Greenbriar Offers Its First Reissue
Imagining The Life Of Bill Wolfe
The following post was written seven and a half years ago. I posted it as an extended joke, but a few folks wondered if it wasn't a true story of support and background man Bill Wolfe, and to that I'd say, why not? There are Hollywood truths less likely than what follows, so I'll leave it for others to decide if these Bill-events might actually have happened. He'll not speak for himself, having died in 1975, but immortality lives on in glimpses constantly got in Gold Age classics (his last credited part as a "barfly" in 1950's The Nevadan), and myriad instance where he stooges for Bill Fields.
Ever been so frustrated by the lack of information on a favorite personality that you’d resort to inventing your own biography for him/her? Well, today’s spot of April Foolery is Greenbriar's imagining of the life of Bill Wolfe, the stalwart stooge who enlivened a number of W.C. Fields comedies with his ultra-low-key, cadaverous presence. I’d like to think Bill enjoyed an exciting and romantic life off-screen --- why should his admittedly skeletal, undernourished appearance deprive him of
Bill agrees to fill in for pal Jack Barrymore when the "Hamlet" star twists an ankle backstage. It’s just one performance, but the audience was still talking about it months later when harried producers made a bid to replace Barrymore with Wolfe. "Can’t do that to a friend", says Bill, but still-in-a-pique Barrymore refuses to speak to him for the next ten years.
Despite Mayor Jimmy Walker’s recent Prohibition crackdown, Bill throws an “invitation only” champagne breakfast (trouble is, he sent out 400 invites!) that keeps the lights burning at Texas Guinan’s nightclub for three days. Bill later confesses that, “…maybe it got a little out of hand.”
Teenage Follies showgirl Louise Brooks embarrasses Bill when she refuses to vacate his digs at the St. Regis after a night of intense lovemaking. Decades later, her explicit recollections of the event are judiciously edited from an otherwise revealing PBS documentary.
Bill graciously volunteers to take over crowd control at the Valentino funeral in 1926. After all, he’d once rescued Rudy from a gigolo’s fate by getting him some extra work on
When Doug Fairbanks chickens out on a hazardous Iron Mask stunt, Bill pinch hits for him and leaves premiere audiences aghast. "Let’s not say anymore about it" is modest Bill’s only statement for a curious fan mag columnist.
Some busy body at the Coconut Grove tells Bill that cowboy star Ken Maynard's being cruel to his horse, Tarzan, over at Universal. In a rare show of temper, Bill strides over to Ken’s table and gives him a good pasting right then and there. Next day, it’s all handshakes and forgiveness. "Guy’s got a right hook like a jackhammer!" admits Ken, as he gives Tarzan some extra sugar cubes under Bill’s watchful eye.
Bill takes up for one-time boyhood chum John Gilbert by rebuffing Irving Thalberg’s plea that he replace Jack in the Red Dust lead. Seems
Feisty Bette Davis gives producer Hal Wallis ulcers when she demands that Jezebel director William Wyler be replaced with “the absolute love of my life” Bill Wolfe. Much-amused Wolfe turns down the offer. “Grow up!” says he to besotted B.D. Off the record, he later confides, “… one night and they think they own you!” to sympathetic columnist Jimmy Fidler.
Seeking to assist family friend and former Broadway juve Humphrey Bogart (Bill had once co-authored a medical journal piece with Bogie’s physician dad), Wolfe advises thuggish dumbbell actor George Raft not to accept the leads in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon. When he’s reminded of it years later, Bill gets a belated attack of guilt and arranges for buddy Frank Sinatra to throw down-and-out George a couple days work on Ocean’s 11.
Irrepressible bad-boy Errol Flynn’s carrying teenage nymphet cargo on his yacht again, and right after he’s been acquitted before an
Patriotic Bill is forfeiting a night at the clubs to put in a volunteer stint dishwashing at the Hollywood Canteen when he hears a ruckus in the parking lot. Seems a bunch of Marines are getting fresh with starlet-hostess Yvonne De Carlo, so good-guy Bill lends a hand by taking on the whole battalion! Within minutes, the ground’s fairly littered with chastened leathernecks. "Let’s remember we’re gentlemen, boys," he tells the penitent warriors, "… besides, we’d all rather see you whip Hitler than an old duffer like me." Reporters were amused when they noticed Yvonne’s enthusiastic attentions toward her shining knight. "I’m stuck to Bill like glue!" said she as a scarlet-faced Wolfe rushed back to his dishes!
Bill’s own induction was delayed by what he referred to as a "military snafu," but insiders knew that the old rascal had lied about his age. Long-time padre (and navy Admiral) "Bull" Halsey finally gave Wolfe his own vessel, but how could he have anticipated that Bill would sail the thing right into
Delores catches Bob dead-to-rights in Marilyn Maxwell’s apartment, and it’s the night before he’s supposed to host the 1951 Oscars! Soft-touch Bill agrees to step in, but Bob’s let out of the doghouse just before the curtain. The two old friends share a laugh about the whole thing at Musso and Frank’s the next day. Twenty years later, loyal Bill stakes Hope and Maxwell’s love-child to a Harvard education. "I don’t care if it’s Bob’s or mine," he says, "Every kid deserves a leg up!"