Tuesday, August 21, 2007

HOTSY-TOTSY'S OF THE BOOTLEG YEARS

MaryEaton

A reader (!) has complained that this weblog is light on the girlie-mag stuff that, it is assumed, attracts a real audience. So why not begin an investigation into some of the hottest, most salacious and oftentimes mysteriously tragic femmes that graced the entertainment world of the twenties and early thirties. First up is the delicious Mary Eaton--I mentioned her yesterday as she appears in the Eddie Cantor "Midnight Frolic" short for a second.

Here, if anyone cares, is a proper and compelling bio of Mary Eaton on Wikipedia. The long and the short of it is: early success with her singing and dancing brother and sisters; breakout success for Mary before the age of twenty on Broadway; big-time success dancing for Ziegfeld, co-starring with Cantor etc.; significant early talkie appearences (below is from the Marx Bros. first film, "The Cocoanuts"--she was also the star of the fascinating and exhausting "Glorifying The American Girl.") Then nada. Hard times. Hard liquor. In 1948 she's dead, aged 47, of something called "severe metamorphosis of the liver." Hmmm.



This number, "The Monkey Doodle Do", is a perfect example of the kind of uninflected recording of a stage show that makes these early musicals so fascinating. I count three cameras--maybe a fourth--all running simultaneously. 1) Eye level 2) First row balcony (which appears to be on a crane, thanks to that wonderfully shaky move back that they ambitiously try and fail to pull off early in the number) and 3) right orchestra pit, roughly where the drummer would be sitting. It is from this angle that we get our most tantalizing glimpses at the undergarments worn by a dancer in 1929. Drummers have always been the same. The music, by the way, was recorded live--a full orchestra was on the set. Playback had yet to be invented. From the looks of this, movies had yet to be invented.

As a Marx-brothers crazed kid, I was fascinated and appalled by "The Cocoanuts"--it was them, but it wasn't them. There was something so imperfect, so seemingly confused about the going ons that was missing even a year later in "Animal Crackers." And Oscar Shaw--the first in a long line of thankless romantic leading men in their movies--is certainly the worst of any of them. But I was always thrilled when this number came on, and the lithe blond woman started doing her nutty period jazz dance. The pirouettes were, apparently, her special thing. Here, from another world now utterly vanished except for this visual/aural archeological dig, is a woman who once knocked 'em dead (and apparently could also knock 'em back) on the great white way. God bless ya and keep ya, lassie. You were some dish...

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