Make Us Laugh Again, Funnymen: Forgotten Hollywood Comedy Teams from the Thirties and Forties: Clark & McCullough, The Ritz Brothers, Wheeler & Woolsey, Shemp Howard with Billy Gilbert & Max Rosenbloom, and The Bowery Boys.
By Steven G. Farrell.
I have been an ardent film fan for my entire life, and I have had the wonderful opportunity to write about my film interests for such magazines as Scary Monsters, Crime, The Path, Irish American Post, Boxing News and Archival Outlook. Over the years, I have mostly focused upon the Irish American in film (Mickey Machine is Back! and Galloping Gallagher Deserves the Gallows!), and classic Universal Studio horror films (Bela Lugosi Becomes Dracula, Boris Karloff Becomes Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello Meet Lugosi, Chaney & Strange). I have also written extensively about baseball and boxing (King Kelly and the Boston Strong Boy, Patrick and Michael Slug It Out and The Farrell Clan in Baseball). It wasn’t until 2017 that I turned my attention to the study of the old comedy masters of the silent movies and the early talkies. I published one article, Exploring the Harold Lloyd Archives, that only stoked my interest in the art of making people laugh with images upon the silver screen.
Any interested reader can find mountains of information about the great American comedy teams such as The Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Hope and Crosby and Lewis and Martin. However, there are many deserving comedy teams that have pretty much drifted off into obscurity over the years, and these are the ones I would like to bring back to the forefront. In this paper, I shall be doing an overview of the careers of Clark and McCullough, the Ritz Brothers, Wheeler and Woolsey, Howard, Gilbert and Rosenbloom, and, finally, the Bowery Boys. It is my intention to explain why these comedy teams were popular during their heydays, and why they deserve to be enjoyed again here in the twenty-first century.
Of these five collective teams the only one I had never heard of before was the duo of Clark and McCullough. I could find very little information concerning Bobby Clark (1888-1960) and Paul McCullough (1883-1936) other than that they were childhood friends from Springfield, Ohio, and that they had started working together around 1900. The two comedians, who specialized in pantomimic stunts and gymnastic routines, slowly worked their way through minstrel shows, circuses, vaudeville, burlesque (an adult version of vaudeville that feature ‘fan’ dancers and ‘blue’ humor) musical revues and, finally, films. They had found a mixture of comedy and acrobatics that appealed to the earthier tastes of American entertainment-seeking public during the very wet days of Prohibition. It appears that the two reached the peak of their art form on the stage in Manhattan’s Broadway. Leonard Maltin explains their popularity during the “Roaring Twenties” by writing that they were admired for their “madcap sense of fun and their boundless energy,”.
In the late twenties and early thirties, Clark and McCullough made about three dozen short films that served as promotional vehicles for their New York City stage shows. Some of these films were fifty-minute featurettes produced by RKO Radio Pictures’ short-subject department. Bobby was sometimes referred to as “Blackstone. At other times he was called “Clark,” “Cook,” “Hives,” or “Flash.” On the other hand, Paul was always called “Blodgett.” An extensive hunt on you tube only revealed seven of their short talkies: The Gay Nighties (1933), Kickin’ the Crown Around (1933), The Druggist Dilemma (1933), Snug in the Jug (1933), Everything’s Ducky (1934), Odor in the Court (1934), and Alibi Bye Bye (1935). Clark appeared in all seven of the films with his painted-on glasses, cigar in his mouth and a leer on his lips. His repeated catchphrase was yowling like a horny sex-starved alley cat.
McCullough main function was to assist Clark mostly by chattering and lending a very rare hand to further the chaos. He was distinguished by his ceaseless chuckling and by having his stubby body stuffed inside of a very large fur overcoat. His other gimmick was the wearing oversized hats on his round head. I must confess that I enjoyed the films more the second time around, indicating that Clark and McCullough are perhaps an acquired taste. It was amusing to see them as “romantic lawyers,” who specialized in divorce cases. When Clark is threatened with a five dollar fine for contempt of court, he retorts, “five dollars would never express my contempt for this court.” When their client is order to pay a huge divorce settlement, Clark compares it to the national debt. “My client didn’t have a divorce. It was a war.” The team’s anti-authoritarianism attitude to those in positions of authority is a healthy reminder to us Americans that our nation was founded upon such a model.
I have discovered that James Finlayson (most notable for his work in Laurel & Hardy films), Bud Jamison (of Three Stooges fame), and Tom Kennedy (a large roughneck comedian who toiled in many comedies in the thirties, forties and fifties) sometimes worked in the Clark and McCullough films produced by Fox and, later, RKO. Finlayson played “Phineas McPhinn” in Jitters the Butler (1932), “Andrew Finch” in The Druggists’ Dilemma (1933) and as “Amos Pipp” in The Gay Nighties. Jamison and Kennedy stand out in the characters of “Bud Nimrod” and “Snoop the House Detective” in Alibi Bye Bye (1935). Bud also demonstrated a very fine signing voice in the opening segment of the film.
In Alibi Bye Bye the boys are professional photographers who are located in the resort town of Atlantic City, New Jersey, where they specialize in providing photographs of hunting, boating and sightseeing trips backdrops for cheating husband and wives in town for a jolly tryst. The boys are generous enough to provide room service at the Seaside Hotel, where they have orders from room 601 and 606, prompting Clark to snort, “I’ll be right in the middle of things.” Men and women leapfrogged from room to room for a bit of intermarital foreplay.
In Kickin’ the Crown Around the boys are agents tracking down smugglers of 4% proof salami. At the end of the film Clark exclaims that the whole thing was “a lot of baloney.” In Everything’s Ducky the team are phony caterers who burn the turkey and replace it with the owner’s beloved pet duck: it was bad taste at its most delicious. The owner also happened to be a prize fighter played by Harry Gribbon, a veteran of the silent movie era who had worked with Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand and the Keystone Cops.
I found Clark and McCullough mildly amusing, but certainly a product of their times. The drunken-demented-daffy spirit of Prohibition, as well as punching at the anti-authority figures of the early days of the Great Depression seeped into their films and stain them with the feel of those times. The smutty humor seems outdated at the very least and sexist at the very worst. Clark trying to lure a sleep-walking rich countess into his bed is rather unsettling these days. In The Druggist’s Dilemma the team are causing havoc as very messy soda jerks when an over-the-top heavyset gay man minces and sways his way into the joint and demands service in a shrill, high-pitched voice in a scene that would certainly be offensive in today’s political correctness craze.
Clark, with his grimacing and nonstop prattling, was the primary jokester of the pair. His dashes of anarchy, as well as his flashes of anti-social behavior is slightly evocative of Groucho Marx. Clark physically reminded me a bit of Art Carney, best remembered as Fred Norton in The Honeymooners. It’s hard to categorize the good-natured and noisy McCullough. For a sidekick he didn’t really seem to add much to the plot except for an occasional belly laugh. He came across as a good-natured and partying fraternity boy: out for good cheer, mischief and girls. The films of Clark and McCullough didn’t make the grade for the younger audiences of the fifties and sixties television generation because they weren’t family-friendly. I think they warrant another look because of their chaos and machine gun one-liners. My biggest laugh was when Clark offered a man a cigar and asked, “Do you smoke?” When the man responded with a “yes,” Clark sticks the cigar into his own mouth and declared, “its’ a bad habit.”
Sadly, the team of Clark and McCullough ended when Paul McCullough slashed his throat inside of a barbershop after spending some time recovering from a nervous breakdown. Clark, overcoming his grief after retiring for a spell, went back on the stage and was considered a Broadway mainstay for many years. However, his essentially film career ended with the suicide of his life-long pal.
Comedy genius Mel Brooks once was quoted as saying, “as far as I’m concerned Harry Ritz was the funniest man ever.”3 Film historian Leonard Maltin wrote this about the brothers: “Either you love them or you hate them. Ever since 1925 the bombastic Ritz brothers have elicited this kind of strong audience response.”4 Going with this decree I would fall on the side of those people who love the Ritz brothers. The zany and mugging Harry (1907-1986) was one third of the Ritz Brothers comedy act that included his older brothers, Al (1901-1965) and Jimmy (1904-1985). The Ritz Brothers act dated back to the final days of vaudeville and ended in the Seventies with a last hurrah in 1975 with the soft-core R-rated Blazing Stewardesses (sans the eldest brother, Al, who died in 1965 when the boys were playing in New Orleans). The brothers apparently reached the pinnacle of their comic art form on the night club circuit and in the casinos of Las Vegas, Nevada. It is hard to really gauge their talents from the sparse representation available on you tube.
The brothers were born in Newark, New Jersey into an Austrian Jewish family with the surname of Joachim. Like the Howard brothers of The Three Stooges, the boys grew to manhood in Brooklyn. A fourth brother George organized them into a comedy team and reportedly took their name off of a passing laundry truck. They soon hit pay dirt with their comedy routine, “The Collegians,” that required them to don big red bow ties, large straw hats, and oversized pants: anything for a laugh.
One of the Ritz Brothers lone feature-length films The Gorilla (1939) is a passable comedy-mystery that will show-up on TCM on rare occasions. The brothers play bumbling detectives “Garrity,” “Harrigan,” and “Mulligan,” who are called out on a stormy night to protect a wealthy man threatened by an extortion artist dubbed by the newspapers as “The Gorilla.” Of course, there is an obligatory man-in-a gorilla-suit who is actually innocent of the accused murders. Patsy Kelly plays a wise-cracking maid, Bela Lugosi is a creepy butler, Joseph Calleia is the hero in the end, Lionel Atwill, a heavy for the talkies before World War Two, is the unveiled villain in the closing minutes, and Anita Louise plays the endangered beauty in distress. The movie is a watchable potboiler with most of the laughs produced by the bossy but grossly incompetent Harry.
Jerry Lewis, another comic star who admired Harry Ritz, once said: “Harry was the teacher…. (Harry) taught us that the only thing that mattered was getting a laugh.” Harry, with the help of his partner-siblings, made audience laugh the loudest in the The Three Musketeers, (1939), in a comic retelling of the Alexandre Dumas 1844 classic novel, starring Dom Ameche as Gascon D’Artagnan and the Ritz Brothers as his wine-sipping, women chasing cronies.
Maltin writes this about the swashbuckling classic: “The Three Musketeers remains today a vivid, entertaining musical comedy. Despite a tendency to dismiss it as a Ritz Brothers vehicle, the film is remarkably faithful to Dumas’ classic story…The costumes and sets (particularly the castle) gave the film the feel of a gargantuan production when in fact it was an economical slickly produced film.”.
Lionel Atwill. stalwart of such horror film classics as Mark of the Vampire !935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939), lent a hand as the evil “De Rochefort” and the stunningly beautiful bond British actress Bonnie Barnes played the even more wicked “Milady De Winter.” The Ritz brothers milked the most genuine laughs in their encounters with Milady. In one scene, as they attempt to retrieve a letter tucked away in her ample bosoms, the boys turned her over and start shaking here, producing several steamy lover letters. Harry exclaimed: “She’s a moving post office,” referring to a childish kissing game of the time period. The brothers also stole the show with a comic dance with numerous cymbals attached to their arms, legs and bottoms.
This movie was also referenced in the television show Leave It To Beaver, where Beaver Cleaver, played by Jerry Mathers, does a book report based upon the movie version rather than the printed tome, thus painfully earning himself a failing grade by his disappointed teacher and, painfully for the television viewers, yet another lecturer from his father, Ward, as played by Hugh Beaumont.
There are clips available online of the Ritz Brothers doing their comedy song and dance routines such as He Got Rhythm and Keep Em Laughing. A true delight is the 1934 short film Hotel Anchovy, a true laugh riot that also it makes very rare appearances on TCM. An obvious comparison with the Ritz Brothers would be the Three Stooges. However, Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp have more clear-cut personalities (and haircuts) than Harry, Al and Jimmy. Overall, I liked what I saw of the Ritz Brothers. They were three very funny men. The Ritz Brothers were never very happy with Hollywood’s cookie cutter approach to comedy, so they packed up and took their immense talents back to live theater, where they felt they were in their own idiom and found more appreciation.
In spite of my extensive knowledge of old films I had still never had run across the works comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey until I chanced upon a running of one of their films on TCM which, in turn, lead me to look for more of their film work. I had heard their name before, but I had never sat down and watched anything they starred in. I must admit I really enjoyed everything I found of theirs on line; and I can’t understand how they have slipped into oblivion since their last film I the late Thirties. Could it be that their Roaring Twenties-Prohibition-Pre-code humor has not held up over time? Perhaps the early death of Robert Woolsey detoured this double-play combination from their rightful place in the comedy team hierarchy.
In his study of the team, Edward Warz provided figures to prove that the team normally had higher box office profits than either W.C. Fields or the Marx Brothers during the days of the early talkies. Watz wrote: “Polled for Motion Picture Herald’s survey of the “biggest Money-Making stars of 1932-1933,” Wheeler and Woolsey ranked number fifteen. Among comedians only Joe E. Brown was in the top ten, while the Marx Brothers were slightly ahead of Bert and Bob, in thirteenth place. Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields, Harold Lloyd, and all the other major comics ranked behind W&W when final results were tabulated.”.
Wheeler and Woolsey also had the added feature of the showcasing the young, delightful and delicious Dorothy Lee as their leading lady. Dorothy was beautiful, funny and she could hold her own in any one of numerous singing duets with Bert, who also served double duty as her usual love interest in the film.
Bert Wheeler (1895-1968), short and chubby, came from an Irish Catholic background from Patterson, New Jersey, while Robert Woolsey, (1888-1938) bespectacled and cigar-chomping, was born in Oakland, California, but was reared in Illinois. Watching Woolsey reminds one of George Burns: forever deadpan and puffing smoke into the air. The two were first paired by the Ziegfeld Follies for 1928 show Rio Rita: later a lavish musical produced by Radio Pictures (1929).
Wheeler and Woolsey were extremely prolific, cranking out a large volume of work with their best efforts being done in Half Shot at Sunrise (1930) and Diplomaniacs (1933). In the former movie the boys played naughty doughboys, “Tommy Turner” and “Gilbert Simpson,” stationed over in France during the First World War. The ending was quite serious when Bert Wheeler’s character is tricked into volunteering for a dangerous mission by Woolsey. The team’s vulgar humor, wordplay and comic routines still are hilarious here in the 21st century. I for one find their musical numbers more refreshing and humorous than Chico Marx tickling of the piano keys, or Harpo strumming his harp (both of them producing the same sound for all of their movies). Lesser Wheeler and Woolsey vehicles such as The Nitwits (1935) have less to offer but are still on par with the minor works of their Hollywood comedy rivals.
Maltin describes 1934 as “the bumper-crop year for Wheeler and Woolsey. They appeared in three films which are not only their best, but remain three excellent examples of comedy of the late 1930’s.” Hip, Hip Hooray, Cockeyed Cavaliers and Kentucky Kernels were a triplet success with critics and movie-goers. The last of these films also starred George “Spanky” McFarland of The Little Rascals who receives as paddling on the behind by Bert.
My personal favorite of the wheeler and Woolsey vehicles is Hook, Line & Sinker (1930). The movie was shot before the Great Depression turned lethal and Prohibition had been transformed into a national joke. Bert as “Wilbur Boswell” and Robert as “Addington Ganzy” are two con-artist insurance salesman who go into the hotel business to help out Dorothy Lee’s Mary Marsh. Hugh Herbert, another forgotten comic gem, played the oddball Hotel House Detective. The highlight of the film is at the end when two bootleg gangs have a machine gun fight in the darken hotel lobby.
As the Great Depression waned along with the 1930s the boys became a spent force up on the silver screen; their last film being High Flyers (1938). With Woolsey’s death in the same year, Bert Wheeler went solo; one of his last televised performances being on Jackie Gleason’s Cavalcade of Stars (1950).
Although nowhere near as popular as the manic “Curly,” Shemp Howard (1895-1955) built up a decent resume while cranking out seventy-seven shorts for Colombia Studios as a member of the Stooges. He was the third member of the Stooges’ trio before his younger brother, Jerome, arrived on the scene. “Ted Healy and His Stooges” were on the brink on stardom when Shemp turned in his resignation over his dissatisfaction with the vicious Healy. Brother Moe wrote in his autobiography that Shemp departed with these words: “Moe, Ted is not the wonderful guy you think he is; he’s basically an alcoholic He’s only one drink to going back to his terrifying benders. Besides, I have a chance to play the part of Knobby Walsh in a Joe Palooka film for Vitaphone on the Coast.”.
The eldest of the three slapstick brothers also went on to pay his dues by playing in films alongside such legends as Fatty Arbuckle, W.C. Fields and Abbott & Costello, proving he could do much more than receive a poke in the eye as a Stooge, or playing a wise-cracking fight manager. Shemp was also a creditable comic actor who is still funny today as “Shorty McCoy,” a fake swami in Sidney Toler’s Charlie Chan film Murder Over New York (1940), “Louie” in the Olsen and Johnson (another worthy comedy team that deserves a honorable mention in this paper) movie, Hellzapoppin’ (1941), and as “Shorty” in a John Wayne picture Pittsburgh (1942). My favorite Shemp Howard short film is Mr. Noisy (1946), where he plays an obnoxious catcalling fan hired by gangsters to razz a famous baseball player during an important game. He is in a seat close to the venerable Vernon Dent, the most famous of the Three Stooges supporting characters, as a peeved fan annoyed with Shemp’s braying antics. Mr. Noisy loses his voice and then becomes the target of the gamblers’ ire and bullets. Vernon’s wife, Eunice, said after his death that “The Three Stooges were weird- all four of them!” However, she walked back the comment by adding “but he liked them, and he understood them.”.
Besides crossing paths with the likes of Dagwood and Blondie, The Lone Wolf and The East Side Kids, Shemp even did a turn as a murderous hood in Convention Girl (1935). It is rather jarring to see the normally goofy and gentle Shemp transformed into a low-level gangster who shoots his own partner in cold blood at the end of the flick. Shemp Howard also had a fair to middling career as part of comedy duets that included partnerships with Edgar Kennedy and Lon Chaney; most importantly, he joined forces with chubby, second-rate film comic Billy Gilbert and former boxing champion Max Rosenbloom. Although this Mr. Howard was once billed as ‘Hollywood’s ugliest actor,’ the movie-going public seemed to like his mug enough to make him a popular commodity in films during the 1930’s and 1940s.
Billy Gilbert, (1894-1971) a tall and hefty comic actor with wavy hair and tiny moustache, appeared in the Three Stooges Oscar-nominated short Men in Black (1934) as an insane man who insists rats were streaming out of his pajama buttons. His other notable parts included “Sneezy” in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and “Herring” in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940). Billy, who specialized in playing overwrought and wheezy character, teamed with Shemp Howard and “Slapsy Maxie” Rosenbloom to make three quick B feature-length film Crazy Knights (1944), Three of a Kind (1944) and Trouble Chasers (1945). Max, with his battered face and punch-drunk speech delivery, was a passable comic actor after he retired from the ring. He appeared from everything from being a cellmate of Jimmy Cagney and George Raft in Each Dawn I Die (1939) to being bank robber on the television show The Munsters (1964).
In Crazy Knights, Shemp, Billy and Maxie played three carnival con artist with a gorilla act (another movie with a man in a gorilla suit) by the names of “Shemp,” “Billy,” and “Maxie.” The three fools end up inside of house terrorized by a ghost. In this mildly interesting toss-off of a second biller, it’s interesting to see that the three are on almost equal footing with Billy nominally in charge of their affairs. The trio’s budding film career was nipped in the bud when Shemp was drafted back into The Three Stooges after Curly tour of duty was ended by a stroke.
Shemp Howard, a long-time boxing buff, was on his way home after a match and was in the act of lighting his cigar when he died suddenly of a massive heart attack. There is a touching story of a blind Vernon Dent saying his goodbyes to his dearly departed friend at the funeral by tenderly touching his face. Emil Sitka, another long-time member of The Three Stooges movie entourage always asserted that Shemp was the funniest of the trio.
My personal favorite team in this paper are the Bowery Boys, who featured in forty-eight low budget films from 1946 to 1958. Leo Gorcey (1917-1969) as “Slip Mahoney” and Huntz Hall (1920-1999) as “Sach Jones” were two arrested adolescents who loafed around Louie’s Sweet Shop on Canal Street in the slummiest section of New York’s Lower East Side. According to Leo Gorcey, Jr, the Bowery Boys movies were never critical successes but they always had healthy box office returns especially in the rural areas of the country. Leo Junior wrote: “The public voted with their feet and made him a star. Leo never let his fans down. In every one of his films, he delivered. He made them forget their troubles for sixty-two minutes…That’s what Leo did best, and that’s what kept his fans lining up at the box office all over the world for ten years.”.
The Bowery Boys were the final mutation of what began in a Broadway play titled Dead End. The Dead End Kids took their act to Hollywood, where the play was transformed into a film that starred Humphrey Bogart as “Baby Face” Martin, a bank robber on the run, who returns to visit his gal, Francie (played by Claire Trevor), and his Ma (played by Marjorie Main) in his slummy tenements’ breeding grounds. The bill also included Joel McCrea, Allen Jenkins and Ward Bond.
The Dead End Kids included Billy Hallop (Tommy), Bernard Punsly (Milty), Gabriel Dell (T.B) and Bobby Jordan (Angel), as well as Gorcey (Spit) and Hall (Dippy). Gorcey claimed that they were collectively known as the “mischievous syndicate” (Gorcey, p29) due to their pranks and high jinx behind the camera. He wrote that their gang persona consisted of “two Jews, a garrulous Guinea, a dumb Dutchman, a hysterical Irishman, and me.”.
This motley crew of ethnic punks from the back streets of Manhattan went on to make another half dozen feature-films for Warner Brothers Studios, reaching their creative peak with Angels with Dirty Face (1938), starring James Cagney as charming but tough Irish American gangster “Rocky Sullivan” and equally as Irish Pat O’Brien as “Father Connolly.” Humphrey Bogart appeared as a shyster lawyer and Ann Sheridan pulled duty as the leading lady who fell in love with the doomed hoodlum. George Reeves, who later went on to star in television’s Superman, played a snickering prison guard who sadistically enjoys watching the weeping Rocky being strapped to the electric chair while Father Jerry tries to console him with prayers in Latin.
The East Kid did a short tour of duty as “The Little Tough Guys “(sans Gorcery) before settling in at home at Monogram Studios with the new handle of “The East Side Kids”.
These multi-ethnic rascals were more comical and less savage than their earlier presentations. From Boys in the City (1940) to Come Out Fighting (1945), Leo Gorcey played Muggs McGinnis while Huntz Hall played Glimpy. Their clubhouse included some old members of past gangs like Bobby Jordan and Gabe Dell, while introducing newcomers like Billy Benedict and David Gorcey . The East Side Kids also bumped heads with such screen stars as Bela Lugosi, Ava Garner, Noah Beery and Shemp Howard.
Root describes how The East Side Kids went into a metamorphosis that transformed them into The Bowery Boys: “When Leo Gorcey wanted double the salary (per week) from Katzman in 1945, Katzman pulled the plug on the East Side Kids. Katzman soon after left Monogram for Colombia Picture … The man behind the Bowery Boys was former cartoonist-turned-agent/producer Jan Grippo (1906-1988). When Sam Katzman pulled the plug on the East Side Kids in 1945, Grippo partnered up with then-client Leo Gorcey for the film series the Bowery Boys. Grippo would go on to produce 24 of the Bowery Boys features.” Root goes on to explain the new-found formula of the new version of the old gang: “The Bowery Boys were different from their predecessors Whereas The Dead End Kid films were drama-oriented, The Bowery Boys features leaned heavily towards comedy.”.
Gorcey and Hall agreed to carry on the gang tradition as long as the movies revolved around their characters and they received the bulk of the profits: 50% for Leo and 10% for Huntz. Bobby Jordan and Gabe Dell hung-out just long enough to know that their stars were diminished and that their roles would be forever insignificant in the series. By the same flip of the coin, Bernard Gorcey, Leo’s father, was promoted a considerable part as Louie Dumbrowski, owner of Louie’s Sweet Shop, where the rapidly aging street gang hung-out.
I am not too pleased with how Bobby Jordan, a World War Two veteran, was treated by his old tribal members. While Leo and Hunt sat out the war in the sunshine of California, Bobby was gravely wounded in battle while serving in the Army’s 97th Infantry. Bobby never got back track and died an alcoholic in 1965.
Bobby’s final acting credits were on television series such as Tales of Wells Fargo, 77 Sunset Strip and Route 66. His very last small screen acting gig was on Bonanza (1961), where he was punched out by one of the Cartwright brothers. Leo, a Roman Catholic, went on record as saying that Bobby had no “guardian angel.” Gabe Dell fared better as he turned to stage acting and appeared on two episodes of Sanford and Son.
Slip, clad in his battered hat and butchering the King’s English, now lingered over mooched banana splits with his sidekick Sach, bulging, moronic eyes and baseball cap. Billy Benedict as “Whitey,” David Gorcey as “Chuck,” and one of two other nondescript types hung around killing time and looking for their main chance. From In Fast Company (1946) to Crashing Las Vegas (1956), Slip, Sach and the remnants of a once tough and mighty street gang turned from rumbles to trying to come up with schemes to get rich quick: the laundry business, fortune telling, professional wrestling, college football, pest controllers, news hounds, private dicks, hypnotists, ghost hunters, spy busters, racketeer destroyers, night club singers and so on. The movies are all immensely watchable as well as equally unremarkable”: standard Saturday morning fare on Chicago’s WGN in the 1960s and 1970s.
My personal favorite entry in the Bowery Boys series was the film Master Minds (1949). Sach, after developing a painful tooth ache upon crunching on too much candy, comes up with a bad case of being able to predict the future. Slip decides to cash in on Sach’s agony by putting him into a circus, where his abilities impresses a mad scientist. “Dr. Druzik,” played by Alan Napier (“Alfred” the butler in the television series Batman, 1966-1968), decides that he wants to swap-out Sach’s brain with the man-monster he has constructed inside of his laboratory. “Atlas,” played by massive Glen Strange (known as “Sam” the bartender on the television series Gunsmoke, 1955-1975). Sach put me into stiches when he turns into a growling fiend while Atlas, complete with Sach’s baseball cap, apes the goofy but mild-mannered Sach I also enjoy spotting actors in the movie who were on their way up or down in their acting career: Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer (The Little Rascals), Amanda Blake (Gunsmoke), Craig Stevens (Peter Gunn), Ellen Corby (The Waltons) and Dick Elliott (The Andy Griffith Show).
Tragically, the pint-sized Bernard died in a crash towards the end of the Bowery Boys’ run. Slip, Sach and Louie’s last adventure was out west in Dig That Uranium (1956). Leo, always a big drinker, began to drink even heavier after the death of his father resulting in his early retirement. Witnesses heard him crying one time, mumbling: “Papa! Please come back!”.
It also is heartbreaking that Leo was visibly drunk in his last interpretation of Slip Mahoney on screen. I once heard Huntz Hall mention on an old radio broadcast available at you tube that he and Leo were in discussions about making a movie to be entitled Far Out Space Nuts. The movie was never produced and Leo, who was of Jewish and Irish ancestry, passed away in 1969. Huntz Hall, who was also of Irish extraction, apparently was a savvy investor, and he was able to live comfortably as his acting career slipped off of the grid. I was delighted to see him on The David Letterman Show in the 1980’s, where discussed his career with the Dead End Kids, and how he appeared in a movie, Hell’s Kitchen (1939), with at that time President Ronald Reagan I distinctly remind Huntz stating that a Bowery Boys’ movie took eight days to film. He died in 1999.
Stanley Clements as “Duke” attempted to fill in the shoes for Leo Gorcey’s Slip as leader of the gang. The series sputtered on for a few more dismal entries before dying with In the Money (1958), thus ending the cinematic career of the last of five forgotten comedy teams that I wanted to remind film lovers of in hopes of sending folks to you tube and amazon.com to rediscover for themselves the forgotten work of these forgotten but still funny comedy teams.
I am a devoted and loyal follower of the old favorite comedy teams like The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Hope and Crosby and the Three Stooges, but I want to finish this paper by challenging my readers to see for themselves the films of Clark and McCullough, the Ritz Brothers, Wheeler and Woolsey, Shemp Howard with Billy Gilbert and Max Rosenbloom, and the Bowery Boys.
Thank goodness we have Turner Classic Movies to remind us lovers of old Hollywood films that we have access to an endless supply of priceless gems.
Funny is always funny.
Steven G. Farrell is a professor in the Speech & Theater Department at Greenville Technical College in Greenville, South Carolina. His nonfiction has appeared in Archival Outlook, Boxing News, Crime, Scary Monsters, Lost Treasure, Talking Pictures, Crypt and 28 Days Later Analysis. Farrell’s fiction has appeared in Frontier Tales, the Irish American Post, Candlelight Stories, Audience, The Path and The Irish American Cultural Institute. Most recently his poem, “An American in Galway, Ireland,” appeared in The Esthetic Apostle and Irish Central.
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