WE’RE OFF TO HEAR THE WIZARD

To those of you who may think the fourth word of the above title is a misprint, I hasten to tell you that we’re not off to SEE the Wizard of Oz , but to HEAR the Wizard of Menlo Park (as Thomas Alva Edison was known) speaking the first words he recorded:

Many of us have seen photos of the famous inventor when he was old. Here he is at age 31:

https://www.onthisday.com/photos/thomas-edisons-phonograph

Note that in the “Photo Info” several paragraphs below the photo, the location is given as Menlo Park, California. I believe it should be Menlo Park, New Jersey. There is a Menlo Park, CA, which, surprisingly, was founded before the New Jersey town, which was named after the California town, which happens to be the headquarters of Facebook, which is located at 1 HACKER WAY, Menlo Park, CA. Just for the record….would I kid you?

Seriously, why am I publishing this post on this day?

http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/on-this-day/December/Edison-Successfully-Tests-Phonograph.html

Would you care for a demonstration?

I leave you with this famous Edison quote: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So stock up on deodorant and don’t give up, or you’ll be foiled again.

YOU NEED TO READ SWIFT TO GET UP TO SPEED

I don’t recall how old I was — probably no later than my early teens — when I first read Jonathan Swift’s satirical masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels; all I know is it made a lasting impression on my unworldly-wise perception of the world. If you haven’t read the book, this summary will at least give you the bare bones:

Several films have been made based on the novel; here is the trailer for the version I remember seeing (the book was what made me think; the movie served as entertaining afterthought):

JONATHAN SWIFT, born this day (Nov. 30) in 1667 in Dublin, led a multi-faceted life between Ireland and England (his place of residence often depended on events beyond his control). For the meaty details of  his life, you might consider taking time to go Googling; here, I offer a dozen of his quotes, the first two of which are from Gulliver’s Travels:

Based on Gulliver’s descriptions of their behavior, the King describes Europeans as “the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.

The tiny Lilliputians surmise that Gulliver’s watch may be his God, because it is that which, he admits, he seldom does anything without consulting.

When the world has once begun to use us ill, it afterwards continues to use the same treatment with less scruple or ceremony, as men do to a whore.

I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.

Words are the clothing of our thoughts.

Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man who hath thought of a good repartee when the company departed.

Happiness is the perpetual possession of being well deceived.

We of this age have discovered a shorter, and more prudent method to become scholars and wits, without the fatigue of reading or of thinking.

We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.

I wonder what fool it was that first invented kissing.

It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.

Nothing is so hard for those who  abound in riches as to conceive how others can be in want.

Almost 300 years have passed since Swift completed Gulliver’s Travels, and the world still doesn’t seem to have gotten the word. Too bad.

THE SOUND OF SILENTS

You sure you can’t move? –what Harpo Marx “said” to the tied-up hero (Richard Dix) before punching him in the 1925 film TOO MANY KISSES (fortunately, the film survived)

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Italicized above are the only words ever “spoken” (but not heard) on film by the man whose birthday we note today, HARPO MARX. The audience didn’t hear those five words because the film was a “silent” — “talkies” didn’t come on the scene until 1927, two years before the first of thirteen Marx Brothers movies (1929-49). Harpo spoke in none of them.

But why, oh why-o, should I try-o to “bio” Harpo, when here-o you can click on the official thing from his offspring:

https://www.harposplace.com/

Because Harpo associated with Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and other wits in the famed Algonquin Round Table repartee, I expected to turn up a number of witty Harpo Marx quotes for this piece. No such luck — I found only one I enjoyed enough to post here (both the “she” referred to in the quote, and who it is addressed to, are unknown):

“She’s a lovely person. She deserves a good husband. Marry her before she finds one.”

One quote being three quotes short of a gallon, I shall return to giving you “the silent treatment” with a quota of four quotes of silence said by forethoughtful others:

“Listen to the sound of silence.” –Paul Simon, American singer, songwriter, and actor

“Silence is golden unless you have kids, then it’s just plain suspicious.” –anonymous

“If nobody ever said anything unless he knew what he was talking about, what a ghastly hush would descend upon the earth!” –A. P. Herbert, English humorist, writer, and politician

“I believe in the discipline of silence and can talk for hours about it.” –George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and critic

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Since I didn’t give Harpo the last word, I’ll let him give his audience the last laugh….and though he doesn’t speak, you’ll hear captivating sounds escape his lips 2:42 into this clip:

Bravo, Harpo!

EPILOGUE: Listen — 90+ years after the “silents” ended*, you can still hear….

*with the exception of two Charlie Chaplin masterpieces in the 1930s, CITY LIGHTS and MODERN TIMES

HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: END OF THE TRAIL

Just as all good things must come to an end, so too must all bad things (even Trump’s evil rule will run out of recourse eventually — e.g., the fat lady’s last aria at the opera seems to go on forever; will it end short of becoming a hoarse opera?). What it all a-mounts to is….

Meanwhile, back at the ranch , we bid happy trails to “bad” actors not named Trump, and end our HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE series with a roundup of some of the era’s great song & dance stars, starting with this incomparable pair whose magic outlasted their time:

When it comes to high-energy dancing, no one outshined Gene Kelly. Here he is in THE PIRATE (1948), clowning around with the fabulous Nicholas Brothers:

I do have one regret about this retrospective: so many musical stars, so little time and wherewithal for them all. Perhaps, as time goes by, I will use a favorite star’s birthday as an occasion to do an occasional post.

In closing (speaking of when A STAR IS BORN), if ever someone was born to be one, it’s this star-crossed girl/woman with whom we bring down the curtain on this series:

HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: NOT JUST BAD, BUT HORROR-ABLE ACTORS

November 8 is an especially appropriate day to unveil this post. Why? Because it’s the birthday of both VLAD DRACUL and BRAM STOKER, author of DRACULA, the famous horror novel “inspired” by the lore of Vlad Dracul — badder known as Vlad the Impaler (for badder details, click links below — the second of which is not for the squeamish):

https://www.onthisday.com/people/vlad-the-impaler

Vlad The Impaler Was Much Worse Than Dracula Ever Was

This sets the stage for the first of our “horror-able” actors: BELA LUGOSI, one of movie history’s most iconic character actors, who played Count Dracula in the classic DRACULA film released in February 1931. Here is the trailer:

As if unleashing one monster on the public in 1931 wasn’t enough, November brought….

Frankenstein’s monster was of course played by the equally “horror-able” and iconic character actor, November-born Boris Karloff:

Next we have The Wolf Man, Lon Chaney Jr. (son of the legendary silent film star who played Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, and other leading roles in early classics)….

For our closer, the Price is right….Vincent Price, that is. Although most of Price’s horror-able roles came after Hollywood’s Golden Age, he wasn’t entirely invisible during it (or was he?):

That’s The End for now, but never fear. We, too, shall return….

HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: MORE “BAD” ACTORS

In my previous post dealing with “bad” actors, we looked to the stars before turning to the character actors….but Hollywood’s Golden Age produced so many great bad character actors that only ONE such showing would be an injustice. So, before making my getaway from these characters, I’ll need to do more than one more post.

Let’s begin this post with a name mentioned in my last post, PETER LORRE. Here he is, along with two accomplices, committing an act so unconstrained, it’s almost unbelievable:

OK, that wasn’t exactly the typical Lorre performance you expected. But if you’ve seen CASABLANCA and THE MALTESE FALCON (and what classic movie fan hasn’t?), you’ve seen the classic Peter Lorre. So let’s put a wrap on that bird with this:

Next, we turn to Lorre’s frequent “partner in crime” movies, SYDNEY GREENSTREET:

We close this segment with a name you may not remember, but who could forget that character:

TO BE CONTINUED….

 

 

HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: THE “BAD” ACTORS

“The gangster film has always been one of the staples of the American cinema. Though the record shows that there were several motion pictures with a gangster theme as far back as the silent era, the genre did not really begin to flourish as a popular form until the thirties. Depression-era audiences responded strongly to all the action, violence and romance that these films contained, and were more than willing to get caught up in the colorful on-screen exploits of Edward G. Robinson,, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. In a sense, the movie gangster, with the rebellious breaking of society’s rules and regulations, and his aggressive drive to “get somewhere” regardless of consequences, became something of a hero to filmgoers of the period.”
“Robinson, Cagney and Bogart are, even today, the three actors most associated with films of this type, which isn’t surprising, since all three achieved their initial fame in a Warner Brothers [the king-of-the-hill gangster film studio] crime drama.”

–Robert Bookbinder, author of CLASSIC GANGSTER FILMS

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There were a lot of “bad actors” in Hollywood in those days. Robinson, Cagney and Bogart weren’t the only famous names to have become famous names playing bad guys in 1930s gangster films, but most (e.g. Peter Lorre) remained typecast as character actors. We will take a look at the “bad character actors” in our next post; this post will look to the stars.

Quoting further from Robert Bookbinder’s excellent book CLASSIC GANGSTER FILMS, “Little Caesar [1931] was the first of the great gangster films. It made a star of Edward G. Robinson, who had been working in films since 1923, and it laid the groundwork for all the fine Warner Brothers gangster movies that followed.” Here’s a clip from the film:

How tough was Edward G. Robinson? Tough enough to get Doris Day and Jack Carson out of a pickle:

Just as Little Caesar made a star of Robinson, Warner Brothers’ second gangster film (later the same year), The Public Enemy, made a star of James Cagney. In this scene, after Cagney’s friend is shot to death by a gang, he vows revenge and arms himself with two 38s:

By 1942, Cagney had made a clean break from the “gangs” — here he is in scenes from his Oscar-winning performance as showman George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy:

As for Humphrey Bogart, he was the last of the three to attain stardom after years of supporting roles in gangster films. In The Roaring Twenties (1939), he is third-billed (Cagney stars):

All three, as we know, went on to bigger (if not badder) things in such films as Double Indemnity (Robinson), Mister Roberts (Cagney), and, of course, Casablanca (Bogart), among many other memorable performances. Who says crime doesn’t pay?