Saturday, May 23, 2009

MARX BROTHERS: Horsefeathers (1932)

From Wikipedia

Horse Feathers (1932) was the fourth Marx Brothers film. It starred the four Marx Brothers, Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo, as well as Thelma Todd as Connie Bailey. It was written by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, S. J. Perelman, and Will B. Johnstone. Kalmar and Ruby also wrote some of the original music for the film. Several of the film's gags were taken from the Marx Brothers' stage comedy from the 1920s, Fun in Hi Skule.


The film revolves around, among other things, college football and a game between the fictional Darwin and Huxley Colleges. (Thomas Henry Huxley was a defender of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.) Many of the jokes about the amateur status of collegiate football players and how eligibility rules are stretched by collegiate athletic departments remain remarkably current.

Groucho plays Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the new president of Huxley College, and Zeppo is his son Frank, who convinces his father to recruit professional football players to boost the Huxley team's chance of winning. There are also many references to Prohibition. Baravelli (Chico) is an "iceman", who delivers ice and bootleg liquor from a local speakeasy. Pinky (Harpo) is also an "iceman", as well as a part-time dogcatcher. Through a series of misunderstandings, Baravelli and Pinky are recruited to play on Huxley's football team; this requires them to enroll as students at Huxley, which, of course, results in nothing but comic chaos throughout the school.

The climax of the movie, often referenced as one of the greatest football-related scenes in movie history, includes the four protagonists winning the football game by taking the ball into the end zone in a horse-drawn garbage wagon that resembles a chariot and which Pinky rides as such.

Musical numbers
"Whatever It Is, I'm Against It"
"I Always Get My Man"
"Everyone Says I Love You"
"Bridal Chorus"
"Wedding March"
"I'm Daffy Over You"

Notable scenes

The opening number features Wagstaff and a group of college professors singing and dancing in full academic robes and mortarboard hats. The song sets the tone for Wagstaff's irreverent view of the school:
I don't know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway;
Whatever it is, I'm against it!

One famous scene features Baravelli guarding the speakeasy, and Wagstaff trying to get in. The password for entry is "Swordfish". This bit was the inspiration for the title of the movie thriller Swordfish. The sketch includes several jokes about fish, with some puns-within-puns:
Wagstaff: I got it! "Haddock".
Baravelli: 'At's a-funny, I got a "haddock" too.
Wagstaff: What do you take for a "haddock"?
Baravelli: Sometimes I take an aspirin, sometimes I take a calomel.
Wagstaff: I'd walk a mile for a calomel.
Baravelli: You mean chocolate calomel? I like-a that too, but you no guess it.

During this scene, the mute character Pinky wants to come in and is asked the password; he responds by pulling a fish with a small sword stuck down its throat from his coat. At one point Wagstaff and Baravelli are debating the cost of ice. Wagstaff argues that his bill should be much smaller than it is:
Baravelli: I make you proposition. You owe us $200, you pay us $2000, and we call it square.
Wagstaff: That's not a bad idea. I tell you ... I'll consult my lawyer. And if he advises me to do it, I'll get a new lawyer.

The joke immediately after that one illustrates that the Hays Office was not in total control of film scripts yet, and hints at Chico's real-life lifestyle. The essence of this joke would be repeated by Chico in Duck Soup:
Baravelli: Last week, for eighteen dollars, I gotta co-ed with two pair o' pants.
Wagstaff: Since when has a co-ed got two pair of pants?
Baravelli: Since I joined the college.

A notable scene taken from the earlier revue Fun in Hi Skule consists of the brothers disrupting an anatomy class. In this scene, the part of the anatomy professor is played by Robert Greig, a character actor who appeared in over 100 films, many in the role of a butler. He appeared with the Marx Brothers as Hives, the butler, in Animal Crackers. After Chico and Harpo "bear him out", Groucho takes over the class and continues the lecture:
Wagstaff: Let us follow a corpuscle on its journey... Now then, baboons, what is a "corpuscle"?
Baravelli: That's easy! First is a captain... then a lieutenant... then is a corpuscle!
Wagstaff: That's fine. Why don't you bore a hole in yourself and let the sap run out?

Earlier in the scene, he recited this little poem in response to the professor asking the students to explain the symptoms of cirrhosis, which Baravelli mis-hears as "so roses":
So roses are red
So violets are blue
So sugar is sweet
So so are you.

A little later, Wagstaff advises Pinky that he "can't burn the candle at both ends". Pinky then reaches into his trenchcoat, and pulls out a candle burning at both ends.

Foreshadowing the famous 'stateroom' scene from 'Night at the Opera,' all four Marx brothers and the comic villain take turns going in and out of Connie Bailey's room, and eventually their movements pile up on each other's, resulting in a crowded, bustling scene, notable both by Groucho's breaking of the fourth wall during Chico's piano solo, and his constant opening of his umbrella and removing his shoes upon entering the room.

Chico's ridiculous play-calling during the actual football game, (signals like, "You wan-a get-a hurt-a? Well, we gonna do a forward pass." and "Hey diddle diddle, we gonna take the ball up the middle.") is also notable.

The film prominently features the song "Everyone Says I Love You", by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, which was later the title song of the eponymous 1996 Woody Allen movie Everyone Says I Love You. All four brothers perform the song:
Zeppo leads off with a "straight" verse, befitting his usual non-comical characterization:
Everyone says I love you
The cop on the corner and the burglar too
The preacher in the pulpit and the man in the pew
Says I love you.

Harpo whistles it to his horse, and later plays it on the harp. In keeping with his standard mute characterization, he does not sing it.

Chico sings a comical verse, with his standard fake Italian accent, while playing piano:
Everyone says I love you
The great big mosquito when-a he sting you
The fly when he gets stuck on the flypaper too
Says I love you.

Groucho sings a somewhat sarcastic verse while strumming a guitar, befitting his attitude throughout the film of being suspicious about the college widow's intentions:
Everyone says I love you
But just what they say it for I never knew
It's just inviting trouble for the poor sucker who
Says I love you.

Except when Harpo (the dogcatcher) whistles it to his horse, the song is used to serenade Connie Bailey (played by Thelma Todd).

Eventually, Pinky and Baravelli are sent to kidnap two of the rival college's star players to prevent them from playing in the big game. The intended victims (who are much larger men than Pinky and Baravelli) manage to kidnap the pair instead, removing their outer clothing and locking them in a room. In order to escape, Pinky and Baravelli saw their way out through the floor. The saws came from a tool bag Pinky carried with them that held their "kidnappers' tools," which included, among other things, rope, chisels, hammers and at one point, a small pig. This is an example of the surreal edge of Marx Brothers humor, which later became a heavy influence on the Bugs Bunny cartoons.

One direct example of that influence occurs in the speakeasy scene. Two men are playing cards, and one says to the other, "cut the cards". Pinky happens to walk by at that moment, pulls a large meat cleaver out of his trenchcoat and chops the deck in half. This none-too-subtle gag, which was recycled from the brothers' first Broadway show, I'll Say She Is, would be repeated by Curly Howard against Moe Howard in the Three Stooges' 1936 short subject Ants in the Pantry, and by Bugs Bunny against Yosemite Sam in the 1948 cartoon, Bugs Bunny Rides Again.

A picture of the brothers in the "chariot" at the end of the film made the cover of TIME in 1932.


Groucho Marx as Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff
Chico Marx as Baravelli the Iceman
Harpo Marx as Pinky
Zeppo Marx as Frank Wagstaff
Thelma Todd as Connie Bailey
David Landau as Jennings
James Pierce as Mullen
Nat Pendleton as McHardee
Reginald Barlow as The Retiring President
Robert Greig as The Biology Professor


American Film Institute recognition
2000: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs #65

Period references

A term that occurs often in Horse Feathers, but may not be familiar to modern viewers, is "college widow". The term, which is somewhat derogatory, referred to a woman who stays in college after graduation in order to find a husband. It is used to describe Connie Bailey (Thelma Todd). Such women were stereotypically "easy"; in the film, the character is shown as being involved with each of the Marx brothers and the principal antagonist, Jennings.

In this now lost, deleted scene from Horse Feathers, the Marx Brothers are seen playing poker as Huxley College goes up in flames around them.

During the climactic football game, at one point Groucho utters the exclamation, "Jumping anaconda!" This seemingly nonsensical phrase probably is a reference to the notorious stock market performance of Anaconda Copper immediately preceding the Great Depression.

Groucho had delivered other jokes related to the stock market in the Brothers' preceding films (for example, "The stockholder of yesteryear is the stowaway of today" in Monkey Business) and all the Marx Brothers had experienced severe losses in the 1929 crash.

Missing Sequences

The only existing prints of this film are missing several minutes, due to both censorship and damage. The damage is most noticeable in jump cuts during the scene in which Groucho, Chico and Harpo visit Connie Bailey's apartment. Several sequences were cut from the film, including an extended ending to the aforementioned apartment scene, additional scenes with Harpo as a dogcatcher, and a scene where the brothers play poker as the college burns down. (A description of the latter scene, along with a still image, exists from a pressbook from the year of the film's release, however.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

CAIN RAISES ABEL: Documentary Film (2004)

Alan Abel
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alan Abel (born 1930) is an American prankster, hoaxter, writer, mockumentary filmmaker, and jazz percussionist famous for several hoaxes that became media circuses.

Education and early career

Abel graduated from the Ohio State University with a B.S. in Education. One of Abel's earliest pranks took place in the late 1950s. Abel posed as a golf pro who taught Westinghouse executives how to use ballet positions to improve their game.

Beginning May 27, 1959 with a story on the Today Show, the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (SINA), was Abel's most elaborate hoax. SINA's mission was to clothe naked animals throughout the world. They are best known today for their tagline: "A nude horse is a rude horse". As spokesman for the group, Buck Henry appeared on television and radio several times, including the CBS Evening News on August 21, 1962. The hoax began as a satire of media censorship but took on a life of its own with sympathizers offering unsolicited contributions (always returned), citizen summonses for walking naked dogs, and sewing patterns for pet clothes.

From 1966 to 1967 Abel wrote a weekly syndicated humor column "The Private World of Prof. Bunker C. Hill" that appeared in the San Francisco Examiner and several other newspapers.


Following the Watergate scandal, Abel hired an actor to pose as Deep Throat for a press conference in New York City before 150 reporters. Literary agent Scott Meredith offered $100,000 to buy the rights to his story. At the news conference the Deep Throat impostor quarreled with his purported wife, then fainted and was whisked away in a waiting ambulance.

Abel wrote, produced, and directed two mockumentaries – Is There Sex after Death? (1971) and The Faking of the President (1976).

In 1979 Abel staged his own death from a heart attack near the Sundance Ski Lodge. A fake funeral director collected his belongings and a woman posing as his widow notified the New York Times. The Times published an obituary January 2, 1980[1] (a rare example of a premature obituary). On January 3, 1980, Abel held a news conference to announce that the "reports of my demise have been grossly exaggerated".

Omar's School for Beggars was a fictional school for professional panhandlers. As Omar, Abel was invited to numerous television talk shows including the Tomorrow Show hosted by Tom Snyder, as well as Morton Downey, Jr., Sally Jessy Raphael, Mike Douglas and Sonya Friedman, who was especially upset because Omar ate his lunch on camera. The hoax was a satirical commentary on the rise of unemployment and homelessness in America. Omar's TV appearances spanned the period from 1975 to 1988, even though he had been exposed several times.

Live from New York

Abel was behind one of the most talked-about incidents in The Phil Donahue Show's history - on January 21, 1985, soon after the show's well-publicized move of its operations from Chicago to WNBC New York.

On that day's program, seven members of the audience appeared to faint during the broadcast, which was seen live in New York. Donahue feared the fainting was caused by both anxiety at being on television and an overheated studio on a morning that was cold and snowy outside. He eventually cleared the studio of audience members and then resumed the show.

It turned out the fainting "spell" was cooked up by Abel in what he said was a protest against poor-quality television.


In 1993, when euthanasia and Jack Kevorkian were common topics in the news, Abel set up the bogus Florida company "Euthanasia Cruises, Ltd." which would offer cruises allowing suicidal participants to jump into the ocean after three days of partying. He revived this hoax in a column in 2006.[2]

In 1997 Abel launched a new venture, CGS Productions, to promote gift-wrapped pint jars of Jenny McCarthy's urine. (A parody of McCarthy's role in a shoe commercial where she appeared sitting on a toilet.) The name of the communications director for CGS Productions was Stoidi Puekaw – "Wake up idiots" backwards.

Abel once ran for Congress on a platform that included paying congressmen based on commission; selling ambassadorships to the highest bidder; installing a lie detector in the White House and truth serum in the Senate drinking fountain; requiring all doctors to publish their medical school grade point average in the telephone book after their names and removing Wednesday to establish a 4-day workweek.

Not quite retired

At the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Abel introduced a campaign to ban all breastfeeding because "it is an incestuous relationship between mother and baby that manifests an oral addiction leading youngsters to smoke, drink and even becoming a homosexual." After two hundred interviews over two years, Abel confessed the hoax in U.S. News & World Report.


In 2004, his daughter Jenny Abel along with Jeff Hockett made a documentary film of Abel's life called Abel Raises Cain, which played at the Boston Independent Film Festival and the 2005 Slamdance Film Festival where it won first prize for Best Documentary. It has been released on DVD.


* The Great American Hoax (1966)
* The President I Almost Was by "Mrs. Yetta Bronstein" (Abel and his wife) (1966)
* Confessions of a Hoaxer (1970, Macmillan)
* The Fallacy of Creative Thinking (as Bruce Spencer, 1972)
* The Panhandlers Handbook (as Omar the Beggar, 1977)
* Don't Get Mad, Get Even (1983, Sidg. & J)
* How to Thrive on Rejection (1983, W W Norton & Co Ltd, as W. W. Norton)

BELLO NOCK: Big Apple Circus (1999)

Bello Nock, coming off 8 years as a star on Ringling, a winter with Circus Sarasota and having just Nocked 'em dead at the Shrine Circus in Springfield is now headed to Walden to begin rehearsals for his triumphant return to the BAC.

CIRCUS HILARIOUS: The Art of the Water Fight

Clive Webb and Danny Adams explain some of the finer points of a water gag.

The Art of the Water Fight

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I have a friend who describes the proliferation of the "New Vaudeville" approach to clowning as the "New Yama". His reason being that now it's just as generic, hackneyed, and uninspired an approach to clowning as the rainbow wigged, Simplicity-patterned, greasy, smeared makeup of the "yama yama" clown that hands out stickers at the car wash now simply repackaged to showcase how much money these performers have spent picking items out of the Dube catalog.

His assessment may not be true of everyone but it is essentially valid and is only gaining more ground with me as time goes on.

Dressing in gray, black or brown thrift store castoffs and topping it with a derby or porkpie to show how different you are from the typical convention, Shrine and Christian clowns that you are trying to distance yourself from makes sense only to other "New Vaudeville" clowns. The general public doesn't understand or care about the idea - or what you are doing with it. If anything, it only serves to distance you from your audience, for whom vaudeville (either old or new ) is a largely meaningless word.

It all boils down to character, without a strong character you have nothing. So if the costume only serves to make the character more accessible, more unique , more marketable... why look like everybody else?

When you think about it, it really makes about as much sense for a contemporary performer to wear a top hat as it would have for Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd to work in the 1920s dressed as Joseph Grimaldi.

CLOWN ALLEY: Circo Atayde (1988)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Naiseng, a longtime employee of the Archie McPhee Catalog people, gives his brutally honest assessment of some of the company's most popular products.

This really helps to illustrate just how a prop, devoid of a talented comedian's ability to "sell" said prop, can (and very often does) look completely stupid and totally useless in the cold light of day.

I think that I would prefer watching Naiseng either alone or without the condescending demeanor of the host. This pretty clearly illustrates the talent of someone like David Letterman, who could present the same material in the same way without giving you the impression that he was personally insulting the subject.

"Dying is easy; presenting ironically humorous online videos based on a foreigner's difficulties in comprehending an American hipster's pop-cultural sensibilities based on encountering a series of non-related items from a mail-order novelty catalog is apparently quite hard, or at the very least much harder than it looks on late night television."

ANDY KAUFMAN: Mighty Mouse (October 11, 1975)

Andy Kaufman performing his Mighty Mouse bit on the premier episode of Saturday Night Live (then called NBC's Saturday Night) on the night of Saturday October 11, 1975. I didn't see it that first night but I did see it when it was repeated during that first season. I was eight years old.

An absolutely perfect clown gag, just brilliant.

I have to place this one in a category with Buster Keaton's vase bit from Pest of the West, Ernie Kovacs' Nairobi Trio and Jim Henson's Mahna Mahna; a bit where the performer is locked into an inevitable action that the audience is fully aware of and totally expects. It's virtually the exact opposite of a traditional clown gag which is usually based on the element of surprise.

I could watch this a million times.

Side note: I watched Andy Kaufman punch Jack Burns live on ABC's Fridays while sleeping over at Eric Mischel's house.

Monday, May 18, 2009


It looks like most folks now know that things are back up and running here but we're still down in individual hits from where we were before the break.

Please spread the word and let folks know that things are back to normal here and all of the archives have been restored.



I'm not involved in every single date of the tour but I will be in these towns promoting the following upcoming shows:

May 25 & 26 Atlantic County 4-H Fairgrounds Egg Harbor City, NJ
May 27 & 28 Cape May Courthouse,NJ
June 6 & 7 Norwich, NY
June 8 & 9 Afton, NY
June 10 & 11 Whitney Point, NY
June 12 & 13 Frankfort, NY
June 14 Fonda, NY
June 15 & 16 Ballston Spa, NY
June 25 Goshen, CT
June 26 & 27 Riverton, CT

JULES TURNOUR: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (June 11, 1923)


My Facebook pal Chipper Lowell, son of 50s and 60s era Ringling clown Chuck Burnes, who reportedly KILLED last night at the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

HARPO MARX & MILTON BERLE: Kraft Music Hall (January 14, 1959)

Video and original comments courtesy of Gary Kaskel

Harpo Marx clowns with Uncle Miltie on The Kraft Music Hall starring Milton Berle broadcast January 14, 1959. Billy May conducts the orchestra. May also wrote and conducted the music on all the early Capitol Records' Bozo the Clown albums.

When I first saw this at the Museum of Television and Radio in NYC I was floored by Harpo's "Shiner-esque" gestures intimating alchohol, cocaine and heroin use in 1959! And keep an eye on Uncle Miltie's left hand after Harpo plays the clarinet, as he prompts Harpo's final prop in the scene.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Artist's rendition of clown baby

(Actual baby will not be used to sell hamburgers)

The baby that we were told was "probably" a girl?

Yeah... not so much.

Most likely name: James Roane Cashin

Likely nicknames: Jamie, J-Ro, Jas, Jam and Pootie McDiapermuffin 2.0

Shane will continue to be known as Shane, Shanye or Il Piccolo Bastardo Rosso.


I'd like to see America build an honest-to-goodness circus building in New York City.

Not Madison Square Garden, not a tent in Damrosch Park or out on Coney Island but a real European-style home for the American circus; a building with no other purpose than to teach and present circus.

No hockey. No basketball. No rock concerts or ice shows. Circus. Only circus.

A place that Ringling could play in the spring and Big Apple could play in the fall. A place where New York could finally have it's own Shrine Circus in the winter. Something that could house a Clown College (were anyone so inclined to restart such a program) in the summer and host Cirque when they are in town.

A place that New York could invite the great circuses of Europe and introduce American audiences to a classical circus, devoid of the elephant rides, inflatable bounce houses and the 7 minute peanut pitches that keep American shows from trancending the carnivalesque.

Something that FINALLY says that we understand that the circus is an art form deserving of respect.

THAT is what I want.

Where should it be built? Right in Central Park

Can such a thing be done? Of course! Do it at night when no one is looking.