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Monday, November 04, 2013

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 Hollywood’s high life? Whatever wrongs were done to Bill by way of neglect or indifference, we are here to right at Greenbriar's Theatre Of The Imagination --- so here goes with some memorable moments from the life Bill Wolfe should have had ---

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 Long Island. Trouble is, once Bill on horseback gets out among the mob in front of Campbell’s Mortuary, frenzied femmes get one look at him and forget all about Rudy! Pulled down from his mount, Good Samaritan Bill has to be rescued by cops.

Arriving in Hollywood, Bill begs old friend Joe Schenck not to sell Buster Keaton's contract to Metro. Then he implores Buster not to go along, but the advice goes unheeded. Years later, Schenck admits he was wrong when loyal Bill accompanies him to the train headed for federal prison. Seems poor Joe had also ignored Bill’s recommendation that he pay those income taxes!

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 Irving thought Bill would be perfect to star opposite up and coming bombshell Jean Harlow. Discussion of the matter doesn’t go beyond Thalberg’s office. "After all," says Bill, "hasn’t Jack had enough disappointment?" Several years later, eventual Red Dust star Clark Gable sees Bill at the Troc. "Thanks for the break," he murmurs as they pass each other at the bar. "Don’t know what you’re talking about, Clark," replies a subdued Bill.

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 L.A. jury on statutory charges! Bill spies the contraband through his binoculars and lends a much-needed hand. “Chiggers, Errol! It’s the harbor police!” yells Bill as he comes up alongside on his own launch. “Thanks, pal. You must have eyes in the back of your head!” laughs Flynn as he and the girls beat a hasty nautical retreat.

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 Tokyo Bay --- and in the week before the surrender!

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!"


Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

The only thing missing is photoshopping Bill Wolfe into all the pictures.

I really enjoyed this.

2:42 PM  
Blogger JARVIS----Chicago said...

Your BILL WOLFE biography is most enjoyable and the photos are great (quality) just as they are. I'm sure that your imaginative narrative will soon be posted as fact at IMDb, a tribute to your convincing tongue-in-cheek style!
Earlier, someone (can't remember who) submitted the "true" facts of BILL WOLFE's life for those of us interested in them. The problem is that they come from IMDb which are TOTALLY INCORRECT!
I followed the IMDb "WILLIAM WOLF" from birth (14 Aug 1894) in NYC to MAX and MINNIE WOLF to his death in LA (16 Feb 1975). I found no evidence that he ever acted in films or vaudeville (although that's possible).
His 1917 WWI Draft Card describes him as "short" and "medium build". His 1942 WWII Draft Card lists him as "5'2" and 155 lbs." and "self-employed". These "facts" should eliminate him as W C FIELDS foil and a western movie supporting player. I can supply "documentation" for anyone interested.

Fellow researcher, JESSE BRISSON, found the "real" BILL WOLF for DAVE LORDHEATH's ANM Site.
With "documentation", he follows him (WILLIAM MARTIN WOLFE) from birth in Brookston, TX (18 Nov 1881) to his probable death in LA (7 Jan 1956).
His WWI (1917) Draft Card describes him as "tall" and "slender".
His WWII (1942) Draft Card describes him as "6'0" and "135 lbs." and "free lance actor".

Here is the link to JESSE's documentation at ANM for those who may be interested.

11:39 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks so much for this info, Jarvis. Lots of fascinating data here. Of posts I've written since 2005, this one remains my favorite. Bill Wolfe forever!

1:22 PM  

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