A Laurel and Hardy Interlude

Last week I wrote on the theme of American innocence – a topic I hope to get back to next week. The loss of innocence – or the full-fledged emergence of modernity into the cultural mainstream – in the West is often dated to the end of World War I, as by Paul Johnson in his book Modern Times. Of course, the cultural changes that became evident at about that time had been developing for decades before that, especially in Europe.

Thinking about that era has got me listening to some songs from the Vaudeville era. This was truly the golden age of American music and entertainment. And whatever one may conclude about the health of society as a whole at that time, there certainly was a beautiful innocence to the popular culture.

From the Vaudeville culture emerged Laurel and Hardy, my favorite comic performers from the old days. Many of my readers are probably acquainted with clips like those below, where the duo bring their well-practiced song-and-dance routines to the screen. I never get tired of watching these.

The song performed below in the 1939 film Way Out West, was written in 1913. Incidentally, a glance at the Wikipedia entry for 1913 shows a year full of disturbing events at home and abroad, from the ratification of the 16th amendment authorizing the income tax, to bloody U.S. campaigns in the Philippines. Be that as it may, there was a joy to that time that I hope we will see again.

“At The Ball, That’s All” (John Leubrie Hill, 1913)

Commence advancin’, commence advancin’,
Just start a prancin’, right and left a-glancin’,
A moochee dancin’, slide and glide entrancin’.
You do the tango jiggle,
With a Texas Tommy wiggle.
Take your partner, and you hold her,
Lightly enfold her, a little bolder.
Just work your shoulder,
Snap your fingers one and all, in the hall,
At the ball, that’s all, some ball.

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5 Responses to A Laurel and Hardy Interlude

  1. […] Thinking about that era has got me listening to some songs from the Vaudeville era. This was truly the golden age of American music and entertainment. And whatever one may conclude about the health of society as a whole at that time, there certainly was a beautiful innocence to the popular culture. Read the full post here… […]

  2. Stephen, thanks for that clip. I love that scene from Way Out West. It reminds me of another favorite Laurel & Hardy musical scene when they dance to ”The Arkansas Traveler” in the short ”The Music Box.” You may remember that one.

    The music and entertainment from the Vaudeville Era was especially energetic and full of good cheer and enthusiasm. There was a certain kind of innocence to the popular culture, though there was a seamy side which was nonetheless NOT put front and center as today’s seamy side is.

    Listening to the music or watching the movies from those times does evoke a feeling of loss and nostalgia, though the music itself is happy and lighthearted.

    BTW, are you familiar with the Vitaphone Varieties blog?
    http://vitaphone.blogspot.com
    The blogger posts rather infrequently but he posts lots of music from that era, which I really enjoy.

    If only we could recover some of the joy and the optimism that seemed to pervade that time.
    -VA

  3. stephenhopewell says:

    VA, thanks, glad you enjoyed it. I remember “The Music Box” but not a dance scene in it. And yes, you’re right about the seamy side of Vaudeville – how could there not be one – dance, entertainment and the Big City. I suppose even the words to “At the Ball” would have been objectionable to some – though at least the formal assumption was that all this courtin’ was meant to lead to marriage….

    I was not familiar with Vitaphone Varieties, but will check it out.

  4. pittsburghpoet says:

    There’s a (1915?) recording of it at the Smithsonian site:

    http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/papr:@filreq(@field(NUMBER+@band(edrs+50238r))+@field(COLLID+edison))

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