Variety (Jan 1943)

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8 PICTURES Thirhsevenlh P^HIEfr Annivertary January 6, 1943 SHADES OF PAUL MOSS June and Louise Havoc (Gypsy Rose Lee) Recall Life With Mother on the Jr. Orpheuni Time When a Sa nctinionious Manager Laid Down the Backstage Law " Especially to the Errant Sidney Lanfield By GYPSY ROSE LEE JVo pro/nnity: CHell, dniiiM. elc). A\l iemale performers must wear jitU Iciifllh opera hose. No politi- cal jokes! No mother-in-luu' jokes! No reference to auy local restaurant, hotel, people, or places.' No sDiofciiie.' Any perfor- mer 1,-iolating the aboi'e rules trill be subject to immediate cancellation. fSigned/ MANAGEMENTPANTAGES THEATRE My sister, June, and I didn't pay much attention to the sign posted near the caJIboard. There had been Eimilar signs posted backstage of every theatre we had played that season. We were doing a kid act then, and Mother wouldn't have allowed us to say Hell or Damn, but even so our act was Gypola cut by censor' ship, the theatre manager being the censor, in every town we had played. In Boston, my sister, who was six, wasn't allowed to sing, 'Won't you be my husband?' It was considered unseemly for a child. For her Russian toe specialty she had to wear 'Full length opera hose.' That wasn't too difficult to arrange. Mother just unraveled the tops of a regular pair of ladies stockings. On June's slender little legs they were high enough to com ply with the laws of decency. The stockings were baggy, though, and at the ankles they hung in heavy folds. The feet were thick and bulky, and June said they hurt her toes when she danced. The theatre manager, however, was firm. "The law is, all female performers wear hose,' he said. 'That goes if the females are six or 60.' A week later, in Salt Lake City, the manager cut June's opening line to me, 'I'm glad I'm an adopted child. When m.y parents got me they picked what they wanted. When your parents got you, they had to take what they got." The manager cut the line because he said it was 'sassy.' In Green Bay, the fol- lowing week, during my 'Tough' number, I wasn't allowed to say, "What an oil can you turned out to be.' I didn't have to wear stockings, though, because I was supposed to be a boy in the act. Through that lucky impersonation I escaped being a female and Mother saved a pair of stockings. When we played Minneapolis, my •pecialty, 'Holy Yumping Yiminy,' was cut. 'Too many Swedes live here,' we were told, 'They might be offended.* The fact that I ffm Scandinavian myself didn't change the manager's attitude The specialty was out in St. Paul, too. The acts that suffered the most, however, were the next-to-closing acts. They weren't allowed any ref- erence to Pullman trains, farmers or their daughters, chambermaids or plumbing. Even the line, 'we got two kinds of water, dirty and clean," was out. Also, no 'hot and cold run- ning bellboys.' • 'You can't bounce a meatball,' was definitely taboo. But, 'Fish do not perspire' was permissable. The switch on, 'Fear not, the comforter cometh—don't worry, you'll get the quilt,' was out That one was con^ sidered sacreligious. 'It may be a beauty mark, but it's walking,' was out. The Quartette who sang, 'I ate green apples and doubled up,' had to cut the finish where the bass held his stomach when he hit the low note. The Frog Man (contortionist) had to take out the bit of business where he scratched his rear. It was the rear of a frog suit, but the manager of the house in Cincinnati said, 'Frogs or humans—rears are rears.' The Frog Man had been doing the same bit of business for 15 years, and he had stolen it from Mantell who did it for 10 years before that, but in 1923 he stopped scratching the rear of his frog suit because it had suddenly lascivious.' become "lewd and But Then We Hit Detroit Our PanUges unit had been intact for several weeks when we played the Miles and the Regent in Detroit. Sidney Landfleld (now Lanfield. of Hollywood) and Maude Elliot and Her Girls of the Altitude' joined the bill the last half at the Regent. Sid- ney Lanfield did the typical next-to- closing Single. He was handsome and very funny. He worked in street clothes, without makeup, unless you could call his raccoon coat and straw hat makeup. (For a finish he broke the straw hat.) He followed the girl act, Maude Elliot, who worked in full on a web. After the orches- tra played his introduction, eight bars of a snappy tune, Lanfield made his entrance waving the straw hat happily at the audience. His first line after, 'Boy am I glad to be back in Detroit—,' was, 'Did any of you notice that beautiful blonde hanging by her teeth in the last act?' With a quick glance into the wings, he put one foot on the foot- lights and leaned over to the audi- ence, 'You know,' he said confi- dentially, 'I'm crazy about that girl. Isn't she the most beautiful girl you ever saw? Those eyes—those lips— those hair—.' While the audience laughed, Lanfield squeezed the straw hat, and chewed the edge of it. 'And she's really a good girl, good to her mother, too. I know you won't believe this, but she makes $30 a week and sends home $50! That's what I call being good. Espe- cially in Detroit. But has she got a terrible disposition? She has the worst disposition of any woman I ever knew. On the way to the thea- tre tonight she got sore just be- cause I pushed her in front of a street car.' The Regent audience loved it. When Lanfield coughed and said Guess in have to get a room to- night,' they roared. When he said I was in the movies I played the meatball in The Way of All Flesh,' they rotred again. 'I played in an- other picture, too. I was the long underwear In 'If Winter Comes.' Yep, they want me back in Holly- wood right now They're all look- ing for me. Why just yesterday I got a letter from MGM My Grand Mother.' Then he told the one about the man who lost part of his eyebrow in an accident. How the Doctor grafted on the hair of a dog's leg, and how successful the operation WES.... ....only every lime . the guy passed a fire hydrant hie' lifted his eyebrow... .like this.' Lanfield didn't wait for the laugh to die. 'Well,' he said, rubbing his hands together, 'Now that I know what you want. ...' An Irate Manager in Aetlan The manager was back before the acrobats finished. Lanfield knew the fire hydrant bit was out even before the manager opened his mouth. 'I know,' Lanfield said, 'I have another one, this guy goes into a restaurant and he says—.' That was as far as he got. "You do the dirtiest act I have ever witnessed,' the manager said. "For the next show I want an en- tirely new act or you're cancelled. I've already wired the Chicago of- fice for another next-to-closing act. I also recommended that the bal- ance of your route be cancelled.' 'But—I've already played seven weeks of the route,' Lanfield said. "The only gag they ever cut was the fire hydrant. I've played this house every season, same act, same gags, no complaints. I—.' "This house is under new manage- ment,' the manager said coldly, 'And New Rules. The trouble with you actors is, you're only here for a split week. We managers are here 52 weeks out of the year. We're the ones that suffer. I want a new act from you for the next show—or you're cancelled.'' Then the manager came into our dressing room. Mother turned on the special smile she reserved for such occasions. June smiled, and I smiled. The manager didn't smile back. He began reading from a long typewritten list. 'That line—'when your hand itches, you're going to get something, when you're head Itches you got It—that's OUT! The little girl's dress for the toe dance is too short. Have the big girl take out some of the pad- ding in her bustle. It's obscene.' Mother's smile began to fade, 'The baby has to wear a short dress for the toe routine,' she said. 'A longer dress gets caught when .she does the rope-skipping finish. Louise is a child, surely a bustle on a child can't be obscene—' 'And paint something over the pig in the farmyard drop,' the man- ager said. 'Paint a piece of fence or something over the back of it.' He closed the door loudly, and started making the rounds of the other dressing rooms. We could hear his voice when he told the acrobats to take out a balancing trick, and the accent of the acrobat who answered him. 'When you balance your partner that way it looks bad from the front.' 'Always I balance my partner so Ve balance in all the big cities of the vorld—' 'All of 'em but Detroit.' the man- ager snapped. The door slammed, and as he knocked on the Frog Man's door, we could still hear the voice of the amazed acrobat. 'For crowned heads off Europe ve balance, in Detroit even ve balance, but now ve don't balance—soch a craz'neivs—' The next show my si.ster wore a longer dress for her toe routine. She tripped on the rope-skipping finish, but that was better than being in- decent. I wore less padding in my bustle. We hung a strip of brown sateen, hoping it would look like a piece of fence, over the back of the pig on the farm yard drop. The acrobats flni.shcd with their triple somersault-off-the-shoulder instead of the hand balance. The Frog Man didn't scratch the rear of his frog suit. Maude Elliot 8i Her Girls of the Altitude, wore 'fleshings.' Lanfleld Gives It the SwiUb | There had been an hour, and 10 minutes between shows. For Sid- ney Lanfield to come up with an entirely new act in that short time seemed impossible, but he didn't go out to Hollywood as a gag writer and later become one of the top pic- ture directors for nothing. At seven that evening he made his usual entrance. Raccoon coat, street suit, straw hat and a twinkle in his eye. He waved his hat as he walked on stage, then he put one foot on the footlights and leaned over to the audience. 'I want you folks to know that the act I am about to do isn't my regular act. After the many years I have been telling you same people the same jokes I have suddenly been informed by the new management that I am impairing your morals. In my reimlor act I look in the wings like this, then I grin a little and say did any of you notice that beautiful blonde hanging by her teeth in the last act? Well, I'm crazy about that girl. She is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. Those eyes—those lips—those hair—Then in my regu- lar act I go on to tell you what a good girl she is. Good to her Mother, too. Would you believe it, she mokes $30 a week and sends home $50. But has she got a terrible disposition? Why she got sore at me tonight just because I pushed her in front of a street car..,.' By this time the other acts had gathered in the wings. The man- ager was hurrying down the aisle, backstage bent, with a look of de- termination on his face, and the orchestra leader was tapping for the musiciiins to go into Lanfleld's exit music. But none of these things worried the man in the raccoon coat. He was getting laughs so he went right through his act. "In my regular act....I say, "Yep, I got a wire from M.G.M., My Grand Mother.' Not a performer left the wings. We listened to every line and every laugh. At the finish of his act, Lanfleld, instead of exit- ing, whipped out a small magazine from his pocket. •On my way to the theatre to- night." he said, 'a funny thing hap- to me. I stopped in a store oil the corner and bought this mag- azine.' He held up the magazine for the audience to see. On the cover there was a full color picture of a semi- nude woman being bitten rather ob- viously by a sailor. Sidney Lan- field quickly tore off the cover and crumbled it up in his hand. More Dooble Talk LUCY MONROE DIRECTOR OF PATRIOTIC MUSIC R. C. A. Victor, Camden, N. J. 'Musn't impair your morals,' he said, shoving the picture in his pocket. This Is i jokebook, folks, and I am telling you it is a scream. It's the funniest magazine I ever read. Right here on the first page they have the one about the Irish- man meeting the Dutchman on Main Street. The Irishman says ' Lanfield stopped reading. He turned the magazine page quickly. 'I can't read that one,' he said. Too bad, because it's really a funny story.' He read another one to him- self, then he burst out laughing. He laughed so hard he had to sit on the floor of the stage before he could go on. 'Oh, Boy, this Is a Lilly-Dill,' he managed to say, then he was gone again. 'I wish I could read you this one, but the manager ' suddenly he stopped. 'Well, bere's one I can read. There's nothing in this one to hurt anybody. Seems like this traveling salesman goes up to this farmhouse and asks the farmer for a room for the night. The farmer says sure, but he only has one room, and his daughter is already in it "That's all right with me,' the salesman says. "How much is the room?" 'Well,' the farmer says, 'I usually charge a dollar for the room, but with my daughter in it. I guess I can't ask more than 50c.' '\Vell,' the salesman says, 'Thai's alright with- me. This daughter? Is she pretty? 'Pretty?' the farmer says, 'Why she won the Junction City beauty con-' Then the farmer told the salesman that for the sake of his daughter's good name, he'd have to put a screen between the two beds. The sales- man agreed and they went up to the room. As soon as the farmer left the salesman peeked behind the screen. There in the other bed was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was reallj/ beautiful. Long blonde hair, beautiful white arms, soft milky skin — she was sound asleep. The salesman gets into his pajamas and goes to bed. An hour later he's downstairs pounding on the farmer's door. 'Hey wake up! Wake up!', he shouts. Wake up! Your daughter — she's — she's dead—' 'I know,' the farmer says,' but—,' Sidney Lanfield stopped reading. He looked up at the audience. 'I'm sorry folks, I'd like to read you this, but I can't. The manager told me I shouldn't impair your morals. You people all look too intelligent to me to be impaired by anything. I might say, but maybe the manager's right. Maybe you ore a bunch of morons. I don't tielieve it—but after all he is the manager. He's here 52 weeks out of the year, I'm only here for a few days. How I argue with him? But, if you really want to know what the far- mer said to the travelling salesman —do what I did—^go to the corner drugstore and buy a copy of Cap't Billy fawcett's Whiz Bang Maga- zine I I r