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Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Ginger Rogers: the face that launched a thousand woos. 
Just ask Burgess Meredith...

During the Hollywood hey-day, Ginger Rogers was one of the silver screen gals whom the men of America considered a dream come true. One thing that set her apart from her contemporaries was her approachability. As flirty and sassy as she was, her sexiness had a cuteness to it that made her both desirable and obtainable. She was the gorgeous girl-next-door who danced her way onto the silver screen and sang her way into men's hearts. The proof of her effect on the opposite sex could be seen early in her career. In addition to garnering a great amount of fan attention, her co-stars and co-workers often found themselves mooning over her. While working on the Broadway hit musical "Girl Crazy" in 1930, her scene partner Allen Kearns revealed his smitten condition before a live audience. During a scene together, Allen was to say to Ginger's character (Molly Gray), "Molly, I love you," (as seen left). Instead, he blurted out, "Ginger, I love you!"The audience started cracking up, and after a blush, the duo had no choice but to keep the scene going as if nothing had happened. However, the slip-up was so charming that they decided to do it again on purpose for the remaining shows. As a result, when the film version was made at MGM starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, Garland's character became "Ginger," both in honor of the preceding leading lady and the embarrassing romantic blunder that helped endear the show to audiences.

Burgess Meredith can be identified as another one of those pinched by Cupid's arrow in Ginger's presence. He made no secret of his affinity for the beautiful actress during the filming of their mutual project Tom, Dick and Harry (both in the film right) and flirted openly with her. He wanted to "woo" her, as would become blatantly obvious. Their attachment would never become truly romantic and was more of a friendship in which Burgess would poke fun at both Ginger's star persona and her enchanting effect on the opposite sex. As a prank, he started to send her lavish gifts every day on the set. The first was a box of chocolates, or rather a "candy woo," as he called it. The only problem was that the yummies were actually made of paper. He then sent her phony flowers as a "flower woo," fake jewelry ("pearl woo") and a ratty fur coat ("fur woo").  The rest of the cast and crew got very caught up in the hilarity, even going so far as to give Burgess suggestions and pointers on how to attack next. They came up with a "diamond woo" and a "car woo"-- the former involved an enormous fake gem and the latter a broken down Model-T Ford. Eventually, the gag got old and Burgess wore himself out. The two laughingly established an armistice and enjoyed the rest of the shoot. Ginger would always look back on this film fondly because of Burgess, whose shenanigans earned him a special place in her heart. In that respect at least, the wooing worked.

Speaking of pranks, it wasn't always the gents having fun at the ladies' expense. Sometimes, the girls got to have a little revenge as well. Hollywood's earliest Comedienne Fatale was Mabel Normand, whose carefree and boisterous humor made her a popular girl with friends and fans alike (see beauty, left). Part of her charm lied in her ability to lighten the mood when others were taking life too seriously. Sam Goldwyn would learn this when the gorgeous pip, unbeknown to him, was following him around  making faces while he lectured a film crew. Upon discovery, the perturbed Sam couldn't stay mad at her long. This was not just because he was in love with her like every other guy on the lot, but because no one could seem to stay mad at Mabel. Not even Ben Turpin, who had good reason. While filming one particular scene, Ben was to do a bit with a live bear, which terrified him. In the days before computer generated effects, actors had to duel with live animals all the time, and this kind of authenticity scared the bejeezus out of the cross-eyed clown. As such, he insisted that a stuffed bear be used instead. This was a logical request, but Mabel-- who had done her share of animal stunt work-- decided to have a little fun at Ben's expense. Ben crawled into bed beside the fake bear and, just to be sure it was phony, stuck one of Louis Fazenda's hat pins in it. It laid still, so Ben relaxed. Little did he know that Mabel too was in that bed with him, buried beneath the stuffed mammal. No sooner had the camera started rolling , then Mabel moved the bear's arms around Ben, who jumped up in fear and shot out of frame! The moment was so hilarious that it was used in the final print. Mabel thought it was a gas. After all, if a little lady like her could go mono e mono with a lion (in The Extra Girl), then a grown man like Ben could be teased a little about his lack of carnivore courage.

Ben Turpin, armed and ready for Mabel. (I wonder if she's the
 reason he went cross-eyed in the first place)?

Sid Grauman was known for two things in Hollywood: being the greatest showman in the motion-picture business and being the grandest prankster. As lush and extravagant as his movie palaces were-- like the Egyptian and the Chinese theaters in Hollywood-- so too were his gags. One of his favorite marks, and every one else's apparently, was again Sam Goldwyn. The uptight, no-nonsense businessman clearly needed to be taken down a peg or two. Since Sam was an early movie mogul, it was easy for him to find young women willing to go out and enjoy the town with him, and he certainly could have his pick of the prettiest, eagerest ingenues around. Thus, Sid decided to enlist the help of his pal and fellow funny man, Charles Chaplin (both pals right), to teach the egomaniac a bit of a lesson. Charlie offered to set Sam up on a date with a gorgeous girl: "And I mean gorgeous, Sam. You won't find another like her!" Sam, to no surprise, agreed to the blind date, and nearly went blind himself when he found himself sitting across from Sid... In drag. (Pause for spastic laughter as Chaplin grabs his side and hits the floor howling). Another kindly cruel joke was played on friend Ernst Lubitsch, whom Sid knew for a fact had a fear of flying. One day, when Sid caught wind that Ernst was about to (reluctantly) take to the air, he concocted another scheme. After the plane had taken off, he paid two actors dressed as pilots to run from the cockpit and exclaim, "I don't know about you, but I'm getting outta here!" They then jumped from the plane (with parachutes one hopes) leaving a shaking Ernst in their wake. Luckily, there were still authentic pilots flying the plane, and Ernst made it home safe, where he most certainly gave Sid a swift kick in the behind.

Gloria Swanson's hands are immortalized at Grauman's Chinese 
Theater with the help of pal Sid.

Not all of these guffaw-inducing moments were purposeful, however. Sometimes, in fact, certain people were not even aware that they were the butt of the joke. Take Gary Cooper, for example. Coop certainly had his charms and could throw out a dirty limerick or two, but he wasn't really known for his side-splitters. Nonetheless, he could be accidentally entertaining from time to time. Just ask neighbor Veronica Lake. Ronni (right in Ramrod) had taken to Coop, since he was a salt of the earth kind of guy and not one of those stuck-up, pretentious types who so annoyed her. Thus, when she would see him passing by atop his horse in the hills near her home, it would always bring a friendly smile to her face... and a bit of a chuckle. See, Coop had a habit of going for midnight rides when he couldn't fall asleep, especially on Friday evenings. So, he'd climb on his horse and ride a pace, only to  finally conk out in the saddle. The first time Ronni saw his snoring, slumped form ambling by, she probably cocked that iconic eyebrow with a "What the...?" But she got used to it. She was more worried when she didn't see Coop's horse-aided somnambulism than when she did. "No need to wave. Coop's just sleep-riding again. Saturday morning, and all's well!"

Coop on his horse and much more alert.


  1. how could Mabelman possibly miss this story and post?

  2. I know! I am surprised it took me so long to hear from you, haha :)