Friday, May 29, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

CLOWN ALLEY: Mark Buthman Remembers

Photos courtesy of Mark Buthman

Mark Buthman in Lou Jacobs' bathtub, 1974



Head Maitre De, Frosty Little


More whitefaces in one photo than there currently are
on all three Ringling units, Dale Longmire and Ron Jarvis


Mr. Dougie Ashton and his gal Sal
(Dougie, if you are out there, call Lazlo! He'd love to hear from you!!!)


Ron Jarvis and Mark Buthman


Billy Baker wearing the same Lou Jacobs patch on his hat
that I moved from shirt to shirt throughout my childhood.


The late Eric Braun with Shoopee


CIRCUS SCHOOL: PBS Documentary



A revealing look at the rigorous physical training endured by young Chinese acrobatic students.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SHANE'S FEEDING SCHEDULE

My son Shane will probably have an after-school snack around 4:00 PM EST, eat dinner around 6:30 PM EST and have some popcorn while we watch TV between 7:30 and 8:00 PM EST.

I only mention this as I thought that some of my many "friends" in the circus industry could save themselves a little time and come by then and take the food DIRECTLY out of my child's mouth.

Thanks guys. I really appreciate it!


PAYASO TUTTI FRUITTI: Circo de Mexico



KULIKI-TAKA!!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

IN MEMORIAM: Tim Holst (October 9, 1947 - April 16, 2009)


Some very nice tribute videos were posted to YouTube over the weekend. Since clownalley.net was down when Tim passed it's time that we honor him here in "The Alley"...




From the New York Times

Timothy J. Holst, Who Filled Circus Big Top With Talent, Dies at 61

By GLENN COLLINS
Published: April 22, 2009

Timothy J. Holst, who joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus as a lowly Keystone Kops clown, rose to the role of singing ringmaster and ultimately became the show’s talent czar, died April 16 in São Paulo, Brazil, during a visit to sign up circus acts. He was 61.

He died in a hospital there after a short illness, said a circus spokesman, Stephen Payne.

Mr. Holst, whose official title was vice president for talent and production, circled the planet for more than two decades signing performers from star clowns to trapeze hair-hangers. He was fluent in Spanish and Swedish and spoke passable Russian, Mandarin, French and Portuguese. He recently calculated that he had visited 164 countries.

“He was the ambassador to the world for the Greatest Show on Earth,” said Kenneth Feld, Ringling’s owner and chief executive. “And for the performers, he was the one who introduced them to American society. He became involved in these families’ lives at every step of the way.”

Since 1986 Mr. Holst “was responsible for the careers and livelihoods of more than 3,000 people, and since so many of them paired off, there are countless marriages to his credit, and the children that came from that,” said Nicole Feld, Mr. Feld’s daughter, the executive vice president of Feld Entertainment.

William B. Hall III, an independent circus consultant and producer in Churchville, Pa., said: “It was under Tim’s watch that Ringling began making deals with Communist countries to sign performers and acts. A lot of those countries were still closed, so he was an integral part of breaking down Iron Curtain barriers for cultural exchanges.”

Though Mr. Holst prided himself on his ubiquity, even he was teased by his circus peers when he turned up in the Jan. 20, 1992, issue of The New Yorker, in a “Reporter at Large” article describing an exotic trek to Mongolia.

The writer, Fred C. Shapiro, quoted a Western diplomat who recalled being “welcomed in a gher near the Gobi Desert,” referring to a herdsman’s tent. The diplomat added that “we were far away from any road, and I asked the shepherd if we were the first foreigners he had ever received. ‘The second,’ he said, and he showed me a card left by the first — a scout from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, who had been there a few months before.”

Mr. Holst was born in Galesburg, Ill., on Oct. 9, 1947. His father was a letter carrier, his mother a registered nurse. “Growing up amid the cornfields of Illinois,” he once said, “I never dreamed of ever leaving the United States, let alone traveling all over the world.”

Before proselytizing for the circus, Mr. Holst spent two and a half years as a missionary in Sweden for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he was a lifelong member. He also studied drama at Ricks College and later at Utah State University.

Mr. Holst began doing stand-up comedy in college, and while performing in Butte, Mont., the future talent finder was himself discovered by a Ringling talent scout, who offered him a 1971 berth at Clown College, the Ringling school in Venice, Fla.

In 1972 Mr. Holst performed as an Auguste clown, with red nose and exaggerated features, recalled Steve Smith, a 1971 classmate who years later became director of Clown College. Mr. Holst’s star turn was as the hapless flatfoot in the clown-car routine. He donned a long blue coat and an enormous police badge and blew a whistle helplessly though frenziedly as he chased a jalopy crammed full of 20 clowns around the ring.

After performing with the Blue Unit, one of Ringling’s two traveling shows, Mr. Holst became a ringmaster for both units and eventually performance director of the Red Unit.

Mr. Feld headed the talent-finding operation for his father, Irvin, then the circus’s owner. But he had to focus on running the company after his father died in 1984, so he groomed Mr. Holst as the new scout. After his decades on the road, Mr. Holst had in recent years been grooming Ms. Feld as a talent scout.

Mr. Holst lived in the circus community of Sarasota, Fla. His two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his daughters Megan, of Marblehead, Mass., and Adrienne, of Dallas; a son, Matthew, also of Dallas; a brother, Thomas, of Luanda, Angola; a sister, Sandra Cordon of Salt Lake City; and a grandson.

A portly man of deceptive agility, perseverance and physical strength, Mr. Holst tirelessly hefted commodious traveling bags full of gifts. “If the matriarch of a circus family needed a certain kind of fabric to make a costume,” Mr. Smith said, “Tim would carry it halfway around the world for her.” 

Video courtesy of Matthew Holst




Photo courtesy of Toby Ballantine





THE HAPPY COOKS SHOW



From Australia!

HULU

I've heard from a few folks over the weekend that videos from Hulu.com are only available inside the United States. I was unaware of this and will make mention of it while linking to videos there in the future.

Monday, May 25, 2009

JONATHAN "MITCH" FREDDES: More from Dream Circus, Japan (2009)



ABBOTT & COSTELLO: The Colgate Comedy Hour




ABBOTT & COSTELLO
From Wikipedia

William (Bud) Abbott and Lou Costello (born Louis Francis Cristillo) performed together as Abbott and Costello, an American comedy duo whose work in radio, film and television made them the most popular comedy team during the 1940s and 50's. Thanks to the endurance of their most popular and influential routine, "Who's on First?"—whose rapid-fire word play and comprehension confusion set the preponderant framework for most of their best-known routines—the team is, as a result, featured in the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Contrary to popular belief, however, the duo was not inducted into the Hall.)

Burlesque years

Bud Abbott was a veteran burlesque entertainer from a show business family. He had worked at Coney Island and ran his own burlesque touring companies. At first he worked as a straight man to his wife Betty, then with veteran burlesque comedians like Harry Steppe and Harry Evanson. When he met his future partner in comedy, Abbott was performing in Minsky's burlesque shows.

Lou Costello had been a burlesque comic since 1930, after failing to break into movie acting and working as a stunt double and film extra. He appears briefly in the 1927 Laurel and Hardy silent two-reeler, The Battle of the Century, seated at ringside during Stan's ill-fated boxing match. As a teenager, Costello had been an amateur boxer in his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey.

The two first worked together in 1935 at the Eltinge Burlesque Theater on 42nd Street[1], which is now the entire lobby of the AMC movie complex in New York. When AMC moved the theater 200 feet west on 42nd Street to its current location, they "pulled" it by giant balloons of Abbott and Costello.[2]

Other performers in the show, including Abbott's wife, advised a permanent pairing with Costello. The duo built an act by refining and reworking numerous burlesque sketches into the long-familiar presence of Abbott as the devious straight man, and Costello as the stumbling, dimwitted laugh-getter.

Movies and fame

The team's first known radio appearance was on The Kate Smith Hour in February, 1938. "Who's on First?" was first performed for a national radio audience the following month.[1] Abbott and Costello stayed on the program as regulars for two years, but the similarities between their New Jersey-accented voices made it difficult for listeners (as opposed to stage audiences) to tell them apart due to their rapid-fire repartee. The problem was solved by having Costello affect a high-pitched childish voice, and their remaining tenure on the Smith show was successful enough to get them roles in a Broadway revue "The Streets of Paris" in 1939.

In 1940 they were signed by Universal Studios for the film One Night in the Tropics. Cast in supporting roles, they stole the show with several classic routines, including "Who's on First?" The same year they were a summer replacement on radio for Fred Allen. Two years later, they had their own NBC show.

Universal signed them to a long-term contract, and their second film, Buck Privates, (1941) made them box-office stars. In most of their films, the plot was a framework for the two comics to reintroduce comedy routines they first performed on stage. Universal also added glitzy, gratuitous production numbers (a formula borrowed from the Marx Brothers comedies) featuring The Andrews Sisters, Ted Lewis and his Orchestra, and other musical acts. They made 36 films together between 1940 and 1956. Abbott and Costello were among the most popular and highest-paid entertainers in the world during World War II. Other film successes included Hold That Ghost, Who Done It?, Pardon My Sarong, The Time of Their Lives, Buck Privates Come Home, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.

In 1942, Abbott and Costello were the top box office draw with a reported take of $10 million. They would remain a top ten box office attraction until 1952.

Radio

After working as Allen's summer replacement, Abbott and Costello joined Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy on The Chase and Sanborn Hour in 1941, while two of their films (Buck Privates and Hold That Ghost) were adapted for Lux Radio Theater. They launched their own weekly show October 8, 1942, sponsored by Camel cigarettes.

The Abbott and Costello Show mixed comedy with musical interludes (by vocalists such as Connie Haines, Ashley Eustis, the Delta Rhythm Boys, Skinnay Ennis, and the Les Baxter Singers). Regulars and semi-regulars on the show included Artie Auerbach ("Mr. Kitzel"), Elvia Allman, Iris Adrian, Mel Blanc, Wally Brown, Sharon Douglas, Verna Felton, Sidney Fields, Frank Nelson, Martha Wentworth, and Benay Venuta. Ken Niles was the show's longtime announcer, doubling as an exasperated foil to Abbott and Costello's mishaps (and often fuming in character as Costello routinely insulted his on-air wife). Niles was succeeded by Michael Roy, with announcing chores also handled over the years by Frank Bingman and Jim Doyle. The show went through several orchestras during its radio life, including those of Ennis, Charles Hoff, Matty Matlock, Jack Meakin, Will Osborne, Freddie Rich, Leith Stevens, and Peter van Steeden. The show's writers included Howard Harris, Hal Fimberg, Parke Levy, Don Prindle, Eddie Cherkose (later known as Eddie Maxwell), Leonard Stern, Martin Ragaway, Paul Conlan, and Eddie Forman, as well as producer Martin Gosch. Sound effects were handled primarily by Floyd Caton.

In 1947 Abbott and Costello moved the show to ABC (the former NBC Blue Network). During their time on ABC, the duo also hosted a 30-minute children's radio program (The Abbott and Costello Children's Show), which aired Saturday mornings, featuring child vocalist Anna Mae Slaughter and child announcer Johnny McGovern.

Television

In 1951, they moved to television as rotating hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour. (Eddie Cantor and Martin and Lewis were among the others.) Each show was a live hour of vaudeville in front of a theater audience, revitalizing the comedians' performances and giving their old routines a new sparkle.

Beginning in 1952, a filmed half-hour series, The Abbott and Costello Show, appeared in syndication on local stations across the country. Loosely based on their radio series, the show cast the duo as unemployed wastrels. One of the show's running gags involved Abbott perpetually nagging Costello to get a job to pay their rent, while Abbott barely lifted a finger in that direction. The show featured Sidney Fields as their landlord, and Hillary Brooke as a friendly neighbor who sometimes got involved in the pair's schemes. Another semi-regular was Joe Besser as Stinky, a 40-year-old sissy dressed in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. Gordon Jones was Mike the cop, who always lost patience with Lou. The simple plotlines were often merely an excuse to recreate old comedy routines—including "Who's on First?" and other familiar set pieces—from their films and burlesque performances. The Abbott and Costello Show ran two seasons, but found a larger viewership in reruns from the late 1960s to the 1990s. In 2006 the shows were released in two five-DVD sets.

Private lives

Both Abbott and Costello met and married women they knew in burlesque. Bud Abbott married Betty Smith in 1918, and Lou Costello married Anne Battler in 1934. The Costellos had four children; the Abbotts adopted two.

Abbott and Costello faced personal demons at times. Both were inveterate gamblers and had serious health problems. Abbott suffered from epilepsy and turned to alcohol for pain management. Costello had occasional, near-fatal bouts with rheumatic fever. On November 4, 1943, the same day that Costello returned to radio after a one year layoff due to his illness with rheumatic fever, his infant son "Butch" (born November 6, 1942) died in an accidental drowning in the family's swimming pool.[3]

During 1945, a rift developed when Abbott hired a domestic servant who had been fired by Costello. Stung by Abbott's move, Costello refused to speak to his partner except when performing. The team's films of 1946 reflect the split, with the comedians appearing separately in character roles. Abbott resolved the rift in 1947 when he volunteered to help with Costello's pet charity, a foundation for underprivileged children.

Later years

In the 1950s Abbott and Costello's popularity waned as their place as filmdom's hottest comedy team was taken by Martin and Lewis. Another reason for the decline was overexposure. Abbott and Costello's routines, already familiar, were now glutting the movie and television markets. Each year they made two new films, while Realart Pictures re-released most of their older hits; their filmed television series was widely syndicated, and they did the same routines frequently on the Colgate program. (Writer Parke Levy told Jordan R. Young, in The Laugh Crafters: Comedy Writing in Radio and TV's Golden Age, that he was stunned to learn that Bud and Lou were afraid to perform new material.) Universal dropped the comedy team in 1955, and after one more independent film, Bud Abbott retired from performing.

In 1956, the Internal Revenue Service charged them for back taxes, forcing them to sell their homes and most of their assets, including their film rights. In 1957 they formally dissolved their partnership.

Lou Costello made about ten solo appearances on The Steve Allen Show and headlined in Las Vegas. He appeared in episodes of GE Theater and Wagon Train. On March 3, 1959, shortly after making his lone solo film, The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock, Lou Costello died of a heart attack just short of his 53rd birthday.

Bud Abbott attempted a comeback in 1960, teaming with Candy Candido. Although the new act received good reviews, Bud quit, saying, "No one could ever live up to Lou." A serious weakness of the new act was that it copied the old act. Abbott and Candido simply reprised old Abbott & Costello routines, with Candido blatantly imitating Costello. Candido would then do a comedic monologue in his own persona while Abbott took a break backstage, then the finale consisted of both men performing the classic "Who's on First?" routine.

Abbott made a solo appearance on an episode of GE Theater in 1961. In 1966 Bud voiced his character in a series of 156 five-minute Abbott and Costello cartoons made by Hanna-Barbera.[4] Lou's character was voiced by Stan Irwin. Bud Abbott died of cancer on April 24, 1974.

Spin-offs

The cartoon series was not the first time Abbott and Costello were in animation. During the height of their popularity in the 1940s, Warner Bros.'s Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies animation unit produced 3 cartoons featuring the pair as cats or mice named "Babbit and Catstello." One of the cartoons, "A Tale of Two Kitties," introduced Tweety Bird. The other cartoons were "A Tale of Two Mice" and "Mouse-Merized Cat." In all 3 cartoons, Tedd Pierce (normally a storyman/writer for the cartoons) and Mel Blanc, respectively, provide voice impressions of the comedy duo.

The revival of their former television series in syndicated reruns in the late 1960s and early 1970s helped spark renewed interest in the duo, as did the televising of many of their old film hits. In 1994, comedian Jerry Seinfeld—who says Abbott and Costello were strong influences on his work—hosted a television special Abbott and Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld (the title refers to the duo's popular film series in which they met some of Universal's famed horror picture characters), on NBC; the special was said to have been seen in 20 million homes.

"Who's on First?"

"Who's on First?" is Abbott & Costello's signature routine. They always referred to it informally as "Baseball." Depending upon the version you are hearing, Abbott has a) organized a new baseball team, and the players have nicknames; or, he is pointing out the proliferation of nicknames in baseball---usually launching a variation on St. Louis Cardinals sibling pitchers Dizzy and Daffy Dean, before launching the routine with the infielders' nicknames of Who (first base), What (second base) and I Don't Know (third base). The key to the routine: Lou Costello's unwavering pronoun confusion and Bud Abbott's unwavering nonchalance.

Before very long the team could time the routine at will, adding or deleting portions as needed for films, radio, or television. If their director asked them to fill four minutes, for example, Bud and Lou would do four minutes' worth of the baseball bit. "Who's on First?" is believed to be available in as many as 20 versions, ranging from one minute to about 10 minutes. The longest version is seen in "The Actors' Home," an episode of their filmed TV series, in which "Who's on First?" constitutes the second half of the program. Perhaps the best rendition of the act was a live performance commemorating the opening day of the Lou Costello, Jr. Youth Foundation, in 1947. This special performance was recorded, and has appeared on numerous comedy albums. The team's final performance of "Who's on First?" was seen on Steve Allen's TV variety show, in 1957.

Other Abbott & Costello routines are variations on the "Who's on First?" wordplay. Perhaps the most successful was "Hertz U-Drive," about renting a car. On one of their radio broadcasts, the duo preceded yet another version of "Who's on First?" with a similar routine hooked around Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller; on another, they unleashed perhaps their third-best such routine, "Fleeing Flu".







THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR
From Wikipedia

The Colgate Comedy Hour was an American comedy-musical variety series that aired live on the NBC network from 1950 to 1955. The show starred many notable comedians and light entertainers of the era, including Eddie Cantor, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Fred Allen, Donald O'Connor, Abbott and Costello, Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Ray Bolger, Gordon MacRae, Robert Paige, and Spike Jones and His City Slickers.


Synopsis

The program evolved from NBC's first TV variety showcase, Four Star Review, sponsored by Motorola. The "running gag" sketches were dropped in favor of more performing acts. The weekly show was proposed to be hosted by four comedians in a four weekly rotation and to provide competition for Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town on CBS.

The new format was heavily backed by its sponsor, Colgate-Palmolive, to the tune of $3 million in the first year, and the 8:00 p.m. EST, Sunday evening format show was a spectacular success, particularly for Eddie Cantor and the Martin & Lewis and Abbott & Costello duos. In his autobiography, Jerry Lewis wrote that the show premiered Sunday, September 17, 1950 with Martin & Lewis, and was telecast from the Park Theatre off Columbus Circle in New York City. As theatres are known by different names over history, it is possible that this was the now-demolished International Theatre at 5 Columbus Circle, the broadcast location of another NBC show of the era, Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.

During the 1950-51 season, AT&T put into regular service a coast to coast coaxial/microwave interconnection service which allowed live telecasts from both coasts. Two production units were quickly set up, one out of New York City, the other out of Hollywood/Los Angeles. Martin & Lewis and Abbott & Costello anchored the West Coast, broadcasting from the El Capitan theater in Hollywood (now used by ABC-TV's Jimmy Kimmel Live), while Eddie Cantor anchored New York City. This gave NBC a substantial edge over Ed Sullivan, since top-grade talent from motion pictures could also do network TV on a West Coast Colgate Comedy Hour while Sullivan had to work with whoever happened to be in New York at the time that a particular episode aired.

During the 1952 season, Cantor suffered a heart attack after a Colgate Comedy Hour show in September, and was reluctant to move with the show. By the fourth season, the sponsor was providing $6 million, but the performers were finding difficulty in providing fresh material and ratings were starting to decline. Cantor had become too ill to continue in the hosting role and the travel was too stressful and painful for him.

During the 1954-55 season, the show changed its name to the Colgate Variety Hour to reflect a move away from pure comedy. A number of the earlier hosts left and the show shifted toward mini-musicals, starring hosts such as Ethel Merman and Frank Sinatra. The show was also performing on the road as well, unlike other seasons where the shows were transmitted from New York or Los Angeles at 8 p.m.

However, ratings continued to slide while The Ed Sullivan Show got stronger. The final show was aired as a Christmas special on 25 December 1955 with Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians choral ensemble. The Colgate Comedy Hour was replaced the following season with the NBC Comedy Hour, hosted by Leo Durocher for the first three shows. After Durocher, the regular hosts changed, and after 18 broadcasts, the final show aired in June. Regular supporting casts always co-starred in each of the episodes. Jonathan Winters was featured on the show.

On 5 November 1967, NBC broadcast a special Colgate Comedy Hour revival with guests Nanette Fabray, Kaye Ballard, Edie Adams, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Phyllis Diller, Bob Newhart, Nipsey Russell, Dan Rowan, and Dick Martin. Oddly, none of the performers who had performed in the original 1950-1956 shows appeared.

Color

The episode broadcast on 22 November 1953, hosted by Donald O'Connor, made history. The episode was the very first ever color television broadcast in the NTSC color system (still used in the U.S. as of 2007). There were few other color broadcasts in the 1953-1954 season.The series was also used earlier in the season to demonstrate the final form of RCA's "Compatiable" color system to members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Two sets were in the room: an experimental color model and a standard black-and-white unit. Eddie Cantor hosted the program with guests including Frank Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, and Brian Donlevy.




Sunday, May 24, 2009

JONATHAN "MITCH" FREDDES: Dream Circus, Japan (2009)



BILL MELENDEZ




BILL MELENDEZ
From Wikipedia

José Cuauhtémoc "Bill" Meléndez (November 15, 1916 – September 2, 2008) was a Mexican character animator, film director and producer, known for his cartoons for Warner Brothers, UPA and the Peanuts series. Meléndez provided the voice of Snoopy and Woodstock in the latter as well.

Early life

A native of the Mexican city of Hermosillo, Sonora, Meléndez was educated in U.S. public schools in Douglas, Arizona, and later in Los Angeles at the Chouinard Art Institute (which would later become California Institute of the Arts).

Disney and Warner Bros.

In 1938, Meléndez was hired by Walt Disney to work on animated short films and feature-length films such as Bambi, Fantasia, and Dumbo. While there, he worked to unionize the rank and file animators he was working with.[2] A member of the Screen Cartoonists' Guild, he left as part of the 1941 Disney animators' strike and never returned as an employee, moving on to Leon Schlesinger Productions and its successor company, Warner Bros. Cartoons, along with Emery Hawkins, Basil Davidovich, and Don Williams, where he would remain until the early 1950s. On most of these productions, Meléndez was credited as "J.C. Melendez" and worked mostly for directors Robert McKimson and Art Davis.

UPA and commercial animation work

When the number of animation units at Warner Bros. was reduced from four to three in 1948, Melendez moved over to United Productions of America (UPA) where he animated on cartoons such as Gerald McBoing-Boing. Melendez also produced and directed thousands of television commercials, first at UPA, then Playhouse Pictures and John Sutherland Productions.

Bill Melendez Productions

In 1964, Melendez formed Bill Melendez Productions which produced the annual broadcast Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas, for which he won an Emmy Award and the George Foster Peabody Award despite having to work on short notice and with a tight budget. Meléndez performed the voice of Snoopy, who normally in the specials does not talk. Meléndez first started animating the Peanuts characters for a series of commercials in 1959 for the Ford Falcon, and it was during that time that he met Charles Schulz, the comic strip's creator. Melendez was the only animator authorized to work on Schultz's Peanuts characters.

Meléndez went on to do over 75 half-hour Peanuts specials, including the 1989 miniseries This is America, Charlie Brown, as well as four feature-length motion pictures – all with partner Lee Mendelson.

In 1979, he directed a made-for-TV animated version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for Children's Television Workshop.

Amongst the other comic strip characters he animated were Cathy and Garfield, as well as the 1992 special Frosty Returns.

Melendez died on September 2, 2008 in Santa Monica, California. He was cremated.

WC FIELDS & MAE WEST: My Little Chickadee (1940)





MY LITTLE CHICKADEE
From Wikipedia


My Little Chickadee (1940) is a Universal comedy/western motion picture starring Mae West and W. C. Fields, with Joseph Calleia, Ruth Donnelly, Margaret Hamilton, Donald Meek, Willard Robertson, Dick Foran, George Moran, William B. Davidson, and Addison Richards. It was directed by Edward F. Cline. The original music was written by Ben Oakland (song "Willie of the Valley") and Frank Skinner.

West reportedly wrote the original screenplay, with Fields contributing one extended scene set in a bar. Universal decided to give the stars equal screenplay credit, perhaps to avoid the appearance of favoritism, but the move incensed West, who declined to re-team with Fields afterwards. The stars spoofed themselves and the Western genre, with West providing a series of her trademark double entendres.

Plot

The story is set in the American Old West of the 1880s. Miss Flower Belle Lee (Mae West) is a singer from Chicago who is on her way to visit relatives out west. While she is traveling on a stagecoach with three men and a woman named Mrs. Gideon (Margaret Hamilton), the town gossip and busybody, a masked bandit on horseback holds up the stage for its shipment of gold and orders the passengers to step out.

The masked bandit immediately takes an interest in the saucy blonde. As he makes his getaway with the gold, he takes her with him. Upon reaching Little Bend, the others report the robbery and kidnapping to the sheriff (William B. Davidson). Flower Belle then walks into town, unharmed, and explains, "I was in a tight spot but I managed to wriggle out of it."

Later that evening, at the home of her Aunt Lou (Ruth Donnelly) and Uncle John (Willard Robertson), the masked bandit enters Flower Belle's second floor bedroom and they start kissing. However, his presence and departure is witnessed by Mrs. Gideon. She quickly reports what she has seen and Flower Belle angrily finds herself hauled up before the judge (Addison Richards). Flower Belle is then run out of Little Bend.

She boards a train to Greasewood City. It makes an unscheduled stop to pick up con-man Cuthbert J. Twillie (W.C. Fields). When hostile Indians attack, Flower Belle saunters to a window and mows them down with two pistols, while Twillie dodges flying arrows and fights off the Indians with a child's slingshot. Flower Belle has little use for Twillie until she sees a stash of money in his bag. Believing him to be rich, she then plays up to him and they get acquainted. They have an impromptu wedding, officiated over by a passenger, Amos Budge (Donald Meek), a gambler who looks like a minister.

As she has only pretended to marry Twillie for "respectability," Flower Belle gets a separate hotel room in Greasewood City. Meanwhile, Twillie is made sheriff by the saloon owner and town boss Jeff Badger (Joseph Calleia), who has an ulterior motive. Flower Belle attracts the attention of Badger, newspaper editor Wayne Carter (Dick Foran), and every other man in town. While keeping her troublesome "husband" out of reach and out of trouble, Flower Belle encounters the masked bandit again.

One night, Twillie enters Flower Belle's room one night disguised as the masked bandit. He is accused of being the masked bandit, and is about to be hanged. With the noose around his neck, he makes his last request to the lynching party. "I'd like to see Paris before I die. Philadelphia will do!" However, Flower Belle saves Twillie. At one point, she and Badger had kissed, and from that, she recognizes that he is the masked bandit.

When Flower Belle and Twillie say good-bye, West and Fields spoof each other's signature line.
"Come up and see me sometime," he says.
"Mmm, I will, my little chickadee," she replies.

As Flower Belle sashays up the stairs, "The End" is playfully overlaid on her posterior.


Reception

My Little Chickadee was the most successful film of 1940 after Gone With the Wind, despite only mediocre reviews from critics. It grossed upwards of $20 million in the United States alone, an outstanding amount at the time.

Pop culture references

"My little chickadee" is the catch phrase most associated with W.C. Fields. He first used it during a scene in If I Had a Million (1932) to address co-star Alison Skipworth.

"Come up and see me sometime" is an extremely famous misquotation of Mae West in She Done Him Wrong (1933). The actual line was "Why don't you come up sometime and see me."

My Little Chickadee was Mae West's first screen performance since Every Day's a Holiday (1937) for Paramount Pictures. This was her only performance for Universal, which now owns most of the pre-1950 Paramount film library.

W.C. Fields also starred in a series of comedies for Paramount in the 1930s. This was his second performance for Universal.

Margaret Hamilton played the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, which was released the year before My Little Chickadee. Fields had been considered for the role of the Wizard, but he declined the opportunity.