Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Incredible Laughable Egg

Shemp Howard in Listen, Judge (1952)
"We've got to speed things up in this hotel.  Chef, if a guest orders a three-minute egg, give it to him in two minutes.  If he orders a two-minute egg, give it to him in one minute. If he orders a one-minute egg, give him a chicken and let him work it out for himself. "

- Groucho, A Night in Casablanca (1946).

Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle of "All Wear Bowlers"

In vaudeville, the egg was an ideal prop for jugglers, magicians and comedians.  An egg, which could so easily break and create a mess, offered suspense and comedy to a vaudeville crowd.  The magicians might transform an egg or they might simply make it disappear.  A magician could drop an egg in an empty bag and moments later produce a live chicken from the bag.  It took an illusionist of great skill to suspend an egg in midair and then, while the egg was still in plain view, transform it into a full-grown chicken.  The magicians who were best known for egg tricks were The Great Albini, Kara, Horace Goldin and Theo Bamberg. 

Kara the Magician's egg trick was described in "Vaudeville Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performances in America," an extensive reference source written by Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman and Donald McNeilly.  Here is their description:
"[Kara's] control was at best when he tossed an uncooked egg high into the air and caught it unbroken on a plate.  The trick was to lessen the impact by lowering the plate at the exact moment of contact, thus sparing the egg a collision.  For laughs, Kara sometimes let the egg splat on the assistant's noggin before successfully executing the feat."
Variety's Sime Silverman was favorably impressed with juggler Frank Hartley.  In January, 1911, he wrote:
Frank Hartley is a young juggler of light and heavy objects. . . He works alone, without comedy assistant, interjecting a trifle of humor himself, perhaps the worst the business with the egg, although the juggling with the same bit of food was excellent.  As the "egg comedy" has been done often before, so has a great many of Mr. Hartley's tricks.  Not later than a week or so ago when the Cromwells appeared at the American; also Kara.  Hartley, however, is unfortunate only in following these jugglers so closely. For execution he compares with them, and favorably.  In a couple of new tricks the young man displays fine skill, particularly in the tea cup, saucer and spoon, thrown from his toe to his forehead, one at a time, each settling in place without a miss.
During the same month, Silverman saw The Great Albini at The Plaza.  He wrote, "[H]is best work in the forward part of the stage was the "egg and bag" matter.  Albini is a skillful palmer, and an excellent workman in every other way.  He makes his turn interesting."

Eggs received prominent attention in the reviews of various vaudeville acts.

Variety, October, 1913.  Review of Wallace Galvin at the Keith's Theatre in Philadelphia.
Earlier on the bill Wallace Galvin, a clever fellow with his hands, also uses eggs and breaks several in one of his tricks. . . Galvin makes his egg-smashing trick a funny one and his handling of cards and other articles rounds out a likable act of its kind.
Variety, February, 1915.  Review of a show at The Palace Theatre in New York City.
[I]n "Food," a travesty on the high east of living, in which an egg is featured, got a few laughs, and was only moderately received.
Variety, April, 1917.  Review of The Burlington Four, comedy quartet, at the Royal Theatre in New York City.
The four characters are all rube, including a storekeeper and a constable.  The biggest bit of fun is when two of the rubes steal eggs out of the grocer's basket and the constable, hitting them with a club, breaks the egg in their pockets.
Variety, April, 1917.  Review of Roberto in New York City.
Roberto juggl[es] big ball, marble and egg with plate.
Variety, April, 1917.  Review of Wallace Galvin at the Majestic Theatre.
Wallace Galvin displayed his laugh-bringing egg trick and his excellent control of the Chinese rings.
Talking Machine World, October, 1921.  Review of The Great Rasso on the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit.
[A]nother of Mr. Rasso's stunts. . . consists of juggling three articles differing extremely in size and density, the first being a heavy ball about eight inches in diameter, the second a small piece of tissue paper crumpled into a ball and the third a real egg.  Incidentally, the egg is concealed under the rooster statue until he is ready to perform this trick, and when revealing the egg he always gets a laugh from the audience with the remark, "Some rooster!"
Rasso's act was something like this.

Variety, May, 1921.  Review of Moran and Mack at the Riverside Theatre in New York City.
Moran and Mack were next to closing with their burnt cork nonsense.  It is Mack all the way, with Moran alimited straight.  The egg and bookkeeper gag was one of the biggest laughs of the evening, proving newness isn't everything.
Variety, February, 1923.  Review of Ritter and Knappe at the Jefferson Theatre.
The juggling of three 45-pound cannon balls manipulation of cannon ball and egg, catching both on plate after tossing both to height of 10 feet, balancing two fish bowls and cannon ball on scaffold apparatus, the latter balanced on chin, and the balancing of a 200 pound torpedo on wooden apparatus on shoulders are included.
Variety, March, 1923.  Report of an offstage performance.
The last ones to leave the ball were a group who staged a little party of their own in one of the parlors after the ball ended.  They all went to a lunch place for breakfast.  In the party with our friend, the Broadway comic, who ordered a half dozen raw eggs, and started teaching everyone a new game, of tossing the eggs in the air, and catching them on his head, covered by someone else's hat.  It was great until the owner of the hat discovered it.  The comic tossed one egg too high and it's still decorating the ceiling.
Variety, May, 1923.  Review of Harry Slighto in New York City.
Harry Slighto, "The Magic Marvel," broke the world's record for card tricks by doing the same trick for 203 hours.  He might have gone even farther, but the cards melted in his hands and this moisture caused his celluloid cuffs to float into the audience.  Mr. Slighto announced the next week he will try and break the world's record for the "Egg-in-a-Bag" trick.
Variety, June, 1923.  Review of Kurt Tarzan and Rudolph Wagner at the 58th Street Theatre in New York City.
The first-named is probably the young Hercules who juggles cannon balls and other heavyweight objects, changing the pace by juggling a plate and egg.  One stunt is the catching of two aquariums in either hand and a cannon ball on the neck.  The funny-looking hairless comic got in his best work with the fish bowls, starting by eating one of the goldfish.
Motion Picture Herald, September 12, 1931.  Review of Pepito at the Omaha Orpheum Theatre.
In a stage setting replete with the circus clowns' most extravagant dream, Pepito, assisted by Juanita and Bombo, entertains as prince of entertainers in his chosen field.  His crying baby, egg juggling, cow-milking and other features take hold of the audience as he would have them.
Variety, January, 1942.  Review of Eddie and Lucille Burnette at the Palomar Theatre in Seattle, Washington.
Eddie Burnette and Lucille pleased with a fruit, egg and bird trick. . .
Variety, June, 1943.  Review of Shaw and Lee at the Orpheum Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska.
June Preisser and Shaw and Lee spark this revue with Miss Preisser coming out after opening and gagging with the comics as sort of ice-breaker.  They [then] do their old egg trick. . .
Variety, September, 1944.  Review of Coghlin and Talent at the Keith's Theatre in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Coghlin and Talent display a smart line of patter in a juggling routine with an egg trick that always clears the front rows when the hen-fruit seems to be coming their way.
Variety, May, 1945.  Review of Paul Rossini at the Hotel Roosevelt.
Paul Rossini, a smooth showman, has the customers with him from the beginning with his clowning and constant underplaying of his magical talents.  His egg-in-the-bag trick, "deuce-or-spades in a cigarette and thumb tie," and Chinese linking rings nets him plenty of applause.

You can perform egg gags in the privacy of your own home without the skills of a juggler or magician.   

Eggs are the subject of two longstanding novelty gags -  The Bouncing Egg and The Fried Egg.

Eggs were a source of humor in early films.  Take, for instance, Georges Méliès' Prolific Magic Egg (1903).

In Romance of an Egg (1908), a group of young ladies has fun pelting a farmer with eggs. 

Kevin R. Niver wrote the following plot summary for Biograph's The Affair of an Egg (1910) in "Motion Pictures from The Library of Congress Paper Print Collection 1894-1912':
A whimsical farm girl writes a message on an egg that finds its way to a city restaurant where it is served to a young man.  Intrigued, the young man sets out to locate the message-writer.  He makes the long and arduous trip by train to the country and confronts the young woman, who, much to his dismay, doubles up her fist and hits him.  The next scene shows the young woman on her knees beseeching him to return to her.
Charlie Chaplin had a brief fascination with eggs.  First, he makes a mess collecting eggs from a hen house in The Tramp (1915).  

The following year, he drops eggs on the shoes of a romantic rival (Lloyd Bacon) in The Vagabond (1916).

Chaplin in Sunnyside (1919)

In 1917, Victor Moore brought eggs to the forefront of a Klever comedy called Egged On.  Motion Picture News described the film's set-up as follows:
Vic is entrusted with a gunpowder formula, which has been put into egg shells to take to the American munition manufacturers.  It is supposed to be the most deadly weapon of its kind invented.  So in order that nothing should happen to the eggs, Vic puts them in a hand-bag, which he keeps close to his side.  On arrival in the States he loses the bag and his wallet full of money.

Moving Picture World explained the remainder of the plot as follows:
[A]n heiress that he meets gets his valise and puts the eggs in an incubator when she gets home.  Vic arrives too late to prevent the explosion. . . Vic tries to earn five dollars to send a cable for money when he loses his valise.  He wears a dress suit with a tailor's advertisement on the back.  The heiress pretends to return his eggs to him, but really substitutes real eggs, which are hatched when he opens his valise in the government office.  This is a fair comedy.  No eggs are thrown.
In The Cook (1918), Roscoe Arbuckle takes the time to juggle an egg and bounce it off the floor during his preparation of an omelet.


Stan Laurel steals a few eggs in Huns and Hyphens (1918).

The tropical island comedy Robinson Crusoe Ltd. (1921) featured an ostrich that consumes blasting powder and then, as a consequence of its inappropriate feed, produces a batch of exploding eggs.  The film's star, Lloyd Hamilton, finds this new type of explosive highly useful to warding off hungry cannibals.

An egg figured prominently in a review of The Counter Hopper (1922) that was published in Exhibitors Trade Review on December 9, 1922.
Instead of "The Counter Jumper" Larry Semon might have named his comedy something like "The Walking Egg."  For it is an egg with a protruding pair of legs, much resembling those ordinarily associated with a frog, that provides the larger element of mirth in this Vitagraph release.

The Navigator (1924)

Charley Bowers demonstrated an obsession with eggs.  Take, for instances, Bowers' Egged On (1926), in which Charley is so unhappy about having an egg broken on his head that he sets out to develop an unbreakable egg.  Mark Bourne wrote of the film's climax, "[A] basket of chicken eggs, warmed on the engine of a Model T Ford, hatch open — and out pour a gaggle of tiny Model T's that unfold like origami and trundle around mama Ford until she snuggles them beneath her chassis."


Then we have Now You Tell One (1926).  Bourne wrote:
Bowers takes the prize as an inventor botanist who has developed a potion that will "graft anything."  So through impressive "Bowers Process" effects, we're treated to witty gags worthy of a Tex Avery cartoon, such as an eggplant tree that sprouts hardboiled eggs complete with salt shaker.
Photo courtesy of Jordan Young.
Matthew Ross, author of The Lost Laugh blog, wrote about Bowers' Say Ah-h! (1928):
Charley accidentally spills cement into the ostrich feed, producing an egg which cannot be broken.  With the feed ruined, Charley improvises by grinding down anything he can get his hands on: cushions, feather dusters, a broom, etc.  After dining on this hearty concoction, the ostrich produces an egg which hatches to produce two miniature animated ostriches, made from collars, feather dusters and collars.
Notice the "egg shampoo" feature on the control board of Charley's latest invention in A Wild Roomer (1926).

In The Better 'Ole (1926), a hungry soldier played by Sydney Chaplin steals an egg from a feisty mother hen.  Wikipedia reported:
After some back and forth jousting, Bill eventually gets the egg and puts it in his pocket. . . Bill [later] realizes that the egg in his pocket had broken and he gets up and walks outside, shaking his leg as he goes, feeling the contents running down his pants leg.  When Bill reaches into his pocket where he'd put the egg, he extracts a baby chick.
Buster Keaton juggles an egg while preparing an egg cream in College (1927).


Ben Turpin gives a man an egg shampoo.

In The Blue Angel (1930), a magician (Kurt Gerron) uses sleight of hand to make it seem as if he produced an egg out of thin air.


In Our Gang's Mush and Milk (1933), Dickie is annoyed when Spanky interrupts his efforts to milk a cow.  He snaps, "Go sit on an egg, willya?"  Spanky takes the instruction literally.


The Country Hospital (1932)


In Dirty Work (1933), a mad scientist who has been experimenting in age regression drops a duckling into a vat of water.  Stan and Ollie watches warily as the scientist adds his new formula to the water and the duckling is instantly transformed into an egg.


Stan and Ollie employ eggs in a ploy to shanghai sailors in The Live Ghost (1934).

In Baby Face Harrington (1935), Charles Butterworth embarrasses his wife (Uma Merkel) at a high society party when his awkward efforts to perform a magic trick with an egg result in the appalling splattering of egg yolk.

The greatest egg routine of all time can be found in Hollywood Party (1934), in which Laurel and Hardy wage an egg battle with Lupe Vélez.


The duo found eggs to be useful weapons again in Tit for Tat (1935).


The Hollywood Party scene was recreated by Laurel and Hardy in The Bullfighters (1945).


Who Done It? (1942) 

"Hey, Chick, throw me an egg!"


Much like Lloyd Hamilton, the Three Stooges were able to defeat foes with explosive eggs in Flat Foot Stooges (1938). . .


. . . and The Yoke's on Me (1944).

In Loco Boy Makes Good (1942), Curly's turn on the dance floor is interrupted when his magician's coat produces an unwanted egg.


Larry climbs the tree to grab eggs from a bird's nest in G.I. Wanna Home (1946).


An egg in the face is far more discomforting and humiliating than a pie in the face.

In I'm a Monkey's Uncle (1948), the Stooges defend themselves from attackers by catapulting a bird's nest filled with eggs.


Listen, Judge (1952)

Flagpole Jitters (1956)

It always looked to me as if Warren Oates got hit in the face with a frying pan of hot eggs in The Outer Limits episode "The Mutant."

Daffy Duck was evidently inspired by The Great Albini in The Henpecked Duck (1941).  While his wife is away, Daffy is entrusted with caring for the couple's egg.  The playful duck is going through a juggling act with the egg when he suddenly loses sight of his little offspring.

In So You Want to Keep Your Hair (1946), Joe McDoakes searches in vain for any cure that will halt his fast-disappearing hairline.  He considers an egg shampoo.

The Egg and I (1947) 

Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert,
 Kirk Douglas demonstrates a talent for juggling eggs in The Juggler (1953).

Audrey Hepburn learns the proper way to crack an egg in Sabrina (1954).

Blue Angel (1959)

The Dennis the Menace episode "Dennis' Obligation" (1961) found Dennis taking great care to assure the proper care and incubation of his eggs.  Other series, including Our Miss Brooks, Meet Mister McNutley and The Real McCoys, used the same premise during this period.  This might have spoke to Baby Boom parents, who were committed to caring for their own little ones.  

Bewitched ("It's Magic," 1965)


The Green Acres episode "A Square is Not Round" (1966) finds Mr. Douglas upset that his hens are laying square eggs.

Donald Pleasence juggles eggs in Cul-de-sac (1966).  Jordan Young, who is working on a book on Cul-de-sac, inspired this article based on this scene.  Thank you, Jordan.


Batman and Robin are drawn into an egg fight with Egghead (Vincent Price) in the Batman episode "The Yegg Foes in Gotham" (1966).

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Dean Jones discovers a duck that can lay golden eggs in The Million Dollar Duck (1971).

Coluche, a novice clown, practices his juggling skills in L'Aile ou la cuisse (1976).

Leslie Nielsen attends to a sick woman in Airplane! (1980).

Mork (Robin Williams) laid an egg on Mork and Mindy ("Three the Hard Way," 1981).

In Ödipussi (1987), three construction workers unwind during their lunch break by juggling eggs.

Married with Children ("What Goes Around Came Around," 1990)

"This is your brains.  This is your brain on marriage."  He slams the egg on the floor.  "Any questions?"

Albert Finney juggles eggs while making breakfast in The Green Man (1990).

Eggs (1995)

Yahoo Serious in Mr. Accident (2000)

An egg helps a soccer player to refine his skills in Shaolin Soccer (2001).   

This screen capture is from an episode of Everybody Hates Chris called "Everybody Hates Eggs" (2007).  For a class project, Chris has to take care of an egg as if it were a baby.

An egg is part of an experiment in an episode of The Big Bang Theory, "The Proton Resurgence" (2013).

Let us close with a bit of egg juggling.