Be Big - Pressbook Stories
"That's final. When a Hardy makes up his mind, it's as firm as the Rock of Gibraltar."
Or, maybe not.
Through the completion of the printed cutting continuity and the printed music cue sheet, through the staged film preview, and through the typed draft for the film's pressbook, the title of this subject was firmly carved out as THE CHISELERS. Decades later no one (including principals Hal Roach, Richard Currier, and Anita Garvin) could tell why it was changed.
"Be big" is a line of dialogue which appears to have been suggested at the last moment by H.M. Walker or improvised on the set when rehearsing the scene. These words are not contained on or in the action script.
On screen, however, on the phone, Baldy Cooke exhorts Ollie to "Be big. Get me? Beeeee big!" Later Anita Garvin pays off the line after Ollie urges the wives to go on ahead without him and she says, "Well, that certainly is big of you." Finally when all is lost, Stan cries and asks, what can they possibly do now? Ollie remembers the answer: "Be big!"
Maybe the theatrical preview audience remembered this phrase too and used it when filling out the studio's reaction cards. And maybe the filmmakers needed another title because The Hays Office objected to THE CHISELERS under some obscure provision in the restrictive Production Code.
Or maybe the sales organization on down Washington Boulevard at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer felt a negative title like THE CHISELERS (implying cheating) would work against their campaign. Whereas BE BIG has an assertive, positive connotation. Still the final, published BE BIG pressbook retained the words "chiselers" and "chisel" in its copy. One story is headlined, "Laurel & Hardy ‚The Chiselers of Laughs'" and contains the line, "BE BIG will chisel laughs out of the most serious theatre-goers."
Another BE BIG publicity article carries the headline, "A Couple of ‚Ad Libbing Chiselers.' " It's worthwhile: "Webster's dictionary defines ad libitum as: at will; as much as one pleases; a passage of which the time and expression may be varied according to the performer's feelings and taste. This Latin word, shortened to ad lib, plays an important part in all Laurel & Hardy comedies. BE BIG, the comedians' latest Hal Roach comedy, which is now on the program at the .......Theatre, is a typical Laurel & Hardy comedy bolstered up by their clever ‚ad libbing' and spontaneity - look that one up yourself.
"The script of a Laurel & Hardy comedy would hardly do for other comedians. It gives the barest outline of action and sometimes a whole scene is described as the following excerpt from the script of BE BIG: Scene 20 - Business of pulling off boot (ad lib). "Laurel and Hardy's powers of ad lib are a boon to their comedies. After reading the above description they go right into the scene, and sometimes not until they are before the camera do they know what they are actually going to do.
"Working right with each other they fall into an idea, and from the doorman's "Quiet please!" to Director James Horne's "Cut" they enact new gags and situations. The particular "boot gag" of BE BIG is one of the funniest spots in the three reels."
Most interesting is this piece: "Do motion picture stars have doubles because they themselves are afraid to do hair raising stunts, or is there another reason, a more favorable reason?
"In one scene of BE BIG, Laurel & Hardy's latest Hal Roach comedy, Oliver Hardy was required to grab a floor length drape and accidentally pull drape and rod to the floor. Consider what would happen if Oliver did pull it down, and the rod landed in such a way to seriously inujure him. It would hold up production, and production means the actors, the director, the cameraman, the electricians, the prop boys, the foreign versions and foreign actors and many other items which would triple the expense of the picture.
"In order to escape this catastrophe a double was called to do this scene for Mr. Hardy, and even then a paper mache rod was made to prevent injury to the double. This rod was to substitute the original before the double went through the scene.
"A close-up was first made of Mr. Hardy pulling the curtain. He pulled a little too hard, however, and the pole came down. Not the paper mache pole, but the real heavy steel drapery rod. By some miracle the rod missed Mr. Hardy, but he narrowly escaped being seriously injured. The expression of surprise on his face was so perfect that this scene was used. For the long shot, however, the paper mache rod replaced the other and the double repeated the action.
"BE BIG, directed by James W. Horne, is now on the program at the ................. Theatre."
The pressbook claimed BE BIG was Horne's first film with Laurel & Hardy. "Sounds funny to me," is Stan's line to Ollie at news of his sudden sickness. Evidently BIG BUSINESS wasn't so big, it was already forgotten. Although on that film the director was credited as J. Wesley Horne. Probably an inside joke now lost to history.
Also, according to approved publicity, BE BIG was photographed by George Stevens' brother, Jack. He did shoot the foreign versions, but screen credit for the American BE BIG was accorded to Art Lloyd, not Jack Stevens.
More confusion. When Film Classics reissued the Laurel & Hardy sound films in the 1940's, they were obliged by contract to remove all Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer trademark insignia from the production title cards. In so doing many errors crept into the replacements. On BE BIG, James Parrott was somehow named as director in place of James Horne.
They certainly fooled us that time.
-- by Richard W. Bann --