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.