Tag Archives: barbara stanwyck

Addendum: Ball of Fire and The Doff

27 Apr

Sadly, there’s this lost gesture. I suspect it disappeared after, you know, hats. But it seems to be a reference to doffing. Of a hat.

Now surely one didn’t always have to take the whole hat off. Surely just tapping the brim with the extended tips of the index and middle finger would suffice in the hustle-bustle of midtown. Eventually it could be taken as read.

And surely the Doff could even be useful to a sass-mouthed broad who wouldn’t wear an unpinned-therefore-doffable hat if you paid her in rabbit stoles and beluga.

For when I picture a textbook Doff, I picture this one:

GIF from the voluminous and splendid archives of BelleCS.tumblr.com

Sugarpuss O’Shea says, “Hullo!’

(GIF courtesy of the voluminous and splendid archives of BelleCS.)

But if you hadn’t noticed the existence of the Doff up to now, you won’t be able to get through a handful of 20s-40s era movies without them piling up on you. Sorry. I don’t know. Make it a drinking game.

William Powell does a particularly subtle one in, I believe, My Man Godfrey. Talking to one of his old business pals, the man pays him a compliment and without breaking conversational stride, Powell offers a Doff that says, in a tick of the wrist, “That’s awfully kind of you, pal, and that’s as may be, but…” Masterfully doffed.

There’s a nice one in Shall We Dance, too, the Astaire/Rogers one (if I need to specify – nor Richard Gere nor Asian businessmen Doff). The designing ballerina Lady Tarrington gives it to Pete “Petrov” Peters as he skedaddles from her after boarding the steamer. I think she says “Bon voyage.” I’m working from memory here. But I see it pretty clearly.

Let this be my plea for the Doff’s timely return. It’s a greeting. It’s a salute. It looks great being done sarcastically off the back of a train at one’s thwarted pursuers. Pretty much all you need in a go-to gesture. Imagine I’m aiming one at you now.

Ball of Fire (1941)

26 Apr
Ball of Fire (1941)

Nine terrific performers here, and you’re looking at that gam, aren’t you?

Man. Ball of Fire. I’ve looked for information and come up dry, but why has this never been adapted for the stage? Am I going to have to do this myself?

It’s on TCM at 4:15 tomorrow morning. That same glorious public domain situation that put It’s A Wonderful Life on 400 times a year for a while there did the same to Ball of Fire on the PBS of my childhood. Or that’s how I remember it, anyway. I have as little memory of my first time seeing this as I do my first Wizard of Oz.

And while, yes, I am perennially distracted by Barbara Stanwyck, this little beauty is a Cook’s tour of the pasty old character actors I love (and not so old: I was shocked when I first found out that Richard Haydn (Prof. Oddly) was only in his mid-30s at the time, playing a character who was pretty much unchanged when he did it on that episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show). I remember getting a weird look from a middle-school friend as we listened to some early George Carlin we had unearthed – I believe it was the “Wonderful WINO radio” bit – when Oscar Homolka was name-checked and I had to explain defensively why laughed and then why I even knew who the hell that was. It’s been a tough life; really.


My parents, though they can never remember the names, are character actor face repositories. It therefore became my job in the household to remember the names. Phone call:

Mom: “What’s that actor’s name, he’s in this movie, on the phone, and he has a hat on. It’s black and white.”

Me: “…”

Mom: “I think he was in State Fair. He’s the one people used to say your Grandpa looked like.”

Me: “That’s Dana Andrews. Is he talking to Gary Cooper?”

Take that, Trebek. Cf. David Foster Wallace’s “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley” or that section of Twain’s Autobiography about the bowling green. It’s always more rewarding to play on a non-standard field you know than on a flat, even plain.


My wife is a lover of all things Grimm, tales of Snow White in particular, and while she’s never asked, this is by far my favorite adaptation of that tale. I have a soft spot for the A Song is Born Danny Kaye/Virginia Mayo remake, too, but I know it’s inferior, I know. Nostalgia isn’t about qualitative proof; it’s about what was on TV at grandma’s that one time.