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

MAY AULD ACQUAINTANCE NOT BE FORGOT

On August 30, I did a post (titled “MAC”) about the late great actor Fred MacMurray. In recent comments to the MAC post, faithful reader Thom Hickey and I opined that I should publish more posts on actors and actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age, even though most of them are now little remembered, long forgotten, or unheard of. To the point, how many of these once-upon-a-time familiar film faces and names are familiar to you?

I know not who you know not (above), but I’ve spent some of my happiest hours being entertained (and often drawn in) by such silver screen sorcerers/sorceresses working their magic on my imagination. Watching that clip, it seemed almost unfathomable that nearly all those ‘reel-life’ characters I knew almost as well as I knew real-life family and friends, have gone over THE END. Rapt in their world, how was I to know immortals were mortal?

So, you can take this as a preview of coming attractions featuring close-ups of some of my favorite stars and character actors from the days when the likes of Charlie Chaplin was The Little Tramp….

….and Gloria Swanson was Norma Desmond….

Are you ready for your close-ups?

 

 

 

 

A LAUGH AND A SONG AND DANCE

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. –Sir Isaac Newton

Comedian Sid Caesar, in his autobiography, CAESAR’S HOURS, quotes the above and adds, “I too stand on the shoulders of giants. Nobody does anything alone.”

To me, to call Sid Caesar (born 9/8/22) a comedian is akin to calling Newton a physicist — accurate, yes, but hardly adequate. In a down-to-earth way, I might even say that what Newton was to gravity in the 1680s, Caesar was to levity in the 1950s. The bottom line is, I was in my teens then (the 1950s, not the 1680s), and still reasonably sentient at the time; thus I can bear witness to the comic genius that I, as a geezer, still see in Caesar.

And just who were those giants on whose shoulders Caesar stood? He tells us in his book: “I always wanted to be Charlie Chaplin. He was one of my earliest comedic heroes, along with Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and W.C. Fields. Most of their comedy came from their character. They each believed in what they did, and I believed them.”

Caesar was an up-and-coming comic performing mainly in the so-called Borscht Belt in New York’s Catskill Mountains when this opportunity arose in the infancy of network TV:

It was called YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, and what an innovative show it was. It premiered live on 2/25/50 with writers like Mel Brooks, Max Liebman (who also produced) and (later) Woody Allen. Said Caesar: “For nine years, I presided over what was arguably the best collection of comedy writers ever assembled in the history of television, and possibly in the history of the written word — unless you think the U.S. Constitution is funny.”

Add co-stars Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris, and the show was both a commercial and artistic success from Hour One. Here, they show you why:

Again quoting Caesar: “Until that time, the only big things on television were bowling, wrestling and Charlie Chan. [Max Liebman] wasn’t interested in the American public’s lowest common denominator. He wasn’t going to dumb down. His goal was that the quality of the show would drive its popularity and ultimately elevate taste.”

As Charlie Chan might say: Noble goal like chasing rainbow — beautiful while it lasts.

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Originally, I came to this post with the idea of making it a birthday (9/8/1896) tribute to Howard Dietz, one of my favorite lyricists, whose autobiography (titled DANCING IN THE DARK) I also commend. Then I learned that Sept. 8 is the birthday of Sid Caesar as well as Howard Dietz, and I thought I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN.

Hold on — it wouldn’t be right not to dance with the dude what brung me, so rather than ditch Dietz, I’ll sing his praises here too….starting with his first big hit (above), then an excerpt from early in the book, closing with a realization of the song which titles his story.

The following is quoted from the book’s forward by Alan Jay Lerner: As for that quality of life known as charm, I can only shrug sadly and chalk it up as another victim of that creeping nastiness called modern civilization. I think about the man whose reminiscences are contained in this book. They come to mind because of that special gift of charm that is so characteristic of his lyrics. Howard [Dietz]  is the Fred Astaire, the Chevalier, the Molnar, the Lubitsch of lyric writers.

Dancing in the dark
Till the tune ends
We’re dancing in the dark
And it soon ends
We’re waltzing in the wonder
Of why we’re here
Time hurries by we’re here
And gone

HU/FAMOUS LAST WORDS

I’ve done a post or two in the past on humorous and/or famous epitaphs, but there’s a quote and a song that remind us that famous (and not so famous) last words aren’t always written in stone:

“I’ll show you that it won’t shoot.” –Johnny Ace, R&B singer (died playing with a pistol in 1954)

So this post will pay its respects to the utter-ly unchiseled last words of a sampling of those who have gone before us….and may those who died at the hands of axe murderers and body hackers rest in pieces.

Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. My advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it. –Somerset Maugham

This is no way to live. –Groucho Marx

They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance. –John Sedgwick (Union general just before being killed by Confederate sharpshooter during U. S. Civil War)

If this is dying, I don’t think much of it. –Lytton Strachey

I knew it! I knew it!  Born in a hotel room and, goddamn it, dying in a hotel room. –Eugene O’Neill (died in a Boston hotel at age 65)

Good. A woman who can fart is not dead. –Louise-Marie-Therese de Saint Maurice (upon passing gas as she lay dying)

Am I dying, or is this my birthday? –Lady Astor (awakening on her deathbed to find her family gathered at her bedside)

Why not? After all, it belongs to him. —Charlie Chaplin (to a priest’s “May the Lord have mercy on your soul” while giving the last rites)

Oh God! Here I go. –Max Baer (former heavyweight boxing champion)

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. –Crowfoot

WHAT’S SO FUNNY?

Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke, the leading 19th century Prussian strategist, was said to have laughed only twice: once when told that a certain French fortress was impregnable, and once when his mother-in-law died. -Paul Johnson, historian/author

April is NATIONAL HUMOR MONTH. Why? April may have this privilege over other months because it begins with April Fools Day and ends with National Honesty Day — but to be honest, I’m just speculating. A more interesting question is raised by this post’s title….or, as W. C. Fields put it, We know what makes people laugh. We do not know why they laugh.

But we do know that what some people find funny, others don’t. A joke that cracks you up, I may not get. Something I consider juvenile may strike you as hilarious. Paul Johnson takes a stab at this in his book HUMORISTS FROM HOGARTH TO NOEL COWARD, in which he relates journalist/writer Arthur Koestler’s example of “the very primitive Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. What really makes them roar is when a springbok, fatally wounded by a bullet, continues to jump and kick in its death agony.”

What is the difference between our reaction to the Prussian’s reaction to the death of his mother-in-law, and to the Bushmen’s reaction to the death throes of the springbok? Apples and oranges? That comparison will have to do….at least, until someone pays me for the fruits of my labor. Meanwhile, for those who might contemplate the purchase of Paul Johnson’s HUMORISTS, here is a list of A-list humorists covered in his book:

Hogarth, Dr. Johnson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Rowlandson, Dickens, Toulouse-Lautrec, G. K. Chesterton, Damon Runyon, W. C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers, James Thurber, Nancy Mitford and Noel Coward.

An interesting cast of characters, no doubt, though in a few cases, such as the second name mentioned, “it stretches [quoting Paul Johnson himself] credulity to write of Dr. Samuel Johnson as a comic.” What seems to me even more curious, however, is the non-inclusion of the likes of Mark Twain, whose omission I will make a feeble attempt to mitigate by giving him the last word here (which was also the closing quote of my April 16 post):

Well, humor is the great thing, the saving thing, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS

Yesterday may have been Christmas, but heaven only knows the exact date of Christ’s birth (Christmas wasn’t celebrated on December 25 until the 4th century A.D.). So, here it is the day after Christmas, which is a lull of a day following as full of a day as there is all year, and I’ve decided to find out who (of note) actually was born on December 25. Why? Not why they were born on that day (presumably, something naughty and nice happened one night nine months previously), but — why do I bother? Because inquiring minds want to know, that’s why….and my readers, being wise men and women, have inquiring minds (I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt).

Believe It or Not, Robert Ripley was born on Christmas day (in 1890). If you’re a lover of trivia, you can thank Robert Ripley for making it a popular pursuit even before you were born. Ripley was a cartoonist and amateur anthropologist who created Believe It or Not! as a panel series in Randolph Hearst’s King Features Syndicate in 1929. A year later, Ripley famously expanded into other media, including radio and short films such as this 1930 Vitaphone curio (it’s a hoot!):

Can’t get enough of his wonderful stuff? Then tune in January 6th to the PBS series American Experience (here’s a half-minute preview):

Ripley was voted the most popular man in America by the New York Times in the 1930s, a decade in which he opened (in six cities) museums called Odditoriums. He died 1n 1949 and is buried, appropriately enough, in Oddfellows Lawn Cemetery, Santa Rosa, CA.

Other notables who were born on Christmas day include Clara Barton, American Red Cross founder (1821); Kid Ory, legendary early New Orleans jazzman (1886); Humphrey (we’ll always have Casablanca) Bogart (1899); and Cab Calloway, jazz band leader (1907).

And while we’re at it, since Christmas both giveth and taketh away, here are some notable December 25th deaths: Charlie Chaplin (died 1977); two Martins, Billy (1989) and Dean (1995); and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown (2006).

And with that, I believe I’ll call it a day.

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A WASTE OF BREADTH

People waste many things — time, money, talent, food (one way or another) — but I think the saddest waste of all is the mind. You probably do too — especially when you stop to think how mindless all those fools are who disagree with what you think. I believe it was Ivan Vasilyevich who first said A mind is a terrible thing to waste, the wisdom of which so impressed his comrads that he became forever famous as Ivan the Terrible (apparently he did not suffer fools gladly).

So, it should be clear from the above that almost all waste can be controlled if we but set our minds to it. If you’re sitting around on your ass just wasting away, there is simply no excuse for it. Remember, mind over matter –it’s the only way to go if you want to get ahead, if you will. If you won’t, you have no one to blame but yourself.

I hope I have inspired you to get a grip and stop squandering away your life, of which you have but one to live, unless you have faith in reincarnation. Even so, there’s no telling what you might come back as — a curably dying Christian Scientist, for example – so why take a chance? If you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll listen to the testimony of these waste not, want not-ers:

I spent 90% of my money on wine, women and song and just wasted the other 10%. –Ronnie Hawkins

A day without laughter is a day wasted. –Charlie Chaplin

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. –Bertrand Russell

The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life. –Muhammed Ali

If I don’t learn something every single day, it’s a wasted day. –Leonard Lauder

A Congressman’s idea of government waste is the money spent in another Congressman’s district. -Evan Esar

 I wasted time, and now doth time waste me. –William Shakespeare

I wish I could stand on a busy street corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all their wasted hours. –Bernard Berenson