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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

NOW THAT'S FUNNY: Part XIII




Ann Sheridan, sporting her popular horned hair-do.
It was fitting, as Ann was a bit of a Devil!

The most lasting impression Ann Sheridan left on Hollywood was her congenial sense of humor. An unaffected girl-next-door with chutzpah, she enjoyed a laugh or clever quip, and she was always a good sport when she was teased or pranked. This turned out to be a good thing, for she was certainly the butt of the joke on more than one occasion. The most notorious example occurred very much in the public eye. Ann's career was beginning to gain real momentum by 1940. She had made some noteworthy appearances in major motion pictures, she had been dubbed the "Oomph Girl," and she was a bona fide movie star enjoying her moment in the sun. Proof of her public power was displayed when she attended the preview of her latest film, It All Came True, in April. Enduring the usual press junket and ballyhoo, Ann was suddenly surprised by the appearance of a 19-year-old UCLA student-- Dick Brunnenkamp-- at her side. Before she could blink, the kid had handcuffed himself to her! Not only that, but he had swallowed the key!!! Chaos and flashing cameras ensued. Dick's excuse was that he was fulfilling a bet he had made with his fraternity. Though the cuff on her wrist was probably a bit uncomfortable, Ann was pretty laid-back about the whole thing, aside from being confused and very inconvenienced by the scam. While the boy was probably really just looking to gain attention for himself and enjoy his own fifteen minutes of fame-- literally fifteen minutes, as that was how long it took to get a locksmith-- it was Ann who walked away the true winner, with even more frantic publicity and fan devotion.

The hijinks often did not involve Ann's fan base, however. Most of the time, the gags came from within studio walls, generally with her adoring pack of male friends. The major player on this list was Humphrey Bogart. Considering Bogie's unsavory and somewhat embarrassing history with women-- including the battered husband situation-- it is somewhat surprising that this ultimate guy's guy and future leader of the Rat Pack was best buds with a girl. But then, Ann wasn't just any girl. The two worked together many times-- San Quentin, They Drive by Night, etc-- but they never played love interests. This fit well with their private relationship, which was very brother-sister. Bogie loved to poke fun at Ann, whom he referred to as "Miss Pushface of 1893" after her "Oomph" title, which she hated, was bestowed. They played practical jokes on each other from pretty much the moment they met, and they enjoyed an ongoing competition of "who can get whose goat!" (Together in It All Came True, left).



For example: Ann bought Bogie a  very special gift: a genuine Gene Autry toy gun, which mocked his pistol-toting, tough guy roles. He got his revenge by telling Ann about a plum upcoming part that would really give her a chance to show her acting chops. So eager was Ann to prove her talents beyond her physical attributes that she was soon ignorantly campaigning all over Warner Brothers for the important period role of Fanny Hill-- the heroine of England's earliest pornographic novel. Whoops! Ann was back for round three when she, with John Huston's help, staged a cameo as a prostitute in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Expecting an unknown, featured actress to turn the corner in the brief street scene, Bogie spun to offer his character's scripted dismissal of the harlot only to find his gal pal lifting her skirt to reveal a tattoo that said, "Annie!" It is doubtful that Ann made it into the final cut of the film-- it's definitely not her in the close-up, but she may be  the black-wigged woman seen in a long shot. At the very least, Bogie got a good laugh out of it. As Ann herself said, "He was a dirty rat, but I loved that man" (see right).

Another stud in Ann's bro barn was the handsome Errol Flynn. It is occasionally rumored that the duo enjoyed a brief affair, though Ann always maintained that they were no more than chums. This seems to be the case, as they certainly remained pals for the extent of Errol's short life. They worked together for the first time in Dodge City, and while most of Errol's attentions were then devoted to his other female co-star, Olivia de Havilland, with whom he professed to be occasionally in love, Ann also charmed him with her usual, easy-going, down-to-earth personality. By the time they began filming Silver River (left), Errol had labeled Ann as his favorite comedy guinea piglet, perhaps because she had so kindly taught him the nifty trick of injecting oranges with liquor so they could enjoy a "healthy" snack while shooting. (Actually sounds pretty good...). Ann cracked one day that the uncomfortable wire bustle she wore as part of her wardrobe for the film looked like a bird cage. The next day, she entered her dressing room to find two finicky parrots, while Errol, director Raoul Walsh, and the rest of the crew, laughed hysterically outside! But Ann gave as good as she got. When she stumbled upon the boys sharing some celebratory cigars-- one of the crew members had just become a proud Papa-- Ann acted hurt that she hadn't been included. Errol naturally chided her and egged her on. Thus, while shooting their next scene, Errol was surprised to find Ann before him with his own cigar planted firmly in her pout. Walsh said she always kept things lively on the set.

Despite his stern and overly dramatic demeanor, William S. Hart (right) was a Boy at Heart. While he wasn't usually the instigator of dramatic gags-- he wasn't enough of a conniving scoundrel-- he certainly enjoyed partaking when a prank seemed worthy. One of the fellas that could recruit Bill in a joke was the one and only theatre impresario Sid Grauman. Hence the following situation: Paramount big-wigs Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky were aboard a train en route to San Francisco, assumedly to enjoy the usual mix of travel and business associated with running such a huge studio. Yet, the peaceful ride from Pasadena Station turned out to be more than the suits had bargained for. After about an hour on the tracks, the train suddenly came to a screeching halt.  The confused passengers started craning their necks out the windows to figure just what had happened, then word starting spreading like wildfire that they were being held up! 


Now a bit nervous, Zukor and Lasky peeked outside to see a very imposing line of men in western garb surrounding their car with guns at the ready. Before their wide eyes had even adjusted to this imagery, two train robbers hopped aboard and stood before them: one was short with a large sombrero and mask, and the other was very tall, wearing a cowboy hat (culprit left) with a kerchief covering his lower face. While the held-up studio reps mentally started counting the golden doubloons in their pockets, the reality of the situation began to register. Zukor took a closer look. After squinting his eyes, he realized that the renegades looked familiar... When he knew that he had been fooled, Hart and Grauman revealed themselves. It took a bit of explaining to calm the rest of the passengers down, but eventually, the plot-- which the train's crew had helped conspire-- was revealed and the initial, fearful shivering turned into guffaws of laughter. It would take a showman (and money man) like Sid to orchestrate such a fiasco, but naturally, the acting talents of Hart helped.



Not everyone was so light-hearted when it came to tomfoolery. Clark Gable, for example, was actually a rather serious guy, and it took the feisty humor of his short-lived soul mate Carole Lombard to loosen him up a bit. Of course, when he lost her, Clark turned grave again and disappeared into a guilt-ridden spiral of self-loathing and alcoholism. Ironically, he would take a shine to Miss Congeniality, Ann Sheridan, and it is rumored that the two had a little liaison themselves. Perhaps this is true, and it would make sense, given that Ann's spirit of fun was very much in keeping with Carole's own delinquent deviance. Still, when he was on the set, unless surrounded by close and trusted friends, Clark always arrived on time, stuck to the script, hit his marks, and kept to business. He would struggle with this pattern throughout his final picture, The Misfits, when he was teamed with the temperamental and often inebriated duo of Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. Clark had a soft spot for both (see with MM, right), but was irritated by their occasional unstable behavior, which he deemed unprofessional. To boot, he was annoyed by the odd Method approach that both actors seemed to use, which he felt wasted far too much time and unnecessary discussion. Clark was a "just do it" kind of guy. 



So, the secretly self-conscious actor was not exactly on cloud nine when photographer Ernst Haas arrived on assignment to capture the cast, crew, and horses in action. It was one more annoyance that Clark couldn't bare, but he appreciated that Ernst at least kept out of the way and wasn't invasive. One day, Ernst was given the opportunity to watch some rushes. Not knowing that Mr. Gable was behind him, he was asked by a baiting grip what he thought of Clark's performance. Fortunately, Ernst had been very impressed with the touching and gutsy portrayal he had witnessed from the legend, who did some of his most compelling work in the film. Thus, his answer in reference to the previously viewed scene was: "It knocked me on my ass!" With that, a hefty bellow of laughter issued from behind him, and he felt the firm grip of a large hand on his shoulder. Initially embarrassed at his foul-mouthed response, Ernst quickly realized that his down and dirty, no-nonsense answer had won him the respect and friendship of the unknowable Clark Gable. Clark lightened up after that and even offered to help in getting some prize photo-ops for the young picture-taker. What a difference a laugh makes! (A hint of a smile, right).

Cary Grant was yet another co-star that Ann Sheridan had fun working with. While the two enjoyed each other's company tremendously, they would be considered more friendly acquaintances than "thick thieves." The reason was perhaps a matter of humor. Ann was much more bawdy, earthy, and sharp in her wisecracking. Cary, on the other hand, came from the old school of vaudeville slap-stick, punchline, and drummed buh-dum chink quips. He also, like Gable, was privately a much more serious man than many ever realized. Part of his protection from some of his personal pains was his projected image of perfection. Style certainly gave him a sense of control (left), which is why he gelled better with more polite and refined women like BFF Grace Kelly and, upon their teaming in Charade, Audrey Hepburn. Their female sensitivity also offered safe harbor to the little boy in him who was searching for the nurturing and comfort that was denied him as a child. 


"All man" but not what one would consider a "man's man," Cary opted for elegance and conversation over rough-housing and high-school hijinks, which made him contrast sharply with his other Charade co-star, Walter Matthau. Matthau (right) was the physical opposite of Cary, being a bit oafish and not exactly conventionally attractive. His uniquely unrefined voice has become as equally identifiable as the cockney Cary's, yet for very different reasons. Cary was aristocratic; Walter was a crotchety wisecracker from Nowhereville. Cary would get a very surprising introduction to Walter's "sufferin' succotash" repartee and unexpected, off-the-cuff sense of humor very early during production. James Coburn would bear witness to this while meeting Cary for the first time himself. Chatting with the eternal, cinematic leading man in his dressing room, the duo would be interrupted when Walter poked his infamous nose in: "Hey Jim, how are you?" he asked. "Did you ever see anybody do a better impression of Cary Grant than this guy?" With that, Walter shuffled away, leaving 'this guy' with an indescribable look on his face. It is perhaps the only time in history that anyone flustered Cary Grant. 

Cary in his most ridiculous and clowning role, Arsenic and Old Lace,
which (not surprisingly) he considered his worst performance.
I still love it!

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