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.

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)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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: 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

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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?

 

HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: THE GRAMMAR GIRLS

Speaking of distinctive actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age, we turn from glamour girls (in my previous post) to a group of gals who made up in individuality what they lacked in allure. There were perhaps no actresses more unique and unforgettable in any category than the so-called character actors. Bring up such names as Margaret Hamilton, Marjorie Main, and Margaret Dumont (apart from their photos) to any classic film buff, and there’d be no problem matching which name belongs with which (or witch) face; same with their immediately recognizable voices. In a manner of speaking, they were vocal gold.

BTW, I have something in common with That Hamilton Woman. Like my wife, she was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and was once a teacher….but unlike my wife, she was unlike my wife (and vice versa….or is it verse vica).

Character actresses may not be leading ladies, but there’s one who was always the Main attraction :

My last post started with a birthday girl; this post ends with one….and what a one: Margaret Dumont (born Oct. 20, 1882), the gloriously inimitable foil of Groucho in nine of the Marx Brothers’ thirteen films, as typified by the following story.

In a play in which she played Mrs. Rittenhouse (and which was later made into an early Marx Brothers film), the brothers abandoned the script during one performance and began improvising scene after scene….from here, I quote from the book THE MARX BROTHERS AT THE MOVIES:

After some time she decided to take her chances and enter in the middle of it all. At that moment, Chico and Harpo simply walked off the stage, leaving the great dowager face-to-face with Groucho. So Groucho, with his characteristic speed of mind, gestured to a nearby divan. “Ah, Mrs. Rittenhouse,” he proclaimed. “Won’t you…er…lie down?” It had gotten a laugh on Broadway, so the brothers simply took it with them when they traveled to the Astoria studio [to make movies].

There’s a scene in my favorite Marx Brothers movie, DUCK SOUP, in which Dumont’s character addresses Groucho’s character, Rufus T. Firefly, President of Fredonia, as “Your Excellency!”…to which he replies, “You’re not so bad yourself.”
To which I can but add, You Bet Your Life!

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?

 

 

 

 

BALD AND FREE — HOW CAN THAT BE? (subtitle: The Bald And The Beautiful)

Nothing makes a woman feel as old as watching the bald spot increase on the top of her husband’s head. –Helen Rowland

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Oct. 7 is BALD AND FREE DAY, but personally, I’m not sure what one has to do with the other. I’m mostly bald, all right, but how free is a married man like me? Of course, I’m just kidding — my wife lets me out of my cage for an hour a week, even though I keep getting balder….and making her feel older. Maybe I shouldn’t be using that hour to get a haircut.

HEADLONG RETREAT

As the years go by, my barber
Takes less and less time with my hair
Which only serves to remind me
That there’s less and less of it there.

To be sure, I’m not the only one whose predicament may become a hair-raising experience:

That gave me a headache just watching it. If only I could trust the dubious ads that involve spending my moo-lah to get to the root of the problem, I might risk springing for mo-hair….but snake oil aside, there must be a less painful way to restore a Lost Hairy zone:

Hmm. I wonder whether that great humanit-hairian, Donald Trump, would mind parting with some of his spare hair if I could dig up some skullduggery by his political opponents? For example, much corruption has been reported in the Caribbean nation of Hairti — and it’s surely a lock that all of the Democratic Presidential contenders are involved. All I’d have to do is send my nosey friend, Fruity Giuliani, there on behalf of our Pres with a quid pro-boscis that the Pres of Hairti can’t ignore.

On second thought, if Agent Orange went to my head, my wife might think I’m losing it along with my hair. I might as well keep to my cage, skip my weekly trip to the clip joint, and try to console myself that, after all is said and done….

Now, if I can only convince my wife.

SONG SMITHS

By all accounts, SMITH has long been the most common surname in America. On the other hand, SMITH has been one of the least common surnames among popular songwriters. Take the example of when, in 1939, Mr. Jimmy Stewart Smith goes to Washington and becomes a sen-sation, rather than going to Tin Pan Alley to become a song-sation. We can surmise why mistermuse goes to Word Press in 2009 but doesn’t become a pun-sation; misterstewartsmith could’ve had A Wonderful Life acting like a songwriter in Hollywood musicals.

During the period with which I am most musically in tune (1920s-1950s), I can count on one hand the number of songsmiths named Smith whose compositions achieved contemporary hit status (much less, lasting status as standards). Compared to the percentage of Smiths in the overall (or, for that matter, the underwear) population, there were fewer Smiths of note in music than in the Hollywood Senate — which, for better or verse, leads us to the first of our handful of Smiths, Chris Smith, composer of….

Next, time to rise and shine with Billy Dawn Smith, composer of….

Next next, we turn to lyricist Harry Bache Smith for the words to this somber classic:

Speaking of serious stuff, Stuff Smith composed this wonderful ballad. It may not be your cup of tea, but I can say without fear of contradiction that It’s Wonderful:

We close with a song written by Dick Smith. Yes, THAT Dick Smith. If you don’t believe me, look him up and ask him.