Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tidbits of April, 2016

It was an old trick of the British Music Hall to catapult a comic actor through a trap door at the front of the stage.  The device, known as a "star trap," is discussed at length in my book The Funny Parts.  Here is an example of the star trap in Abbott & Costello's Comin' Round the Mountain (1951).


Jules Verne's 1879 novel, "Tribulations of a Chinaman in China," involves a despondent man who hires a hit man to kill him but then changes his mind and is unable to call off the committed assassin.  A 1910 film by Max Linder, Le pacte (1910), seems to be loosely based on this book.  The plot was used again later in Up to His Ears (1965) and Bulworth (1998).  Now, the plot turns up yet again in a comedy from the Netherlands, De Surprise (2015).

John Bunny runs into modern-day pirates.

Dorothy Devore climbs outside of a building to recover an expensive bracelet from an organ grinder's monkey in Hold Your Breath (1924).


In The Battle of the Century (1927), Stan Laurel becomes so invigorated as he prepares for a boxing match that his ears excitedly wiggle.  When asked how this effect was achieved, Stan's daughter Lois said, "Imagine a kind of fishing tackle which does not photograph and is attached to the ears and pulled gently from behind the camera."

I never tire of pictures of Buster Keaton.

Keaton does the "hat mix-up" gag with Eddie Cline.

Here we have the many faces of Bill Dana. 

This is one of ZaSu Pitts' early film appearances.

Fred Ardath brings his popular stage act to films in the Vitaphone short The Corner Store (1929).


Lupino Lane plays an inept fireman in A Half-Pint Hero (1927).

Our Gang gets a ride from motorcycle police.

Johnny Burke sprays Vernon Dent with a seltzer bottle in The Lion's Roar (1928).

Ham and Bud received regular coverage in the trade magazines.


This is vintage Mad Magazine.  The artist is George Woodbridge.  The writers are Dick DeBartolo and Donald K. Epstein.

Wilfred Lucas has the title role in the Keystone comedy Baffles, the Gentleman Burglar (1914).  The Keystone Cops are able to capture Baffles because he gets stuck in the chimney.

Let's get into more "stuck" comedy.

Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) has difficulty working as a janitor in The Honeymooners episode "Dial J for Janitor" (September 15, 1956).


Patty Duke gets her head stuck in pipes under a kitchen sink.

Hey, this stuff just happens sometimes.  Take, for instance, this incident in China.

Martin and Lewis were drawn again and again to the mirror routine.


This is good comic book reading.

The Murphy bed gag returns in The Boss (2016).


Let me try to identify a few of the entertainers celebrated in this 1905 illustration by P. Richards.

Campbell and Johnson worked as comedy cyclists from at least 1904 to 1908.  They mostly garnered good reviews.

Variety (April, 1906)
Campbell and Johnson scored strongly in their bicycle and acrobatic act.
Variety, August, 1908
[Campbell and Johnson] have apparently found that the rougher clowning receives the louder applause and have accordingly "taken the lid off."  This may be well enough unless they are led astray to too great an extreme of knockabout assault and battery, as they appear to be in danger of doing.
Couture and Gillette were comedy acrobats.

J. A. Murphy and Eloise Willard were a popular husband and wife comedy team.  The illustration shows them performing their "Phrenologist" sketch, which was one of many acts that they created to amuse vaudeville audiences.  The team later worked at Lubin with Oliver Hardy.

Elouise Willard

A. Roy Knabenshue was an American aeronautical engineer and aviator who became well-known for making daring flights with his California Arrow dirigible.  The aviator exhibited his dirigible to audiences throughout the country.  I assume, though, that he showed up at his vaudeville appearances with a scaled-down mock-up of the California Arrow.

Joan Davis performs the inflating raft routine in an I Married Joan episode, "Joan's Curiosity" (December 3, 1952).  The same routine was undertaken again in the 1960s by other actresses, including Mary Tyler Moore and Patty Duke.

Nora Ephron credited her parents, screenwriters Henry and Phoebe Ephron, with introducing the "head caught in the banister" routine in Walter Lang's Jackpot (1950). 

However, Buster Keaton did a brief version of the routine nearly three decades earlier in The Haunted House (1921).

This is the end.

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