Blockheads – The Laurel And Hardy Musical

A minute ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you when I saw Blockheads at the Mermaid Theater, London. A quick search of the ‘net, however, revealed that the play ran in 1984.

I’m guessing that Blockheads was not terribly successful, since it seems to have run for a total of only 17 days. And I’m guessing it’s not terribly well-known, since a Google search turns up nearly nothing about it. I was lucky to see it; lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

As I recall, the show was set ‘backstage’ during one of Laurel and Hardy’s British tours, which places the action in the late 40’s or early 50’s.

You can get a sense of the plot from the song titles, the first of which is Have We Still Got It, sung by Laurel and Hardy. Then we flash back to the early days.

Stan sings a number called Playin’ The Halls and then sings Star Quality with his father, who had been a vaudeville comic in his own right. A number titled Is This Where The Rainbow Ends? is sung by “Hardy and Minstrels.” Laurel sings Goodbye Mae, presumably to his vaudeville partner and common-law wife Mae Dahlberg at the moment Stan decides to break up the act and try his hand at movies.

Any full-fledged L&H fan will smile at the cast members who sing a song called Timing - Hardy, Finlayson, and Hall. And perhaps some Laurel and Hardy fan more fully-fledged than I can decipher the meaning of a number in Act II sung by “Laurel, Hardy, and Finlayson” that’s titled G.A.

I remember the show with great fondness. The music was fun, and the Laurel and Hardy history was on-target, if the spelling occasionally was not: a song in Act I titled Rumons From Rome [sic] is sung by The Stan Laurel Trio.

Staging costs were kept to a minimum: the roles of Stan’s Father, The Chef, Joe Rock, Hal Roach, and The Phantom of the Opera were all played by Larry Dann. Simon Browne played James Finlayson, a cameraman, a Keystone Cop, and Mr. Lubin.

The two stars looked – and acted – in an authentic, believable and sympathetic manner.

Mark Hadfield played Stan Laurel. He later joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and has had a distinguished career in the years that followed Blockheads.

Kenneth H. Waller played Oliver Hardy. Prior to Blockheads, he appeared in Onward Victoria, which opened at the Martin Beck Theater in New York City on December 14, 1980, and closed at the Martin Beck on December 14, 1980; thus making Blockheads the more successful of the two productions.

For years, I used to walk into record stores hoping to find an original cast album. I’ve finally given up on that dream. There was no album, and there are no record stores.

Anybody else remember Blockheads the musical? Anybody want to stage a revival at a Sons Of The Desert Convention?

  • Share/Bookmark

The Pledge Paved With Good Intentions

Interesting ad. Optimistic ad.

You can click on the picture above to read this trade ad for The Hal Roach Studio for yourself, but it’s the first line that’s important: “It is our pledge that during the season 1936-1937 we shall continue to expend every effort to produce the best comedy screen entertainment possible and that we will not stint on time nor money to accomplish this result.”

You have to feel bad for Hal Roach during this period. He tried to live up to his pledge. He succeeded in spots (Topper was a ‘37 release) but in many places he just couldn’t attain his vision for ‘36-’37.

Laurel and Hardy made made no short subjects after 1935, which is a shame. In ‘36 they released Our Relations, and in ‘37, Way Out West. You’d have to say that – even without the shorts – Roach made good on his pledge here.

Patsy Kelly made four short subjects with two different co-stars in ‘36 following the death of Thelma Todd; but the series was kaput. Patsy also co-starred with Charley Chase in a feature, Kelly The Second, but time- and money-stinting is in evidence. Roach couldn’t live up to the pledge here.

Charley Chase’s own first starring feature, Neighborhood House, was judged unsuccessful and was cut down and released as a mere two-reeler in 1936. It turned out to be Charley’s last film for Roach. He did make 6 two-reelers in ‘37… but for Columbia. Pledge not honored.

Jack Haley appeared in two features for Roach, Mr. Cinderella in ‘36 and Pick A Star in ‘37. He wasn’t around long enough to become a Roach regular. He returned to 20th Century Fox in ‘37. Pledge? Haley? What pledge?

“Spanky McFarland and his Our Gang playmates” made a ‘36 feature, General Spanky, which flopped, and Roach started producing the previously two-reel Our Gangs as one reel subjects. Roach gave up on the Gang in ‘38, selling the series to MGM, which made some pretty terrible entries. Some good shorts in the final Roach years, however, and while length decreased, time and money was expended to keep the series going. Give this one to Hal.

It makes you wonder if Roach felt he needed to bolster his studio’s image through the trade “pledge” ad specifically because he faced an uncertain season. The glory days of the studio as producer of sound short subjects essentially ended during these years, and, with occasional exceptions, the Roach Studio did not succeed in features.

  • Share/Bookmark

The Beau Hunks In Rehearsal

For many years, when blowing out birthday candles or on other occasions that gave me a free wish, I wished that someone, somewhere, would re-record all of the wonderful LeRoy Shield tunes heard as background music in the Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, and Charley Chase Hal Roach Shorts. I don’t know which wish-making opportunity yielded the results: the incredibly wonderful recordings by The Beau Hunks Orchestra.

I still have birthdays, so I’ve switched over to the next impossible dream – seeing The Beau Hunks at a live performance.

I’ve talked to Piet Schreuders and Gert-Jan Blom about playing here in the U.S., and the financial implications of a tour are staggering. Not out of the question; just staggering.

Perhaps inspired by the concept behind stem cell research, Piet Schreuders informs me that there may be a solution that allows the sound and spirit of The Beau Hunks to travel. According to Piet, the formula is that the “…Beau Hunks ‘inject’ a few key members into existing local orchestras, bring their charts, rehearse for three days, and bingo, a good time is had by all. This opens up new possibilities — for instance, a performance on Roy Shield’s birthday in Waseca, Minnesota someday!”

Sounds great to me, as does the recent rehearsal above. According to Piet: “The Beau Hunks orchestra and the German Filmorchester Babelsberg recently combined to give a performance of Leroy Shield’s music and to accompany two silent Laurel & Hardy films. The performance was in Potsdam, near Berlin, Germany, on August 24, 2007. This clip shows a rehearsal of the tune “Let’s Face It” the day before, conducted by Scott Lawton. Beau Hunks leader Gert-Jan Blom watches from the front row.”

  • Share/Bookmark

A Tour of Hal Roach Culver City Laurel and Hardy Locations

Speaking of Hal Roach, as we were in the previous post, if you’re interested in the Roach films, you might want to take a look at a video I posted on YouTube some time ago featuring my buddy Piet Schreuders.

And you might even want to read the full length article from his magazine Furore -

  • Share/Bookmark

If Hal Roach Had Made Newsreels

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  • Share/Bookmark

Roy Shield and Company – Saturday Night Live on NBC

You may not recognize “Moonlight on the Ganges,” but you are sure to recognize the theme for NBC Radio Network’s “Roy Shield and Company.” (30m) Roy Shield (sometimes LeRoy Shield) wrote all the great music for the Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase, and Our Gang comdies from the 30’s. You’ll most likely recognize Roy’s theme song as the “Oh, Miss Crabtree” music from Our Gang short “Love Business,” but it has appeared in countless Hal Roach Films. Its title is actually “You Are The One I Love,” (2m) and the only reason I know this is because of the fabulous Beau Hunks CD’s with inflection-perfect recreations of the (now lost) originals. On Roy’s show, you’ll hear Eve Young sing “I Should Care.” Roy and his orchestra also play “Violets for Your Furs,” a song I know only because Frank Sinatra recorded it. Nelson Olmstead narrates a version of Poe’s “The Raven” which proves that every era has its William Shatner. A selection of programs with orchestral backgrounds by Shield can be found here.

  • Share/Bookmark

August 9, 1924: Chicago is Lost in Los Angeles

  • Share/Bookmark