4/23/18

PALM BEACH PARTY-HARDY CIRCA 1930



Edward T. Stotesbury was a rich guy who worked for/with investment houses such as Drexel, JP Morgan, etc. There. That's all I know about Edward T. Stotesbury and it's a hell of a lot more than I knew twenty-five minutes ago when I first came upon the marvelous video posted above. It's raw footage of a party given at Stotesbury's Palm Beach estate in 1930, shot on a Fox Movietone camera which featured sound-on-film technology. Thus the orchestra you hear occasionally playing in the background is, in fact, a live orchestra playing at the party. We get whispers of 'What Is This Thing Called Love' and moments of the Gershwin's 'Mine', both new songs at the time. Lots of nice clothing. Some good smoking. Lovely flapper get-ups. (We don't, unfortunately, get to see any dancing or the orchestra itself but why carp?) This footage is a true time-machine back to a genuine 'society party' of the day, something akin to the party and setting of the Marx Brothers classic 'Animal Crackers'. Indeed, you kind of expect to see Margaret Dumont stride through the crowd. Stotesbury, by the way, was nearly wiped out in the depression. And the house that we see here was built by the legendary Addison Mizener, brother of the equally legendary Wilson Mizener. And that's all I know about Edward T. Stotesbury.

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4/20/18

RIP MILOS FORMAN



The fine director Milos Foreman went to his reward this past April 13th in his home state of Connecticut, aged 86. Much has been written about Forman and his meticulous body of work--both during his life and in the weeks after its termination. So who needs more text about his work? How about his house? Isn't that what's really important?

Foreman left his Commie-Pinko Czech homeland in the late sixties after having made several deeply impressive films ('Loves Of A Blonde' is the one I've seen). He headed for New York and apparently lived cheaply at the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street for his first several years in the states. I'm unclear how, after his flop American debut film 'Taking Off', he was offered the plum job directing 'One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest' but his Euro-rep was sufficiently impressive to have done the trick and the film, of course, made history. The windfall of profits apparently gave Foreman the opportunity to move uptown, where he bought an apartment at the Hampshire House on Central Park South, with 'sweeping views of Central Park' (I quote a New York Times article of the period). Ahhh, for the days when it was cool for movie directors to live in the swank and tony elegance of Uptown Manhattan, instead of the dirty, worn precincts of Downtown and Brooklyn. By placing himself at his new address, Foreman officially joined the upscale A-list New York based brotherhood of directors--Mike Nichols lived at the Carlyle Hotel, Woody Allen at 930 Fifth Avenue (74th St), Arthur Penn at 2 West 67th, Sidney Lumet in a brownstone at Lexington and 92nd and Alan Pakula in a banker-esque Park Avenue Co-op.



But it was the 1979 acquisition of Forman's country pad in Warren Connecticut that made the director truly feel at home in America. Litchfield County apparently reminded him of his Czech country boyhood and the converted barn he purchased from painter Eric Sloane--facing a pond and encompassing a suitably vast amount of acreage--was his true home for the rest of his life. Click here to read a very nice New York Times article from 2009, with an accompanying slideshow of the house. I like the messy, comfy informality of the 'great room' (pictured above) complete with outdated technology (is that a Marantz receiver I see? VHS tapes?), a goofy, undersized billiard table and a comfy but decidedly inelegant sofa. RIP Milos. Good films and good real estate add up to a good life, well lived.

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4/19/18

RIP CHUCK McCANN PT. 3--THE 'AFTER-SCHOOL YEARS'





The late (as of last week), great Chuck McCann emerged as a comic force when he began hosting his own after-school hours comedy/variety/TV puppet shows in the New York area. They had names like 'The Puppet Hotel' (WNTA-TV, Channel 13), 'Laurel and Hardy and Chuck' (where he intro'd L&H shorts), 'Let's Have Fun' (great title, don't you agree?), 'The Great Bombo's Magic Cartoon Circus Lunchtime Show' and (finally) 'The Chuck McCann Show'. Most of these aired locally on WPIX, Channel 11.

Chuck's love of show-biz, which dated from his youth when his father was a musician in Vaudeville pit orchestras, encompassed not only a love of the great ones, but a delight in the seedy and failed show-biz fringe element. The two sketches posted above are celebrations of the indomitability of die-hard show-biz types who, even without talent, continue to attempt to entertain--albeit with a certain defeated air. The first is his famous Ventriloquist sketch. The second features 'Bombo, the Human Cannonball'. Enough said.

The show itself has a bit of the air of the Soupy Sales show of the period, with no studio audience but with scattered laughter coming from the crew off-stage (Howard Stern later cited this as an influence on his radio show--the open mic in the studio allowing a sloppy, free-for-all vibe that felt less constrained and restricted than better planned shows). Most likely it was a live broadcast as these appear, quality-wise, to most definitely be Kinescopes. Convefe!

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4/18/18

RIP CHUCK McCANN PT. 2



As I mentioned in my last post, my friend Chuck McCann (who passed away last week at 83) was, among many other things, one of the worlds great proponents of Laurel and Hardy. He was an original founding member of their fan club, the 'Sons Of The Desert', and had a lengthy phone relationship with Stan Laurel beginning when Chuck was apparently still a teen. Given his size and general demeanor, Chuck was a natural Oliver Hardy impersonator and he did a marvelous Ollie as is evidenced in the above clip (as well as in the commercial I posted yesterday). In the above clip Stan Laurel is played by Dick Van Dyke (another later life friend of Stan's) and the two do a 'Hoover Vaccum Salesman' sketch on the Garry Moore show (which was sponsored by--you guessed it--Hoover Vacuum). Once it's done, they do effectively the same sketch except this time with Chuck doing his Jackie Gleason and Van Dyke his Art Carney. Both are masterful.

Perhaps my warmest memory of Chuck has to do with his home theater and his Laurel and Hardy film collection. When my son was about six years old, we took a walk from my parents house down to Chuck's--I can't remember the ostensible reason for the visit but we all wound up in his screening room where he screened 'Helpmates', probably the best L&H short ever made. It was the first time my son had ever seen 'the boys' and he was helplessly, hopelessly hooked from that moment on. Thanks to Chuck, he and I spent the next few years devoted to watching their movies--I'd gone through my own L&H phase as a kid and was delighted to rediscover their magic. But one never really goes through an L&H 'phase'--if you love them, you love them forever. As did Chuck McCann.

Below I've posted the aforementioned 'Helpmates' from 1931. It's essentially a two-man show and one of the most inventive and fresh comedies ever committed to celluloid. Thank you, Chuck, wherever you are.



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4/16/18

RIP CHUCK McCANN (1934-2018)



Chuck McCann, the heavyset, baby-faced kids-show friendly, slapstick-loving, TV commercial-regular/voice-over specialist/all around comic spirit died last week at 83. If you want to know more about this wonderfully talented man of comedy, click here. The highlights are too numerous to mention and that's not the way I want to take up time and space today.

Instead, I want to share a personal reminiscence about Chuck. He and his wife Betty lived down the block from my parents in the Hollywood Hills, in a round house that I always thought (and believe I was correct in thinking) he'd purchased as a kind of comment on his signature rotund appearance. As a young-un I knew him slightly--enough to say hello while walking past his house while on my way to the school bus stop. But over the years the McCann's and my parents got to know each other better and I was pleased to be part of that new friendship. Once, in my teen years, my parents gave a party and one of the guests got lost on the road heading up to our house. (The neighborhood is steep and windy with poorly laid out street signs). Since this was the 1970s there was only one way for our guest to contact my parents for directions. Yes, he had to knock on a neighbors door and ask to use the phone. It turns out he knocked on the McCann's door and Chuck invited him in to call for help. Even with the directions clearly explained by my father (or I think they were anyway--a good deal of drinking generally went on at these little dinner parties), our guest was still nervous about getting to our house. Since I'd recently acquired my drivers license, I eagerly volunteered to head down the hill to pick him up. I arrived at the McCann's, entered the house and who should I see dining with Chuck and Betty than--get this--Arthur Godfrey. He must have been eighty years old and was bemused to see that a teenager actually recognized him and wanted to engage with him, however briefly. (Have I told you before that I was a strange young man?) As I recall, our guest was equally amazed at the presence of the legendary broadcaster and Godfrey dutifully shook hands, signed a napkin etc. I wonder where that napkin went.

More on Chuck tomorrow. Enjoy one of his Laurel and Hardy commercials above--he adored the duo and did much to help keep their spirit alive. In fact, my other favorite memory of Chuck has to do with L&H. That will have to wait till tomorrow...

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