Categories
Book Shelf Cinema Clown Comedy Performing Arts Photography Physical Theater Recommended Reading List Vaudevisuals Bookshelf

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Notes on a Cowardly Lion”

Notes on a Cowardly Lion by John Lahr

Back Cover

First published in 1969, Notes on a Cowardly Lion has established itself as one of the best-ever show business biographies. Drawing on his father’s recollections and on the memories of those who worked with him, John Lahr brilliantly examines the history of modern American show business through the long and glorious career of his father–the raucous low-comic star of burlesque, vaudeville, the Broadway revue and musical, Hollywood movies, and the legitimate stage. Here in rich detail is Lahr evolving from low–dialect comic to Ziegfeld Follies sophisticate, hamming it up with the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman on the set of The Wizard of Oz, and debuting Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in America, which Kenneth Tynan called “one of the most noble performances I have ever seen.” In the examination of Bert Lahr’s chronic insecurity and self-absorption, the breakdown of his first marriage, and the affectionate arm’s length he kept between himself and his adoring second family, John Lahr’s book also brings the reader closer than any other theater biography to the private torment of a great funny man.

This edition of the book includes the award-winning essay “The Lion and Me,” John Lahr’s intimate reflections on family life with his distant, brooding, but lovable father. A first-class stylist, John Lahr takes the reader beyond the magic of show business to a dazzling examination of how a performing self is constructed and staged before the paying customers. Both as theater history and biography, Lahr’s book is superb.

“A book-length love letter. To open it is to enter a life, to participate in a sensibility and, perhaps most important, to laugh. Uproariously.”

Stefan Kanfer, Life

“Endlessly fascinating, excellent. . . . A work of literature, a work of history, a subtle psychological study.”

Richard Schickel, Harper’s Magazine

“This is a biography of the late Bert Lahr, that clown-comedian who played everything from burlesque to Aristophanes and Shakespeare, by his son, who is one of that rare species, an authentic theater critic. . . . John Lahr is frank and objective about his father. He sees that Bert was wildly funny on the stage and unhappy off. He was a haphazard father, a selfish lover, a thoughtless husband (his wife cherished him), a hypochondriac and a ruthless ‘professional.’ The past becomes present in this biography so that we come to know and understand the actor as clearly as the man. The book abounds in anecdotes that smack of the footlight world and its fascinating fauna. John Lahr is an honorable as well as a talented writer on the theater.”

Harold Clurman, New York Times Book Review

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

Categories
Clown Comedy Film Performing Arts Recommended Reading List Silent Film Vaudevisuals Bookshelf

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “The Day The Laughter Stopped”

The Day The Laughter Stopped by David Yallop

The Day the Laughter Stopped

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and the story of his tragedy.

Buster Keaton said that the day the laughter stopped was September 5, 1921 – the day that Virginia Rappe became ill during a party in Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle‘s suite at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. She died four days later as a result of her illness, peritonitis caused by a ruptured bladder. Mr. Arbuckle had nothing to do with Ms. Rappe’s illness and death, but he paid with his good name, his career and his happiness nonetheless. He was tried three times, by a politically motivated and extraordinarily underhanded prosecution, and was acquitted with an unprecedented apology signed by every member of the jury. This should have been more than enough to ensure his warm welcome back into film, but nothing of the sort happened. The tragedy of Roscoe Arbuckle is that he was made to be the scapegoat of a Hollywood running scared from public opinion – his guilt or innocence had become irrelevant.
This is the story that David Yallop tells in The Day the Laughter Stopped. Though the book tells the story of Arbuckle’s birth, start in show business and the years after his being sacrificed by so-called friends, the focus of this book is on the unfortunate death of Virginia Rappe, and the ham-handed attempt of the prosecutor to wrangle a political future out of the railroading of an innocent man. The problem? The prosecution had no case – its “star” witness, Maude Delmont, was lying from the onset and was easily discredited, and the doctors who examined Ms. Rappe during and after the party, and who conducted the autopsy, clearly indicated that no violence was done to her. The question, of course, is why she didn’t receive proper surgical medical care in the first place, but due to the passage of time I suppose that query will forever go unanswered.
When Mr. Yallop began research for this book, all three of Mr. Arbuckle’s wives were still living, and were eager to share their stories with him. Even Minta Durfee and Doris Deane, whose marriages with him ended in divorce, remembered him with great love. Indeed, all who were still around to be interviewed by Mr. Yallop had positive and kind things to say about the gentle, generous Roscoe Arbuckle.
This is an indispensable and devastating text in the study of the trial and the nature of Hollywood politics in the 20’s. Simple common sense and a rudimentary review of the facts indicate that Roscoe Arbuckle was completely innocent – this book makes it abundantly clear. It is a shame that Mr. Yallop has not written further titles regarding the silent era – his voice would be more than welcome. My only quibble, and it is a tiny one, is that there is some gratuitous foreshadowing in the “Before” section of the book – chances are that anyone who awaited this book’s arrival knew that its main focus was the events following September 5, 1921, and didn’t need to be reminded of the sadness just around the bend during Roscoe’s happy times.
 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
REVIEWS
This book should be the end of all the scandal regarding the case of murder against Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle. The author lays it all out so well that there is no question that Arbuckle had absolutely nothing to do with the death of Virginia Rappe. That is not to say this is not as interesting as the dirty little stories that others have told about this case, it is just that this happens to be the truth! I highly recommend this book!!!
~ ~ ~  ~ ~

David Yallop is a film and television writer. He spent more than three years writing this book. The `Acknowledgments’ thank the many who helped in this 1976 book. There is a `Filmography’ by Samual A. Gill, and a `Bibliography’. The `Preface’ presents the testimony given by Maude Delmont. She accused Roscoe Arbuckle of murdering Virginia Rappe. Delmont never testified in court because her story was all lies. District Attorney Matthew Brady knew this as he prosecuted Arbuckle. Most people know of the legend of Arbuckle as a murderer with a Coke bottle. It ruined the career of Arbuckle, one of the most popular comedians of Hollywood, and was followed by a national board of censors. Arbuckle was the first actor to be blacklisted (p.261).

Part 1 has the history of Roscoe and show business. Originally all American films were made on the East Coast (p.25). California had better weather and light, and a varying landscape (p.25). There was a wide-open free market for films in the early days (p.27). Mack Sennett was an inventive pioneer who recorded real events for future films (p.40). Roscoe was enormously popular in American, but also in Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and elsewhere (p.47). The “true story of what happened in Boston” begin on page 67, when Roscoe “was still a sick man”. Roscoe “is not now considered one of the greatest silent film comedians because most experts have never had the chance to see the best of his works” (p.83). Roscoe was a deputy sheriff (p.86). There was a famous dinner party (pp.87-90). 1921 saw the beginning of the Depression (p.96). [Due to falling agricultural prices.]

Part 2 tells about the St. Francis Hotel that survived the earthquake and fire of 1906. Roscoe picked the best hotel in town. Yallop interviewed many of the people who were involved, and read thousands of pages from the six proceedings to construct what happened on September 5, 1921 (p.109). Pages 108 to 128 end with Virginia’s death. Yallop says medical malpractice killed her. An illegal post-mortem removed organs that could tell of an abortion. The death caused reporters to investigate the story for The Front Page. Theaters began to drop Roscoe’s films (p.135). Lawyer Frank Dominguez advised Roscoe to answer no questions at the Hall of Justice (p.136). [This prevented the creation of prosecutorial perjury.] The reports in the Hearst Press was “criminally irresponsible” (p.138). Was Hearst the only millionaire to use gangsters (p.140)?

Was the scandal about Roscoe meant as a diversion from the economy (p.141)? Censorship of Chaplin (p.143)? Lehrman made up stories (p.145). Delmont made up stories (p.149). D.A. Matthew Brady knew that Roscoe was guiltless but prosecuted anyway (p.152). They tried to put words into one witness (pp.162-165). Brady knew he didn’t have a case (p.186)! Arbuckle’s films were banned in Great Britain and elsewhere, but not in France (p.191). [Is there some human flaw that causes people to hate what they once loved (p.194)?] Was the incident a variation of the “badger game” (p.196)? Maude Delmont played this game before (p.197). Brady refused to let her testify (p.198). A fickle public now cheered Arbuckle (p.202). Private detectives guarded Roscoe (p.207). Finally, the third jury acquitted Roscoe in five minutes because there was no proof (p.253).

Part 3 asks why an innocent man ws banned from movies (p.259). Will Hays was a puppet of Adolph Zuckor (p.260). The acquittal and the ban shattered Roscoe (p.264). He worked behind the scenes (p.265). Popular support ended the ban (p.266). But there were objections (p.267). [How wise are those moral leaders who would condemn an accused innocent (p.268)?] Billy Sunday said the ban was evil (p.272). The film “Sherlock Jr.” was based on the trial (p.278). There was another important case about the morals of a plaintiff (p.279). The rest of the book tells about Roscoe’s last years. Roscoe made comedy shorts in 1932 and was prepared to return to features when he died in his sleep (p.294). [Was there a need for comedy during the Great Depression?] The `Epilogue’ tells how the ban on Roscoe’s films continued long after his death (p.299). [Andy Edmonds’ book explains why the event was a frame-up.]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

Categories
Film Mime Photography

Mime and RoboCop

How A Mime Saved Paul Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP

Actor Peter Weller and mime artist Moni Yakim recall the time when production on Robocop came grinding to a halt, and it took the help of a mime to overcome a major obstacle.

(Reproduced from ComicBookMovie.com)

SFX Magazine recently put out a great article about the making of the 80’s classic RobocopThey spoke with the director Paul Verhoeven who at the time was incredibly nervous to be making his first big American film. They also spoke with stars Peter Weller, and Miguel Ferrer, who played the creator of Robocop. Miguel admits that he was extremely worried that the film wouldn’t be any good, but took the role out of desperation. The gamble paid off and Robocop is one of the few films that he is very happy to look back upon.

What really caught my eye was the tale of how Peter Weller’s struggles with the physical movements for Robocop almost shutdown filming. And the only one that was capable of solving this issue was mime artist and choreographer, Moni Yakim.

WELLER: I’d taken mime. I was a mediocre one. I had taken a lot of dance, but I said, “This is going to take athleticism.” And I’d met with a lot of mimes who just wanted to do the usual pantomime. But I’d met with Moni Yakim, who also had studied with the greats. He knew the work of Etienne De Croux and Jean-Louis Barrault, and was with Marceau. And he said, “What we want to do here, I think, is have some sort of liquid movement with a staccato on the end of it, so it’s like butter, but then with a big, hard definition at the end of the movement.” And we started working on it, and I said, “This is the guy for me.” And he designed it, and I just worked on it for four hours a day, that stuff. It was tough, man, but fun.

But after four months of training with Moni, Peter Weller was having difficulties with the movements once he put on the Robocop costume.

YAKIM: It was not the hero that they had in mind. They didn’t know what to do, and, basically, they stopped the shooting. And Peter told them, “Call Moni and he might find a solution for us.” Of course, they rejected the idea because they thought that they were very smart, and if they can’t find the solution, how would I find the solution? So they resisted, like, for a day, but they couldn’t go on shooting, and they were desperate. So the producer called me and asked me to come over to the set. Which I couldn’t because I had a commitment here (in New York). And another day went by in which they did not shoot, and they were losing a lot of money every day. Finally Peter got on the phone, because he felt that this was something that would launch him into stardom, and he didn’t want to give up on it. So he called me and tried to get me to delay the job that I had here and to come over to the set. And since I’d become extremely friendly with Peter, I couldn’t resist him.

So I went, they flew me over there. A car came and took me over to the set. Nothing was happening. Everybody was depressed, especially Paul Verhoeven, who was going absolutely crazy. It was his first chance at doing a big American movie. I came to an extremely depressed place. I had met Paul before that, because we discussed the character, but he hardly looked it to me when I arrived there. And I saw Peter, and Peter said, “How do we go about it?” I said, “I can’t do anything unless you put on the costume.” So he went and they worked on him, again, for a few hours, to put on this costume that was not easy to deal with. He appeared with the costume, and I laughed, because he did indeed look like a huge toad. So I asked him to walk a little bit, and then I realized that it needed just a small adjustment. I asked everybody to leave the set and to give me about an hour to work with Peter.

And I worked with Peter and found out that all was in the rhythm, that we had to throw away everything that we’d done, rhythmically, over the four months, and to create the rhythm that would fit that costume. That, instead of having the bulk as a negative thing, to use it as an asset. So we started to move slower, and to walk slower, the motions were slower. And we worked Peter’s body into the weight of the costume, rhythmically. And, after about an hour, I called Peter, Verhoeven, and the guys, and told them to look at what he can do. And everybody got excited, and they started shooting. That’s the real story. And it was in the papers because Peter Weller actually said it that if I hadn’t come to the set that day, there wouldn’t be a RoboCop.

 

# # # # #