and she was posing as a hosiery saleswoman. Sterling was crused to find he had missed her-not for her sexual favors, he really needed a pair of socks!

After leaving Crosby in early 1939, Bose worked at Nick's in NYC and had a short spell with Bobby Hackett's ill-fated Big Band in the spring. This was a band full of promise, but Bobby wasn't leader material and the was full of too many drinkers(PeeWee Russell, Eddie Condon and Bose to name a few).
In the summer of '39 Bose joined up with former Crosby pianist Bob Zurke and his new big band.
Like Hackett's this was another group of heavy drinkers especially leader Zurke, a brilliant pianist. Many of the arangements were by Fud Livingston, despite the eratic personell this band was an exellent musical unit. Sterling was heavily featured in a lineup of fine soloists including Chealsea Quealy, Sid Stoneburn, Ernie Caceres, Mike Doty and Artie Foster.Here are some highlights from their Bluebird recordings.

I Found a New Baby shows the Zurke band at it's best in a great Fud Livingston chart. Driven by Stan King's drums, Sterling gets a full, hot chorus. Zurke's piano shines and the band gets a very Bob Crosby-ish sound.
On Peach Street Blues, Bose gets in oneof his engaging vocals and some nice plunger horn (shades of Muggsy) in a driving big band blues chart. Bozo also sings on Between 18 and 19th on Chestnut St. a popular novelty of the day covered by Charlie Barnet and Bing Crosby. Our boy also has a nice open horn spot. Nickel Nabber Blues and Zurke's showcase Hobson St. Blues have nice plunger spots by Bose. The pop tune Hap, Hap Happy Day has a Bixlike spot by Bozo and on the exellent chart Everybody Step he has a nice albeit brief solo. Pinch Me, an Orrin Tucker-Bonnie Baker hit has a short Bose spot and Evelyn Poe's vocal has shades of Wee Bonnie.
This was an exellent band and despite it's short life it left some truly, remarkable sides, happily available on the british Hep label.

Bose left Zurke in April 1940 (the band would soon break up) and he spent six months with old pal Jack Teagarden's big band. He led his own trio in Chicago (1940-1)and worked with Bud Freeman's big band for a while. In early 1943 he had a spell with George Brunis at the Famous Door in New York followed by a stint in the Bobby Sherwood big band. From late 1943 thru the summer of '44 he was at Nick's in New York with Miff Mole and Art Hodes. During 1944 he recorded with Miff Mole and Rod Cless. Cless' session for Black and White has excellent Bose including a soulful Make me a Pallet with some of his plunger work. One of his last recordings was on an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert during the summer of '44. Sterling is heard on a driving version of Jazz Me Blues in the company of PeeWee Russell, Benny Morton, Gene Schroeder and Ernie Caceres. His lead work and solo are of the usual high order.

Bose had a short stint with Horace Heidt in August 1944 then began a long period of free lancing in Chicago, New York and Mobile before making his home base in St. Petersburg, Florida.(He had a few stints with Tiny Hill's band during this time). From 1950-7 he led a band at the Soreno Lounge in St. Pete. We have no recordings or much info on his activities, but assume his playing was still at a high level.
Sterling's brother Neil had commited suicide some years earlier and Bozo said if Neil could do it-so can I. After years of alcoholism and ill health he shot himself in June of 1958.

Sterling Bose was one of those consumate jazzmen who wasn't a household name. Although influenced by Bix, Louis and Muggsy he developed a very personal and engaging jazz trumpet sound.
One of the few recent tributes to Bose was on the late Ray Smith's Jazz Decades show on PBS Radio. His program of January 31, 2010 featured a full hour of the Bose horn running the gamut from the Arcadian Serenaders, Goldkette and Pollack to his Big Band work with Miller, Dorsey, Goodman, Crosby and Zurke and ending with the Cless and Condon sides. A very fitting tribute to a most deserving jazzman.

Besides the Zurke Hep CD, many of Bose's recording are on various compilations under the leader's names. Amazon and World's records are good places for a search.

Happy Listening!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stooge Stalwarts:Christine McIntyre -First Lady of Stoogedom

This post is dedicated to the many outstanding comedy pros that populated the Columbia shorts of the 3 Stooges and other Columbia comics. One of the most consummate and attractive actresses of this group was the delightful Christine McIntyre. Miss McIntyre was a lovely petite blonde with a beautiful face and figure along with great comedic abilities and a gorgeous singing voice. She became a regular part of the Stooges' stock company and worked with many of the other Columbia comics. The Stooges worked with many lovely and talented ladies including Dorothy Appleby, Lorna Gray, Jean Willes,Mary Ainslee, Greta Thyssen and even a young Lucille Ball, but Christine was the standout female support of their series.Here are some highlights of her career.

Christine (1911-84) was born and raised in Arizona. She developed her singing talents early and studied classical voice at Chicago musical College. Following a short run on radio she found work in films of the late 30s. Her debut was in an RKO feature Swing Fever. She also worked in several westerns including those of Buck Jones and Ray Corrigan. Christine had a small singing role in 1939's Blondie takes a Vacation (Columbia) and appeared in some soundies featuring her lovely trained soprano voice. In most of these films Christine was a brunette.

In 1943 she began her contract with the Columbia short subjects department. Her first appearance was in a Slim Summerville short, Garden of 'Eatin' (1943). At first she was used strictly for her beauty but as time went on the studio saw what fine comic gifts Christine had. She could play the helpless heroine but also turn around and play a vamp or villainess. Her beautiful singing voice was also used on occasion. Christine would soon become one of the most versatile of the Stooges' company. Before discussing some of her standout Stooge roles , here are some highlights from other Columbia comics.

Christine was in several Hugh Herbert comedies. Herbert a veteran comic noted for his "hoo hoo" trademark went back and forth between domestic comedies a la Leon Erroll and scare comedies (where he was teamed up with black funnyman Dudley Dickerson). In Wife Decoy (1945) Christine really gets to shine. In a remake of a 1939 Charley Chase comedy, Christine plays Hugh's wife who changes her hair color to blonde in order to "come on" to Hugh at a nightclub and test his fidelity. The comedy of errors with Christine delighting at Hugh's attention make this a top comedy. Not only does Christine look good but she shares the film's screen time with Hugh. She played Hugh's wife in several other shorts and had a small role in one of the scare shorts, Tall, Dark and Gruesome (1948).

Christine also had many fine outings with Shemp Howard (before he rejoined the Stooges). Society Mugs (1946) is a remake of the Stooges' Termites of 1938 and has Shemp teamed up with Tom Kennedy. They play pest exterminators who are mistaken as escorts for Christine at a society party. Like many of the Stooges "crashing society" films this one uses tried and true gags with Christine looking lovely and taking her share of comic abuse along with Stooge regular Vernion Dent as Lord Wafflebottom!

Bride and Gloom (1947) is one of those Leon Erroll styled domestic comedies with Shemp getting into numerous embarrasments with Christine while his fiancee, Jean Willes, fumes. Perennial Stooge foil Dick Curtis plays Christine's husband, a tough boxer who meets up with Shemp. Chris looks gorgeous and has many fine comic moments with Shemp.

Another standout Shemp short is Where the Pest Begins (1945) with Chris and Tom Kennedy playing Shemp's new neighbors. Shemp's attention to lovely Chris gets his wife Rebel Randall on the warpath and Kennedy is on the receiving end of the physical gags.

Christine also lent her talents to the shorts of two future Stooges, Joe DeRita and Joe Besser. DeRita with a full head of hair is a decade away from playing Curly Joe. He comes across as a poor man's Lou Costello. Slappily Married (1946) is another domestic comedy with Christine moving out on Joe, resulting in his comic mishapsat the Hotel Amazon! Wedlock Deadlock (1947) has newlyweds Joe and Chris dealing with freeloading relatives. Chris looks great in these shorts and shows fine comic timing even if she's more decorative here than comedic. She was in one of Besser's best comedies, Waiting in the Lurch(1949) as a fiance who has to put up with a fire chasing boyfriend.

In an earlier post we covered the underated team of Gus Schilling and Richard Lane. Their Columbia series was one of the best non-Stooge series. Christine starred in several of their top notch entries. Pardon My Terror (1946) is a curio as itwas intended as a Stooge short but given to Schilling and Lane when Curly Howard took ill. A classic spook comedy with Gus and Dick as clutzy private eyes gives Chris the femme fatale role. (It would be remade by the Stooges as Who Done It? in 1949).

Another top Schilling and Lane comedy is Two Nuts in a Rut (1948). The boys play movie producers trying to enjoy a Palm Springs vacation. Chris plays a gorgeous hotel guest who gets into acomedy of errors with Lane, his wife and her wrestler husband Dick Wessell. The old "hide the man in your room from your husband" bit is expertly played by Chris and Lane.

Christine also found time to grace the series of Harry VonZell, Vera Vague, Andy Clyde, Bert Wheeler, El Brendel and Harry Langdon. Her character in Brendel and Langdon's Pistol Packin' Nitwits (1945) a comic western would be reprieved in the Stooges' Out West (1947).

It was with the Stooges that Chris really blossomed as a comedienne: here are some of her many Stooge highlights. When Christine started working with the Stooges in 1944 the combination was Moe, Larry and Curly. By early 1945 Curly's health would deteriorate and he would eventually leave the team-for the time being he was fine. Chris' first short Idle Roomers(1944) is a classic scare comedy with the boys as hotel bellhops dealing with an escaped "wolfman!" Chris plays the wife of showman Vernon Dent who intends to use the wolfman in an exhibition-her role here is more decorative although she has a cute scene where all the Stooges fall over her with attention.

No Dough Boys (1944) is one of the Stooges' many hilarious wartime propaganda films. In this outing our heroes are modeling as japs for a photographer and eventually wind up at the home of Nazi spy Vernon Dent and his three lovely female spies, including Christine. Chris has a hilarious bit with Curly trying out a judo move and getting the upper hand on Curly.

Three Pests in a Mess (1945) gives her more comic material. She plays a shady gal helping some crooks fleece Curly when they think he's hit the lottery. Chris has a classic "coming on " scene with Curly until she realizes he's broke. The rest of the film is a spook sequence in a pet cemetery, not involving Chris.

Micro -Phonies (1945) is regarded as one of the best Stooge shorts. Despite Curly's flagging energy he puts in a great performance. The short utilizes Chris' singing talents as a fledging radio vocalist who helps the Stooges out of a jam when they are taken for operatic stars and forced to perform at a swanky party. Chris looks gorgeous in an evening dress she wore in Society Mugs(Columbia was always looking for ways to save money) and plays off the boys beautifully. The classic moment comes when Curly(as Senorita Cucaracha) has to mime to her rendition of Voices of Spring. This was the first Stooge film directed by Ed Bernds who would become one of their top directors.

One of Curly's last films Three Little Pirates (1946)was one of his best with the team. The boys play shipwrecked sailors posing as wayfarers and get to do their classic Maja routine. Chris plays Rita, a beautiful subject of governor Vernon Dent who helps the boys. She has some great reactions during the Maja bit and gets in the middle of the closing melle at Black Louie's pirate den. A classic short.

When Shemp rejoined the Stooges in 1947, Chris got some of her funniest outings with the boys. Her beauty and comic timing was at it's zenith during the late 40s/early 50s period. Out West (1947) is a reworking of Pistol Packin' Nitwits (featuring Chris) and Chris reprises her saloon gal role as Nell- a damsell in distress. Her boyfriend, The Arizona Kid, is played by Jock Mahoney, the great stunt man who takes many hilarious falls. Chris gets to sing The Last Rose of Summer while the boys are making classic mayhem in attempting to free the Kid from a jail cell.

Brideless Groom (1947) is one of Shemp's best comedies. Moe and Larry try to marry off Shemp so he can collect an inheriance. Chris plays Miss Hopkins, a lovely new neighbor who Shemp tries to recruit as a future wife. Chris thinks Shemp is her long lost Cousin Basil but quickly changes her tune when she finds out otherwise. The scene where she levels Shemp with a haymaker is a classic. Shemp himself told the story of how he had to talk the lady like Chris into letting him have it- and she really delivers!

Another 1947 release All Gummed Up gives Chris ample screen time. The Stooges play druggists who come up with a youth serum. They use it on old lady Mrs. Flint and turn her into the gorgeous Chris! Chris and the boys also share a fun sequence eating a cake that contains bubble gum with the usual outcome!

1948 was a banner year for Chris and the Stooges. Shivering Sherlocks was a classic spook comedy with the boys encountering crooks at a haunted mansion. Chris plays their friend Gladys and gets some good scenes in the mansion with the machete-wielding goon, Angel!

Squareheads of the Round Table is another classic costume comedy. Chris plays Princess Elaine who loves Cedric the blacksmith (Mahoney). The boys help Mahoney win the fair Elaine. Chris gets to sing a classic parody on the Sextet from Lucia backed by the boys. (remember Sextet from Lucy in Micro-Phonies?).

The Hot Scots, another classic Shemp entry has Chris as Lorna Doone, who along with fellow employees Angus and MacPherson try to steal the treasures of the Earl of Glenheathe Castle. The boys are would be detectives who try to break up the ring. This film breaks the classic line by Shemp: "Hi Lorna, How 'ya Doin'.

Crime on their Hands rounded out 1948 with Chris as a tough moll Bea, she excelled in these roles. The boys are reporters trying to find the whereabouts of the Punjab diamond and run into villain Kenneth Mac Donald (another great Stooge suporting player), bea and Muscles (Cy Schindell).

1949 and 1950 were banner years for the Stooges and Christine. Who Done It?(1949) is a remake of the aforementioned Pardon My Terror and one of the boys' funniest. The Stooges are inept detectives sent to protect Old Man Goodrich (Emil Sitka in a hilarious performance) from his vampy niece (Christine) and two cohurts along with Nikko the Goon(Duke York). Chris really hams it up as the sexy niece and has a classic scene with Shemp when she slips him a mickey and slyly reacts to Shemp's convulsions.

Fuelin' Around (1949) is another memorable entry with the boys as mistaken scientists forced to perfect a super rocket fuel for the State of Anemia. Chris plays the lovely daughter of real Professor Snead (Sitka) and is mostly decorative but has a cute "come-on" scene with jailer Jock Mahoney. Vernon Dent is also aboard as an Anemian general.

Vagabond Loafers (1949) is a remake of the classic A Plumbing We Will Go with the boys working for Emil and frequent foil Symona Boniface. A subplot involving art theives Kenneth MacDonald and Christine is added. Chris has some good vampy moments.

1950 had more plum roles for our lovely first lady. Punchy Cowpunchers (1950) is one of the best of the Stooges' comedy westerns. Once more Chris is saloon gal Nell and Jock Mahoney is Elmer (a variation on the Arizona Kid), clutzy as ever. Chris has one of the film's best gags as she punches out every bad guy that enters the room only to pass out on the divan afterwards. ("I'm just a poor, weak woman!).

Hugs and Mugs (1950) has Chris as a shady lady crook with two girlfriends who come to the Stooges Upholstery Shop loking for a valuable, stolen necklace. Bad guys enter and a wild mellee ensues with Chris and galfriends falling for the boys.

Dopey Dicks (1950) is another classic horror/detective spoof with the boys trying to rescue client Chris from a household of madmen led by mad scientist Phil VanZandt.

Three Hams on Rye (1950) is a cute backstage comedy with the boys as stagehands who get to act in a play. Chris plays their leading lady and we get the old "potholder in the cake" routine with everyone coughing up feathers!

Chris' last 1950 release was Studio Stoops. The boys play publicity agents who arrange a phony kidnapping for star Dolly Devour (Chris) only she gets kidnapped for real! There are plenty of great gags as the boys attempt to rescue Chris from Kenneth MacDonald and Co.

Chris continued working at Columbia thru the 50s but wasn't with the Stooges in 1951 or 52. The studio was now doing many remakes of earlier Stooge comedies. Again, Columbia decided to save money on the shorts by doing frequent remakes.Chris was called in for several 1953-5 entries to add some new scenes to existing material. Most times she had to wear her original costume to match up with the stock footage.

In Bubble Trouble (1953), a remake of All Gummed Up, she is seen only in stock footage and a double is used in one new scene.

Pals and Gals (1954) is a re-working of Out West, this time Chris' two sisters are held captive and some new scenes were shot allowing the boys to romance all the girls.

Knutzy Knights (1954) a remake of Squareheads of the Round Table has Chris in some new opening scenes and a new ending with Cedric. She looks lovely as ever as the princess.

Scotched in Scotland (1954) is a remake of Hot Scots and has some new scenes of Chris as Lorna, she even gets a sabre in the derriere!

Of Cash and Hash (1955) a remake of Shivering Sherlocks has Chris back as Gladys for some new scenes and she gets to interact with the boys on several cute bits. This was her last appearance in new footage with the boys. The other 1955 release Hot Ice (alias Crime on their Hands) has Chris just in stock footage.

The 1956 releases with Chris only have her in stock footage. Scheming Schemers (1956) was singled out in our post, The Case of the Fake Shemp. It's an amazing patchwork of various comedies revolving around Vagabond Loafers. Once again Christine is doubled in a new scene.
By this point Chris had married radio writer/producer J. Donald Wilson and had retired from films.

She appears in one Joe Besser entry, Fifi Blows her Top which uses the sequence of Chris and Moe from Love at First Bite.

Her non-Stooge work during the 40s was at Monogram mostly in westerns.She had a lead role in the Bowery Boys feature News Hounds (1947) but it was strictly decorative.

In the post Stooge years Chris led a quiet life in California dabbling in real estate work. Wilson passed on in early 1984 followed by Christine in July, she had been battling cancer. Christine was not only a beautiful lady and consumate actress but was able to hold her own with Columbia's comedy pros along with contributing her own comic bits.

For a detailed look at Christine's career and a wealth of photos I highly recommend Bill Telfer's site, The Wonderful Christine McIntyre. Christine's Stooge shorts are available on Sony's Three Stooges Collection starting with Vol. 4. Her non-Stooge Columbias are hard to find but Ebay and private collectors are your best bet.

Till next time- Keep Stooging!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years by Ricky Riccardi

This is our first book review at Pete Kelly's Blog and it's a monumental one. Ricky Riccardi's new book is an indispensible profile of a most neglected period in Louis Armstrong's career-his years with his All-Stars (1947-71). Louis' years with the All-Stars and his shows were often the victim of derogotory reviews by critics. They seemed to think that Louis had deserted jazz in 1929 when he started recording popular tunes. Louis' trumpet playing was also written off by most so called aficianados when he was still in full command of his horn. Ricky has done the world of music a great service by righting a terrible wrong in the history of Louis Armstrong and American jazz

Ricky is a 30 year old masters graduate of Rutgers University. He is an accomplished jazz pianist and has created an excellent blog on Louis- The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong- He is also Project Archivist at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. We met via the blog and have become fast friends, Ricky is a passionate archivist on Louis' entire career but has concentrated on the All-Stars period for this book. He writes with passion, humor and great detail and care-the young man really knows his stuff. Many of Ricky's chapters and examples have appeared in the blog, the book would be the size of a bible if Ricky had his druthers but even in it's edited form there is a wealth of knowledge for both the veteran Armstrong fan or novice. When Louis switched from Big Band to combo format in 1947 he was looked as "coming home" to his roots. However the All-Stars were never a Revival band but mixed Louis' classic jazz pieces, his hits, current pop tunes and features for his sidemen- all wrapped up with the dynamic Armstrong personality up front.

We meet such early All-Stars as Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Sid Catlett, Arvell Shaw and Earl Hines along with such later standout performers as Edmond Hall, Trummy Young, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Kyle, Mort Herbert, Tyree Glenn and Danny Barcelona.Riccardi also gives due to other All-Stars who didn't get the notoriety they deserved- players such as Russ Phillips, Mary Napolean, Big Chief Moore, Eddie Shu and Joe Muranyi. Louis' female vocaists Velma Middleton and Jewell Brown also get their innings.

Ricky is a master at dissecting key recording sessions and live performances during Louis' All Star days. He gives us plenty of musical highlights and examples of the genius of Armstrong's horn and voice. He never gets too technical and the book is always an enjoyable read.We also learn a lot about Louis the person. Yes he was a lovable, amiable consumate entertainer but nowhere the "Uncle Tom" he was labeled as. We see the human side of Louis' personality and find out that he wasn't browbeaten by manager Joe Glaser, but could be a very clever manipulator when he wanted his way regarding money, sidemen or material.

Every chapter is like spending 4 or 5 years in Louis' company. Pops' last engagement at the Waldorf Astoria is poignantly told. We truly feel for Louis and his need to keep playing and entertaining even while staring at death.This is a "Wonderful Book" and should be on the bookshelf of any serious musician, educator or fan.

What a Wonderful World is published by Pantheon Press and will be available in June of 2011. It can ordered thru Amazon and should be available at Barnes and Noble and Borders.

Enjoy the truly Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong and his All Stars.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

To Fred Astaire with Love: The Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet

This delightful album has always been a personal favorite. Produced in 1975 for RCA Records, it is a very short (30 or so minutes) lp obviously tailored for radio play. The music however is sublime and beautifully played by one of the most unique and outstanding chamber jazz groups of all time.

Co-leaders Ruby Braff (1927-2003) on cornet and George Barnes (1921-77) on guitar were both masters of their instruments and well respected and represented in the traditional and jazz swing world. The group had a short run from 1973-5 and recorded for Chiarascoro, Concord and Improv.

Braff was a very original soloist with roots in Louis and Buck Clayton ,but with his own flowing,imaginative lines enhanced by his exploration of the cornet's lower register. Barnes too had a unique guitar sound and was a master at single string solos. The rhythm guitar of Wayne Wright and bass of Michael Moore gave the two soloists outstanding support and Barnes' harmonized lines with Ruby's cornet gave the group a bigger sound than it's four pieces. The group's arrangements were tasty but gave plenty of blowing room for the co-leaders. This album caught them in prime form-here are some highlights.

Cheek to Cheek- George's weaving riff intro takes us to Ruby with a swinging melodic statement. George continues the riff and harmonizes with Ruby's lead. This trademark gave the quartet a bigger sound than 4 men. Ruby and George playfully swap leads before a fugue-like bridge and return to the riff as a coda.

They Can't Take that Away from Me- Ruby starts with a tasty theme jumping all over the horn's range. George has the bridge and a bluesy full chorus. Ruby's next chorus is full of his great low register and smears. George returns to the lead joined by Ruby and a nice ascending coda a la String of Pearls.

Easter Parade- From Holiday Inn and the film of the same name. Nice interplay between Ruby and George leading to a modulation for the last half and a retard followed by a Louis-ish coda.

Shine on your Shoes- From The Bandwagon. A nice medium swing tempo with a closely voiced first chorus. George picks up Ruby's last lick for his chorus going down low. Ruby's strutting half brings us back to the close voiced coda. A nice track.

I'm Putting All my Eggs in One Basket- Recorded by Louis in 1936 and a favorite of this writer. More tight voicings from the co-leaders, a wailing Ruby going down to low register growls. George's swinging chorus leads to fours with Ruby before a harmonized rideout and a half step jump up to the coda.

They All Laughed- Our co-leaders lead off in close voicing before George takes a swinging spot with humorous touches. Ruby uncorks a lovely, winding solo before the out chorus with a neat Ruby/George voiced run on the coda.

Be Careful, It's my Heart- Also from Holiday Inn. Ruby's great use of the cornet's low register is a highlight on the intro and coda. In between George has a pretty lead picked up by Ruby. Mike Moore's closing bass arcos are a standout.

I'm Old Fashioned- The great Kern classic has George's highly personal sound on the lead picked up by delicate runs by Ruby. Ruby goes up high a la Louis before coming down low for the pretty coda.

Isn't this a Lovely Day?-Ruby and George trade leads with dancing runs around the melody. Ruby uses great rhythmic placement on his notes (another Armstrong hallmark). George gets off a classic, percussive chorus followed by a tasty Braff/Moore duet. Ruby jumps octaves on his horn effortlessly before Moore's acrobatic run to end the clever track.

Top Hat- A clever arrangement using the bridge as an intro. Ruby gets in some nice high register smears and George has a strutting, darting chorus. Ruby's next spot has some latin rhythm back ups and the out chorus returns us to the intro ending on a dissonant chord. A great finale to a classic album.

Despite the short running time of this album, it's a great example of this wonderful chamber group at their best. The solid support of Wright and Moore can't be ignored as they give Ruby and George the freedom to improvise and play off each other with leads, fours and close voicings.
I'm happy to say that the RCA lp is available on CD along with the group's first Chiarascuro lp.
You can go to Amazon and find it on 101 Distributors.

Ruby and George were both too strong willed to co-exist for more than two years but we treasure the wonderful recorded legacy they left us.
To Fred Astaire-With Love is the perfect starting point to re-discover this magical group.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Some Grace Notes on the Hal Roach Fun Factory

The recent (Jan. 2011) Hal Roach Festival on Turner Classic Movies brought a renewed interest in these wonderful comedy shorts and features that have been so dear to me for many years.
In addition there were many new additions and surprises to the Roach output. Here is a fond overview of that festival and the featured series.

Of course, we always think of Laurel and Hardy in discussions of Hal Roach comedies and they were well represented by all their talkie shorts and some selected features. Roach was a veteran actor, producer and gag man who developed a rival comedy studio to Mack Sennett, eventually eclipsing him in the early 30s. His studio boasted not only top talent such as Laurel & Hardy, Our Gang, Thelma Todd, Charley Chase etc. but top writers, directors, cameramen and one of the finest stock company of comedy actors. Roach's salad years were from the early 20s to the mid 30s when he started concentrating on feature films.

First up were the Our Gang silent comedies. I've only seen a few of these over the years and was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining they still are. As a die hard fan of the talkie gang comedies I thought I'd be disappointed in these early (1922-8) efforts. They have much of the charm and energy of the talkies. The mainstays of the cast Mary Kornman, Mickey Daniels, Farina Hoskins, Joe Cobb and Sunshine Sammy Morrison were all natural young performers and it's a treat to see talkie regulars Mary Ann Jackson,Wheezer Hutchins and Jean Darling pop up in the 1928 entries. Several episodes were either remade or refashioned for the talkie gang.
Uncle Tom's Uncle(1926) with it's play within the short was later used in Spanky. Love My Dog(1927) had the perennial bad guys out to put away the gang's pet pup( remade as The Pooch). The Fourth Alarm(1926) has the gang as junior firefighters and would return as Hook and Ladder. One Wild Ride(1925) with Farina's jalopy careening down hills recalls many of the talkie thrill comedies. High Society(1924) has a common theme-the gang thrown into a swanky adult part and Shivering Spooks(1926) gave us a scare comedy-a theme the gang would frequently revisit along with every comic from Chaplin to the Bowery Boys. Good Cheer(1926), a funny Christmas entry had fun gags with a store Santa Claus and snowballs catching various foils in the kisser!

Some of the gang members came and went but Mickey, Farina, Mary, Joe and Sammy were regulars who continued at Roach as young adults. The silent series was produced and frequently directed by Robert McGowan who guided the series right into the talkie era. Also contibuting were director Anthony Mack and some of the many talented Roach writers and gagmen such as Charley Rogers, Felix Adler, Lloyd French and James Parrott (brother of Charley Chase). In addition the gang was enhanced by the great "adult"Roach stock company including Charlie Hall, Edgar Kennedy, Anita Garvin, James Finlayson,Charley Chase, Baldwin Cooke and even Oliver Hardy who appeared in two silents.

The Our Gang talkies were also well represented. I only watched a few, seeing I have the wonderful complete DVD set put out by Genius Entertainment. These shorts of 1929-37 are the classics so many of us grew up with on Saturday morning TV.
The early shorts featured holdovers Wheezer, Farina, Mary Ann along with favorites such as Stymie, Chubby, Jackie Cooper, Dorothy and of course Spanky!
I have to single out some favorites including Pups is Pups (1930) a charming short combing Wheezer's adventures with his puppies and the gang invading a pet show at a swanky hotel. Who can forget Chubby "primping" his pet pig and society violinist Charlie Hall finding a pet frog at the end of his bow!
Helping Grandma(1931) is another standout combining high melodrama (even by 1931 standards) and classic Roach slapstick as the gang gets revenge on Grandma's evil stepson out to swindle her of her bonds. The gang's attack on meanie William Gillespie is something. This is a great cast of kids including Jackie Cooper, Mary Ann, Dorothy, Chubby and both Farina(growing into a teenager) and the new scene stealer, Stymie Beard.
Birthday Blues(1932)is another standout. Spanky was now aboard as Dickie Moore's kid brother.
The gang makes a giant birthday cake full of prizes to raise money for Dick's birthday present for his mom. A classic scene has the oven huffing and puffing with a bizarre "foghorn" type noise that would pop up again in other Roach comedies. We would be remissed if we failed to mention lovely June Marlowe as Miss Crabtree, the gang's pretty teacher who figured prominently in several classics. Of course, the mid 30s cast of Spanky, Alfafa, Darla, Buckweat and Butch was one of the best groups and made many classic shorts. I love the Our Gang Follies of 1938 (1937), a beautifully produced takeoff on Hollywood musicals with Alfafa shunning Spanky's show to sing opera. Spanky becomes a succesful clubowner with Darla and "Cab" Buckwheat the stars of his show. A young Annie Ross makes a cameo singing a swing version of Loch Lomond.

Next up were the talkie shorts of Laurel and Hardy. These 1929-35 films are classics of American film comedy. It was a delight seeing them again. We won't try breaking down the whole series but some personal favorites deserve a mention.
Hog Wild (1930) has some great slapstick as Ollie (with Stan's "help")tries to install a radio aerial atop his house with disatrous results. Ollie winds up clinging to a ladder aboard Stan's car careening thru the streets. Them Thar Hills (1934) and Tit for Tat (1935) have the memorable encounters with Charlie Hall and wife Mae Busch. Them Thar Hills was so succesful, it warranted a sequel. I've always been very fond of Me and My Pal (1933) , a standout short with bridegroom Ollie and bestman Stan getting so involved in a jigsaw puzzle that they forget to atend the wedding. The confrontation with father of the bride James Finlayson and a cop, butler and taxi driver result in a comedic free for all. Not every L & H was a classic, Be Big (1931) spends far too much time on a scenr trying to put Ollie's tight boots on for a loge meeting. The early talkie Berth Marks (1929) has an endless upper berth scene but these misfires are rare. With the great Roach stock company, writers and directors and the breezy melodies of Leroy Shields and Marvin Hatley you can't go wrong.

Three features Pardon Us (1931) , Pack up your Troubles (1932) and The Bohemian Girl (1936) were added following the shorts. Pardon Us, the boy's first feature is a fun prison comedy with the bonus of Ollie's lovely vocal, Lazy Moon accompanied by Stan's great dancing(a throwback to his music hall days). Pack Up is a lively feature staring with WW1 highjinks followed by the boys' misadventures trying to find the granparents of a comrades little girl.
The Bohemian Girl is one of L & H's best costume operettas. Darla Hood from Our Gang plays their adopted daughter. Thelma Todd died during the filming and only one opening scene features her. She was a great beauty and her comic timing enhanced all her Roach work. More on her coming up.

The next group of shorts by Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, The Boy Friends and The Taxi Boys are quite rare and haven't been much on commercial television.
The Harry Langdon series of 1929-30 was a comeback attempt by a comic who just a few years earlier rivolved Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton. Langdon's attempts at running his own productions were his downfall. Roach took a chance on him and the results are interesting if not great. His voice was fine for the talkies and he was still an engaging performer with that "babyface" innocence his trademark.
The Fighting Parson (1930) a comic western has good moments and some of Harry's vaudeville dancing. The lovely Thelma Todd has a small part,she would star in several of Harry's shorts lending her beauty and comic charm. The King (1930) is a cute costume spoof with Harry a lecherous monach with his eyes on queen Thelma and courtesan Dorothy Granger (another comedy pro best known as Leon Erroll's wife in his long running series). Some shorts like The Head Guy (1930) are pretty labored, Harry worked on some of Laurel and Hardy's Roach features as a writer and kept active in shorts at Columbia until his death in 1945. He was a consumate comic who could have gone much farther in the movies.

The Charley Chase shorts have also been woefully forgotten over the years. He was a great talent who also wrote and directed many of his own comedies and those of other Roach stars. Charley went back to Mack Sennett and had much comic experience by the time he got to Roach studios in 1921. His character was a brash but likeable go getter who usually got the girl despite his comic misadventures. He also loved to sing and most of his shorts featured his pleasant tenor voice in a song.
Thelma Todd again added her charm to several Chase comedies. The Pip from Pittsburg(1931) is one of his best with Charley looking his worst for a blind date and then doing his comic best to correct things when his date turns out to be lovely Thelma. His antics on the dance floor trying to change clothes with a buddy are classic.
Two Three Reelers High C's (1930) and Rough Seas (1931) make a nice short feature. The story is set in WW1 and folows Charley's misadventures with his barbershop quartet and French girlfriend (Thelma). Rough Seas has some fun gags as Charley tries to smuggle Thelma aboard ship. Fallen Arches (1933) is a top notch comedy with Charley hitting the road as a budding salesman and getting into some great automobile gags en route. Four Parts (1934) is a clever comedy of errors with Charley's girlfriend (Betty Mack) running into his three identical brothers during the course of a day. Also a standout is the Tarzan take-off Nature in the Wrong (1933) with Charley believing himself a relative of Tarzan complete with comic flashback.
We should mention several standout leading ladies such as Muriel Evans, Joyce Compton and Rosina Lawrence, a charming Roach protege who also played the teacher of Our Gang in the mid 30s.(she and Charley perform a neat song and dance in On the Wrong Trek(1936) also featuring a fun guest spot by Laurel and Hardy.)All the Chase comedies have their moments as did his later series at Columbia.

The Boy Friends series of 1930-32 deserves greater recognition. This fun loving group of colloge age kids was an extention of Our Gang including two alums, Mickey Daniels and Mary Kornman.
Also aboard were Grady Sutton as slow moving Alabam and Dave Sharpe, a great stuntman who always took some amazing falls and tumbles. Dorothy Granger and Gertie Messinger also were regulars and future Our Gang director Gordon Douglas appeared in some of the shorts.
Like Our Gang, the kids got into sticky situations always involving plenty of slapstick and many of the Roach regulars. The famed director George Stevens worked on most of the shorts as writer/director.
Love Fever (1931) is a charming comedy with Thelma Todd hamming it up as an actress rehearsing her scenes and running into each of the boys who try to woo her. She then vamps things up to get them back with their girls. The short is a delight and showcases Thema's beauty and comic abilities. Air Tight (1931) is a classic with the gang starting up a glider club and the misadventures of Alabam as he winds up going for a wild ride in a runaway glider. The sight gags are fantastic with many hair raising gags and standout performances by Sutton and Charlie Hall.
You're Telling Me (1932) is a fun situation comedy with Mickey and Grady driving Gordon's "dad" Billy Gilbert crazy during an extended visit. The series ended shortly thereafter but deserves to be enjoyed again. Thanks to Turner for resurrecting it.

Even rarer is the Taxi Boys series featuring Billy Gilbert and Ben Blue. Leonard Maltin in his exellent book, The Great Movie Shorts forewarned us that this series was one of Roach's weakest. Gilbert and Blue as bumbling taxi drivers are pretty lame and their characters quite obnoxious,however there is great slapstick thanks to director Del Lord. Lord, a former Keystone regular (he was the driver of the Keystone Kops' car) excells in the many auto and steet scenes.
The short What Price Taxi (1932) without Blue and with Clyde Cook and Franklin Pangborn added has some incredible gags involving the Taxi boys and runaway autos careening thru the Hollywood hills. Thundering Taxis has Billy Bevan and Cook as the principles and comedy veterans Bud Jamison and Stanley Blystone both appear as bosses of theTaxi Boys.
Not a classic series but certainly worth a look for some great gags.

The shorts continued with a sampling of the wonderful series of Thelma Todd and her partners, ZaSu Pitts and Patsy Kelly. As we've already seen Thelma was an integral part of the success of the Roach shorts. She worked so well with all the Roach comics (also did several turns with the Marx Bros. and Wheeler & Woolsey). Her female Laurel and Hardy series was a natural for her beauty and comic gifts and both partners were talented cohorts. ZaSu specialized in fluttery ,bewildered characterizations where Patsy was more bombastic. They both played off the poised straight woman Thelma beautifully.
Highlights included Catch as Catch Can (1931) an early short with a boxing theme and a fun finale at the arena involving ZaSu's misadventures with a hat.Asleep in the Feet (1933) is a personal favorite. The girls take jobs as taxi dancers at Billy Gilbert's establishment and run afoul of pushy suitors and stodgy dancehall inspectors. ZaSu's attempts at getting "hot "are a riot and there is an interesting excerpt of Duke Ellington's Jubilee Stomp on the soundtrack. If any jazz or film buffs know how this got into the short please contact me. The Bargain of the Century (1933) is one of the girls' best comedies directed by Charley Chase. The plot involves a quirky cop staying with the girls and Billy Gilbert doing his patented German who's mistaken for a police chief. Lots of Roach slapstick and fun here.
Patsy Kelly took over in late 1933 and the series didn't skip a beat. Backs to Nature(1933) is a predictable but fun entry wth the girls roughing it on a camping trip. This short has a 3 Stooges feel to it and uses tried and true gags. Top Flat (1935) one of Thelma's last shorts is a classic. Patsy thinks Thelma has crashed high society (she's actually working as a maid) and visits her "penthouse" with two rowdy boyfriends. The ensuing chaos when Thelma's employers arrive is classic. A slapstick highlight are the "water bombs" the boys throw off the penthouse balcony and the expected results on passerbys.

Thelma's untimely death in December of 1935 put a sad end to the series (it remains one of Hollywood's great mystery deaths). Roach was obliged to put out three more shorts, first he teamed Patsy with Pert Kelton in Pan Handlers (1936). Miss Kelton was a fine comic but was forced to play staight lady. The last two 1936 shorts paired Patsy with Broadway entertainer/comic Lyda Roberti.This partnership had potential, Lyda played a naive but engaging foil for brassy Patsy and she could sing and dance well. Their first short At Sea Ashore was a good into as Patsy attempts to met Lyda at the immigration dept. of the harbor with comic results. Lyda gets to sing and dance, backed up by the Avalon Boys (including Chill Wills). The final short Hill Tillies was another roughing it comedy but more on the staid side. The film does have a rare appearance by sports great Jim Thorpe as an Indian (what else!). The girls appeared in one more film, the feature Nobody's Baby (1937) a fun musical comedy also featuring Rosina Lawrence and the Avalon Boys again. It showed how much potential the girls had but alas, Lyda also died young in 1938.

The finale of the Roach festival featured various features along with some tried and true favorites. Three Laurel and Hardy favorites, Way Out West(1937), Sons of the Desert(1934) and Bonnie Scotland(1935) were fun to revisit. I haven't seen Bonnie Scotland in a long time and it holds up as an exellent addition to their costume/military comedies a la Beau Hunks and Flying Deuces. It was nice to see Zenobia (1939) again, a curio made during a Laurel contract dispute with Hardy going solo in a genial Southern themed comedy. Although Ollie shares scenes with Harry Langdon, they were not a team in this film although Langdon has a nice character role as the old circus man. Another comedy of the Old South is General Spanky (1936), the only Our Gang feature and a showcase for Spanky and Buckwheat with Alfafa, Porky and the gang in support. Darla was absent, probably filming Bohemian Girl with L & H. The lovely Rosina Lawrence was also cast as a friend of the gang.Miss Lawrence was also featured in Pick a Star (1937), an all star production involving a young starlet's adventures in Hollywood including Lyda Roberti, Patsy Kelly, James Finlayson, Jack Haley and many of the Roach regulars including Laurel and Hardy in two funny cameos.

The other features were some of Roach's mainstream fare such as Topper, There goes my Heart, Merrily we Live and Captain Fury. A curio was the film Broadway Limited, a Victor McLaglen comedy that featured Thelma Todd's partners ZaSu Pitts and Patsy Kelly teamed in some scenes. We should also mention the wonderful music of the Hal Roach comedies. These delightful "Hot Dance Band" sounds were a staple of the early films and enhanced the enjoyment of the comedies. Even casual listeners know them as the "Our Gang" music.
Most of the stock music was composed by LeRoy Sheild who joined Roach in 1930. Marvin Hatley was the Roach music director from 1930-9 and composed his own share of short and feature scores. He also added some mid 30s music to some of the early shorts that didn't have a score. The Beau Hunks Orchestra of Holland have used much of the Sheild/ Hatley material for their repertoire and have lovingly recreated the scores for full orchestra on CD and in concert.

What a treasure we have in Turner Classic Movies. Where else can you enjoy festivals aimed at Comedy Buffs along with Classic Cinema, Great Musical and Shorts and Guilty Pleasures such as The Bowery Boys, Andy Hardy, Joe McDoakes and Brown and Carney!
Long May they Wave!

Hal Roach continued producing and directing films into the Television age and lived to the ripe age of 100, passing on in 1992.
He left a huge and enjoyable legacy of some of America's greatest Film Comedy. So far not much of the Roach product is available on DVD. Even Laurel and Hardy have seen scant attention. There is a huge box set available from England. (in a different form of playback).
That makes Turner's contributions all the more valuable.

Till our next post-Keep Laughing!