Classic Hollywood Comedians and Queered Masculinity
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Wayne State University Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
Like many first books, this work represents a long journey through various universities, libraries, conferences, and classrooms. Foremost, I am indebted to Maureen Turim, who saw early on that my obsession with Classic Hollywood comedians masked possibly a greater obsession with the limitations of gender labels. During my time at the University of Florida, her mentorship was ...
Introduction: “Someone Like Me for a Member”
After creating a string of successful slapstick comedies, Woody Allen wrote and directed possibly his most acclaimed work with Annie Hall (1977). The film is often celebrated as the first truly postclassical romantic comedy since it moved away from farcical plot into a comically enhanced, stream-of-consciousness meditation on post-sexual-revolution gender relationships.1 Yet the ...
1. “Novelties and Notions”
Throughout the latter half of 1939, Universal Studios’ pairing of Mae West and W. C. Fields in what would eventually become My Little Chickadee (1940) was big news in the industry. After being dropped by Paramount Studios and remaining off screen for two years, West’s contract negotiations were reported as a top story, routinely making the front page of Daily Variety. Her eventual ...
2. Con Men and Henpecked Husbands
The above description of W. C. Fields comes from a peculiar article titled “A Red Nose Romeo,” written as the comedian was establishing himself as a topbilled draw at Paramount Studios. Not as tongue in cheek as one might expect, the piece is the rare occasion of a publicity article overtly sexualizing a male comic. While not suggesting the same levels of sexual icon status as Mae West, ...
3. “Whitefacing” the Nebbish
In the joke-filled dictionary The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten provides a definition of nebech (as he suggests the primary spelling) that contains some decidedly telling connotations. He writes it suggests, as a noun, an “innocuous, ineffectual, weak, helpless or hapless unfortunate. A Sad Sack. A ‘loser’ . . . 3. A nonentity; ‘a nothing of a person.’ ”1 He provides nebbish as a word that ...
4. Queered Radio / Queered Cinema
Unlike the other Classic Hollywood stars this book covers, Jack Benny can be unquestionably classified as a radio comedian, a new type of celebrity that emerged in popular culture during the 1930s.1 While Eddie Cantor found major success on the air with The Chase and Sanborn Hour, his celebrity was fostered on the Broadway stage and expanded through his motion pictures ...
5. Queering the Fraternity
Written as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were gaining widespread celebrity in sound shorts, the above observation acknowledges one of the key points stressed throughout this book. The comedians of Classic Hollywood could serve as points of identification for the male public, who could “see themselves” in the comedians’ outsider positions. As comics embraced often-neglected ...
6. Military Disservice
On September 14, 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into effect the Selective Training and Service Act, historically a marker of the American government’s fear of the looming threat of world war in Europe. This act, the first peacetime draft in American history, required men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty to register with local draft boards.1 As this suggests, Roosevelt’s ...
Conclusion: Beyond Classic Hollywood / Beyond Buffoonish Masculinity
One of the highlights of the 2007 Academy Awards ceremony begins with comedian Will Ferrell sitting next to a piano, holding a single rose, and wistfully singing the above lyrics. The tempo then picks up as fellow comic Jack Black rushes onto the stage. Black asks, through song, why Ferrell ever expected to be accepted by the Hollywood community: “What did you think? / That you ...