Edie Adams

Man, Edie Adam’s did a devastating Marilyn Monroe parody. If Marilyn hadn’t been so fucked up she might have sued. It surpassed even SCTV’s Catherine O’Hara and Andrea Martin at their cruelest. I saw it on the Edie Adam’s box set, I imagine some one has put it on YouTube as well. Also, among the many long buried treasures revealed in this collection is a solid dozen minutes of the Woody Herman Big Band c.1963, and what a blazing aggregation that was. You could hear that music in a club now and it would still sound state of the art. Were I Scott Yanow I could rattle off the soloists, but alas I ain’t. A smoking young bunch they were however. And in that very same program the daring Edie gave Jack Sheldon six or seven minutes to go a surreal monologue about falconry that was as hysterical as it was weird. Clean, though. She must have warned him.

I met Edie Adam’s several times. Had a few extended conversations. Wonderful stories, wonderful lady. 

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Hellzapoppin’

I have one of those Mill Creek comedy collections, full of mostly completely forgotten comedies from the 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s, mostly B flicks, some lousy, some with moments, and some really funny. They range from sophisticated–the nearly completely forgotten Animal Kingdom, a Noel Coward thing from 1932 written by the same guy who did Philadelphia Story and a real gem–to virtually plotless Hal Roach things that are excuses to pull out every slapstick bit he ever used in a silent short. I’d never actually seen Olsen and Johnson and gotta admit in their couple films in this monstrous box set (fifty movies!) they completely break me up, much funnier than Abbott and Costello, and their physical comedy bits are really similar to the Marx Brothers, you can certainly get the feel of the vaudeville both came from. In fact, that led me to Hellzapoppin’ on YouTube (a beautiful print), which was the Universal Studios version of Olsen and Johnson’s huge Broadway hit Hellzapoppin (Universal’s grammar nazis insisted on the apostrophe). The Broadway show was, by all accounts, the most anarchic thing in the history of American entertainment, utter madness, script be damned, incredibly loud, with action on the stage, behind the stage, in the audience, in the aisles, and in the lobby as people left. None of its 1,404 performances were alike. Skits could be dropped, or stopped midway, or completely altered, or destroyed by manic improvisation. Musical numbers rarely made it uninterrupted. Shills planted in the audience would start yelling or weirding out or heckling or loudly announce, over and over, they were going to the bathroom. Things were dropped from the rafters onto the audience, and buzzers jolted them out of their seats. The fourth wall was not just broken through, it was shredded, it was inverted, it was drawn on, it was pulled inside out, it had its own fourth wall (would that be a fifth wall?) Critics hated it. Audiences loved it. It was vaudeville’s last crazy act, really. That was our grandparents’ and great grandparents’ world, vaudeville, this sort of unapologetic cornball Yiddish and yokel and music hall madness. It’s the anarchy you see in the early Marx Brothers flicks, in Duck Soup and Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, before MGM tamed them. Universal tamed Hellzapoppin, too, or tried to, with an inane love story and too many uninterrupted musical numbers (though Martha Raye was no comic slouch, and there’s a killer jazz and lindy hop bit, just perfect, perhaps the best swing dance movie scene ever). But Olsen and Johnson (and screenwriter Nat Perrin, who also wrote Monkey Business as well as conceived and wrote the original Addams Family) manage to keep the anarchy going, with the fourth wall shattered in a zillion pieces. The first fifteen minutes apparently come closest to the dementia of the live show, and it is probably the most intensely manic comedy I have ever seen on film including the Marx Brothers. It’s more low brow than the Marx Brothers, with none of their intellectual cachet, and I imagine neither Olsen nor Johnson ever sat around the Algonquin Round Table, but it is absolutely insane. Wonderful stuff. If you’re a fan of screwball comedy in its purest and most uncompromising form, or just want to see what it was that died when vaudeville died, I imagine Hellzapoppin’ (apostrophe’d) is essential. Besides, it has the hippest Citizen Kane reference ever: “I thought they burned that thing.”

Joan Marshall

(New Year’s Eve, 2016)

Fyl decided her husband is still too sick to be life of the party on a wet, cold night and so we’re sitting home on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t argue. Besides, there’s a Jack Benny marathon on Antenna TV. When the pizza came It was guest star Frankie Avalon singing, so I joined Fyl in front of her TV watching old Sid Caesar shows and munching on a Palermo’s special, thin crust, crispy, anchovies on half. Taking my empty plate into the kitchen later the Benny marathon was still on in the living room and I could hear Robert Goulet. Even an hour apart the difference in timbre, phrasing, range–hell, in sheer quality of everything–with Frankie Avalon was beyond glaring. Plus Goulet was much, much funnier in the follow up bit, a natural. Funniest of all, though, was Joan Marshall, the woman in the sketch and one of the great undiscovered comic talents of the sixties. Alas, she was gorgeous, and in that decade gorgeous and funny were not allowed to mix. In the thirties she might have been a screwball superstar, another Carole Lombard; in the fifties she could have been the female lead in a sophisticated comedy. But in the sixties only Jack Benny recognized how funny she was and let her run riot in a couple sketches. They said it really bothered Joan that she never got choice comedy roles, and she never seemed happy in her career being beautiful. Hollywood is full of beautiful women. It’s not full of naturally funny people. But sometimes what you are really good at and the times you live in don’t coincide. If only you’d been born twenty years earlier.

Scotch and wa-wa

So I tell the old Laugh-In joke, Goldie Hawn walks into a bar. Dan Rowan says you sure you’re old enough to be in here? Goldie Hawn says yes I am sure I am old enough to be in here. Dan says OK, what’ll ya have? Goldie says a scotch and wa-wa.

Everyone laughed.

So Helen Keller walks into a bar, I said. Bartender says you sure you are old enough to be in here? Helen Keller says yes I am sure I am old enough to be in here. Bartender says OK, what’ll ya have? Helen Keller says a scotch and waaaaaaaaaah.

Silence.

Shouldn’t that have been Patty Duke? someone asked.

Garry Shandling

Garry Shandling was an incredibly funny guy. They say only the good die young. Or the not exactly old die young. Well, you can’t be old if you die young. But 66, for a comic, if not young, is certainly a couple decades too soon. That’s a lotta untold jokes, a lotta unlaughed laughs. It happens. He’ll live in syndication forever, they’ll say, him and Lucy and Phil Silvers and Bob Newhart, who isn’t even dead, and syndication is almost like never dying, plus somebody else can have your parking space. That’s what death is for a TV comedian, syndication, a big Jewish funeral and somebody you hated getting your parking space. Not that it matters to Garry Shandling. Garry’s up in heaven now, yelling at the birds to shut up.

Too bad. A funny guy.

garry shandling and johnny carson

I’m a Poached Egg

I remember the first time I ever saw Kiss Me Stupid (probably on TCM, who rescued it from the Pauline Kael Home for the Morally Depraved) and Dean Martin (as Dino) runs into a police roadblock and says What’s the matter? That Sinatra kid missing again? I knew Billy Wilder had pulled out all the stops, as the kidnapping had only happened a few months before. I always wondered what Frank said. It was a funny line, after all, and a laugh is a laugh. It was certainly funnier than anything in Robin and the 7 Hoods, which Frank was making at the time, with Dean Martin, and which the critics thought was just fine, even though it’s not especially funny, and they forgot to keep the palm trees out of the shots. Palm trees in Chicago. A lotta laughs. But Frank was distracted with the kidnapping, and who cares about a stray palm tree in a dumb movie anyway

The critics hated Kiss Me Stupid. They hated the story, they hated the script, they hated the cast (Peter Sellers was supposed to play the Ray Walston part, incidentally, but had a heart attack on the set.) I love Kiss Me Stupid. Now Irma La Douce I’m not too nuts about, it kind of drags on about an hour and a half too long, though it might have made a nice two parter sitcom–but at least that didn’t bring about the fall of western civilization like Dino’s hand in Kim Novak’s kleenex box did. The Catholic Legion of Decency went through the countryside, trying to scare up another crusade. By the hand of God the movie flopped, was pulled from the theaters, and Billy Wilder shamed and broken (he made one more minor classic, The Fortune Cookie, and then a string of box office losers), but it was too late. Pretty soon everyone is running around naked and the seventies began in a cloud of cocaine. But we know why. I’m a Poached Egg, that’s why

But then what do I know from movies anyway? I don’t even like Ingmar Bergman films. But I do know funny, and I’m a Poached Egg is funny. Maybe not the way it was intended, not as Ira Gershwin wrote it. George was working up I Got Rhythm. Ira comes in with some lyrics. George is on the melody, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da. I’m a poached egg, Ira sings, without a piece of cheese. I’m Da Vinci, without the Mona Leez. Mona Leez? George yells, and threatens to call Cole Porter.

You had to be there.

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