HARRY RICHMAN: DEBONAIR DANCER, VIOLENT PREDATOR
Harry Richman was nightclub glory incarnate in the mad twenties and, if he's remembered at all today, it's for being the tuxed-out gent who introduced Irving Berlin's 'Putting On The Ritz' in the 1930 movie of the same name. Above I've posted the song as performed in the movie. It's as catastrophic a bit of early-talkie musical staging as you'll ever see--apparently in the 20's it wasn't really expected that dancers would perform the same steps as each other, much less stand in anything resembling an organized formation. The set is nightmarish, the costumes surreal and the entire thing a massive acid-tripish misconception. The song is repeated some eight times without so much as a key change or a modestly different orchestration. Richman, like Texas Guinan (see earlier posts this week) is, from this distance, an un-rehabilitatable cultural relic. He was also something of a dreadful fellow. According to "Nightclub City", the scholarly but entertaining book about New York night life of the 20s and 30s that I've been reading this past week (which has provoked this spate of club-centric posts), Richman was a violent, serial sexual predator who was sued on several occasions by women for inflicting physical harm on them. Even he admits as much in his autobiography. If the above clip of the disastrous production number doesn't make you sick, the below quote from his autobiography will:
"My anger at women was always beyond love, beyond everything else". (After a woman struck him in the face with flowers he'd sent her, and during ensuing sexual relations he)..."kept at her until her nose was bleeding and her face was brilliant red...My arm was so tired from beating her I was ready to give up." Jesus! The woman may have been the dancer Ellen Franks, who sued Richman in 1929 for inflicting injury. I like the bit about the arm being tired--that's what the take-away apparently was for Richman, not the assault and battery, sexual self-disgust, psychopathic sadism etc. On that charming note...
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 3:39 PM