Blotto - Production Sidelights

When Ollie calls Stan from the drugstore he recites the phone number for the operator, "OXford, oh, six, one, four." In fact that was, actually, the home phone number of Stan, Lois, and Lois Jr. Laurel. The number was listed in the Los Angeles telephone directory, just as it appeared on Stan Laurel's personal checks: "Stan Laurel, 718 No. Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills, OXford 0614."

Even though he is angry, forced to spend nickel after nickel trying to call Stan, Ollie remains gracious, well-mannered and polite. While inside the phone booth he even tips his derby to the unseen operator!

One surefire gag in Hal Roach shorts was ear-wiggling. Only a few months before, the studio built an entire Our Gang comedy around this notion; Messrs. Beanie Walker and Bob McGowan named it WIGGLE YOUR EARS. In BLOTTO when Stan finally tastes Anita's intoxicating mixture, he blinks his eyes, and frantically wiggles his ears. Decades later in l962, New England television personality Hal Stanton wrote and asked Stan Laurel how he performed this pulsating trick. "Very simple," Laurel answered in his usual gracious fashion, "A thread is attached to each ear with adhesive tape, the threads extend to below camera level and are pulled back and forth at a camera speed of 8 or l2 frames per second. The threads are painted with opaque paint so they won't show in the scene."

BLOTTO came from a story written by Leo McCarey. In McCarey's screenplay Stan and Ollie visit "The Rainbow Club." A few years later McCarey named his own company "Rainbow Productions, Inc." Hal Roach Jr. was employed by the enterprise during World War II when his father's studio was re-dedicated to war-time service as Fort Roach.

The impressive black and silver-looking art deco set which served as The Rainbow Club interior was modified for use again in LET'S DO THINGS, the 1931 pilot film for the Thelma Todd-Zasu Pitts series, Hal Roach's second attempt to create a distaff version of Laurel & Hardy. Then the circular star-topped tables seen in BLOTTO turn up once more four years later during MUSIC IN YOUR HAIR (working title A SYMPHONY IN SUDS), another attempt to create a fat-and-skinny comedy team with Billy Gilbert and Billy Bletcher.

Charley Chase directed this film, and it's as clear as an Anita Garvin cocktail that the writers had BLOTTO in mind when they made MUSIC IN YOUR HAIR. Probably at the behest of the boss. Roach liked the story when Laurel & Hardy filmed it. Then Roach remembered it when he needed a story for this new comedy team. And it came to mind again when Metro asked Roach to nominate prospective short subjects for reissue.

In MUSIC IN YOUR HAIR Billy Gilbert and Billy Bletcher run out to Club Lido to get away from their wives. As part of the floor show, Virginia Karns sings LOVER COME BACK TO ME, making the two men cry. In BLOTTO the government opposed insobriety. In MUSIC IN YOUR HAIR, with Prohibition over, it is Mrs. Billy Gilbert who protests. She shows up at the film's end to collect and punish her husband.

The plot of BLOTTO also served as the basis of an episode in the classic CBS television series entitled THE HONEYMOONERS. During the 1950s and 1960s there were periodic news stories that the comedy team of Jackie Gleason and Art Carney might portray the lives of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in a screen biography. Made good copy. Interesting idea. Never happened.

Jackie Gleason himself conceived most of the ideas for HONEYMOONERS sketches, gave them to the writers to develop, then spent the rest of his time boozing all week at Toots Shor's Saloon. In the episode entitled THE BOSS (1956), "Alice" (played by Audrey Meadows) pours a bottle of wine down the drain then refills it with grape juice to spite her husband. The characters played by Gleason and Carney then proceed to get roaring drunk, or so they believe. How sweet it was.

When the series began in 1950, Gleason's wife, "Alice," was portrayed by Pert Kelton, part of the later lineage of what began as the Todd-Pitts series, Roach's everlasting quest to find another comedy team to rival Laurel & Hardy. Made good copy. Interesting idea. Never happened.

In the wise words of the warden (played by Wilfred Lucas) in PARDON US, "And still they come...."

As the millennium ended, let the record show that to prove all we have learned, a Larry Harmon Pictures Corporation attempted to produce a new, alleged Laurel & Hardy feature film. FOR LOVE OR MUMMY was the title. "New team! New story! Old fashioned laughs!" hailed the hopeful publicity on this direct-to-video, do-not-collect-any-positive-reviews item. Made good copy (since somehow it featured the Academy Award winning star of AMADEUS, F. Murray Abraham). Interesting idea. It so never happened.

Jackie Gleason did not live to fling this video "sailing over the moon." He was, however, interviewed for the August, l986 issue of PLAYBOY magazine. Gleason was asked to compare the rapport of Laurel & Hardy with that of his character and Art Carney's on THE HONEYMOONERS. "If there was any similarity," Gleason explained, "it was in the timing. But nobody could do what Laurel and Hardy did. They were spectacular. Babe Hardy would call me up whenever I went out to the Coast, and we'd get together. He was beautiful. We'd be sitting in Lakeside Country Club, drinking, and he'd always have one ear listening to the television there. As soon as the commercials came on, he would jump from the table to watch; then he'd come back. I never knew why. I guess he liked them. "

PLAYBOY asked, "Did you drink with Hardy often?"

"Oh certainly," answered Gleason. "He was a delight to watch drinking, because he was just like his character. He'd wipe a drop off the glass, pick it up with his pinkie way out, sip it, put it down, tap it, very much like the character that he played.

"Stan Laurel, on the other hand, was far from the character he played. He was the brains; he wrote their stuff and, more or less, directed their performances."

-- by Richard W. Bann --