Abbott & Costello
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Our June, 2016 issue featured Part 1 of Bud and Lou's Timeless Routines. This issue will spotlight more of these timeless skits that Bud and Lou immortalized in radio, film and television.
THE ORIGIN OF THE
A reprint from our June 2016 issue
Every Abbott and Costello fan, whether he knows it or not, is a burlesque fan. Bud and Lou performed the same routines on radio, in movies, and on TV that they performed when they started out in burlesque.
These routines were based on a shared body of sketches and situations that had been passed down for decades or even centuries. Wordplay and cross-talk routines were popular in 19th century minstrel shows, and much of that material carried over into 20th century burlesque. Physical bits went back much further, at least as far as the Renaissance and the commedia dell'arte.
Rookie burlesque comics learned the material by watching other comedians perform. Bud Abbott, by starting his career in the box office, had an invaluable education watching a new show every week for several years. When he transitioned into performer, Bud worked in shows on the Columbia and Mutual circuits. Lou Costello began in a tiny stock company then graduated to the big time on the Mutual wheel.
When these big circuits crumbled in the early 1930's, the boys, along with hundreds of other comics, landed in the erratic and fiercely competitive world of stock burlesque. A comic's worth was measured by how he embellished, and freshened up the old material. He put the dialogue into his own words, injected local or topical references, current jokes, or his own idiosyncratic pieces of business. In this way, a comic built his own version of a routine. It was not unlike jazz in that regard, with each comedian riffing on a basic melody or composition. Another analogy can be found in popular music. Dozens of singers did the same catalog of standards; it was an artist's unique interpretation that made a song a hit, or a singer a star.
As burlesque comics played with older, proven gags, "new" routines also evolved. Who's On First? came together by cherry picking bits from older routines like Watt Street and Who's the Boss, and updating the context. A series of quick, unconnected gags were organized into a Crazy House scenario. Three or four haunted house gags could be fused to create an entirely new sketch. On the other hand, a single gag in a long sketch could be fleshed out to become a routine of its own.
At first, Bud and Lou tailored and honed routines to their unique personalities and chemistry. Later, John Grant, an ex-straight man who became their head writer, added more to their repertoire. With this refined material, Bud and Lou in a few short years rose to become the most popular movie stars in the world and the highest paid entertainers in show business.
There were two reasons for the boys' unprecedented success with this material. Even in burlesque, Abbott and Costello did a clean act. They cleaned up the skits and made them presentable to a wide audience. But, more importantly, they simply performed this material better than anyone else. The proof is that hundreds of comics used the same material for years but never made it out of burlesque.
If the routines were good to Bud and Lou, the boys were good to the routines. They are part of America's comic and cultural heritage, and it is unlikely that we'd have such a complete catalog of this material, expertly performed, if Bud and Lou hadn't preserved them on film.
Ron Palumbo co-authored "Abbott and Costello in Hollywood" with A&C estates archivist Bob Furmanek. Ron is also the founder of the Official Abbott and Costello Fan Club and publisher of the Fan Club Quarterly.
For more information on the fan club, email Ron at: ACQtrly@aol.com.
On the Other Hand!
Origins of the Pack/Unpack Routine
The routine as seen in the Vacation episode
The Abbott and Costello Television Show
One of my favorite Abbott and Costello routines is "Pack/Unpack." Briefly, it goes like this: Bud tells Lou they have to leave town. Lou starts to pack their suitcase, and Bud has a sudden change of heart. "Why are we running away?" Lou then furiously packs and unpacks with each of Bud's abrupt reversals until clothes are strewn everywhere. This is the A&C routine that resonates with me because I'm a classic over-thinker who can never make a decision about anything.
As author Ron Palumbo has said, "I can easily imagine this bit springing up in some vaudeville dressing room out of a real situation." So, the sketch may have been literally born in a trunk. Anthony Balducci's informative and entertaining book
The Funny Parts traces it to Paris in 1910. In the sketch "Load/Unload," French clown Pierre Leandre had to continually lift crates on and off a wagon for his dithering boss.
In 1915, a twenty-five-year-old dialect comedian named
Solly Ward was doing a similar bit in burlesque and vaudeville. His version featured a husband and wife arguing over a vacation trip to Maine. A critic reviewing a vaudeville show in 1916 wrote, "The gem of the evening is a short act in which Solly Ward packs and unpacks a suitcase several times and gives a clever demonstration of the fact that comedy does not need words." It's interesting that Ward worked often with
Murray Leonard, a future member of the A&C stock company. So, there is already a link between the routine and Bud Abbott, and Lou Costello.
To complicate matters, there was also a racier "Dress/Undress" sketch floating around the burlesque circuit in which the comic rapidly takes off his pants and puts them back on as the straight man seesaws between leaving and staying.
In his excellent account of Bud Abbott's early years that appeared in the Abbott & Costello Quarterly, Ron Palumbo notes that "Buddy" Abbott and deadpan comedian
performed the packing bit at the Empire Theater in Newark in 1934, two years before Abbott teamed with Costello.
It's almost certain Abbott and Costello did the sketch in burlesque, as it was a perfect showcase for Lou's gift for physical comedy and Bud's verbal skills. (Bud once said that he didn't like the term "Straight man" and preferred to be called "a lecturer.") According to Bob Furmanek and Ron Palumbo's definitive book
Abbott and Costello in Hollywood, "Pack/Unpack" was one of the routine's the team performed in the office of Universal Vice-President Matthew Fox when they pitched their idea for a service comedy that became
Another variation on the routine turned up as a running gag in the 1937 film
She Married an Artist, in which a maid (Helen Westley) continually packs and unpacks the luggage of a warring couple.
Abbott and Costello finally got to perform it in front of the cameras in 1942 when they filmed
Hit the Ice.
The boys are holed up in their furnished room (replete with the obligatory Murphy bed). Victims of "circumstantial evidence," the two have been accused of robbing a bank.
"Why should I take a chance in going to jail!" says Abbott selfishly. "Why should I get myself a record? We've got to blow this town! Pack that grip!" Lou daintily folds their shirts and neckties into a suitcase on the bed as Abbott obsesses over their dilemma. "On second thought!" says a suddenly calmer, saner Abbott. "We're not guilty. We've done no harm ... all our lives, we've lived a clean, innocent life ... why should we be afraid of cops? Hiding away like criminals in the dark! What for? Unpack that grip! I'll take it to the highest courts in the country! But -- on second thought! If they came in that door right now -- you know what would happen? They'd take us to jail! I've got people to think of!"
Lou is hilarious as he dashes back and forth between dresser and bed, at one point cramming the pillow into the suitcase. But it's Abbott's histrionics that anchor the nonsense. We're used to seeing Bud argue with Lou, but here, he argues with
himself. And he's finally met his match. Bud's mounting paranoia is a beautiful thing to behold, except it's hard to behold the way director Charles Lamont has edited the scene: Bud is largely off camera during most of his tirade.
Photo courtesy of Joey Malzone of Monroe, N.J.
who retouched to provide a clearer photo image
Still, it has the best ending of all versions. In fact, we're treated to two endings. Exasperated by Bud's shifting moods, Lou whistles to the clothes, and they magically jump out of the drawer and into the suitcase. (This was the only part of the scene requiring retakes because the prop men had trouble rigging the gag.) Bud then pushes his partner onto the Murphy bed that, of course, folds up, propelling Lou through the wall and into the bed of a sleeping couple in the next apartment.
In November 1942, journalist Fred Othman visited the set of Hit the Ice (still titled Oh, Doctor at this point) and offered this account of the filming:
"This afternoon's scene called for a new 'Pack-Unpack the suitcase' gag ... Costello was doing the packing and the unpacking. Abbott was doing the ordering, changing his mind so rapidly that eventually Costello was in a frenzy of slammed bureau drawers, long underwear and scrambled socks. It was funny, all right, and nobody laughed. Director Lamont thanked Providence for that. A retake would have been one of those things because author John Grant had written seven pages of script and actor Abbott had stuffed it in his pocket without reading it.
That necessitated three cameras. One was focused on Abbott, one on Costello and one on the whole shambles. That maneuver provided all the angles necessary, without photographing the scene again. It couldn't have been photographed again because Abbott made up his monologue as he went along and forgot it as soon as he said it."
The takeaways from this article are that Lamont used three cameras and Bud improvised his entire speech. In five years, the scene became "Dress/Undress" or "Pants/Unpants" in the team's first independent production, The Noose Hangs High (1948). The new rendition, also written by John Grant, is closer to the racier burlesque sketch. This time, our heroes are being held prisoner in the offices of gangster Nick Craig (Joseph Calleia) until the $50,000 they were supposed to deliver to him arrives in the morning mail. Once again, Bud is a tower of indecision. As Lou starts to undress to spend the long night (his ankle-length shirt becomes a nightshirt), Bud's imagination runs wild.
"You know, if that money doesn't arrive in the morning, we're in a terrible mess," worries Abbott. "There's gotta be a way out of here! Get dressed! Lou obediently puts his trousers on, only to hear his partner say, "On the other hand -- suppose the money does arrive? We get a hundred dollars apiece. I've heard there's honor among thieves. You wanna take a gamble? But -- suppose the money gets lost in the mail? They'd never believe us! That's all you have to do is get murdered on me! What'll I tell your people?"
I love when Bud refers to his and Lou's "people." And why does Bud assume the gangsters will murder Costello, yet somehow, he'll be spared to break the sad news to Lou's people? Director Charles Barton wisely shoots the scene with one camera in one continuous take, with both of them in frame, thankfully.
There have been several published reports that the team also wanted to work the suitcase gag into the classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The ideal place for it would have been in the boys hotel room after they've been accused of stealing the exhibits from McDougall's House of Horrors. But it seems unlikely that they would have recycled a routine that they had just done in their previous picture, filmed only a few months earlier.
Perhaps the funniest version is in the "Vacation" episode of The Abbott and Costello Television Show, filmed in September 1951. Director Jean Yarbrough stages it well, with Lou in the foreground stuffing the suitcase and Bud in the background arguing the pros and cons of a trip to Phoenix. Yarbrough appears to use two cameras here, one for a wide shot of the duo and one for coverage of Lou's reactions. This three-minute scene illustrates how, fifteen years into their partnership, Bud and Lou were still beautifully in synch with each other.
What fuels Abbott's paranoia this time is landlord Mr. Fields, who drops by to offer to re-decorate the boys' apartment while they're away. (It's not clear what the boys are taking a vacation from, since they're in a constant state of unemployment.) No sooner is Field's out the door than Bud's suspicious mind starts to percolate.
"Did you notice the look on that landlord's face?" asks Bud. "I wonder what his intentions are -- to rent it to some other tenant? We'd better take no chances -- unpack that grip!" "I didn't like the look on the guy's face," concurs Costello as he puts their belongings back. "Wait a minute, Louie," says Abbott in a rare moment of concern for his partner. "You're entitled to a vacation. You should get out in the open."
The scene ends with a manic Costello removing the drawer, dumping its contents into the suitcase, and then scooping ashtrays, saucers, and knickknacks off the bureau and tossing those in, too.
The routine came full circle the following year on an episode of the Colgate Comedy Hour hosted by Abbott and Costello on December 4, 1952. This time, Grant wrote a sketch that blends Pierre Leandre's "Load/Unload" with Solly Ward's "Pack/Unpack." It opens with Bud and Lou delivering Christmas gifts -- a stove, a TV, a grandfather's clock, and a Christmas tree -- to the home of a woman played by Dorothy Granger. (Fans will fondly remember Dorothy as the hysterical mother who's baby is switched with Bingo the chimp on The Abbott and Costello Television Show.)
As soon as the boys have placed all the heavy items in her living room, her hot-tempered husband (Sid Fields) storms in, yelling at his wife, "How many times have I told you that Christmas trees and presents are a waste of money!" Costello interrupts Fields to say, "Who do you think you are -- Scrooge?"
Fields angrily demands that the delivery men return all the gifts to the department store. Bud and Lou shrug and start to lug the stuff out when Fields' wife starts to cry. Fields, now ashamed of his behavior, tells her he's sorry and then orders them to bring the gifts back in. This happens several times, with the boys carrying the stuff in and out as the couple argues and makes up. The sketch is the longest and least funny variation on the routine. Abbott and Costello are reduced to schlepping bulky props. Today, it's mainly worth watching for Sid Fields' performance, as Fields is alternately belligerent and apologetic to his long-suffering wife. It gives you some idea of what a powerful presence Sid must have been on the burlesque stage.
Earlier that year, two of the team's former co-stars Joan Davis (Camille Brewster in Hold That Ghost) and Elvia Allman (Mrs. Crumbcake of The Abbott and Costello Television Show did still another version on the sitcom I Married Joan. In the episode "Brad's Class Reunion," Joan is packing her husband's luggage for a trip to his college reunion. Joan fears that Brad (Jim Backus) will rekindle a romance with an old college flame, causing her to unpack and repack the bag several times. That bit certainly got around!
The one point I wanted to make with The Abbott and Costello Book in 1975 was that the team preserved all of these truly great comedy routines on film for generations too young to have seen burlesque. And now in 2017 with YouTube, DVDs, Blu-rays, DVRs, TCM, video streaming, and Netflix, people can still laugh when Bud says for the umpteenth time, "But on second thought!"
For over twenty years, Jim Mulholland wrote for Johnny Carson and for David Letterman.
Besides writing "The Abbott and Costello Book" in 1975, Jim also co-wrote many TV and film scripts including, "Oscar" (1991) and "Bad Boys" (1995).
Jim also credits Ron Palumbo for helping him in the research for this article, and for the information on Solly Ward.
FORT LEE FILM COMMISSION
FORT LEE PUBLIC LIBRARY
Honor Abbott and Costello
at 75th Anniversary of America's
Entry into World War II
ROBERTA "SCOOP" Reitz
It was difficult not to be taken back to 1941! The detailed presentation, highlighted by the showing of three of Abbott and Costello's comedy service films brought the past into the present.
Fort Lee Film Commission's TOM MYERS discussed Universal, how Bud and Lou were the biggest success draws for the studio, and concluded with a fascinating history of Fort Lee, N.J.
NELSON PAGE, Chairman of the Fort Lee Film Commission, spoke about Pearl Harbor and the backstories of the films being shown.
SAL RINELLA and JOE VANCHERI rounded out the event with a presentation for the Lou Costello Sportsman's Club/Knights of Columbus Toy Drive, which was a huge success!
Fort Lee Film Commission's events are a must-not-miss! In fact, check them out on Facebook and join their fast growing roster of fans and supporters!
Photo Courtesy of Roberta Reitz
(left to right) Tom Myers, Joe Vancheri and Sal Rinella
"SLOWLY I TURNED / NIAGARA FALLS"
Excerpts courtesy of
Stooge Myth Busters
Abbott and Costello Meet the Three Stooges
(Copyright: Three Stooges Fan Club Inc
"The Three Stooges Journal")
Photo Courtesy of Chris Costello
Murray Leonard and Lou in "Pokomoko" scene from
Lost in a Harem (1944)
Slowly I Turned has a history in burlesque and vaudeville, predating both Abbott and Costello and the Stooges. Burlesque comic
Harry Steppe is most often credited with creating the basic routine as
The Stranger With a Kind Face in the 1920's, perhaps even earlier. Steppe was also an early stage partner for Bud Abbott, and is among the names mentioned as bringing Bud and Lou together in 1935 before their initial team-up in 1936. It's probable that Abbott and Steppe performed that early version of the sketch. Popular burlesque performer Joey Faye is another name involved, credited as refining the sketch into
Slowly I Turned.
All of the classic burlesque routines were done by numerous performers and comics, and shortly after their 1936 teaming, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were recognized as among the best in their interpretations, with the unique chemistry they generated together. Headliners for Minsky for two years, the duo moved to vaudeville circuit stages like The Steel Pier in Atlantic City in the summer seasons of 1936-1938, with 1938 also being the year they became national radio stars on
The Kate Smith Show. In 1939 they co-starred on Broadway in
Streets of Paris, and in 1940 Hollywood beckoned. Taking on writer John Grant in 1938, the routines were refined to A&C's unique chemistry and personalities, and became more popular than ever with exposure to a national radio audience.
Slowly I turned was one of the many, many classics to join A&C's repertoire, including
The Lemon Bit, Crazy House, The Drill Routine, Jonah and the Whale, 7x13=28, and later, their original signature routine,
Who's On First.
Did A&C take "Slowly I turned/Niagara Falls" From The Three Stooges?
No, they did not. Taking into account stage performances and the origins of the routine, Bud and Lou were doing it years before The Three Stooges. And there were others who did it before A&C.
The Stooges' rendition of
Niagara Falls appears in their short subject
Gents Without Cents (1944). It was filmed in April 1943 for the feature
The Right Guy, retitled for release as
Good Luck Mr. Yates (1943). Although Ray Enright was
Yates' director, the Stooges scene was second unit directed by Jules White. It did not make the final cut of the film, but Jules saved the footage and used it one year later for
Abbott and Costello's film version of the burlesque standard was presented as
Lost in a Harem (1944), which filmed from late March thru early June 1944, and was released on August 31, 1944. The Three Stooges filmed it first (April 1943), and Abbott and Costello's version was in theaters first by three weeks. A&C certainly did not copy it from the Stooges, and they had been performing their rendition of the Steppe/Faye classic on stage for a number of years.
Lost in a Harem (1944)
with Murray Leonard as The Derelict.
(The routine features a man recounting the day he took revenge on his enemy - and becoming so engrossed in his own tale that he attacks the innocent listener to whom he is speaking. The attacker comes to his senses, only to go berserk again when the listener says something that triggers the old memory again).
Murray Leonard was an old pal from burlesque who worked with Abbott and Costello in In Society, The Noose Hangs High, and The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap, as well as the team's television series.
Bud and Lou when going over the script, noticed that John Grant had included Slowly I Turned. They told producer George Haight, "About the only actor who could do it with us is Murray Leonard." Leonard was contacted in New York and signed to re-create the routine.
Courtesy of "Abbott and Costello in Hollywood"
by Ron Palumbo and Bob Furmanek
Have a Question?
We Have the Answer!
Photo Courtesy of Chris Costello
Catherine (Barber) Whitney, Lou Costello, and Bobby Barber
on the set of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
What is known about Bud and Lou's relationship with Bobby Barber, and why was he in so many of their shows in bit roles?
New Milford, N.J.
My dad's lengthy career in the entertainment business began when he joined the Stage Children in a charming production of
in New York when he was fourteen-years-old. His love of the profession took him into vaudeville, silent, movies, radio, the "talkies" and television. He played waiters and gangsters, sidekicks and trappers, comics and scapegoats in over 200 films with famous stars of the silver screen. But the roles he loved the most were the ones with Abbott and Costello. His affection and friendship with Lou Costello was a basis for joy and happiness.
I loved going with dad to the studio to watch them film. On the way he would pick up Mr. Costello. One day as we were driving, Lou saw a newsboy selling newspapers on the corner. "Oh, Bobby," he said, "Pull over, I wanna talk with that kid." Lou rolled down the window and called the boy over. He asked his name, they talked, and Lou gave him a five dollar bill for the paper. The boy was in awe, but it was dad and Lou's joy to do things like this.
My dad loved food, was a great cook and learned along the way to make all the dishes he loved. Lou also loved to eat and would occasionally ask dad to make him his favorites while on the set between scenes. One time when I was visiting, Lou said, "Bobby, know what? I feel I could go for a fried egg sandwich about now." Dad went into the dressing room, made a fried egg sandwich (with catsup and mayonnaise). Lou commented saying, "That was the best egg sandwich I ever ate," and made that same comment every time!
Every Christmas Eve was always celebrated with the Costello family, friends and business associates at their home on Longridge. There was always much food, fun, music, and always beautifully wrapped gifts for everyone. Even our local parish priest was in attendance to lend his spiritual presence to the festivities.
These two men, both with Italian backgrounds, shared their love of family, food, laughter, and just plain silliness -- they were the best of friends right up to Lou's passing in 1959. My dad was never the same following Lou's death -- that's how close they were.
Catherine (Barber) Whitney
Bobby Barber's daughter
Photo Courtesy of Chris Costello
Lou clowning around with Bobby on the set of
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap
(1947), one unique provision in producer Robert Arthur's $750,000 budget was $800 for the services of a "Comedy Continuity Artist." This was court jester extraordinaire Bobby Barber. Barber who had bit roles in a handful of Abbott and Costello films, was hired to clown exclusively off-camera by director Charles Barton. Barton had used Bobby's specialized services in the past, and he brought Bobby in to keep Abbott and Costello amused. It was the beginning of a long, warm friendship.
Bobby proved his value during the second week of production. Bobby's widow, Maxine, explained, "Lou and Bobby weren't close until Lou's father died. Lou's father had a special chair on the set. Lou walked on the set, saw the chair, started to cry, and walked out. They said, 'Bobby, go get him.' So Bobby ran after Lou, and walked and talked with him. I don't know what Bobby said to him, but he got Lou to come back. From then on, they were inseparable."
On the day following Lou's father's funeral, he made an unexpected visit to the large western saloon set (they had shut down production for four days). He appeared very solemn, and the cast and crew fell silent out of respect. Even Bobby, who was standing at the center of the set, was quiet. Lou walked slowly onto the set and, as he passed Bobby, squirted a mouthful of water on him. The entire soundstage erupted in laughter, and the picture was able to resume in the proper spirit.
Abbott and Costello in Hollywood
Ron Palumbo and Bob Furmanek
THE DRILL ROUTINE
(With excerpts courtesy of Anthony Balducci's Journal)
Photo Courtesy of Chris Costello
The "Drill Routine" from Buck Privates (1941)
The main purpose of the military comedies was to lampoon military life, but they also allowed funnymen to reintroduce old stock gags into a new setting.
The most persistent routine in military comedies was the Drill Routine. The routine can be traced to the nineteenth century minstrel shows, in which the black Civil War regiments were a prime target for satire. A popular routine known as I'm One of the Black Brigade (1864) involved black soldiers ineptly making their way through the manual of arms.
At first, vaudeville comedy was as much centered on Irish stereotypes as minstrel show comedy had been centered on black stereotypes. It was only a matter of time before vaudeville funnymen would adapt the Drill Routine into a vehicle for the standard Irish caricatures. But additional inspiration came along with the rise of ragtag ethnic neighborhood militias in New York City during the 1870's. John Kendrick wrote in Musical Theater: A History, "These local 'guard' units were little more than uniformed drinking clubs sponsored by local politicians." After overindulging in the free beer provided by the politicians, the militia units paraded drunkenly through the streets of the Lower East Side in their ill-fitting uniforms. In 1873, Edward Harrigan & Tony Hart poked fun at these figures of folly in a skit called The Mulligan Guard, which debuted at Broadway's Theater Comique.
Jon W. Finson, Professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina, noted that much of the routine came down to the comedians "trying to make their way through the manual of arms without impaling themselves on bayonet or saber." The skit was soon expanded into the play he Mulligan Guard Picnic, which became a steadfast hit and went on to spawn four sequels.
The "Drill Routine" was also popular in the English music hall. An 1877 British pantomime, Dick Whittington and His Cat featured a comic drill scene.
Harold Lloyd directed raw Army recruits in a comic drill in Luke's Prepardedness Preparations (1916), which may be the first time that the routine was ever recorded on film. But the routine came to prominence with film audiences when it was performed by Charlie Chaplin in Shoulder Arms (1918).
The routine showed up fairly regularly after Shoulder Arms:
Clyde Cook in The Misfits (1924)
Stan Laurel in Smithy (1924)
Snub Pollard in The Doughboy (1926)
Jack Haley in Salt Water Daffy (1933)
Laurel and Hardy can be seen performing a variety of bungled military exercises in Beau Hunks (1931), Pack Up Your Troubles (1932), Bonnie Scotland (1935), The Flying Deuces (1939) and Great Guns (1941).
The Three Stooges put their own unique stamp on the routine in Boobs In Arms (1940).
The most memorable drill scene was no doubt provided by Abbott and Costello in their 1941 film, Buck Privates ...
-Anthony Balducci's Journal-
Buck Privates (1941) firmly established the team as movie stars. With a production cost of about $250,000, the film earned $4,000,000 at the box office and delighted the critics who applauded their fast-paced slapstick humor.
Among the film's highlights was the Drill Routine, a sketch which had its roots in silent movies, and before. The routine is approximately 4 minutes of sheer comedic timing where Slicker Smith (Bud Abbott) is asked by Sgt. Collins (Nat Pendleton) to take the four worst recruits in his platoon and work them so they'll become proficient in marching. Among the less than graceful recruits is Herbie Brown (Lou Costello) who starts the routine by expecting Slicker to favor him. Slicker makes it known he will not take any lip from him. Among the exchanges between the two before the actual marching starts is:
Slicker: Throw out your chest.
Herbie: I'm not through with it yet.
Slicker: Right shoulder arms -- that's your left shoulder.
Herbie: I'm left handed.
Slicker: Present arms.
Herbie throws the gun at Slicker.
Slicker: I don't want it!
Then the marching practice begins.
Slicker: Right face.
The group turns and the third soldier hits Herbie in the helmet with his gun.
Slicker: Turn with the rest of them.
Herbie: The guy hit me.
Slicker: Turn with the rest of them -- right face!
The group turns and the third soldier hits Herbie in the helmet again.
Slicker: Turn with the rest of them!
Herbie: Oh, my head.
Finally, after marching in a different direction from the rest of the soldiers, Herbie is held by Slicker so he's facing the same way as the rest of the platoon. Herbie, feeling good about himself, marches enthusiastically until his belt slips down around his ankles, tripping him down to the ground.
This routine was also shown in a flashback in their 1947 film, Buck Privates Come Home, as well as performed on The Abbott and Costello Television Show, Colgate Comedy Hour, and at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas (1957).
This routine was so popular among fans that they performed it at military bases around the U.S. and in live performance venues. When Lou appeared on The Steve Allen Show, he recreated the routine with the show's regulars. Also important to note is that Abbott and Costello performed this routine in burlesque, long before it appeared in Buck Privates.
As with many of Abbott and Costello's routines, they never performed any one routine the same way twice. Example is in Buck Privates when Lou suddenly turns to Bud and asks, "What time is it?" Bud, not dropping a beat, responds with, "None of your business!"
"HOLD THAT GHOST"
Screening at West Orange Classic Film Festival
with Guest Speaker
February 5, 2017
Celebrating its 12th year in 2017, the West Orange Classic Film Festival has been delighting audiences with vintage films of all genres.
For the past three years, film historian, writer, and movie producer PAUL CASTIGLIA has presided over the festival's screenings of classic comedy films suitable for the entire family.
Paul Castiglia is currently writing a book, Scared Silly:Classic Hollywood Horror-Comedies which focuses on films where funnymen get mixed up with ghosts, monsters, aliens, and things that go bump in the night. He also contributed an essay on a book on Vincent Price, and is co-producer on a documentary about the Dead End Kids and Bowery Boys, working alongside the project's creator, Colette Joel.
On February 5th at 2 pm, Castiglia will present an introduction and a post-film Q&A on Abbott and Costello's 1941 film, HOLD THAT GHOST.
AMC Movie Theater at Essex Green
495 Prospect Ave
West Orange, New Jersey
Tickets will be available for pre-order through FANDANGO.
NOTE: All seats for this showing are reserved seating. Don't get turned away - reserving your seats by pre-ordering your tickets is strongly encouraged.
THE LEMON BIT
Condensed from an article to be published in
Abbott and Costello Quarterly
"The Lemon Bit" from
In the Navy
with Shemp Howard (right)
Who's On First?, the most significant routine of Abbott and Costello's careers was the
Who's On First? brought them fame, but the
Lemon Bit brought them together.
Early in 1935 the boys were working with other partners at the Eltinge Theater on 42nd Street. Costello's straight man fell ill and Abbott staged the
Lemon Bit for Lou. Bud's wife, Betty, recalled, "They worked wonderfully together. People started to say, "Why don't you team up?"
Bud learned the routine years earlier when he worked with
Harry Steppe, a great comic who honed the
Lemon Bit but did not originate it.
Sam Rice, a comedian known as the King of Burlesque before World War I, created the
Lemon Bit in 1907 for the
Merry Maidens show on the old Empire Wheel. Starting in 1913, other shows paid Rice a royalty to use the sketch.
Max Fields, polished the
Lemon Bit until his version became the gold standard.
Billboard, reviewing Fields in the 1919 show
Sweet Sweetie Girls, wrote "The shell game ... furnished more comedy and evoked more laughter than any shell game we have seen heretofore in burlesque."
At the end of the season the Burlesque Club held its First Annual Jamboree, an all-star benefit where top bananas performed the best bits from various shows. Fields closed the show with the
Lemon Bit, which
Billboard called "a scream from start to finish."
That fall, Fields did the sketch on the Columbia wheel with
Harry O'Neal, an outstanding straight man who helped improve the bit.
Billboard thought the
Lemon Bit was now "faster and funnier than we have ever seen it worked before." The following year, 1921, O'Neal joined Harry Steppe's Columbia wheel show. They further refined the routine and also used it in a Shubert vaudeville revue.
Sam Rice retired from performing in 1922 and magnanimously granted free use of the
Lemon Bit to his friends in burlesque. Four productions on the Mutual and Columbia wheels featured the routine in the 1922-23 season, including shows with Harry Steppe and John Grant. There were now variations using eggs or apples instead of lemons.
In 1925, Harry O'Neal signed with a Shubert nightclub revue and did the
Lemon Bit with
Jack Pearl (later famous on radio as
Baron Munchausen). Meanwhile, Steppe and straight man
Owen Martin were doing the routine at Hurtig and Seamon's 125th Street Theater. A Shubert scout, unaware that the bit was a burlesque standard, alerted his bosses and the Shuberts threatened to sue for infringement. (Apparently Max Fields, who was still doing the sketch on the Mutual wheel, went unnoticed.)
At first this copyright argument panicked the burlesque world, but Sam Rice came forward to trace the routine's lineage and quash the Shuberts' claim. The industry had a good laugh over the incident at the next Burlesque Club Jamboree in 1926. The show closed with a musical number about the
Lemon Bit, and every straight man and comic in the theater rushed on stage to make mock claims of authorship. Then Harry Steppe, whose version was the new benchmark, performed the routine with Owen Martin.
In 1928 it was estimated that a dozen acts were using the
Lemon Bit. "In this non-royalty paying era,"
Variety wrote, "who can blame them for sticking to known values."
Bud Abbott (right) with comedy partner Harry Steppe
before teaming up with Lou Costello
After a stint in vaudeville without the
Lemon Bit, Steppe reprised the sketch with Bud Abbott in a 1929-30 Mutual wheel show.
Variety reported, "This one was worked for howls despite familiarity ..."
Variety called Bud "a corking straight with much better possibilities than burlesque."
Lemon Bit was ubiquitous in the 1920's, it became scarce after 1930. Not only was it played out, but it lost its best interpreters. Harry O'Neal died suddenly in 1928; Max Field stopped performing due to health issues in 1931; and Harry Steppe passed away late in 1934, just before Abbott and Costello crossed paths at the Eltinge. Perhaps Harry's death inspired Bud to teach the
Lemon Bit to Lou.
After they formally teamed in 1936, Abbott and Costello became the new custodians of the routine. They did it in stage shows in 1938 and 1939, then in the Broadway musical
Streets of Paris.
Variety's critic wrote, "The shell game bit, done with lemons, is a wow ..."
One Night in the Tropics and
Buck Privates, they did the
Lemon Bit at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. A few months later they committed the routine to film in
In the Navy (1941).
The boys seemingly retired the routine until 1950, when they did it at the London Palladium. A few months later they used it in their TV debut on the
Colgate Comedy Hour. Soon after, the boys filmed the
Lemon Bit for the "Charity Bazaar" episode of their TV series.
Bud and Lou did the
Lemon Bit at live appearances at Sydney Stadium in Australia in June of 1955, and the following summer in a nightclub date in San Francisco.
After Abbott and Costello split, Lou did the routine on the
Steve Allen Show with Tom Poston and Louis Nye in December 1957.
Whatever became of Sam Rice, who originated one of the most popular burlesque sketches of all time? Rice, whose real name was George Samuel O'Hanlon, moved the family to the west coast in 1931 and became a bit player in over 70 films. He died in 1946 at his home in Burbank. He was 71.
One of his three sons, George, Jr., used the stage name Sam Rice, Jr. to break into burlesque when he was 17. A young comic named Lou Costello befriended him and became a mentor to him. George later wrote and starred in numerous
Joe McDoakes shorts produced by Warner Bros. from 1945 to 1956. You may know him best, however, as the voice of George Jetson in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series.
Ron Palumbo is one of the foremost historians on Abbott and Costello. He launched the official Abbott and Costello Fan Club in the late 1970's with an extra-added club bonus of The Abbott and Costello Quarterly. He also co-authored "Abbott and Costello in Hollywood" with then archivist to the Abbott and Costello estates, Bob Furmanek.
If interested in joining the Official Fan Club, email Ron at ACQtrly@aol.com or Bill Honor at NewsHangsHigh@msn.com.
Abbott and Costello
Featured in Promotional Display at
CHICAGO'S UNION STATION
Photo Credit: Marcia Opal
Chicago's Union Station was a connecting point for many Hollywood celebrities and filmmakers from the 1930's to 1960's.
Thank you to Marcia Opal for sending us this gem, of which she accidentally came across while recently walking through the station.
Photo Credit: Marcia Opal
Full display inside Chicago's Union Station
BLAST FROM THE PAST!
In the 1940's, celebrities, sport figures, and companies wanting to advertise their brand, often times turned to match books
Abbott and Costello appeared on the front and back of American Graphics match books in the 1940's.
Courtesy of Bob Wilson
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