Oliver Hardy -Well here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into

Best known as one half of the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, the American comedian and actor Oliver Hardy was born 18th January 1892.Laurel and Hardy were one of the most popular and critically acclaimed comedy double acts of the early Classical Hollywood era of American cinema. Composed of thin Englishman Stan Laurel (1890–1965) and large American Oliver Hardy (1892–1957), they became well known during the late 1920′s to the mid-1940′s for their slapstick comedy, with Laurel playing the clumsy and childlike friend of the pompous Hardy. They made over 100 films together, initially two-reelers (short films) before expanding into feature length films in the 1930s. Their films include SONS OF THE DESERT (1933), the Academy Award winning short film The Music Box (1932), BABES IN TOYLAND (1934), and WAY OUT WEST (1937). Hardy’s catchphrase “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” is still widely recognized.

Prior to the double act both were established actors with Laurel appearing in over 50 films and Hardy in over 250 films. Although the two comedians first worked together on the film The Lucky Dog (1921), this was a chance pairing and it was not until 1926, when both separately signed contracts with the Hal Roach film studio, that they began appearing in movie shorts together. Laurel and Hardy officially became a team the following year in the silent short film Putting Pants on Philip (1927). The pair remained with the Roach studio until 1940, then appeared in eight “B” comedies for 20th Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1941 to 1945. After finishing their movie commitments at the end of 1944, they concentrated on stage shows, embarking on a music hall tour of England, Ireland, and Scotland] In 1950 they made their last film, a French/Italian co-production called Atoll K, before retiring from the screen.

In total they appeared together in 107 films. They starred in 40 short sound films, 32 short silent films and 23 full-length feature films, and made 12 guest or cameo appearances, including the recently discovered Galaxy of Stars promotional film (1936).A common comedy routine was a tit-for-tat fight. Their silent film Big Business (1929), which includes one of these routines, was added to the Library of Congress as a national treasure in 1992. Notable Laurel traits included crying like a baby while being berated and scratching his hair when in shock. On December 1, 1954, the team made their only American television appearance, surprised by Ralph Edwards on his live NBC-TV program, This Is Your Life. The works of Laurel and Hardy have been re-released in numerous theatrical reissues, television revivals, 16mm and 8mm home movies, feature-film compilations, and home videos since the 1930s. They were voted the seventh greatest comedy act in a 2005 UK poll by fellow comedians. The duo’s signature tune, known variously as “The Cuckoo Song”, “Ku-Ku”, or “The Dance of the Cuckoos”, played on the opening credits of their films. The official Laurel and Hardy appreciation society is known as The Sons of the Desert, after a fraternal society in their film of the same name.

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and now for something completely different: Graham Chapman (Monty Python)

The Late, Great Graham Chapman would have celebrated his birthday on 8th January had he not tragically died in 1989. He started out in the 1960′s writing professionally for the BBC alongside John Cleese, initially for David Frost, but also for Marty Feldman. Chapman also contributed sketches to the BBC radio series I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again and television programmes such as The Illustrated Weekly Hudd (starring Roy Hudd), Cilla Black, This is Petula Clark, and This Is Tom Jones. Chapman, Cleese, and Tim Brooke-Taylor later joined Feldman in the television comedy series At Last the 1948 Show. There, Chapman displayed a gift for deadpan comedy (particularly evident in the sketch “The Minister Who Falls to Pieces”) and for imitating various British dialects. Chapman and Cleese also wrote for the long-running television comedy series Doctor in the House. Chapman also co-wrote several episodes with Bernard McKenna and David Sherlock.

Chapman joined British sketch comedy series Monty Python alongside Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, which was first aired on BBC One on the 5th October 1969. The shows were composed of surreality, risqué or innuendo-laden humour, sight gags and observational sketches without punchlines. It also featured Terry Gilliam’s wonderful and imaginatively bizarre animations, often sequenced or merged with live action. Broadcast by the BBC. with 45 episodes airing over four series from 1969 to 1974, The show often targets the idiosyncrasies of British life, especially that of professionals, and is at times politically charged, and over the years many of the sketches have attained classic status including The Lumberjack Song, Ministry of Silly Walks, Upper class twit of the Year,Spam song, The Dead Parrot Sketch and Bicycle Repair Man. The members of Monty Python were all highly educated. Terry Jones and Michael Palin are Oxford University graduates; Eric Idle, John Cleese, and Graham Chapman attended Cambridge University; and American-born member Terry Gilliam is an Occidental College graduate. Chapman also played the lead roles in two of the Python’s Films – Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Life of Brian

After reuniting with the other Pythons in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Chapman began a lengthy series of American college tours where he would tell the audience anecdotes about Monty Python, the Dangerous Sports Club, Keith Moon, and other subjects. In 1988, he appeared in the Iron Maiden video Can I Play with Madness. Chapman also secured funding for his much cherished pirate project Yellowbeard in 1982. Once again, Chapman collaborated with writer Bernard McKenna and for the first time with Peter Cook. The film, which starred Chapman as the eponymous pirate, also featured appearances from Peter Cook, Marty Feldman, Cleese, Idle, Spike Milligan, and Cheech & Chong. It marks the last appearance of Feldman, who suffered a fatal heart attack during shooting. It was released in 1983 to mixed reviews. His final project was to have been a TV series called Jake’s Journey. Although the pilot episode was made, there were difficulties selling the project. Chapman was also to have played a guest role as a television presenter in the Red Dwarf episode “Timeslides”, but died before filming was to have started.

Charles Addams (Addams Family)

The American cartoonist Charles “Chas” Samuel Addams was born 7 January 1912 in Westfield, New Jersey. His father encouraged him to draw from an early age, and Addams did cartoons for the Westfield High School student literary magazine, Weathervane. He attended Colgate University in 1929 and 1930, and the University of Pennsylvania, where a fine-arts building on campus is named after him, in 1930 and 1931. In front of the building there is also a sculpture of the silhouettes of Addams Family characters. He then studied at the Grand Central School of Art in New York City in 1931 and 1932.

In 1933 he joined the layout department of True Detective magazine, where he had to retouch photos of corpses that appeared in the magazine’s stories to remove the blood from them. Addams complained that “A lot of those corpses were more interesting the way they were.” His first drawing in The New Yorker ran on February 6, 1932 (a sketch of a window washer), and his cartoons ran regularly in the magazine from 1938, when he drew the first instance of what came to be called the Addams Family. He remained a freelancer throughout that time

The Addams Family, were known for their particularly black humour and macabre antics and The Addams Family television series began after David Levy, a television producer, approached Addams with an offer to create it with a little help from the humorist. All Addams had to do was give his characters names and more characteristics for the actors to use in portrayals. The series ran on ABC for two seasons, from 1964 to 1966. and also became the basis for two two animated TV series, three motion pictures, and a Broadway musical. Addams was “sociable and debonair,” and was described by a biographer as “A well-dressed, courtly man with silvery back-combed hair and a gentle manner, he bore no resemblance to a fiend.” Addams was a bit of a lady’s man and was also friends with Greta Garbo, Joan Fontaine, and Jacqueline Kennedy.

Addams sadly Passed Away on September 29, 1988 at St. Clare’s Hospital and Health Center in New York City, having suffered a heart attack while still in his car after parking it. An ambulance took him from his apartment to the hospital, where he died in the emergency room. As he had requested, a wake was held rather than a funeral; he had wished to be remembered as a “good cartoonist”. He was cremated and his ashes were buried in the pet cemetery of his estate “The Swamp”.

The Hogfather

I have recently watched the entertaining two-part Television adaptation of Terry Pratchetts 20th Discworld novel “The Hogfather” Which was nominated for a British Fantasy Award in 1997. It stars Joss Ackland, David Jason, Michelle Dockery and Marc Warren. It begins when The Ghostly Auditors of Discworld decide to eliminate the Hogfather, because he no longer fits into their modern view of the universe. The Hogfather is the Discworld equivelent of Father Christmas, granting children’s wishes on Hogswatchnight (December 32) and bringing them presents. So The Aditors meet with Lord Downey, head of the Assassin’s Guild, and commission the services of an Assassin named Mr Teatime, (pronounced Tee-Ah Tim-aye) to “inhume” the Hogfather and other anthropomorphic personifications such as the tooth Fairy and the Verucca Gnome whom they also deem surplus to requirements.

Elsewhere Death discovers that an unusually large number of people are dying before they should and when the Hogfather mysteriously vanishes. People then stop believing in the Hogfather, however this lack of belief could have a catastrophic effect on Discworld and the very survival of Discworld itself depends upon Death’s intervention, so he decides to take over The Hogfather’s job by donning a red cloak and a beard, in order to make people continue to believe in him. However Death being Death, doesn’t quite get the Subtle nuances of being the Hogfather and this has some rather strange and amusing consequences. Elsewhere Death’s granddaughter Susan Sto Helit Tries to locate the real Hogfather. She visits his Castle of Bones only to find the hung-over Bilious, the “Oh God” of Hangovers, whom she rescues before the castle collapses due to the lack of belief.

Susan then visits the Unseen University, where it is discovered that several small gods and other beings are being created by the Unseen University’s thinking machine, Hex, because there is ‘spare belief’ in the world – due to the absence of the Hogfather – and this is enabling Hex to create new gods. Susan and Bilious then travel to the land of the Tooth Fairy in pursuit of Jonathan Teatime and the Hogfather. Here they discover that he has ‘killed’ the Hogfather by collecting millions of children’s teeth which he is using  to control the children, and is forcing them to stop believing in the Hogfather. So Susan pursues the assassin Mr Teatime and tries to rescue the Hogfather and learns that it is all part of a sinister agreement between Teatime and the Auditors.

Charlie Chaplin

English Comic actor and filmmaker Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin, KBE sadly died 25 December 1977. He was born 16 April 1889 and rose to fame in the silent film era, he became a worldwide icon through his screen persona “the Tramp” and is considered one of the most important figures of the film industry. Chaplin’s had an impoverished childhood in London ; his father left and his mother struggled financially, he was sent to a workhouse twice before the age of nine. When he was 14, his mother was committed to a mental asylum. Chaplin began performing at an early age, touring music halls and later working as a stage actor and comedian. At 19 he was signed to the prestigious Fred Karno company, which took him to America. Chaplin was scouted for the film industry, and began appearing in 1914 for Keystone Studios. He soon developed the Tramp persona and formed a large fan base. Chaplin directed his films from an early stage, and continued to hone his craft as he moved to the Essanay, Mutual, and First National corporations. By 1918, he was one of the best known figures in the world.

THE KID. http://youtu.be/zry8iPrHtjA

In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the distribution company United Artists, which gave him complete control over his films. His first feature-length was The Kid (1921), followed by A Woman of Paris (1923), The Gold Rush (1925), and The Circus (1928). He refused to move to sound films in the 1930s, instead producing City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936) without dialogue. Chaplin became increasingly political and his next film, The Great Dictator (1940), satirised Adolf Hitler. The 1940s were a decade marked with controversy for Chaplin, and his popularity declined rapidly. He was accused of communist sympathies, while his involvement in a paternity suit and marriages to much younger women caused scandal. An FBI investigation was opened, and Chaplin was forced to leave the United States and settle in Switzerland. He abandoned the Tramp in his later films, which include Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Limelight (1952), A King in New York (1957), and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967).

Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in, and composed the music for most of his films. He was a perfectionist, and his financial independence enabled him to spend years on the development and production of a picture. His films are characterised by slapstick combined with pathos, typified in the Tramp’s struggles against adversity. Many contain social and political themes, as well as autobiographical elements. In 1972, as part of a renewed appreciation for his work, Chaplin received an Honorary Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century”. He sadly passed away 25 December 1977 although he continues to be held in high regard, with The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator often ranked among industry lists of the greatest films of all time.

Spike Jones

The late, great musician and bandleader, Lindley Armstrong “Spike” Jones was born on December 14th 1911. Jones’ got his nickname from being so thin that he was compared to a railroad spike. At the age of 11 he got his first set of drums. As a teenager he played in bands that he formed himself. A railroad restaurant chef taught him how to use pots and pans, forks, knives and spoons as musical instruments. He frequently played in theater pit orchestras. In the 1930s he joined the Victor Young orchestra and thereby got many offers to appear on radio shows, including Al Jolson’s Lifebuoy Program, Burns and Allen, and Bing Crosby’s Kraft Music Hall. From 1937 to 1942, he was the percussionist for the John Scott Trotter Orchestra, which played on Bing Crosby’s first recording of White Christmas. The City Slickers evolved out of the Feather Merchants, and made experimental records and performed publicly, gaining a small following. The original members included vocalist-violinist Carl Grayson, banjoist Perry Botkin, trombonist King Jackson and pianist Stan Wrightsman.Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s Spike Jones and his City Slickers enjoyed huge success, with their satirical arrangements of popular songs. Ballads and classical works, which after receiving “the Jones treatment” would be punctuated with gunshots, whistles, cowbells, and outlandish vocals and sounded absolutely hilarious.

Among the best known satirical recordings were humorous takes on the classics such as the adaptation of Liszt’s Liebesträume, played at a breakneck pace on unusual instruments. Others followed: Rossini’s William Tell Overture was rendered on kitchen implements using a horse race as a backdrop, with one of the “horses” in the “race” likely to have inspired the nickname of the lone SNJ aircraft flown by the US Navy’s Blue Angels aerobatic team’s shows in the late 1940s, “Beetle Bomb”. In live shows Spike would acknowledge the applause with complete solemnity, saying “Thank you, music lovers.” A collection of these 12 “homicides” was released in 1971 as Spike Jones Is Murdering the Classics. They include such tours de force as Pal-Yat-Chee (Pagliacci), Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, Tchaikovsky’s None but the Lonely Heart, Flight of the Bumble-Bee and Bizet’s Carmen. Then In December 1945 Spike released his version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, arranged by Joe “Country” Washburne with lyrics by Foster Carling.

Sadly The rise of rock-’n’-roll during the 1950′sand the decline of big bands hurt Spike Jones’ repertoire. The new rock songs were already novelties, and Jones could not decimate them the way he had lampooned “Cocktails for Two” or “Laura.” He played rock-’n’-roll for laughs when he presented “for the first time on television, the bottom half of Elvis Presley!” This was the cue for a pair of pants — inhabited by dwarf actor Billy Barty — to scamper across the stage. Jones adapted to changing tastes. In 1950, when America was nostalgically looking back at the 1920s, Jones recorded an album of Charleston arrangements. In 1953 he responded to the growing market for children’s records, with tunes aimed directly at kids (like “Socko, the Smallest Snowball”).In 1956 Jones supervised an album of Christmas songs, many of which were performed seriously.

In 1957, he revamped his own act for television. Gone was the old City Slickers mayhem, replaced by a more straightforward big-band sound, with tongue-in-cheek comic moments. The new band was known as Spike Jones and the Band that Plays for Fun. He also recorded a cover of “Dominique” with Spike Jones’ New Band in 1964, a hit by The Singing Nun, in which he not only plays part of the melody on a banjo but melds the melody successfully with “When the Saints Go Marching In!” The last City Slickers record was the LP Dinner Music For People Who Aren’t Very Hungry. The whole field of comedy records changed from musical satires to spoken-word comedy (Tom Lehrer, Bob Newhart, Mort Sahl, Stan Freberg). Spike Jones adapted to this, too; most of his later albums are spoken-word comedy, including the horror-genre sendup Spike Jones in Stereo (1959) and Omnibust (1960). Jones remained topical to the last: his final group, Spike Jones’ New Band, recorded four LPs of brassy renditions of pop-folk tunes of the 1960s (including “Washington Square” and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett”). Jones was a lifelong smoker. He was once said to have gotten through the average workday on coffee and cigarettes. Smoking may have contributed to his developing emphysema. His already thin frame deteriorated, to the point where he used an oxygen tank offstage, and onstage he was confined to a seat behind his drum set. He sadly died on May 1, 1965, at the age of 53, and is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California.

Nick Park

English filmmaker Nick Park, CBE, was Born 6 December 1958, He grew up with a keen interest in drawing cartoons. He also took after his father, an amateur inventor, and would send items – such as a bottle that squeezed out different coloured wools – to Blue Peter. He studied Communication Arts at Sheffield Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University) and then went to the National Film and Television School, where he started making the first Wallace and Gromit film, A Grand Day Out. In 1985, he joined the staff of Aardman Animations in Bristol, where he worked as an animator on commercial products (including the video for Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”, where he worked on the dance scene involving oven-ready chickens). He also had a part in animating the Pee-wee’s Playhouse which featured Paul Reubens.

When A Grand Day Out, Was in post-production, he made Creature Comforts as his contribution to a series of shorts called “Lip Synch”. Creature Comforts matched animated zoo animals with a soundtrack of people talking about their homes. The two films were nominated for a host of awards. A Grand Day Out beat Creature Comforts for the BAFTA award, but it was Creature Comforts that won Park his first Oscar. In 1990 Park worked alongside advertising agency GGK to develop a series of highly acclaimed television advertisements for the “Heat Electric” campaign. The Creature Comforts advertisements are now regarded as among the best advertisements ever shown on British television, as voted (independently) by viewers of the UK’s main commercial channels ITV and Channel 4. Two more Wallace and Gromit shorts, The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995), followed, both winning Oscars. He then made his first feature-length film, Chicken Run (2000), co-directed with Aardman founder Peter Lord. He also supervised a new series of “Creature Comforts” films for British television in 2003.His second theatrical feature-length film and first Wallace and Gromit feature, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, was released on 5 October 2005, and won Best Animated Feature Oscar at the 78th Academy Awards, 6 March 2006.

Unfortunately On 10 October 2005, a fire gutted Aardman Animations’ archive warehouse. The fire resulted in the loss of most of Park’s creations, including the models and sets used in the movie Chicken Run. Luckily Some of the original Wallace & Gromit models and sets, as well as the master prints of the finished films, were elsewhere and survived. Park’s most recent work includes a U.S. version of Creature Comforts, a weekly television series that was on CBS every Monday evening at 8 pm ET. In the series, Americans were interviewed about a range of subjects. The interviews were lip synced to Aardman animal characters.In September 2007, it was announced that Nick Park had been commissioned to design a bronze statue of Wallace and Gromit, which will be placed in his home town of Preston.’fo llowed by another Wallace & Gromit short film A Matter of Loaf and Death. In February 2011, Park made his first ever appearance, himself as an animated character in The Simpsons episode, “Angry Dad: The Movie”. His new Willis and Crumble short, Better Gnomes and Gardens also borrows elements and themes from Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Park has been nominated for an Academy Award a total of six times, and won four with Creature Comforts (1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993), A Close Shave (1995), and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) and his animations all remain popular and continue to be repeated most Christmases.