Vaudeville is a theatrical genre of variety entertainment. It was especially popular in the United States and Canada from the early 1880s until the early 1930s. A typical vaudeville performance is made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill. Types of acts have included popular and classical musicians, singers, dancers, comedians, trained animals, magicians, female and male impersonators, acrobats, illustrated songs, jugglers, one-act plays or scenes from plays, athletes, lecturing celebrities, minstrels, and movies. A vaudeville performer is often referred to as a “vaudevillian”.
Lured by greater salaries and less arduous working conditions, many performers and personalities, such as Al Jolson, W. C. Fields, Mae West, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, Jimmy Durante, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Edgar Bergen, Fanny Brice, Burns and Allen, and Eddie Cantor, used the prominence gained in live variety performance to vault into the new medium of cinema. In so doing, such performers often exhausted in a few moments of screen time the novelty of an act that might have kept them on tour for several years. Other performers who entered in vaudeville’s later years, including Jack Benny, Abbott and Costello, Kate Smith, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Judy Garland, Rose Marie, Sammy Davis, Jr., Red Skelton, and The Three Stooges, used vaudeville only as a launching pad for later careers. They left live performance before achieving the national celebrity of earlier vaudeville stars, and found fame in new venues.
Here are some fun and lessor known facts about Charlie Chaplin:
• Charlie Chaplin was the first actor who graced the cover of Time magazine. He appeared on the July issue of Time in 1925.
• He was 73 years old when his youngest son was born.
• He was trained in playing the cello and violin.
• Charlie Chaplin joined a “Charlie Chaplin Look-Alike Contest” and he only came in third.
• Queen Elizabeth II knighted him when he was 85 years old.
• There is an asteroid named after Charlie Chaplin – the 3626 Chaplin. It sits in the asteroid belt found in between Venus and Mars.
• Charlie Chaplin stood 5 feet 5 inches tall.
• Charlie Chaplin had blue eyes. Most people guessed he had brown eyes since they only see him in black and white films.
• He was ordered to pay child support for a child that was not his own. In the 1940s, Charlie had a brief relationship with actress Joan Barry. Several months after their breakup, she claimed that Chaplin was the father of the child to which she had just given birth. When blood tests proved that Chaplin was not the father of the child, Barry’s attorney moved to have the tests ruled inadmissible as evidence. Because there was little historical precedent to admit the test results into the trial, the judge did not allow them to be used as evidence of Chaplin’s non-paternity. After a mistrial and a retrial, Chaplin was ordered to pay Barry $75 per week for child support, a respectable amount in those days.
• Three months after Chaplin died on Christmas 1977, his body was stolen in an effort to extort money from his family. Chaplin’s body was recovered 11 weeks later after the grave-robbers were captured. He is now buried under 6 feet of concrete to prevent further theft attempts.
• His daughter portrayed his mother in the movie Chaplin. The accomplished actress, Geraldine Chaplin, is Charlie’s daughter with his last wife Oona. In the 1992 Hollywood movie adaptation of Charlie Chaplin’s life, Chaplin, she portrayed Hannah Chaplin, Charlie’s mother.
It should be no surprise to anyone that I open this blog with the Master himself, Charlie Chaplin. He gets my first vote for his film,” The Tramp”. It is actually Chaplin’s sixth film with Essanay Studios. The Tramp marked the beginning of The Tramp character most known today, even though Chaplin played the character in earlier films. This film marked the first departure from his more slapstick character in the earlier films, with a sad ending and showing he cared for others, rather than just himself.
Plot – The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) meets his dream girl (Edna Purviance) and takes a job on her Father’s (Ernest Van Pelt) farm. The Tramp helps around the farm, including getting rid of criminals. Everything is perfect, until the Tramp meets his dream girls’ boyfriend. He doesn’t want to get in the way of her happiness, so the film ends with the Tramp heading on back down the road.
Directed, Written, and Starring Charlie Chaplin
Produced by Jess Robbins
Also Starring Edna Purviance and Ernest Van Pelt
Cinematography by Harry Ensign
Edited by Charlie Chaplin
Distributed by Essanay Studios
Release Dates April 11, 1915
Run Time 32 minutes
Goof – Near the end of the movie, the “Tramp” writes a note and there are two separate shots of it edited in. Both notes are in completely different handwriting and the word “good bye” is spelled differently. But Charlie couldn’t blame the editor because… Yep, you guessed it! It was himself.
Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin, (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977) was an English comic actor and film-maker who rose to fame in the silent film era. Chaplin became a worldwide icon through his screen persona “the Tramp” and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry.
Chaplin’s childhood in London was defined by poverty and hardship. His Father was mostly absent and his Mother was committed to a mental institution, so Charlie began working at a very young age. He always preferred performing to the workhouses, so he toured music halls and later worked as a stage actor and comedian. At 19 he travelled to America and began working for the Fred Karno Company, appearing in the popular Keystone comedies. He soon developed the Tramp persona and formed a large fan base. Chaplin directed his own films from an early stage, and continued to hone his craft as he moved to the Essanay, Mutual, and First National corporations. By 1918, he was one of the best known figures in the world.
In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the distribution company United Artists, which gave him complete control over his films. This is where he wrote, directed, and produced many films that rank on various industry lists of the greatest films of all time.
Chaplin’s later years are marked with controversy as he found his popularity decline. He was accused of having communist sympathies and was criticized for having marriages to much younger women. There was even a scandal involving a paternity suit. Eventually, an FBI investigation was opened, and Chaplin was forced to leave the United States and settle in Switzerland.
In 1972, as part of a renewed appreciation for his work, Chaplin received an Honorary Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century”. Today, he continues to be held in high regard and is often celebrated as one of the most pivotal stars of the early days of Hollywood.
Just as a side note, I think that Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in the film “Chaplin” was brilliant. It’s a travesty that he didn’t win an Academy Award for it, but you’ll have to wait to read all about it in my next series, “100 Years of the Best Oscar Snubs”.
When sneaking past security to infiltrate a bad guy’s fortified compound, my mode of covert subterfuge would have to be the often underused yet effective…walk through the front door disguised as the telephone repairman ruse.
It consists of the following:
Thick black-rimmed glasses
An air of indifference to whatever evil plot is seen or overheard while in the presence of said bad guys, while pretending to fix a fully functional telephone receiver
Helpful prop would be a tool belt while holding at the bear minimum, a few handy telephones, in best case scenarios, a nifty screwdriver
No telephone ID’s needed, as the best infiltrators can just talk their way through security
A good example would be Bruce Lee in The Chinese Connection (Fist of Fury) 1972. You can see the scenes in this clip, starting at 2:09.
An effective use of the disguise can also be seen by Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China, 1986, twice when he infiltrates the brothel and later with telephone in hand at the lair of the bad guy, Lo Pan.
I have a soft spot for John Wayne because I was named after a John Wayne movie (Donovan’s Reef) and he really reminds me of my grandfather that I am also named after (my middle name is his, Arch). It’s interesting to add that my other grandfather, Earnest, reminded me of Henry Fonda, because of his resemblance to his character in the movie, Mr. Roberts. Anyway, that’s for another post.
I especially liked it when John Wayne did his non-war movies, and comedies on top of that. An especially under-rated gem is the movie, “Trouble Along The Way” (1953) with Sherry Jackson, Charles Coburn and Donna Reed. He plays a University football Coach that tries to retain custody of his daughter after his divorce. It doesn’t sound like a comedy, but it has some very witty lines at times.
Donna Reed is very good in it too, five years before she takes on her own show in the Donna Reed Show, which, my brother and I would watch in reruns after school when we were in high school. We were very fond of them and we also liked her a lot in “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
As an added benefit, there is a great supporting role for the character actor Charles Coburn, which I really enjoyed in the movies, “The Lady Eve”, “The More the Merrier” and “Heaven Can Wait”. He was a favorite of my mothers, as well.
If you get a chance to see this little gem on Turner Classic Movies, do so, it’s very engaging and the plot keeps you interested. It also doesn’t tie things up in nice little bow in the end and keeps things a little open ended, which I can appreciate by not making things so perfect. My favorite scenes are the courtroom scenes and I laughed out loud today when Donna Reed was asked on the stand if she was in love with John Wayne and he shouts out, “Remind her that she is under oath!”.
Under context, I understand that the film was made around the time of John Wayne’s second divorce with wife Chata, and the plot follows along with her real-life accusations that he was violent with her. Just as in the movie, the ex-wife turns out to be throwing accusations just to hurt him and they turn out to be untrue. Watching the film, I wonder if any of this was just a coincidence or if the studio decided to protect it’s star and create a vehicle to prop up his image as an honest, strong and upright coach and father. Regardless, the film as seen today is delightful and full of great moments. Well worth the time spent watching it for the whole family.
Sherry Jackson, the little girl in this film, turned into a fine actress and was later seen in “Star Trek”, “Twilight Zone”, “Make Room For Daddy”, “Rockford Files”, “Perry Mason” as well as a slew of others. She was even recently at our very own Phoenix Comicon signing autographs! She has a fantastic website at: www.sherryjackson.net
Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!
One of the few cases where it’s hard to identify just one stunt and one person involved for the Best Movie Stunt, The Bangville Police is a 1913 comedy short starring Mabel Normand and the Keystone Kops (Fred Mace, Raymond Hatton, Edgar Kennedy, Ford Sterling, and Al St. John). The film, notable for being regarded as the seminal Keystone Kops (sometimes known as filmdom’s original “stuntmen”) short, was directed by Henry Lehrman.
I think Mabel Normand looks like Kate Winslet in this, with a very nice dress. Mabel was one of the film industry’s first female screenwriters, producers and directors. Onscreen she co-starred in commercially successful films with Charles Chaplin and Roscoe Arbuckle more than a dozen times each, occasionally writing and directing movies featuring Chaplin as her leading man. At the height of her career in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Normand had her own movie studio and production company.
The Keystone Kops were a ragtag gang and began as prize fighters, race car drivers, circus acrobats, strongmen, clowns, roustabouts and vaudevillians. They were a wild bunch, up for nearly any stunt the Sennett writers could concoct, and left behind a hilarious legacy of diverse performances. They were doused in oil, tossed off rooftops, launched into the ocean, butted by wild animals and plastered with pie. Their wacky “Kopwagon” was rigged to handle outrageous chases, near misses, collisions and explosions. Through improvisation and experimentation they developed many stunts and stunt techniques that remain popular today. The Keystone Kops were the first Movie Stunt Team and is a great example of why being a great acrobat is of so importance as a stunt performer.
The film itself is not very eventful, but I think it stands up as one of the first action-oriented films. In The Bangville Police, a girl wishes they had a baby calf, which her father agrees with but when she enters a room she thinks she hears burglars and calls the police who get out of bed in broad daylight and drive a repeatedly exploding car to girl’s farm where everyone discovers there are no burglars after all. But a baby calf miraculously appears.
The cops bumble about with a pretty cool fall at about 2:32 marker on the film and has a pretty big explosion with the car at 5:04 marker.
As a side note, Al St. John did stunts his entire life, from daring bike tricks as a child until his last days touring with a western show performing all kinds of gags, still doing falls and trick bicycling. His stunt work in the films were of a wide range and skillfully executed. I am not exaggerating when I say that he was one of the best stunt men in the business. Unfortunately his best work is still considered lost.
The shorts he did when he got his own company, wrote, starred and directed himself under names like Fox and Warner got rave reviews, papers and magazines dubbed him “superhuman”, “nuts”, “eccentric”,”different”…all in all, he stood out, leaving cinema audiences screaming of laughter and awe of his stunts and gags. His work was at the time called thrill comedy…not just comedy.
Stunt Team – A stunt team is a crew of stunt performers that follow the direction of the Stunt coordinator to collectively participate and execute an action sequence for film, television, or theater. I’d like to add that in many cases stunt teams have worked together over the course of years and as such develop their own techniques and often, their own verbal language and sign language.
Acrobatics – Acrobatics is the performance of extraordinary feats of balance, agility, and motor coordination. It can be found in many of the performing arts as well as in many sports. Acrobatics is most often associated with activities that make extensive use of gymnastic elements, such as acro dance, circus, and gymnastics, but many other athletic activities — such as ballet and diving — may also employ acrobatics. Although acrobatics is most commonly associated with human body performance, it may also apply to other types of performance, such as aerobatics.
Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!
Comedy has been around since the first cave man tripped coming out of the cave. And people have been laughing ever since. It’s infectious, yet it makes you feel better instead of sick. It can be loud and it can be silent. It can sneak up on you and it can be in your face. We can enjoy it alone or in a large group. It can be complex or it can be simple. It can be endearing and it can be rude. It can be flattering and it can be upsetting. It can have us smiling or shaking our heads. It can be silly and it can be serious. It can be smart and it can be stupid. Comedy is an enigma. But it makes us aware. And it makes us human.
Simply put, comedy is great and I have chosen to dissect it here. I will go back and take a look at the last century in comedy and I will attempt to pull out events, teams, movements, entities, and individuals that have molded comedy through the years. There is no way that I will be able to name them all. I will simply mention some of those that I feel are essential to comedy during this period. Please forgive me if I miss something or someone.
Wikipedia describes comedy as (from the Greek: κωμῳδία, kōmōidía) refers to any discourse or work generally intended to be humorous or to amuse by inducing laughter, especially in theatre, television, film and stand-up comedy. It goes on to say, for the popular meaning of the term “comedy”, see Humour. So I went to Humour and found this definition, Humour, or humor—see spelling differences—is the tendency of particular cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement. I think the combination of the two definitions work best.
I think real comedy is very broad. And I think that our ability to find something funny is based off of our own experiences and knowledge. That’s also another reason why comedy changes and grows. It’s very organic. And of course, it’s very topical. Things that we find funny today won’t necessarily be funny tomorrow. But that’s also one of the most wonderful things about comedy. It never ends. It will be ever changing.