Monday, June 8, 2015

The Rehash Blues

Variety's critics hated comedy shows that were nothing more than a patchwork of old routines.  A Variety critic flatly dismissed a 1921 revue with the line, "All of the hoke and standards were present."  Another Variety critic, George M. Young, provided a more specific complaint in an opinion piece published on December 12, 1908.  Young wrote, "Season after season hackneyed material is offered by managers who pretend to have a good show.  The rehashing of old time afterpieces which have been doing duty since the days when they were always a part of a variety show is what they offer as up-to-date entertainment.  Such old time pieces as 'A Crowded Hotel,' 'Forbidden Fruit,' 'First Night's Record,' 'Irish Justice,' 'Blow the Horn,' 'Pink Dominoes,' 'Pompey's Patients,' 'Two Married Men,' and a hundred other skits popular in variety when William J. Carroll, Harry G. Richmond, George Murphy, Louise Robie and others of their class put them on weekly, have been twisted and made over until it is a question just where the origin of any belongs."

This issue was again raised in a review of a show at the Eltinge Theatre on August 4, 1937.  The critic wrote, "Comedy bits have nearly everything they'd been doing for years in burlesque save 'Ghost in the Pawn Shop' and 'Irish Justice,' which just couldn't be crowded in.  And maybe they'll be in next week.  McAllister and Fields are rowdy throughout, especially in the 'Crystal Gazer' and 'Tailor Shop' bits.  [Harry] Evanson and [Chick] Hunter struggle valiantly with 'Life Saver' and 'Telegraph Office,' both venerable and refusing to be resuscitated."

I have written before about "Ghost in the Pawn Shop," "Irish Justice" and "Pompey's Patients."  A script for "Pink Dominoes" is available online here.  The "Big Foot Wallace" routine has left behind no clear written record that I can find.  It was presumably a spoof of the daring exploits of real-life Texas ranger William "Big Foot" Wallace.  I do know that, at some point in the scene, the comic hero is startled by the sudden appearance of a lion (an actor in a laughable costume).

William "Big Foot" Wallace

I was particularly curious about the "Blow the Horn" routine.  What exactly was this routine?  A Variety critic came across the team Willard and Williamson performing the bit at the 23rd Street Theatre in July, 1919.  He wrote, "For a finish the team uses 'Blow the Horn,' evidently new to the 23rd Street bunch, judging by the way they ate it up."

A Variety critic found that the routine was used favorably in "Pat White and His Gaiety Girls" revue, which debuted at the Trocadero in September, 1909.  He wrote, "White had the house from the very instant he stepped on the stage, and he never lost them.  Even when the time-worn 'Blow the Horn' bit was introduced near the finish of the first part, the audience didn't stop laughing, and if anyone ever got more out of this old bit of comedy than White did, it must have held up a show somewhere."
Pat White generated enthusiastic reviews wherever he went.

Variety's critics frequently referenced the "Blow the Horn" routine, but they never bothered to explain the specific antics that comprised the routine.  But, then, a critic mentioned comics engaging in the "Blow the Horn" business during an encounter with Indians in a routine called "On the Frontier."  It was now that I was able to tentatively identify the routine.  It was, apparently, the "Blow the Whistle" routine from Abbott and Costello's Pardon My Sarong (1942).  Abbott and Costello think that they have the perfect idea for dealing with any tropical island cannibal that crosses their path.  Abbott will blow a whistle to distract the cannibal and this will give Costello the opportunity to come up behind the cannibal and whack him over the head with his club.  The problem is that, at the exact moment that a cannibal springs out of the brush, Abbott realizes that he has carelessly misplaced the whistle. 

The same routine was done with the appropriate horn and Indians in an earlier film, Ham Among the Redskins (1915).

The revivals of old routines did not always dissatisfy critics.  A Variety critic was pleased when a couple of young fellows, Jimmy Cole and Dan Collins, did the "water in the hat" trick in a new way.  He joked, "You can't stop this wave of progressiveness which is permeating the nation at present."

I need to head out now to a doctor's appointment.  Can anyone give me a ride?

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