Classic Movies · Stuff You Should Know

“Never a help—always a hindrance!”

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Facebook veterans know that there’s a group on there for every person, place or thing currently in existence (and if it hasn’t been created yet…give it a few seconds) and as a member in good standing since 2009 (my dues are paid up), I know there are some really outstanding Facebook aggregations dedicated to a host of classic movie highlights and lowlights.  My favorites are the ones dedicated to those timeless character thesps like Anita Garvin and James Gleason; not just because I believe them to be worthy of recognition (I do)…but because it’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only person out there who has such an obsession. 

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Bobby Clark (right) and Paul McCullough (left)

In December of 2019, classic film collectors/enthusiasts Geno R. Cuddy and Ralph Celentano shared a couple of true rarities with the Clark & McCullough fan group on Facebook.  For those whose expertise on motion picture comedy is a little rusty, Clark & McCullough are Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough—two boyhood chums from Springfield, OH who turned their enthusiasm for high school gymnastics/tumbling into a show business career that encompassed minstrel shows, circuses, burlesque, vaudeville, and finally Broadway, headlining such shows as The Ramblers (1926) and Strike Up the Band (1930).  Their comedic antics, a cross between the Marx Brothers and Wheeler & Woolsey (Bert and Bob starred in The Cuckoos [1930], a silver screen adaptation of Ramblers), are largely forgotten today save for a series of one- and two-reel shorts the madcap pair did in the late 20s/early 30s for Fox and later RKO.  

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Lois Moran with Clark & McCullough in The Belle of Samoa (1929)

A goodly portion of their RKO output survived the ravages of time and neglect but their Fox shorts were victims of the 1937 studio fire that took out so many cinematic treasures.  So when Geno and Ralph made sure two of the Clark & McCullough Fox comedies got posted to YouTube as kind of a swell early Christmas present there was dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the parlor.  (Play, Don…)  The earliest of these shorts is The Belle of Samoa (1929), which according to Geno/Ralph was a sequence intended for a full-length feature entitled Fox Movietone Follies of 1929.  The C&Mc segment so impressed the Fox bigwigs that they decided to release it as a separate short subject.  Joining Bobby and Paul are Lois Moran, a popular singer-dancer of that era; her costume is the textbook definition of pre-Code, which may be why the film was promoted in a rental catalog circa the 1940s as “Not to Be Screened on Sunday.” 
 
waltzing-aroundTruth be told, while I enjoyed Clark & McCullough’s cavorting in Samoa the static musical numbers in the short kind of slow the proceedings down (your mileage may vary, of course).  The other Fox short shared by Geno and Ralph is Waltzing Around (1929), a three-reeler that finds our heroes working concessions at a boxing match until a mishap involving one of the pugilists (Bobby and Paul accidentally knock him out colder than last night’s flounder) necessitates McCullough getting into the ring as a replacement.  Waltzing is a delightful little short that hews fairly close to the personas that the team established on stage, particularly McCullough’s; by the time the pair went to work for RKO Paul was kind of content to let Clark’s rapid-fire wisecracking carry the show (though he does figure in the occasional funny visual gag).   Florence Lake, always a welcome presence in the House of Yesteryear, also features prominently in Waltzing as a girlfriend constantly annoying mug Otto Fries.

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A screen grab of the intro to one of the team’s RKO comedy shorts, accompanied by a jaunty There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.

While continuing to perform on stage, Clark & McCullough went to work for RKO beginning with 1930’s A Peep on the Deep (they made their shorts during the summer months).  These two-reelers were described by Leonard Maltin in Selected Short Subjects: From Spanky to the Three Stooges (also known as The Great Movie Shorts) as “almost surreal, definitely not quite in this world.”  Bobby Clark, wielding a cane while clad in topcoat and pork pie hat, had horn-rim glasses painted on his face…while partner Paul McCullough wore a fur coat and sported a “toothbrush” moustache.  McCullough’s characters in the RKO comedies were generally named ”Blodgett” while Clark’s surname depended on the occupation (he’s a would-be chef in Everything’s Ducky {1934] so he goes by “Cook” while he answers to “Crotch” in In a Pig’s Eye [1934] because he and McCullough operate a tailoring business.) 
 
kickin-the-crown-aroundSure, there are conventional comedy shorts in the C&Mc catalog like The Iceman’s Ball (1932): Bobby and Paul masquerade as policemen after stealing a squad car and make life difficult for the police chief, delightfully played by Laurel & Hardy nemesis James Finlayson.  (Three Stooges heavy Vernon Dent is also in Ball as a man in blue, as are Fred Kelsey and Walter Brennan.)  But many of their vehicles have an exhilarating anarchic lunacy like Kickin’ the Crown Around (1933), in which our heroes are hired by ruler King Phooey (Ferdinand Munier) as “diplomats” to root out the source of a garlic salami epidemic in the kingdom of Judo-Jaggen.  (The boys’ main nemesis is a character named “Disputin,” played by character great Francis McDonald…who looks as if he borrowed his wardrobe and makeup from Boris Karloff’s menacing butler in The Old Dark House [1932].)  

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Bobby and Paul square off against tough mug Tom Kennedy in Odor in the Court (1934)

In both Subjects and Movie Comedy Teams, Leonard singles out Odor in the Court (1934) as Clark & McCullough’s best RKO short…and I’ll definitely concur with his assessment; Bobby & Paul are a pair of shysters handling a divorce case for husband Lorin Raker and they turn the legal proceedings into a hilarious shambles (they make their entrance into court accompanied by a marching band and concessioners, reminiscent of Wheeler & Woolsey’s Peach O’Reno [1931]).  I’m also quite partial to Love and Hisses (1934); hired by young Harry Knott (Sumner Getchell) to spirit his fiancee (Vivian Reid) away from her domineering aunt (Maude Triax), Bobby & Paul use Harry’s father’s (a judge played by Munier) fixation with watermelon (served on the half-shell!) to trap him into matrimony with Auntie.  

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Constance Bergen is all smiles with Bobby in Alibi Bye Bye (1935), the final Clark & McCullough RKO short

Alibi Bye Bye (1935) was the duo’s last RKO comedy, a fast-moving, door-slamming farce that features the pair as “alibi photographers” in Atlantic City—they play matchmaker for big game hunter Bud Jamison (his last name is “Nimrod”) and Constance Bergen, completely unaware that they’re married.  Clark & McCullough would go on to another stage triumph, Thumbs Up! and afterward, Paul sought treatment for depression.  (There’s a disturbing irony in that in Alibi, Clark cracks to his partner at one point in the action: “You know how bathrooms depress you.”)  Released from a sanitarium in March of 1936, McCullough announced he was stopping by the barber’s for a shave…and there he committed suicide by cutting his throat and slashing his wrists with a handy razor.  Bobby Clark went on with a solo career and while his only feature film credit was 1938’s The Goldwyn Follies he had great success on Broadway: working in Streets of Paris (1938; with Bud Abbott & Lou Costello) and Mexican Hayride (1944), among other successes before his passing in 1960. 
 
alpha-video“Their madcap humor was all too rare in the 1930s, and is more scarce today,” writes Leonard Maltin in Selected Short Subjects.  “We are lucky that they preserved their lunacy intact on film, so we can continue to enjoy their inspired antics for years to come.”  You can find most of Clark & McCullough’s delightful nuttiness on YouTube (look for ”Geno’s House of Rare Sitcoms”) and for the physical media fan, Alpha Video has a pair of volumes containing a few of their RKO shorts.  My Facebook pals Ali and Dave Stevenson also have some C&Mc on hand at Looser Than Loose, including one of the RKO shorts (1931’s False Roomers) not on YouTube or available from Alpha. 

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