A Priceless Piece Of Vaudeville Still With Us
Conlin and Glass Do Sharps and Flats (1928)
This is a Vitaphone short, one of a couple Jimmy Conlin and Myrtle Glass did for WB between vaude engagements. Conlin and Glass were accomplished at cross talk and rough housing. They had an act called Morning, Noon, and Night that was intro'ed in 1925 and honed to perfection by time of Vitaphoning as Sharps and Flats. These eight minutes have played to convulsed crowds at both UCLA and The Film Forum, and are now part of Warner Archive's first volume of Vita shorts. Certain ancients are immune to time and can light up even after eighty-eight years. Conlin and Glass probably never dreamed they'd be first among small-timers strutting and fretting to 2016 acclaim, but there it is. Sharps and Flats does need an audience, the thing fairly begging for call/response from the mob thanks to repeat bellow of "Whoa!" from Jimmy and offscreen kibitzers. These were hid behind curtains for the vaudeville act as well, seen and unseen comics putting over "Whoa!" as abbreviated catch-phrase contagious now as then. From accounts I've read, departing crowds from recent runs were shouting it back/forth and into streets. When a funny phrase is heard for a first time in generations, it might as well be new.
Before camera Conlin and Glass worked at a same disadvantage that we do when watching their act on TV. No one to play to or react with. What's the fun of yelling "Whoa!" into a mirror? Jimmy Conlin had begun in vaudeville for B.F. Keith in 1906, that being a long time to hone your act to 1928, and Jimmy kept going until 1962 (he's in Anatomy Of A Murder, plus most of the Preston Sturges comedies). Teaming with Myrtle came first on the stage in 1918; they'd marry the same year. Deeper inquiry into long departed acts often puts human face on them: the couple had a daughter, "Bunny," in 1919, then lost her at age six in 1925. Conlin and Glass had built their skits around crossfire conversation, a handy piano, and Jimmy doing falls. Occasionally they'd take a thud, like one time at
Morning, Noon, and Night was introduced in 1925 at fifteen minutes. Reviews spotted "one or two draggy spots" that Conlin and Glass would presumably iron out, but "Whoa!" was there plus Myrtle pummeling Jimmy at the piano. What's interesting is evolution of the act from here to permanent record of Vitaphone's capture. There was a golf-themed song, business with a canoe and Conlin falling out of it, then the finish with Myrtle performing Morning, Noon, and Night to Jimmy's piano accompany. A thing I noted about the review was its mention of a gag idea "also being used by Matthews and Ayres," another vaude team. Trades were a vigilant monitor for stuff being "borrowed" or outright stolen between acts, and would blow a whistle where unfair liberty was taken. What we have in Sharps and Flats is rich sample of seasoned folk laying imprint for all time of comedy they'd spent years developing. Much seems ad-libbed, which it wasn't, being greatness of a routine whittled to perfection by a couple whose work is still filling houses with laughter whenever Sharps and Flats is revived.