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Friday, October 05, 2007

Greenbriar Weekend Marquee

Any fresh image of Louise Brooks comes welcome to her followers, even when the subject is one so debased as the ghastly and pathetic Windy Riley Goes Hollywood, a two-reeler she made for Educational Pictures in 1931. Brooks would never have sunk to this were she not flat broke. Stars on their uppers did Educationals. Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon were two. The company booked comedies into theatres that couldn’t afford MGM’s better Hal Roach shorts. The 1931-32 season was actually a high point for Educational. Trade ads promised fifty-two two-reelers and seventy-six single reel subjects. Many of these were produced by Mack Sennett, the fallen king of slapstick now but a year away from bankruptcy. Windy Riley was a comic strip character among hundreds vying for newspaper space. He was a not so appealing loudmouth and braggart who got his comeuppance daily (as in the sample shown here). Windy's creator was artist Ken Kling. The strip began in December 1927 and was gone by 1932. Windy Riley Goes Hollywood would be the character’s only movie foray. A vaudevillian named Jack Shutta played it obnoxious as befitting his comic inspiration. The short would yet reside in public domain obscurity were it not for Louise Brooks. I read she got $500 for her second billed part, but I’ll bet it wasn’t half that. About all Louise did for this thing was show up. Talk about the diary of a lost girl. Among frustrations (for the audience) are chorines performing as Louise prepares to enter the scene. Just as she does, the camera cuts away! Educational’s crack director (re the pressbook) was one William Goodrich, nom de plume for still disgraced Roscoe Arbuckle, working his way out of a hole he’d dug at the St. Francis Hotel back in 1921. Brooks would recall his looking like a dead man sitting in a canvas chair. Maybe she saw a little of herself in the defeated Arbuckle. He’d have a comeback the following year for Warners, cut short by premature death in 1933. For Louise Brooks, Windy Riley led to nothing other than bits, appearances left on editing floors, and thankless, if not degrading, "girl" parts in budget westerns. These ad cuts and exploitation samples are the first I’ve seen for Windy Riley Goes Hollywood. Ten so-called action photos in 8X10 size were issued, along with four 11X14 lobby cards, as well as a one-sheet, but I don’t know of a Brooks collector in possession of these. The short itself is an extra on Kino’s Diary Of A Lost Girl DVD. Pictorial quality is appropriately wretched.

Superman’s on the tarmac! No doubt parents had some explaining to do when Junior observed the Man Of Steel resorting to commercial air travel instead of flying himself to Asheville, NC that fourth week of August in 1957. George Reeves and musical company, including Noel Neill, were there to put on shows at the City Auditorium on the 26th and 27th. Noel would remember North Carolina for its poor audiences. There was one performance where only three people showed up, two parents bringing their kid. The show went on, though dispirited George spent solitary hotel nights nursing his bottle and ruminating over dollars lost setting up (and paying for) the tour. Noel Neill’s account of his frustrations can be found in an outstanding book, Truth, Justice, and The American Way, which includes many rare photos (including one shown here of the musical aggregation on stage in Asheville). I wonder how many boomers have transported their imaginations back to these personal appearances. Some were lucky enough to have been in attendance when George came to their town. Most times preferring the Clark Kent guise, occasionally he'd wear the Superman costume to pose with fans. The ad shown here was for a Bluefield, West Virginia gig. Note the promise of seeing the entire cast of the television show. Reeves’ troupe used his Benedict Canyon house for rehearsals, but ended up moving out to the patio, as rooms inside were too small. People imagine George was into big bucks playing Superman, but not so. Noel Neill remembered more money doing college speaking engagements in the seventies than she ever got from the show. We once drove past George’s residence during a trip to California, ritual I suppose for anyone who watched The Adventures Of Superman. Pretty spartan place, but what ghosts must still dwell within. Jack Benny, Lucy, and the rest had things a lot better a few miles up the road. I’ve seen recent videos of the bedroom George occupied. You could barely have gotten a double bunk in there, let alone twins. Those stage performances must have been fun though. Reeves was handy with string instruments and could sing too. There was a wrestling buddy along they called Mister Kryptonite. He and George went to the mat for each show. Imagine the mob you’d have if such a thing could be staged today. Many fans have attended these shows in their dreams. I know I’d love to have been the fourth person in the audience that day in Asheville …


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Post! I've seen that Louise Brooks short on the DVD. It's sad how in this talkie, she's so unremarkable.

12:11 AM  
Anonymous east side said...

You might as well title this, "How The Mighty Have Fallen." I'm not sure whose fate was sadder, Louise's or George's.

8:12 AM  
Blogger The Great Bolo Guy said...


MR. KRYPTONITE was, in fact, Gene LeBell, one of George's closest friends.

More on Gene, who is still with us, can be found at

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Erik said...

I lived outside of the country when George Reeves' SUPERMAN was in heavy syndication rerun, and by the time I had the opportunity to see one on a broadcast schedule, I had heard too much about Reeves' death, couldn't bring myself to watch one.

I've read about Louise Brooks as she is in so many Hollywood books, but have yet to see an actual film of hers. Is there a particular film which demonstrates her skill?

11:25 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

"Is there a particular film which demonstrates her skill?"

Pandora's Box

I've never seen "Beggars of Life" Is it available?

12:36 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I'd agree that "Pandora's Box" is probably the best. Too bad most of her American films are lost.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

That West Virginia "Superman" ad was the product of some publicity man's overzealous imagination. Notice that the character names are lifted right out of comic book covers.

Neither "Jimmy Olsen" nor "Perry White" were at any of the dates on this tour. Indeed, John Hamilton appeared feeble enough in the final season - I can't imagine how tired he'd look had he gone on tour with George and Noel.

The "Fair Tour", as it became known (due to many of the gigs being state and county fairs) had some profitable dates. The Billboard, which covered all sorts of "amusements" back then, published the take on several. Sadly, those auditorium appearances in the south were definitely on the bottom rung.

12:22 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks for your always expert input on this subject, Michael. That ad is a bit misleading, as I figured John Hamilton never actually made those live gigs, and I'd not heard Jack Larson mention having done one.

7:01 AM  

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