EAST IS EAST AND WEST IS BEST?

Hat-check girl in Mae West’s first film: “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds.”
Mae West: “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.”

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

Some actors and actresses (and I don’t mean this pejoratively) basically play themselves in their films, while others are so believable and natural in varied roles and genres, they completely inhabit whatever given character they portray. An example of the latter, going back to Hollywood’s Golden Age, is Henry Fonda (if you think he played only serious parts, you haven’t seen the classic 1941 comedy, THE LADY EVE, in which he co-starred with Barbara Stanwyck — another of the most versatile players of that era).

Mae West was of the first category, very much the Diamond Lil character she created. Today being her birthday (8/17/1893), it’s her day to sparkle:

It has been said that “Mae West literally constituted a one-woman genre.” Basically playing herself, she was one of the country’s biggest box office draws in the 1930s, despite being almost 40 years old when offered her first movie contract (by Paramount) in 1932. Previously, she’d appeared in a number of rather risqué plays, including Diamond Lil and her first starring role on Broadway (appropriately titled Sex), which she wrote, produced and directed. As with all the plays she wrote and performed in, there was much controversy and publicity, and it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling.

Her first film (see opening quote) was NIGHT AFTER NIGHT, making such an impression that co-star George Raft reportedly said, “She stole everything but the cameras.” Her next film, SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1933), featured Cary Grant in one of his first major roles, and was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. It was such a big moneymaker that it saved Paramount from bankruptcy in the midst of the Great Depression.

West went on to make six more movies in the 1930s, but in 1934, the Production Code began to be strictly enforced, and censors doubled down on her double-entendres. By today’s standards, such censorship seems ludicrous, but those were moralistic times, and after her last ‘naughty’ picture for Paramount in 1937, they thought it best to terminate her contract if they knew what’s good for them. She did manage to make one more hit movie, co-starring with W. C. Fields in My Little Chickadee for Universal Pictures in 1940.

Unbawdied and unbowed, when asked about puritanical attempts to impede her career, West wisecracked, “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.” Not for nothing was one of her nicknames “The Statue of Libido.” She died in 1980 at the age of 87.

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

Coincidentally, August 17 is also the birthday of my mother, who passed away 17 years ago. Happy Birthday, Mom — YOU WERE THE BEST.

FOR YOU, MORE HUMOR

N’yuk-n’yuk-n’yuk! –Curly Howard, The Three Stooges

April being NATIONAL HUMOR MONTH, I thought I’d humor you with humor-us woids of wisdom from some of my favorite humor-ists. I’d have begun with a self-sample, but thought it best to start on a higher plane — and who in comedic history soared higher than Curly when it comes to debonair comedy? So it is written that I must take second place in my own post (third, if you count comedienne Joan Rivers’ intro to my poem):

THE DIVINE COMEDY CLUB

Humor is God’s gift to all of us.
–Joan Rivers

Thank God for funny
because seriously
we could be
dying out there.

Being a comedian is a lonely occupation; you stand on the stage talking to yourself, being overheard by audiences. –Fred Allen

Humor is merely tragedy standing on its head with its pants torn. –Irvin S. Cobb

Humor is just another defense against the universe. –Mel Brooks

When humor works, it works because it’s clarifying what people already feel. It has to come from someplace real. –Tina Fey

Humor is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue. –Virginia Woolf

Start every day off with a smile and get it over with. –W. C. Fields

The secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow; there is no humor in Heaven. –Mark Twain

Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is. –Francis Bacon

I don’t want to run for office; there’s already too many comedians in Washington. –Will Rogers

Without a sense of humor, I don’t know how people make it. –Marlo Thomas

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

We close on an upbeat note from this laughing-at-life jazz great whose birthday is April 7:

 

HUMOR INCORPORATED

Humor must both teach and preach if it would live forever; by forever, I mean 30 years.
–Mark Twain

If Webster’s definition of humor as the “quality of imagination quick to perceive the ludicrous or express itself in an amusing way” is on the mark, Twain underestimated the staying power of his humor by nigh onto 100 years (and counting). But “staying” is just one of humor’s possible powers, and because (as Lord Acton famously observed) power tends to corrupt, humor cannot absolutely avoid Acton’s axiom.

My musing on this subject is occasioned by April being National Humor Month — so proclaimed in 1976 by Larry Wilde, Founder/Director of The Carmel Institute of Humor: http://www.larrywilde.com/

As you might expect, The Carmel Institute of Humor is not without serious competition. A similar entity I’ve come across is The Humor Project, Inc., founded by Joel Goodman in 1977 “as the first organization in the world to focus full-time on the positive power of humor” — a claim that suggests a merger of Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” with funny business. And, from such appealing funny businesses as Goodman’s, have big businesses grown (judging by their “power” promotions): https://www.humorproject.com/

Now, far be it from me to regard the corporatizing of humor as a phony business — hey, there are worse things to make of humor than a commodity, and worse ways to earn a buck than to commercialize the process. But, purist that I am, I see making humor in the same light as making love: much to be preferred on a human level than as an industry (the virtues of consumer capitalism notwithstanding). Nonetheless, I’m not so doctrinaire as to deny either humor or sex to potential customers when free(?) enterprise comes a-courting.

Unlike Larry Wilde and Joel Goodman, mistermuse does not have a Speaker’s Bureau, a three-day Annual Conference (discounted fee for early registration), a five-point humor program, seminars or workshops. But mistermuse does offer an every-five-days discourse on subjects of interest (his, if not yours) — usually with tongue in cheek, and never with hat in hand. Dis course today concludes with ten humorous quotes, which come with a funny-back guarantee if he doesn’t think they’re priceless:

Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.Oscar Wilde (not to be confused with Larry – or Curly or Moe, for that matter)
Conference: a meeting held to decide when the next meeting will take place. –Evan Esar
You can’t study comedy; it’s within you. –Don Rickles (the Donald Trump of insult-comics)
Start every day off with a smile and get it over with. –W.C. Fields
Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else. –Will Rogers
Culture is roughly anything we do and monkeys don’t. –Lord Raglan
In politics, an absurdity is not a handicap. –Napoleon Bonesapart (I’ve been waiting a long time for the opportunity to butcher that name)
Politicians do more funny things naturally than I can think of doing purposely. –Will Rogers
Humor is just another defense against the universe. –Mel Brooks
Wit – the salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out. –Ambrose Bierce

Over, and out.

 

A PAST OF CHARACTERS

For some time, I’ve had it in the back of my mind to do a post on one-of-a-kind character actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age, most of them long forgotten except to old film buffs like myself. There are familiar exceptions, of course — non-starring actors who appeared in classic films which continue to be shown today, such as Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West in THE WIZARD OF OZ) and Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet (Ugarte/Joel Cairo and the fat man, respectively, in CASABLANCA and THE MALTESE FALCON). But today I want to focus on the rule, not the well-remembered exceptions.

It was while researching April 5th birthdays for notables born on this date (and finding the likes of Spencer Tracy, Bette Davis and Gregory Peck) that I saw among them a long forgotten character actor whose name (Grady Sutton, born 4/5/1906) rang a bell….so I decided to do such a post today and include him among those I pay tribute to. To make it a bit (player) more interesting, I’ll list six names, followed by clips (not in the same order) of scenes in which they separately appear. Can you spot one of the six in each clip?

1. Eric Blore
2. Margaret Dumont
3. James Finlayson
4. Billy Gilbert
5. Hattie McDaniel
6. Grady Sutton

a. 

b.

c.

d.

e.

f.

How many could you identify? Hint: the names match the clips in reverse order; e.g.,
1. Eric Blore is the British valet being “summoned” in “f.” For more on Blore, click here:
Eric Blore: What a Character!

2. Margaret Dumont (clip “e”) should pose no recognition problem for Marx Brothers fans. For those who aren’t Marxists, mark this: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0241669/bio

3. James Finlayson (clip “d”) should pose no recognition problem for Laurel & Hardy fans. When you can’t imagine any other actor in his L & H roles, you know he was truly unique: http://www.wayoutwest.org/finlayson/

4. Billy Gilbert is the man (Pettibone) in the middle in this clip (“c”) from HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940). Like Finlayson and Dumont, another one-of-a-kinder: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0317970/

5. Hattie McDaniel (clip “b”) plays Aunt Tempy and sings “Sooner or Later” opposite James Baskett (as Uncle Remus) in this scene from Walt Disney’s SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946). Best known role: Mammy, in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939): http://www.biography.com/people/hattie-mcdaniel-38433

6. Grady Sutton (clip “a”) plays new assistant (Chester) to W.C. Fields in this scene from YOU CAN’T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN (1939). He was also a Fields foil in MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE (1935) and THE BANK DICK (1940).

Yes, my friends, there were great character actors in the land of make-believe in those days. If some were but “bit” players, they made their small parts singularly indispensable. We shall not see their like again.

MISTER MUSE AND MISS QUOTES

I have made it a rule that whenever I say something stupid, I immediately attribute it to Dr. Johnson, Marcus Aurelius or Dorothy Parker. –George Mikes, British author

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

Fellow and female Americans: In case you’re not old enough — as I am — to remember the Father of our Country, George Birthington’s washday was February 22nd. OK, I admit that after all these years, I may have a hard time recalling names and certain words correctly, but what does it matter? As Christopher Shakespeare (or was it William Marlowe) famously wrote, a ruse by any other name would smell anyway.

Anyway, my point is that quotes may frequently get mis-attributed, but Miss Attributed couldn’t care less, so why should we? Well, I’ll tell you why — because we’re righters, that’s why, and we righters deserve credit where credit is dubious. Therefore, with the aid of my busty — I mean, trusty — aide, Miss Quotes, the objective here was to do an extensive investigation into the subjective and dig up our quota of misquotes (our quota being whenever we decided to quit) . You are now about to be the beneficiary of our research, which we bent over backwards to have ready for this post (just to make it a bit more fun, I’ll throw in a few correctly-attributed quotes; can you pick them out of the pack?):

1. “I cannot tell a lie.” –George Washington
2. “Give me liberty, or give me death.”  –Patrick Henry  
3. “The British are brave people. They can face anything except reality.” –George Mikes
4. “Anybody who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad.” –W.C. Fields
5. “Our comedies are not to be laughed at.” –Samuel Goldwyn
6. “I never said most of the things I said.” –Yogi Berra
7. “Let them eat cake.” –Marie-Antoinette
8. “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” –Mark Twain
9. “Elementary, my dear Watson.” –Sherlock Holmes (in the stories of A. Conan Doyle)
10. “I am the greatest!” –The Donald

Here are the misattributions:

1. The quote itself is a lie. An Anglican minister, Mason Locke, ascribed it to our first President in his pietistic biography of Washington as part of the made-up ‘Who chopped down the cherry tree’ story: “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; I did cut it with my hatchet.”
2. Possibly another biographical fiction, though not as clear-cut as the cherry tree story. Biographer Wm. Wirt based his attribution on the memory of two Henry contemporaries. The phrase resembles a passage from CATO, a 1713 play written by Joseph Addison.
4. Actually said by humor writer Leo Rosten in introducing Fields at a dinner.
5. An old Hollywood gag, not said (at least originally) by Goldwyn.
7. By all accounts, Marie-Antoinette never uttered those words. Several years before she supposedly said them, they appeared in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s THE CONFESSIONS.
8. Although Twain used this quote in his autobiography, he credited it to Benjamin Disraeli.
9. Doyle never put those words in the great detective’s mouth in any of his four novels and 56 short stories about Holmes between 1887-1927.  It was actor Basil Rathbone, playing Holmes in the late 1930s-1940s, who spoke those words and made them famous.
10. Donald Trump may think it, but it was Muhammad Ali who said it.

As a bonus, I leave you with this quote:

 

 

 

NO JOKE – IT’S INTERNATIONAL JOKE DAY

July 1 is International Joke Day, one of those days when I get to pilfer humor from others rather than strain my brain for something original. Hence, if you find any of the following jokes offensive to your ethnicity, they’re not my jokes, so don’t shoot the messenger. Yes, I’m posting them, but the devil made me do it (just so you know who to blame). Thus pre-absolved, off we go around the world:

What do you name a retarded Chinese baby?
Sum Ting Wong.

What’s the difference between an Irish wake and an Irish wedding?
There’s one less drunk at the wake. (Or, as I would’ve said, one less Irish stewed.)

A French chef, Monsieur H. Cuisine, tired of being a glorified cook, decided to retire and raise rabbits to sell to Paris’s finer restaurants. After searching all over the city for a place to raise his rabbits, an old priest at the cathedral agreed to rent him a small plot behind the rectory. The venture proved so successful that one restaurant owner asked where he got such tasty rabbits. Monsieur H. Cuisine smiled and replied, “I raise them myself, near the cathedral. Actually, I have a….hutch back of Notre Dame.”

If you want to eat well in England, eat three breakfasts daily. –W. Somerset Maugham

A New Zealander, hoping to immigrate to Australia (which was largely a British penal colony until the 1850s), was questioned by a customs officer upon arrival: “What is your business in Australia?”
“I wish to immigrate.”
Customs officer: “Do you have a conviction record?”
Confused, the New Zealander answered, “I didn’t think you still needed one.”

Why do Italian men have mustaches?
They want to look like their mama.

It’s almost impossible to do inventory in Afghanistan because of the tally ban.

My next door neighbor is loud and obnoxious. Now I know how Canada feels.

January 19th was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America….or, as it’s known in the south, Monday.

The world is getting to be such a dangerous place, a man is lucky to get out of it alive. –W.C. Fields

 

 

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

The above title is one of the most famous, fascinating quotes in history. It was, of course, uttered by Sir Henry Stanley upon finding Dr. David Livingstone near Africa’s Lake Tanganyika in November, 1871, after an arduous 8 month search. If you’re not familiar with the details, here’s a refresher:

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/stanley.htm

I bring this up because today is Livingstone’s birthday (March 19, 1813), and one can hardly imagine a more droll, understated salutation than Stanley’s under the circumstances at the time. Stanley had been sent by the New York Herald to find Livingstone, the explorer who for several years had been out of contact with the outside world and was feared lost. To say it was an adventure which captured the world’s imagination would itself be an understatement. Almost 70 years later, in 1939 (a year of epic movies, such as GUNGA DIN and GONE WITH THE WIND), the story was still powerful enough to inspire an on-location biopic titled STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE, starring Spencer Tracy.

As a lover of dry wit, it made me wonder what other droll quotes and witticisms are out there waiting to be discovered….so I set out in search thereof. You may presume I found the following to be the most telling (even though I don’t know who told some of them):

I have not yet begun to procrastinate.

You can observe a lot by just watching. -Yogi Berra

I’m sorry, but I never apologize.

Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours. -Yogi Berra

A photon checks into a hotel and is asked if he needs help with his luggage. He says, “No, I’m traveling light.”

The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep. -W. C. Fields

Being able to predict the future is nothing like I thought it would be.

You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap. -Dolly Parton

I used to think I was indecisive, but I’m not so sure now.

Nonetheless, I think this is THE END.