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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Our Gang Pulling Loews' Plow

So where's harm in Hal Roach farming out his Rascals to personal-appear at Loew's Theatres during fall 1928 production break at Culver City? None so long as handlers don't overdo it, but wait, these kids were white-hot draws in a boom market a year ahead of Wall Street laying its egg, and what with golden ones the Gang laid at each stop, a stage was set for child laboring pushed to Dickension extreme. Try this for junior size: The Gang was set for thirty-one Loew theatre bows over a three-day period during October 1928 (averaging eleven houses a day), this after pulling three weeks between Chicago, Detroit, Chicago again, and then the Capitol in New York, Loew's Broadway flagship. Stops in St. Louis (for a week) and Kansas City would break up their travel back to the coast and renewed labor before Roach cameras. Why not just put them on a chain gang and have done with it?

Among Numerous Chicago Stops, Loews Shares Its Hot Properties with a Publix House

Said Variety: Little time is allotted for their (the Gang's) individual house kowtow, just long enough to be whisked in for an introduction from the stage or pit and out. Roach got payment for said live apps, the kids under personal contract to him and not Metro/Loews. Accompanying the troupe was Roach publicity director Ray Coffin, who m.c.'ed the shows and kept kids on a leash. Some parents were along, including Farina's mother, but there was a flap in New York when the Hotel Roosevelt refused accommodations to little Farina ... because of his color, said Variety. The Gang ended up at the Park Central instead. Trades noted that the same thing had happened to Farina in Cleveland. There was unwelcome press over the Roosevelt incident: The negro papers made quite a hullabaloo about it and streamlined the fact that a New York hotel had Jim Crowed the "Our Gang" outfit.

A Scene Perhaps Not Unlike Backstage Coaching at the Gang's Capitol Theatre Stand

Both Variety and The Motion Picture Herald sent reviewers to cover the Capitol's Saturday (9/15/28) unveil of Our Gang In Person, Variety pointing out that it looked as if half the mothers in Manhattan realized that they could never square themselves with the offspring if they didn't take the family. A thirty-five cent admission before 1:00 jammed the house, Capitol management thrilled over a new and different type of audience for the Rascals. Joe Cobb, Farina, Harry Spear, Jean Darling, Mary Ann Jackson, Wheezer, and Pete The Pup did their twenty-minute stand halfway through the theatre's stage presentation, which included various acts along musical and revue lines, plus a comic acrobat turn. It was acknowledged that the kids weren't so funny in person as in their comedies, that base covered by the Capitol's use of School Begins, Roach's latest Gang two-reeler, which was unspooled ahead of the moppets coming out to re-enact scenes just film-shown. It was an awkward device, but the kids weren't stage troupers, having learned performing skills before a camera rather than live viewers.

Bedtime Yet? Not Until the Gang Wraps Up Today's
Eleven Live Appearances ...
The Gang's resident teacher, Mrs. Fern Carter, had been brought along, maybe to help coach the act. Ray Coffin would first come out and introduce the youngsters one by one to deafening applause. Might not have been a great idea, said trades, for the Capitol to put the Rascals halfway through its stage portion, for that interfered with "needed spill," kid onlookers clearing out early or entering late so as to steadily turn over the audience and keep lobby delay to a minimum. Up-the-street rival the Paramount Theatre had moved crowds more efficiently for a recent Jackie Coogan turn, putting him early or late on the bill, depending on need to drive the mob. There was a science to running venues that seated thousands, as was usual case at these Broadway leviathans, all run with military precision now being applied to Our Gang.

Poor Buster Was An Afterthought at Broadway Preem of The Cameraman

Response to Roach's Rascals was positive. It was, after all, enough just to see them in person(s). What matter if they had little to do once brought out? They are not painfully precocious as is often the case with theatrical children, said Variety. These six kids are glamorous and heroic to the imaginations of junior America and the adults like them for their naturalness. Almost incidental to the hubbub was the Capitol's feature attraction that week, The Cameraman, with Buster Keaton. Exhibitors had to be wary of MGM salesmen coming to them after such a program crowing, Look what a smash The Cameraman was on Broadway! You need to grab it quick! What wouldn't be disclosed was the six little reasons The Cameraman filled seats. Loew's, like all majors, used star acts to puff up grosses that would make otherwise programmers look like roaring hits, and however we revere Buster Keaton's first work for Metro, it wasn't the big noise that week at the Capitol, and experienced showmen weren't fooled by field reps saying it was. If nothing else told the score, certainly the Capitol ad at top, in which Keaton is not even pictured, would.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Forget about live appearances (though their's were SPECTACULAR) a THREE STOOGES short at the front of the bill guaranteed a packed house. But the credit for such success always went to the feature film in large part so that Columbia could continue to pay THE STOOGES far less than they were worth. Harry Cohn knew what they were worth. Right after he died THE STOOGES were dumped. That turned out to be the best thing that could happen to Moe and Larry (Curly & Shemp having gone to glory as that third part was a killer). When they came back they came back HUGE. They were the first live act to fill Toronto's giant CNE Stadium. We have not lived until we have seen great comedies with a few thousand people. The sound of all that laughter is incredible. Those days are gone never to return.

6:51 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Buster was coming off of 3 flops in a row at the time. I guess they figured he needed help.

3:56 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

And those three flops, THE GENERAL, COLLEGE, STEAMBOAT BILL, JR, are awesome films.

The problem was the United Artists, which released them, did not have access to theaters as MGM did through its parent, Loewes.

Keaton's MGM films were bigger successes financially not because they were better films (tho' THE CAMERAMAN is perfect and SPITE MARRIAGE is close) but because they had the benefit of better venues.

3:00 PM  

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