Friday, September 7, 2018

Mack & Mabel, Elbows & Feet

Jerry Herman was fresh off Dear World,
a flop done in 1969.
So come 1974, the concept of a romance between
Mack Sennett, director of silent movies,
and his muse, Mabel Normand,
was suggested to him by Ed Lester, the director of the 
Los Angeles Civic Light Opera.
Gower Champion agreed to direct and choreograph,
and David Merrick produced.
What could go wrong?
Robert Preston was first choice for the role of Mack,
but Mabel was offered to Bernadette only after 
2 other ladies of the theatre rejected it.

 M&M didn't last long: 66 performances and it effervesced into the ether
(tho subsequent productions did well across the pond).
The main criticism was that the material proved too dark 
for a musical,
and that Champion's attempt at up beat chorus numbers
played at odds with the main characters' story.
Audiences "were not ready for a down-beat saga 
about a cocaine-sniffing movie queen" said one critic.
 The romance between Peters and Preston didn't work...
well, the list of criticisms goes on and on. 

 Above, Lisa Kirk who played Lottie...
you may remember Lisa from her success in 
Kiss Me Kate (she played Bianca!).
Below Miss Bernadette,
who at the age of 26 was said to be too young for
a romance with Mack/Preston 
(age 56).
The actual age difference between the REAL Mack & Mabel 
was 13 years.

 The real story of Mabel Normand and Mack Sennett
was quite different from the Hermanized Version.
When she met Mack,
Mabel had already worked in a number of 
"bathing beauty" film roles, starting in 1909
(when she was just 16!),
having left the delis of Staten Island
(not Flatbush, Brooklyn),
and bagels and knishes far behind.
Mack noted her comic ability in these flicks,
and began starring her in films with Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy 
and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle,
produced by his Keystone Studios.
(One story says she was the first actress to ever get a pie in the face!)
 She's on the left below, in Tillie's Punctured Romance
with Chaplin and Marie Dressler, 1914.

 Above, another 1914 flick,
The Fatal Mallet,
starring Mabel, Mack Sennett and Chaplin.
Though there was a romance between M&M,
it seems more of an on again/off again affair,
not the one and only painted by Jerry.
From 1910 to 1927, Mabel made over 100 films,
many of them with Sennett or D.W. Griffith directing. 

In 1916, Mabel opened her own movie studio
in Culver City, 
in partnership with Sennett,
and directed her own movies.
A few years later, it tanked...
but then along came a contract with Sam Goldwyn,
 a relationship with director William Desmond Taylor, 
and a cocaine habit 
(which William worked hard to rid her of).
Unfortunately he was murdered in 1922...the case never solved.
Mabel would go on to marry actor Lew Cody,
and die of tuberculosis at the age of 36.
Below with Mack,
who lived to the age of 80.
There! That's the REAL story. 

 Another Robert Preston show,
Ben Franklin In Paris,
was done 10 years earlier,
with music by Mark Sandrich, Jr., Sidney Michaels,
and (surprise!) a couple of songs contributed by Jerry Herman.
Along with Robert, it starred Susan Watson,
the original Kim in Bye Bye Birdie,
and Ulla Sallert, a Swedish actress, who did many revivals of 
Me and My Girl...and died just this past May at the age of 95.
Below, an Al Hirschfeld drawing of the show.
We'll hear "God Bless The Human Elbow",
one of our Broadway Body Parts entries.

 One of our "Feet" selections,
Dan Folger with "Magic Foot" 
from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

 And with fingers AND hands...
Gwen Verdon in Redhead (and a head!),
with "The Right Finger Of My Left Hand".
Music: Albert Hague and Dorothy Fields.
It also starred Richard Kiley and Leonard Stone...
 ...and was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse.
Best Musical (best almost everything!) of 1959.

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