Nowadays there’s a lot of hubbub about actresses in modern comedies, with plenty of well-meaning people proclaiming that the existence of Melissa McCarthy or Kristen Wiig proves that, at last, folks are figuring out that ladies can be funny too! It only took 130 years, y’all! No one has ever, ever noticed this before, and no, I’ve never heard of Mabel Normand or seen I Love Lucy, why do you ask?
“…Oh. But that was, like, in black and white.”
But, as the introduction to James L. Neibaur’s latest book The Hal Roach Shorts of Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts and Patsy Kelly points out, the funny ladies of film have been with us far longer than that–since the darn dawn of cinema, I would add. A few perfect examples from the Golden Age of Comedy are Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts, and Patsy Kelly, who starred together in a number of shorts in the 1930s (Todd and Pitts were a comedy team for a few years; when Pitts left the Roach studio in 1933 Patsy Kelly took over her half of the team). While there are a couple biographies of ZaSu available and several about Thelma (due to her tragic death in 1935), Neibaur’s book is the first to examine the short comedies of these frequently overlooked comediennes. Continue reading →
This is my own contribution to the Second Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon. I hope you enjoy!
Buster Keaton fans are well aware of his much-discussed, sometimes-derided 1930s MGM talkies (and more than a little of that derision came from Buster himself). Speak Easily, Doughboys, and Sidewalks of New York are a few of the titles that pop up in conversation after online conversation–features that used the multi-talented director Keaton solely as an actor, and showed it.
But if there’s one Keaton feature that’s rarely discussed, either by fans or historians, it’s Le Roi des Champs-Élysées (1934). This independent French film was made about a year after Keaton was dismissed from MGM Studios. The sad story of that dismissal is all too familiar to fans–a slow downward spiral of unhappiness at work and unhappiness at home, and the bottom of bottle after bottle. But if there was ever a sign of hope in those dark, frightening months of blackouts and sanitariums, it can be found in this overlooked film. Continue reading →