MARSHAL LAW and SOILED DOVES

I have often not been asked who my favorite Old West marshal is. Just as often, I have not replied: “I have not often given it any thought.” I suppose that if, for some desperate reason (such as drawing a blank for something to write about for this post) I had given it any thought, I would’ve come up with Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok or Bat Masterson. Don’t ask me to name other famous marshals. Were there any other famous marshals?

Today is the 228th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Marshal Service, so I decided to marshal my resources, round up a posse, and pursue my query. Unfortunately, it wasn’t posse-ble to corral volunteers for such a questionable undertaking; I will have to go it alone. If I don’t come out of this post alive, please pray that I have gone to a better place. Philadelphia will do.

As you may have noticed in the above clip, Mae West was mighty handy with a six-shooter….but in yesteryear’s wild and wooly West, female marshals were scarcer than beer and whiskey drinkers on the wagon in a one-horse town with two saloons — a sobering thought, indeed. Thus, it mae be necessary to put up wanted posters in order to uncover additional famous marshals (preferably female).

Well, that didn’t take long; there WERE female marshals in the Old West. Here they be:

https://glitternight.com/tag/female-marshals/

That appears to be the extent of their ranks — out of hundreds of marshals/deputy marshals, only four were of the fair sex. But that seems only fair. After all, 99% of the ‘bad guys’ were just that — ‘guys’ — so why should women be charged with maintaining law and order in the Wild West when almost all of the lawbreakers were men….though it’s no stretch to assume that certain upstanding citizens weren’t above regarding certain ladies as ‘hardened’ offenders:

As Jesus and mistermuse not often say (therefore it bares repeating):  Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stein.

Needless to say, I’ll drink to that!

 

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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

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.”

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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.

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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

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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

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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: