Red Buttons never got a dinner, but he once had a hit TV series


If you are of a certain age (i.e., mine), you remember Red Buttons primarily as the guy who always turned up on Dean Martin’s TV celebrity roasts and did a never-ending routine about famous people who “never got a dinner.”

If you are inquisitive about pop culture (like I am), you probably learned along the way that Red Buttons once did a TV show that started out blazing-hot but eventually fizzled due to Buttons’ ego. I had heard that story for years, but I never knew the details until now.

A guy named Kliph Nesteroff has written some very entertaining blog entries about acrimonious show-biz personalities of the 1950’s, such as Martin & Lewis and Joe E. Ross. In his latest blog, Klisteroff tells the complete (and completely fascinating) about how Red Buttons was a victim of his own success. The link to the Buttons story follows, but also use the search engine at his blog to read the other engrossing blog entries I mentioned.

Charlie Chaplin in CRUEL, CRUEL LOVE (1914) – A cruel attempt at comedy


The girlfriend of Charlie (here sporting a two-pronged mustache) mistakenly believes he has been flirting with her maid and says she never wants to see him again. By the time she realizes her mistake, Charlie has taken what he believes to be poison and thinks he is about to die. He’s put right, the woman takes him back, and everyone left standing at movie’s end gets drop-kicked by Charlie for no reason.

Story-wise, that’s about it. Chaplin mugs him it up as you’ve never seen, before or since, in a vain effort to convince us of the story’s hilarity.

Laurel & Hardy in FROM SOUP TO NUTS (1928) – Long live Anita Garvin!


If anyone doubts Laurel & Hardy vet Anita Garvin’s place in film-comedy immortality, witness her comedic contributions to L&H’s From Soup to Nuts, in which she develops an entire routine out of a tiara and a maraschino cherry. Most of the time when Stan and Ollie rub elbows with rich folk, the rich folk are dismissed as one-note snooties who snort at L&H and move on. Here, Garvin shows a rich snootie who nevertheless gives indications that she doesn’t fit into the rich world any better than L&H. Laurel & Hardy historians tell us that Garvin briefly served in her own L&H-type comedies for Hal Roach (though they didn’t catch on). This movie amply demonstrates why.

Of course, this is all with the benefit of hindsight. At its original release, From Soup to Nuts was viewed simply as another funny L&H comedy, and so it is. Long before the days of “high concept” (in which a movie’s appeal could be captured in a single sentence), “Laurel and Hardy are waiters” was all you needed to know in order to laugh just at the premise. If you want some iconic images of The Golden Age of Film Comedy, watch Ollie continually try to serve a huge cake, or Stan serving the salad undressed.

The directorial credit for this short goes to E. Livingston Kennedy, better known as L&H’s perpetual nemesis Edgar Kennedy. It’s usually a given that Laurel was the uncredited director of the L&H comedies, but one could do worse than having From Soup to Nuts and You’re Darn Tootin’ on one’s film resume.

Laurel & Hardy in THAT’S MY WIFE (1929) – Hold on to your wig


That’s My Wife is one of those films that truly puts Laurel & Hardy’s characterizations to the test. Decades of stale sitcoms have long worn thin the man-masquerading-as-a-woman-for-trite-reasons comedy cliche. Like the pie-in-the-face routine, the only thing that makes this ritual funny is not the fact that it’s happening, but its normally staid character’s reactions to it. On that basis, That’s My Wife holds up surprisingly well.

The premise is that Stan has lived on Ollie’s premises for so long that Mrs. Hardy (L&H vet Vivien Oakland) has had enough and moves out. Wouldn’t you know it, Ollie’s rich Uncle Bernal (William Courtwright) — who plans to leave Ollie his a huge inheritance if Ollie stays happily married — chooses that night to visit Ollie and meet Mrs. Hardy for the first time. Guess who gets commandeered to play Mrs. Hardy.

Again, it’s not the premise itself that’s so hilarious as how the familiar characters react to it. When the story sends Mr. and “Mrs.” Hardy to dinner with Uncle Bernal, the movie throws every cliche it can muster at The Boys — an obnoxious drunk, a necklace inadvertently dropped down the back of Stan’s dress — and L&H meet each challenge fully in character. When a restaurant customer opens a phone booth and catches Stan and Ollie in it, Ollie sheepishly emerges and provides (via intertitle) one of the all-time great Hardy lines: “Believe it or not, we were calling Philadelphia.”

As with all of the great L&H shorts, at movie’s end Stan and Ollie are left with nothing and no one but each other. As their concise characterizations here prove, that’s more than enough.

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in STEALIN’ AIN’T HONEST (1940) – Not quite comedy gold, but close

StealingAintHonestPopeye and Olive Oyl are heading a ship for Olive’s secret gold mine (to which they are easily directed by a big neon sign reading “Olive’s Secret Gold Mine”). But old reliable Bluto gets there first and tries to grab the gold for himself.

This cartoon sometimes relies too heavily on the gratuitous violence of which 1950’s parents so often accused these cartoons. But it’s balanced out somewhat by some very good gags, the best of which is Bluto’s fey remark when he can’t quite reach his goal: “Sometimes I get so discouraged!”

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanCanCan

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in PLEASED TO MEET CHA! (1935) – Time to clean house


Suitors Popeye and Bluto arrive at Olive’s house (Bluto at the back door, Popeye at the front) to court Olive. Olive can’t decide which doorbell to answer, but it’s a moot point when they both burst in and start whomping on each other. Olive tries to make peace by having them both sit with her on the couch, but they still whomp on each other when she’s not looking.

When Olive says one of the guys will have to go, Bluto offers that the guy who does the best trick can stay. The “tricks” involve more whomping, and Olive seems unusually content to watch her two beaus beat each other up, at least until they start destroying the house. (It’s always funny until somebody puts a house out.) Popeye opens his spinach can unusually elaborately, gets Bluto out of the way, and cleans the house in two seconds flat.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanCanCan