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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ann Butler and Jay Brennan --- Say Who?


You Don't Know The Half Of It (1929) Captures a Vaudeville Moment

I'll not try too hard getting this straight: Jay Brennan began with a male partner who impersonated a woman for their stage act, the latter killed by a bolt of lightning which necessitated replacement by another man as woman, then came Ann Butler to enact, closely as possible, a woman being a man being a woman. Vaudeville history needs scorekeep better than mine for minutia like this. We wouldn't notice or care but for unearthing (by Warner Archive) of curiosities like You Don't Know The Half Of It, which is mostly Butler telling Brennan of odd men she's known (they're odd?). Songs and patter are fun, one's called Can You Imagine A Guy Like That?, and no, we can't. It was important for performers, and their audience, to be hep to slang, more so then than today, I suspect. Easy too for us to get lost amidst torrents of catch-phrasing here, but that's joy of a jazz age as conveyed by entertainers who'd thrive mostly on stage, and leave but a glimpse of themselves on film. I found no more than smatter of credits for Brennan and Butler other than You Don't Know The Half Of It. Like so many others, they laid down the act and faded to obscurity. Luckily today there are family members of vaudeville/Vitaphone folk to pursue film and disc that survive, some even bearing costs of mating the media so ancestor's work can be enjoyed again.

1 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers sex role reversals of past pics:


"You Don't Know the Half of It" suggests that "Viktor und Vicktoria," the 1933 German comedy, was not made out of whole clothe, but found an existing model in vaudeville and music halls around the western world, also that our seeming sophistication in matters sexual is simply a vanquishing of limits and boundaries, different but less rich than what past generations knew, for those very limits and their channeling of sexuality.

Recently, TCM showed "First a Girl," a free translation of "Viktor und Viktoria" as a vehicle for the delightful Jessie Matthews, whose androgynous qualities no doubt appealed to those who had enjoyed a British public school education, while being no less pleasing to those who sought more conventional paths. Why Miss Matthews never made the transition to Hollywood is puzzling, except that it could never have been as a partner to Fred Astaire, as apparently once was considered. If Ginger Rogers gave Fred "sex"--that is, as in sex appeal--he would have still been looking for it with Jessie.

Blake Edwards of course had a big hit with "Victor Victoria," and though I love Julie Andrews and find the movie entertaining, the interruptions where it claps itself on the back for its supposed enlightenment become tiresome. If only Blake had resisted the temptation to allow James Garner to look in on Julie's bath, we might have given his conceits a little more credence.

8:22 AM  

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