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 →
What a warm and wonderful gal Thelma Todd was. Smart, classy, and enviably beautiful, she livened up numerous comedies featuring Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Louise Fazenda, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Joe E. Brown, and many other famous laughmakers. Watching her performances reminds us how much was lost with her untimely death in 1936. Who could forget her “college widow” being serenaded by each of the four Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers (1932), or her Mrs. Plumtree genuinely cracking up at Stan Laurel in Another Fine Mess (1930)? Continue reading →
In these first weeks of September 2015, silent Hollywood lost two more of its own. On September 4th Jean Darling, one of the child actors in “Our Gang” shorts during the late ’20s, passed away at the age of 93. Not long after this news sunk in (and before I had time to post an appropriate piece on Jean), another Our Gang alumni passed away on September 10: 89-year-old Dickie Moore, who debuted in silent films as a baby and starred in the famous series during the Depression era.