Archive | November, 2013

Edward Everett Horton (part of the 2013 “What a Character!” blogathon)

8 Nov

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(This post is part of this weekend’s What A Character! blogathon – click the link above for more details about the splendid hosts and participants.)

Edward_Everett_HortonIt is not easy to do what he does. To be able to play essentially the same character regardless of the situation or surroundings is seen by some as a lack of range. Which is in a way true – I don’t suppose anyone would expect a Macbeth or a Vanya out of Edward Everett Horton (though now that I say that, I’d pay to see both of those) – but range isn’t everything. There’s also depth to be considered.

Not the “depth” people gush about when discussing the Oscar-worthiness of a nice, bleak performance that features a lot of snotty weeping. But the depth of a Persona that one knows the back roads of so intimately that again, regardless of the situation or surroundings, one can find a place for it anywhere.

Edward Everett Horton, if each character actor of his ilk could be blithely renamed like a Deadly Sin or a Disney Dwarf, was Fussy.

top-hat-hortonIn modern comic terms, he’s often described as “effeminate,” but I’d argue more for “effete,” which is splitting verbal hairs a bit, but is important to getting this right. Effeminate in the sense of “man behaving in a manner that is what one associates with a woman,” which is a possibility here, I guess, but “effete” holds a sense of pampered, infertile, non-threatening that has less to do with being Woman-ed than with being Un-manned. The difference being between, say, a kind of flamboyance that one associates with a Franklin Pangborn, whose persona is undoubtedly more aggressively “effeminate” and a Horton, whose persona, to me is less about gender roles and expectation and more about being an officious stick-in-the-mud.

gangOne of my favorite of his performances – though I’m happy to see him wherever he turns up – is in Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here, one of my personal desert-island-five for reasons of comfort and association if not actual quality. Mr. Potter, the affluent and pinch-mouthed old prude, affable to individuals but disapproving of anything that isn’t aggressively normal, who orders lemonade at a nightclub and feels that if a ballroom dancing couple aren’t married “there ought to be a law” yet still falls into a lets-call-it-Near-Dalliance with Carmen Miranda is to me the…well, if you read that sentence, you’ve pretty much got a handle on the Horton persona.

(To reflect in adulthood that he’s often partnered in that particular film with a freewheeling, slang-slinging, party-throwing Eugene Pallette and then consider which of them was in real life a right-wing loony with an apocalypse fortress and which of them lived comfortably with a Longtime Companion, as they said back then, is at least mildly entertaining.)

Which reminds me, apropos of very little, but this is about my entertainment as much as yours after all, of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I did an adaptation of it a few years ago and got to thinking about what a perfect WWII-era Fox musical it would’ve made. It never happened, and I doubt anyone will ever pay for the staging of a Shakespeare set in an imaginary Movie-Latin Illyria just for my personal shits/giggles, but nonetheless. So if you’re someone who revels in the fact that some scriptwriters are better than others, but that a good cast can do anything, let’s muse for a moment about a prospective Dramatis Personae*:

betty-grableViola – Betty Grable

Alice FayeOlivia – Alice Faye

don-ameche-inoldchicago-4Orsino – Don Ameche

payne-colbert_optSebastian – John Payne

Cesar-Romero-WC-9542350-1-402Antonio – Cesar Romero

palletteSir Toby Belch – Eugene Pallette

edward-everett-horton-001Edward Everett Horton – Sir Andrew Aguecheek

Greenwood, Charlotte_01Maria – Charlotte Greenwood

carmen miranda flower headpieceFeste – (here’s my stroke of genius) Carmen Miranda

sakall-kitchenFabian – S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall

billy-gilbert-3-sizedA Sea Captain – Billy Gilbert

Leonid_KinskeyValentine – Leonid Kinskey

naishCurio – J. Carroll Naish (I panicked here)

Musical settings by Benny Goodman.

Tell me you wouldn’t be happy to sit through this.

*Gibberish to many scholars, no doubt, but readers of this blogathon will, I hope, appreciate the care that went into the above.

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Sidebar: Art Carney Saved My Life

5 Nov

Today in 1918 Art Carney was born.

artcarneyIn the frigid February of 1999, I was in a small production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in a Boston suburb. The director had assembled four people: a loud, brash woman who would later turn up drunk to the show’s final preview; an overbearing passive-aggressive guy, a nice young Christian woman who was sweet in her way but also clearly only gradually discovered what she had gotten herself into; and me, at the time more of a milquetoast than I am now and certainly just as confrontation-averse as I remain. So, in a sense, good job, Director. And in a sense, what were you thinking, Director?

Opening weekend, I believe. George had been leaping from Act I to Act III to Act II and back during his speeches, which was not uncommon. In one of the scenes where the ladies are away and Nick is left with George for a bit, I saw it. The beads of sweat on his temple. I remember reading of Phil Silvers talking about Paul Ford going up on his lines during Bilko episodes, how beads of sweat would form on his temple and he’d get a glazed look…and I thought of that.

Phil_Silvers_Paul_Ford_Bilko_racing_pigeons_1958I should note here my childhood (and continuing) love of classic television comedy. I was raised in the cable era, so it wasn’t just Andy Griffith & Gilligan on local channels; it was Dick Van Dyke, it was Lucy, it was I Married Joan, “America’s Favorite Comedy Show, Starring America’s Queen of Comedy, Joan Davis.”

It was The Honeymooners.

Honeymooners02I did a paper and accompanying speech in Eighth Grade English on The Honeymooners. I dressed as Ed Norton for Hallowe’en the year before. I was a member of RALPH, the Royal Association for the Longevity and Preservation of the Honeymooners. I was a loser.

So George is temple-sweating like Paul Ford and says the deathless line that I’m SURE Albee would have included had he occurred to him, “I’m going to go see how the girls are doing.” And he left the stage, I assume to check a script in the wings.

Leaving me on the stage. Alone.

Before I had the chance to have a heart attack, I remembered Art Carney.

In a famous Honeymooners anecdote, once Gleason and Meadows made an exit through the “bedroom door” of the set. There was perhaps some miscommunication about a cue, but they didn’t return. For a long time. Leaving Art Carney on set. On live national television.

No one came in.

So he started rummaging through their icebox. For some reason there was an orange in there. Which he started to peel. Hilariously, in his cuff-shooting Nortonish way, by all reports.

Two minutes are a blip in our lives, usually. It’s not even a whole pop song, except maybe the Everly Brothers’ “Walk Right Back,” a thing of beauty and brevity.

But on a stage, especially alone, especially unexpectedly alone, it is an eternity; -it’s the long silent freakout part near the end of 2001 with those long-held frames of Dave’s terrified face.

2001Keir 01Unless you remember Art Carney.

I walked to the desk/sideboard. I was going to freshen my drink, and I saw some envelopes. Would Nick look at George & Martha’s private correspondence at this point?

I never got to find out. I didn’t get to do my two-minute metaphorical orange peeling. George found his line (I have no idea what it might have been) in the offstage script. On we went.

He apologized at some point before we closed, but not that night. He was kind of difficult.

In retrospect, I kind of regret my foiled improv scene; in the moment, I was just pleased that no urine left my body.

I have never known onstage fear since 1999. For which I thank Art Carney.

Happy birthday.

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4th Stretching-the-Meaning-of-“Annual” One Woman Film Festival

2 Nov

keaton-sherlock_opt…since clearly the 3rd Annual took place a week before.

Regardless, that Sunday there we were, around 9:30am this time until, say, 10:00pm? (We all had an early Monday ahead of us). The slate, formed over the course of the day, was:

The Lady Eve (1941);

Sherlock, Jr. (1924);

Citizen Kane (1940);

La Belle et la Bête (1946);

Twentieth Century (1934);

and This is Spinal Tap (1984).

Some heavy hitters here, obviously, a couple of them by request, as we asked our friend if there were any omissions in her previous viewing career that she regretted. She said Citizen Kane almost immediately. The other, This is Spinal Tap, we knew from the conversation that led to her being invited for this event in the first place.

The other selections made the list because we knew of her love of romantic comedy. She isn’t one of those “I’ve never seen an old movie” people by any means, but again, we all have voids in our movie lives. (My own are numerous and daunting.) This gave us somewhere to begin – Sturges provides some of the first really intelligent American romantic comedy, “Beauty and the Beast” is the archetype on which almost all of them are based (being one of the few fairy tales wherein getting to know each other is even part of the plot), and Twentieth Century is kind of unjustly neglected. Sherlock, Jr. is in there because there’s just going to be some Keaton, Lloyd or Chaplin at all of these.

Most of these are well-documented, at this blog or elsewhere, so again, a few little thoughts, and then some surprising connections we noticed.

LITTLE THOUGHTS

ladyeve2The Lady Eve:

-Such a thing of beauty, yet no matter how many times I see it, I just sort of forget the second half. Not in a bad way – it’s just that shorthand for this movie in my head is “them on the ship” and the rest is still fresh and surprising as I watch. Again;

-It’s Stanwyck’s movie in many ways (though my love for Charles Coburn grows as I age) but Henry Fonda is funny. Who knew, right? Again, still always surprising;

“Tell him to go peel an eel!” The eel that won for Yeel?

keaton sherlock5Sherlock, Jr.:

-Previous post here;

-Our friend’s reaction to her first Keaton was characterized by a general sort of repeated, amazed, “I really like this!” as if a world had been opened. We’ll pressure her into more, I’m sure.

sscitizenkane7Citizen Kane:

-Poor Susan. That shot from her terrified, heavily made up face being barked at by her voice teacher through the stagehands in the flies and their nose-pinching review is so painful, no less so when Welles shows half of it again!;

-Like Coburn, my love for Cotton’s performance as Elderly Jed (“Sloppy Joe’s?”) continues to intensify with age. It’s so broad on one hand and so how-that-guy-would-be-around-strangers-years-later on the other. Brilliant;

-Is the second half of Kane’s life an attempt to recapture the night he met Susan (which is also the night his mother’s death was made real by all her belongings showing up in town)? She sang for him, he almost told her the Rosebud story – you can see it – things were good again for a couple of hours. He tries to make her keep singing, as if to prolong it in some weird public way, or to share that feeling with the world if you’re feeling more generously disposed toward his motives. She shouts “You never gave me anything that belongs to you, anything you care about!” He finds the snow globe after she leaves. I like to think he spends much of the rest of his Xanadu-doddering life digging through the uninventoried boxes looking for that damn Rosebud thing…

la belle et la bête<br /><br /><br />
1945<br /><br /><br />
réal : Jean Cocteau<br /><br /><br />
Josette Day</p><br /><br />
<p>collection christophelLa Belle et la Bête:

-What a thing of beauty. Unnecessary to write about, because it’s so clear and has such depth, yet so little explanation of anything, even basic geography or physics, that people frequently seem to demand (foolishly, I’d argue) in their storytelling. “None of that is the point! Just pay attention!” “Why does he even keep the horse if he could use the gloves?” “You are asking the wrong questions!”

-Josette Day. My Word. La Belle.

1934-twentieth-century-lombard-barrymore-2Twentieth Century:

Immediately another Beauty and the Beast story, except with two beasts, whose coupling at least saves other people from them;

-I haven’t threatened to close the iron door on nearly enough people lately;

-Also, Barrymore’s hair in this is one of the few things that make me regret baldness.

Spinal TapThis is Spinal Tap:

-This is one of those generational things I suppose, but I’ve seen this so many times that I scarcely need to watch it anymore, and yet, like Young Frankenstein. for example, it’s one of the rare comedies that doesn’t dry up once you know its jokes – the execution is so perfect that it becomes like rewatching some perfect double play but one that unfolds for ninety minutes;

-It was late in the game that I tracked the drummer names alongside the names of replacement Three Stooges. There are always more jokes here than you think.

And, of course…

UNEXPECTED CONNECTIONS

Annex - Welles, Orson (Citizen Kane)_03What the hell, beyond the aforementioned “Beauty and the Beast” threads, do the above have in common? Well, for starters:

Swindlers, misdirection and stage magic pervade (The Lady Eve, Sherlock Jr., Citizen Kane, La Belle et la Bête) along with differently failed attempts at same (Twentieth Century, This is Spinal Tap – particularly “Rock & Roll Creation, I think);

Doubles, twins and reflections abound, from the obvious (The Lady Eve, Sherlock Jr., La Belle et la Bête) to the less so (the mirrors of Citizen Kane, the “none more black” album cover in This is Spinal Tap);

Bursting Spheres, from Kane’s snow globe to Buster’s 13 ball to Eve’s metaphorical social-sphere-busting from class to class. An argument could even be made for a certain green globule of a former drummer;

High-dollar checks are torn (or apparently torn) to bits (The Lady Eve, Citizen Kane, Twentieth Century), a gesture sort of lost in this debit card/PayPal era. Angelica Houston has the good sense to hang on to her Stonehenge payment;

Major plot unfoldings on a train (The Lady Eve, Twentieth Century) could just  be chalked up to the period, but were still unplanned by the programmers;

Ushers apparently once brought the flowers down to the stage apron on opening night (Citizen Kane, Twentieth Century) – you get nice treatment when you don’t have armadillos in your trousers;

Mysterious castles with huge fireplaces, long hallways and broken skylights bumped nicely together in our Citizen Kane/La Belle et la Bête double feature (we’ll throw This is Spinal Tap in there for hallways as well – under the Xanadu (!!!) Star Theater – “Hello, Cleveland!”);

Women used to ride sidesaddle (The Lady Eve, La Belle et la Bête);

and Sticky papers make good comedy (Sherlock Jr., Twentieth Century).

belle-et-la-bete-1946-28-g

And for the record, the menu involved our guest’s homemade pumpkin bread, some sort of fancy coffee (I don’t know – I’m a tea drinker), butternut squash chowder, and again with the Chinese takeout. No Manhattans this week – the cocktail turned out to be, thanks to the acquisition of some green chartreuse, the festival-appropriate Bijou, which I highly recommend.

There probably won’t be another of these festivals for a while – I’m involved in a show this month and starting a long process on two others throughout December-February. This blog may slow a bit, but it will not stop, so the five people who read this thing need not fear.

twentieth-century_Repent