The Cantorial Tradition In The Music Of Laurel and Hardy And "Our Gang?"

Visually, in one of Hal Roach’s Max Davidson shorts, maybe. That’s Max at left.

But ethnomusicologist Henry Sapoznik, of the nonprofit Living Traditions, which is releasing “Cantors, Klezmorim & Crooners 1905-1953” ($25, JSP Records/Living Traditions) says that devotees of LeRoy Shield’s later film music (including the wonderful background music heard in the 1930’s Hal Roach shorts) can trace Shield’s musical thematic development in his earlier work as a conductor/arranger for Jewish recordings (among others) at Victor. On the the CD, which will be released to mark KlezKamp’s 25th anniversary and a festival of Yiddish music and art set for December 23-29, there’s a track that features Yiddish Theater singer Ellie Casman backed by LeRoy Shield’s RCA band.

Sapoznik, a five-time Grammy winner for early folk and country music productions, who also received a Peabody Award for his “Yiddish Radio Project,” was misquoted and misinterpreted in a poorly edited interview that popped up on the ‘net and raised a few eyebrows among Shield admirers (and this post has been revised to reflect the proper context for his remarks).

The raised eyebrows had to do with the fact that Shield was Irish. Which is not to say he didn’t want to be perceived as Jewish… in fact, the reverse is true. Steve Cloutier, who runs the Leroy Shield website learned that “…Leroy changed his name from “Shields” to “Shield” [because he thought it] would be advantageous in Hollywood if his name sounded more Jewish than Irish.” Shield/Shields changed the name quite a bit – Roy Shield was yet another variation he used.

Sapoznik suggests Shield’s early work, including the Yiddish recordings for RCA, were an influence Shield brought to [the Hal Roach] movies. Sapoznik observed, “The cantorial tradition,” so central to Yiddish recordings, “was the key DNA of Eastern European Jewish music. Everything — klezmer, Yiddish theater, folk songs — that’s what links them all together.”

He makes a point. It would be great fun to hear more of Shield’s early work. Maybe we can convince a klezmer band to cover the Hal Roach tunes, but in the meantime, I’m going to check out the “C,K, and C” CD asap.

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Laurel and Hardy Statue Unveiled in Ulverston

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Laurel and Hardy Live on Stage In Color

From YouTube… L&H start a little under a minute in.

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Charley Chase and Charley Chase

The word “hooter” used to mean “nose.” Somehow its position in anatomy slipped.

Pay no attention to the “ie” at the end of Charley Chase’s name in the lobby card above. His name, at the time he made “The Grand Hooter” was then, is now, and forever shall be Charley, C-h-a-r-l-e-y, as in “Charley, My Boy.” Yes, even Columbia Pictures occasionally misspelled his name.

And it’s Charley’s good name I’m here to talk about.

Lets take a step back.

What’s your reaction when some despicable crime, committed by some unknown individual, galvanizes the nation?

Depending on the nature of the crime, you’ll register sympathy, empathy, anger, despair, and/or incredulity. You’ll ask what this country’s coming to, and if it’s really come to this, when something like what happened can happen. If there’s a minority, religion, political party, geographic area or identifiable group you despise, you’ll be tempted to assign blame (“This is how Pilates and soy milk are destroying the fabric of America.”)

Personally, I skip all that stuff and focus on one thing only in a “major new crime” situation: Will the criminal, once discovered, share my name or any part of it? Because I’d surely have to change names immediately were that the case.

What do you imagine all the Lee Oswalds of the world were doing on Monday morning, November 25, 1963? Thinking up new names as they pushed people aside in their fervent effort to reach city hall.

Ironically, fear of this possibility has been nameless. Sigmund Freud had a name for it, though: nominidemophobia, from the Latin for “same name fear.” The name has not been widely adopted, perhaps because this was the Sigmund Freud who played utility infield Triple A ball for the Portland Beavers in the late 1980’s. Others have suggested that the inherent unpronounceability of nominidemophobia may be to blame.

Nonetheless, many of us suffer from nominidemphobia, which is the primary reason media coverage of assassins has always included the middle name. It is for the sake of all the Bruno Hauptmans with middle names other than Richard and the sake of all John Booths who are not Wilkses that middle names are a must.

You doubt that? has 146 people named John Booth, including the Jons, the Johnnies, the Jonathans and the Jacks.

Not one of them – not one – has “W” as their middle initial.

While it’s true that there is a general paucity of “W” middle names due to the letter’s close association with our soon to be ex-president, most nominologists maintain that nearly all the “W” aversion seen in the current crop of John Booths remains powered exclusively by a single 1865 event.

It may be true that, as Stan says to Ollie in Tit For Tat (a possible future Charley Chase film title; see below), “He who filters your good name steals trash.”

Shakespeare’s Falstaff is the source of the original quote, “He who steals my good name, steals all that I have.” (Falstaff’s name was later stolen by a beer.)

And now, trash has stolen Charley Chase’s good name, and you need a filter - specifically, Google’s SafeSearch filter – when you perform a search on his name.

Below is a rare photo of Charley Chase without clothes, from the 1932 two-reel Hal Roach comedy In Walked Charley. This is not the reason you need SafeSearch.

Below is a rare photo of Charley Chase with clothes, publicity from or for an unknown production. This is not the reason you need SafeSearch.

It’s all the other pictures of the Charley Chase seen immediately above, 99% of which are NSFW.

Were the latest Charley Chase an actress, she’d have to join The Screen Actor’s Guild, which frowns upon name-cloning:

It is the Guild’s objective that no member use a professional name which is the same as, or resembles so closely as to tend to be confused with,the name of any other member. The Guild urges all applicants and members to minimize any personal or individual risk of liability by avoiding a name that may cause confusion. (Guild Rule 15).

It reads like a guideline, but it works like a rule:

  • Michael J. Fox added the “J” because there was already a Michael Fox who was a member of SAG.
  • Michael Caine (Maurice Micklewhite) originally chose the name “Michael Scott” for himself, but had to give it up because there already was an actor named Michael Scott.
  • Actress Emma Stansfield was born Emma Thomson. Since there was an Emma Thompson, she had to change her name.
  • Ditto Michael Douglas, whose name had already been registered by the other Michael Douglas, so Michael Douglas became Michael Keaton.
  • Diane Hall’s name had been previously registered, so she became Diane Keaton, thus making Keaton the go-to name for people facing this problem.

Civilians who want to slipstream behind a famous name are rarely stopped from doing so: Jesus Christ lives in Washington Heights and Santa Claus calls Utah home. Andy Griffith ran for Sheriff and was sued by Andy Griffith. (Andy Griffith won, that sure tells you nothing!)

And I, for one, am proud to live in a country where Paul Simon becomes a U.S. Senator, Jerry Lewis is elected to congress, and Albert Einstein does stand-up comedy (as Albert Brooks).

Let’s cut to the Chases.

In an effort to stem future confusion, allow me to point out that despite evidence to the contrary, the films listed below are actual comedies featuring Charley Chase rather than “adult entertainment” featuring Charley Chase:

  • Position Wanted (1924)
  • Bungalow Boobs (1924)
  • All Wet (1924)
  • The Way Of All Pants (1927)
  • Limousine Love (1928)
  • Looser Than Loose (1930)
  • The Grand Hooter (1937)
  • The Big Squirt (1937)

As you may or may not know, this blog got its name from a silent Charley Chase comedy which, once again, seems appropriate:

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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?

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"Dear Beau Hunks: I Just Wanted To Let You Know How Much I Enjoy Your Music On The Planet Earth

…and equally how enjoyable it is while floating weightless in space.

I have always been a fan of The Little Rascals & Laurel and Hardy, and have always searched for recordings of their music, but never came across any until a few years ago, when my brother told me about the Beau Hunks.

The level of work and concentration aboard the space shuttle are pretty intense during the flights. So the relaxation of listening to music during short breaks or before sleep are priceless. I listened to The Beau Hunks on many occasions during [April 1997 and July 1997] flights, usually during an hour break when I was able to float in front of a window and watch the world go by.”

- NASA Astroanaut Don Thomas, who sent his shuttle-flown Beau Hunks CD (“still in good shape after traveling over 11 million kilometers”) to the Beau Hunks in July 1998.

I’ve posted this link before, but neglected to mention the great Beau Hunks DVD, a live, pro-shot concert performance that includes a complete showing of Laurel and Hardy’s Their Purple Moment with live BH accompaniment.

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That’s The House Up There, Right On Top Of The Stoop

NPR ran a piece on Weekend Edition about Laurel and Hardy’s Music Box steps that answers the question, “What does NPR do when they have an extra couple of minutes to fill and they can’t come up with an idea?” 3m, with Kiefer Sutherland as Ollie, Dame Helen Mirren as Stan, and Scott Simon as the rear portion of Susie.


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Laurel and Hardy by Jim Flora

Congratulations to my pals Irwin Chusid and Barbara Economon, who will be on hand tonight at The Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in Seattle for an exhibition of Jim Flora’s original art, fine art prints, and Flora ephemera. The show runs through October 24. And congratulations to everyone who gets to see this show; I wish I could.

Jim Flora is best known for his incredible record album artwork, but in addition to his intense love of music, Flora also loved classic comedians and turned to them as subjects later in his life. Above is an unpublished 18″ by 24″ acrylic canvas of Stan and Babe; below, an unpublished 11″ by 14″ pen and ink drawing of Buster Keaton in “The General.” (Images © Jim Flora Art LLC)

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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.

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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.”

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