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Ache

‘All Curly, All the Time’: Reviews of 97 Three Stooges Shorts

Stooges

In March 1934, Moe Howard, Larry Fine and the brilliant Curly Howard made their mark on popular culture when they entered the realm of the Columbia Short Subjects Department (headed by producer Jules White). A year after their Columbia debut, the Three Stooges were hitting their stride in the two-reel comedy field — thanks to the slapstick mastery of director Del Lord.

My introduction to the Stooges was in September 1969 on Kansas City station KMBC. I was 5 years old and the film was We Want Our Mummy — a total delight from beginning to end. Watching Moe, Larry and Curly for the first time was truly magical and I couldn’t get enough of them. The Flintstones, which followed the Stooges on weekday afternoons, paled by comparison to these live-action cartoons (with sight gags and sound effects galore). A continued success on movie and television screens, the two-reel format proved ideal for the team. The Stooges’ unique brand of physical humor thrived in short spurts.

From a childhood perspective, it was “All Curly, All the Time” no matter where I moved and regardless of what TV station aired the two-reelers. (I didn’t encounter Shemp Howard, Joe Besser and Curly Joe DeRita until the mid-1970s and those TV viewings were relatively brief. Though the show went on after Curly’s debilitating stroke in May 1946, it wasn’t the same.) As I grew older, my tastes in film comedy shifted to Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy and the Marx Brothers while the Stooges faded into the background.

The advent of home video in the early 1980s revived my interest in Moe, Larry and Curly and made them even more accessible — particularly since they had not been shown on my local TV station for several years. Jump ‘n the Saddle Band’s 1983 hit “The Curly Shuffle” (which peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100) coincided with the home-video Stooge resurrection. By 1996, Columbia had released all the Curly two-reelers on VHS, including several titles that eluded me during childhood. Today, the entire 1934-1959 output is available on DVD and streaming.

Five decades after my first Stooge sighting, I have revisited the mostly glorious Curly era with brief reviews (including a four-star rating system) of all 97 shorts. Much has been written about the team over the years, but I hope this journey will provide some new insights while bringing back fond memories. Without further ado, let the Golden Age of Stoogery begin!

Woman Haters (May 5, 1934)

A rather inauspicious Columbia debut featuring Larry as the atypical lead and tiresome rhyming dialogue. Nevertheless, this pre-Code musical novelty has its pleasures — notably Marjorie White (who works well with the boys) and the memorable “My Love, My Life, My All.” Polished cinematography by the great Joseph August. Not the worst short by any means, but the next two-reeler will mark a tremendous leap forward.  **½

Punch

Punch Drunks (July 13, 1934)

“Pop Goes the Weasel” was not the theme to Punch Drunks, but it should have been. The first Stooge classic delivers a comic knockout, with the team’s immortal characterizations (Moe the arrogant leader, Larry the agreeable middleman, and Curly the childlike force of nature) firmly in place. Originally titled A Symphony of Punches, this 17-minute gem makes Woman Haters look like a glorified audition film. Nice to see Arthur Housman sober for a change.

In 2002, Punch Drunks was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry — the only Stooge short to receive that honor.  ****

Men in Black (September 28, 1934)

“Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard!”

Faster-paced than Punch Drunks yet a bit too frenetic for its own good. The Stooges’ only Oscar-nominated two-reeler (losing to the Technicolor snoozefest La Cucaracha) serves as a warm-up for greater triumphs such as Dizzy Doctors and Calling All Curs. Plenty of laughs, but Moe, Larry and Curly appear somewhat restrained. Though an enjoyable short with its fair share of signature moments, Men in Black does not feature the Stooges at full comic throttle.  ***  

Three Little Pigskins (December 8, 1934)

The first two-thirds of this Depression-era comedy represent vintage Stooges. However, the much-anticipated football climax delivers surprisingly few laughs (No Census, No Feeling did a better job in that department). Though Lucille Ball, Gertie Green and Phyllis Crane receive billing, it’s hard to believe Columbia didn’t give comic heavy Walter Long screen credit in his only Stooge appearance.  *** 

Horses’ Collars (January 10, 1935)

Curly breaks loose in this fifth Columbia short and the results are hysterical. Horses’ Collars has one or two slow spots, yet the overall laugh content surpasses the boys’ previous efforts. Casting “B-western” heavy Fred Kohler as Double Deal Decker was a nice touch. Though alcoholism ended Clyde Bruckman’s directorial career (his last credit was W.C. Fields’ The Man on the Flying Trapeze), he did a fine job on his only Stooge two-reeler.  ***½

Restless Knights (February 20, 1935)

Utilizing the sets from Boris Karloff’s The Black Room gives this medieval spoof a big-budget feel, but the pacing is surprisingly sluggish while the inconclusive ending falls flat. Despite some funny moments (notably Moe and Curly’s wrestling match and the welcome presence of Walter Brennan), one wishes Restless Knights had turned out better. The Stooge debuts of actor Stanley Blystone and director Charles Lamont.  **½

Pop Goes the Easel (March 29, 1935)

Del Lord rules! More than any Columbia director, Lord expanded upon the trio’s slapstick style while making the fastest two-reelers known to man. In terms of pacing, Pop Goes the Easel makes Restless Knights look like it was filmed in slow-motion. A memorable start for the Mack Sennett veteran, but Del and the Stooges were just getting warmed up. Perhaps the only clay fight in cinema history.  ***½

Uncivil

Uncivil Warriors (April 26, 1935)

Curly:  “I was lost! All by myself!”

A Stooge classic with one of my all-time favorite opening scenes. Felix Adler’s gag-filled script matches Del Lord’s razor-sharp direction. Though Curly is pure genius, the Civil War farce provides an equally good showcase for Moe and Larry. Special kudos to the great Bud Jamison as Colonel Buttz. The last film in which the Stooges were billed as “Howard, Fine and Howard” for studio publicity.  ****

Pardon My Scotch (August 1, 1935)

Moe, Larry and Curly have the right stuff for whiskey distribution, but high society remains another matter. The Del Lord winning streak continues in this beautifully constructed two-reeler. Curly’s dinner-time interpretation of “The Dance of the Rolls” — followed by Moe’s eye-poking use of breadsticks — is one of many highlights. Though a familiar supporting player in the Stooges stock company, James C. Morton only received screen credit for this short.  ****

Hoi Polloi (August 29, 1935)

Professor Richmond:  “I reiterate that environment is the keynote of social distinction.”

Professor Nichols:  “Nonsense! Heredity is the backbone of social life.”

For those who have seen the Dan Aykroyd-Eddie Murphy comedy Trading Places (1983), this Stooge foray into social satire will undoubtedly be familiar. One of the team’s great two-reelers — miles ahead of the well-intentioned but historically melancholic Half-Wits Holiday. Hilarious moments galore (including a frenzied dance lesson with Geneva Mitchell that was later recycled in 1941′s In the Sweet Pie and Pie) plus some rare underscoring for a Del Lord short.  ****

Beers

Three Little Beers (November 18, 1935)

In the annals of comedy shorts, Three Little Beers remains as iconic as Easy Street, Cops and The Music Box. Moe, Larry and Curly hit a comic hole-in-one with a series of wild physical and verbal gags — topped by a destructive climax similar to Buster Keaton’s What! No Beer? (1933). The result is a mini-masterpiece. After four outstanding two-reelers in a row, the Stooges and Del Lord have found their slapstick niche.  ****

Ants in the Pantry (February 6, 1936)

A good start for Jules White’s older brother Jack (better known by his pseudonym Preston Black), who became an inspired yet regrettably short-lived director at Columbia. The Stooges make their debut as “pest men” in a chaotic return to high society. Unfortunately, the tacked-on “fox hunt” goes nowhere — the film should have ended at the 16:27 mark. Termites of 1938 is a definite improvement with a more satisfying conclusion.  ***

Movie Maniacs (February 20, 1936)

Moe:  “There’s a couple of thousand people in pictures who know nothing about it. Three more won’t make any difference.

Del Lord returns to the director’s chair as the boys enter the gates of “Carnation Pictures” and all hell breaks loose. Movie Maniacs has everything but a strong finish — a recurring problem throughout the Curly era. Evocative use of the Columbia backlot in this irreverent look at vintage Hollywood. Character actor Harry Semels has one of his best roles as frustrated director Cecil Z. Swinehardt.  ***½

Half Shot Shooters (April 30, 1936)

A rare misfire from director Preston Black/Jack White and my least favorite Stanley Blystone performance (due to the way his role was written). Clyde Bruckman’s ludicrous storyline is contrived even by Stooge standards. Unlike the boys’ other military shorts, most of the violence is painfully sadistic rather than funny. Legendary comic foil Vernon Dent makes his Stooge debut (he will remain an integral supporting player until his retirement in 1954). Best moment: Curly’s brief vocal interlude while loading the cannon.  **

Disorder

Disorder in the Court (May 30, 1936)

Moe’s response to Larry’s jungle yell (followed by the proverbial slap): “You’re in a court, not in the woods, Tarzan.”

The quintessential Stooge two-reeler, Disorder in the Court has everything going for it. Moe, Larry and Curly shine in equal measure — complemented by a memorable supporting cast. Preston Black/Jack White’s best directorial effort and the only Curly short that unfolds in real time (no dissolves or wipes necessary).  After decades of variable public domain dupes, the print quality on the Volume One: 1934-1936 DVD is truly impressive. My personal favorite.  ****

A Pain in the Pullman (June 27, 1936)

Or Stooges on a Train. Another Preston Black/Jack White gem, which makes it a shame he stopped directing since he had a wonderfully anarchic style. A Pain in the Pullman is mostly great fun and one of the few times the boys added a pet monkey to the slapstick milieu. More proof that Bud Jamison and James C. Morton were essential members of the Stooges stock company.  ***½

False Alarms (August 16, 1936)

Del Lord’s best 1936 short. Though it lacks an iconic set piece, False Alarms delivers more than enough laughs to compensate for the lack of a proper ending (in John Grey’s original screenplay, the firefighting Stooges attempt to repair captain Stanley Blystone’s car). Blystone has a much better role this time around — especially when compared to his sadistic sergeant in Half Shot Shooters. Only Del could film a frenzied car chase through the streets of Los Angeles. False Alarms also serves as a shining example of why Moe and Larry are a great comedy team in their scenes without Curly. In retrospect, “The Two Stooges” wouldn’t have been a bad idea after Shemp’s death in 1955. (No Besser, no problem.)  ***½

Whoops, I’m an Indian! (September 11, 1936)

Whenever the Stooges venture into the great outdoors, the results are hilarious. Curly’s fishing scene is a highlight and the always-reliable Bud Jamison shines as Pierre (one of his finest roles). If the abrupt ending wasn’t such a letdown, I would rank this as a Stooge classic. In terms of print quality, Whoops, I’m an Indian! lacks the sharpness of the other Columbia two-reelers due to a lost or decomposed negative. There’s always hope that a pristine 35mm print will turn up.  ***

Slippery Silks (December 27, 1936)

Preston Black/Jack White returns with plenty of high-society slapstick. I initially found Slippery Silks rather uneven, but the overall short improves with repeated viewings. The cream-puff battle makes it all worthwhile — even better than In the Sweet Pie and Pie. Vernon Dent and Symona Boniface enjoy their first significant roles in the Stooges stock company.  ***½

Grips, Grunts and Groans (January 15, 1937)

Curly:  “If I’m gonna get beat up, I wanna get paid for it!”

This partial reworking of Punch Drunks has plenty of comic vitality along with some nice interaction between Curly and Larry. The wrestling climax is hysterical — one of the great Stooge endings. Grips, Grunts and Groans may lack the stature of Punch Drunks, but it’s damn funny and moves at a faster pace.  ***½

Dizzy

Dizzy Doctors (March 19, 1937)

Moe, Larry and Curly are “three of the best salesmen that ever saled” in one of the Top 10 Stooge classics. Del Lord made some of the speediest two-reelers in cinema history and Dizzy Doctors moves at warp speed. Charles Nelson’s editing is spot-on (he won an Academy Award for Picnic in 1956) with nary a wasted frame.  If there’s a faster-paced comedy short, I haven’t seen it.  ****

3 Dumb Clucks (April 17, 1937)

Del Lord’s weakest 1937 effort, but still worthwhile — second-tier Stooges are better than none. Curly excels in his only dual role and there’s hardly a dull moment. However, it’s a shame Del didn’t have a bigger budget for the climax, which needed a lavish sight gag (the flagpole climb falls flat). One of those rare shorts in which Curly’s stunt double has a full head of hair.  ***

Back to the Woods (May 14, 1937)

Preston Black/Jack White was an excellent director for the Stooges and it’s a shame Back to the Woods turned out to be his last effort. Slightly overlong, but the laughs keep coming. The recycled ending from Whoops, I’m an Indian! works surprisingly well. Another underrated two-reeler that gets better with age. Ideal viewing for Thanksgiving.  ***

Goofs and Saddles (July 2, 1937)

When it comes to a deck of cards, there is only one “Curly shuffle.” My favorite Stooge western — another two-reel triumph from Del Lord. Solid production values, hilarious support from Stanley Blystone and a surprisingly low slap quotient. Along with Dizzy Doctors, the trio’s best 1937 short.  ****

Cash

Cash and Carry (September 3, 1937)

“Gee, Mr. President, you’re a swell guy!”

A genuine anomaly, Cash and Carry emerges as a fascinating blend of slapstick, uncharacteristic sentimentality and New Deal optimism. With Del Lord at the helm, it all works. The first of seven Stooge outings photographed by the great Lucien Ballard. Though I enjoy the film’s offbeat quality, I’m glad the boys didn’t make another two-reeler in this vein. Author Rob King discusses Cash and Carry at length in his essential 2017 book Hokum!: The Early Sound Slapstick Short and Depression-Era Mass Culture.  ***½

Playing the Ponies (October 15, 1937)

A nice change of pace for the Stooges (Larry has a bigger role than usual) with a well-deserved happy ending and a great closing shot. Unlike the Marx Brothers’ incredibly overlong A Day at the Races, you don’t have to sit through bad musical numbers. Director Charles Lamont’s second (and last) Stooge effort — a definite improvement over the lackluster Restless Knights***

The Sitter Downers (November 26, 1937)

Once in a while, a potentially great Stooge comedy ends up being too short. This partial reworking of Buster Keaton’s housebuilding One Week could have used a few extra minutes to deliver a more satisfying wrap-up. Lacking the spectacular finish of Buster’s 1920  classic, the film abruptly ends at the 15-minute mark. Nevertheless, there’s much to enjoy and the supporting cast is wonderful.  ***½

Termites

Termites of 1938 (January 7, 1938)

Though directed by Del Lord, Termites of 1938 has the imprint of co-producer Charley Chase (the underrated comic genius just started work at Columbia after a 15-year career at Hal Roach Studios) — particularly in terms of underscoring. With exterminators Moe, Larry and Curly mistakenly hired as escorts, the results are impossible to dislike. Memorable support from Bess Flowers in her Stooge debut. The closing gag with the gopher bomb makes for an inspired finale.  ***½

Wee Wee Monsieur (February 18, 1938)

One of the first Stooge two-reelers I remember seeing (who could forget that title?)  and it still holds up. Worth the price of admission for the enduring image of Moe, Larry and Curly as the Three Santas. Placing the trio in the French Foreign Legion makes Wee Wee Monsieur stand out among other Stooge comedies. Great fun in the Del Lord tradition.  ****

Tassels in the Air (April 1, 1938)

The lighthearted rapport between director Charley Chase and the Three Stooges is evident in the first of five Chase-directed shorts. Instead of cheese and perfume, Curly goes wild over tassels. Meanwhile, the boys are mistakenly hired as interior decorators for the nouveau riche (Bess Flowers and Bud Jamison). A Stooge favorite marred by another inconclusive ending, with a sloppy jumpcut in the closing shot. The first Stooge credit for longtime producer Hugh McCollum.  ***½

Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb (May 20, 1938)

A set-bound Stooge romp that never feels claustrophobic thanks to Del Lord’s brisk direction and a steady stream of laughs. The only problem is the jarringly abrupt finish. Time constraints weren’t an issue, since Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb runs a mere 16 minutes. I’m not a big fan of A Missed Fortune (1952), but at least the Shemp remake had a more satisfying conclusion.  ***

Violent

Violent is the Word for Curly (July 2, 1938)

What would make the Stooges more out of place than entering the world of academia? The high-water mark of the Charley Chase era — justly famous for Moe, Larry and Curly’s immortal rendition of “Swingin’ the Alphabet.” Plenty of laughs and super service along the way. Columbia used the same gas-station set in Chapter Four of its classic 1938 serial The Spider’s Web . . . except it was called “Dennis Service Station” instead of “Acme.”   ****

Three Missing Links (July 29, 1938)

A lively Stooge debut for director Jules White, with a shout-out to Monte Collins in one of his best supporting roles. No one would rank Three Missing Links among the finest Stooge entries, but the jungle mayhem improves with repeated viewings. Curly is a comedic dynamo, even in a gorilla suit.  ***

Mutts to You (October 14, 1938)

Or Three Stooges and a Baby. A childhood favorite (the inventive dog-washing machine was unforgettable) and a refreshingly offbeat short from director Charley Chase. One of the least violent Curly two-reelers, with a rare happy ending. The only Stooge comedy in which Bess Flowers (“Queen of the Hollywood Extras”) receives screen credit.  ***½

Flat Foot Stooges (December 5, 1938)

After three enjoyable shorts, Charley Chase really drops the ball on this one. Flat Foot Stooges is all over the map . . . and not in a good way. A few standout moments (the gunpowder-eating duck is an admirably bizarre touch) but Chase’s only Stooge screenplay proves an awkward fit. And what the hell happened to the ending? Quite a comedown from the firefighting antics of False Alarms**

Three Little Sew and Sews (January 6, 1939)

Curly:  “Gasoline don’t taste so good since Prohibition. They ain’t so careful like when they use it for makin’ gin.”

Del Lord returns with another Stooge gem. Joining the Navy as tailors, the boys get mixed up with spies and a top-secret submarine. Curly’s pantomime is comparable to Chaplin while the “black” ending is right out of a Warner Bros. cartoon. Three Little Sew and Sews marks the beginning of a remarkable three-year run with the Stooges at their creative peak.  ***½

Mummy

We Want Our Mummy (February 24, 1939)

One of the greats. The Stooges’ first horror spoof finds Moe, Larry and Curly taking a taxi to Cairo in search of the missing King Rutentuten. Everyone is firing on all cylinders, thanks to an engaging script by Searle Kramer and Elwood Ellman. And, yes, that is Moe’s voice on the taxi radio. James C. Morton’s final Stooge appearance (he died in 1942).  ****

A Ducking They Did Go (April 7, 1939)

Del Lord’s follow-up to We Want Our Mummy doesn’t fare quite as well.  Nevertheless, A Ducking They Did Go is spirited fun — abetted by the Stooges stock company and Lucien Ballard’s glistening cinematography in the pond scenes. The look of infectious joy on Curly’s face after harmonizing with Bud Jamison remains among my favorite Stooge moments. A shame about the recycled footage from A Pain in the Pullman, which makes for a disappointing finish.

Extra Trivia: The Stooges’ last celluloid rendition of “You’ll Never Know Just What Tears Are.”  ***

Yes, We Have No Bonanza (May 19, 1939)

The best Stooge western after Goofs and Saddles (a pity that Shemp and director Edward Bernds never enjoyed the production values of early Del Lord). Curly has one helluva throw when he nails Moe with that rock during the prospecting scene — it never fails to crack me up.  The obvious stunt double for Curly in the climactic chase was regrettable but not ruinous. Nice musical interlude with the Stooges as singing waiters.  ***½

Saved by the Belle (June 30, 1939)

No classic, but considerably better than Charley Chase’s disappointing Flat Foot Stooges. Though it lacks any standout visual gags, the director’s final Stooge two-reeler moves at a breezy pace. Carmen LaRoux and LeRoy Mason provide good support in their only Stooge roles. For the most part, I enjoyed the Chase-helmed shorts and appreciated his offbeat approach to Stooge madness. The comedian’s untimely death in 1940 robbed the team of a valuable filmmaker.  ***

Curs

Calling All Curs (August 25, 1939)

A turning point in Stooge history as producer Jules White becomes one of the team’s regular directors. For better and (during the budget-strapped 1950s) worse, he called the shots on more Stooge two-reelers than Del Lord — hanging on until the brutal end with the 1959 stock-footage jamboree of Sappy Bull Fighters.

Calling All Curs is a childhood favorite that showcases Curly at his energetic best (for once, he inflicts some retaliatory punishment on Moe). With the boys running a pet hospital and battling dognappers, it has all the integral elements of a Stooge two-reeler . . . and a Jules White two-reeler. The 1939-40 shorts from Calling All Curs to Rockin’ Thru the Rockies represent White’s best hot streak.  ***½

Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise (October 6, 1939)

Growing up in the early 1970s, this Stooge classic was on a regular after-school rotation. Curly has a remarkable case of wish fulfillment as the boys help Widow Jenkins (Eva McKenzie) save her farm from swindlers. The scene in which Moe and Larry turn Curly into a “human cork” to stop an oil gusher remains among the great Stooge moments. Arguably director Jules White’s best short.  ****

Three Sappy People (December 1, 1939)

“The men you want are Doctors Ziller, Zeller and Zoller.”

Another gem from Jules White. Three Sappy People is a well-oiled slapstick machine with a terrific supporting cast (kudos to Lorna Gray, Don Beddoe and character actress Ann Doran in her only brush with Stoogery) and classy production values. Jules stages a pastry fight for the ages. A rare two-reeler in which Moe, Larry and Curly do not appear in the closing shot.  ***½

You Nazty Spy! (January 19, 1940)

Historically valuable as a political satire (predating Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator by nine months) but not the Stooges at their absolute best. You Nazty Spy! gradually runs out of steam after Moe Hailstone’s famous balcony speech, with the laughs becoming more sporadic in the second half. Even at 18 minutes, the short feels a bit long by Stooge standards. I’ll Never Heil Again (the only sequel of the Curly era) is a definite improvement — funnier, better paced and, most importantly, Moe wears his Hitler mustache throughout.  ***

Rockin’ Thru the Rockies (March 8, 1940)

“Where are those three sun-baked hams?”

This routine but undeniably hilarious two-reeler has more laughs than some of the Stooges’ best-known efforts. Curly is flat-out brilliant while character actress Kathryn Sheldon makes a splendid Nell. A pity that Rockin’ Thru the Rockies was Sheldon’s only Stooge appearance. Though an easy short to overlook among the riches of 1940, there are a few classic set pieces (notably the ice-fishing sequence) and the pace never lets up.  ***½

Plumbing

A Plumbing We Will Go (April 19, 1940)

Another example of why Del Lord remains my favorite Stooge director. A Plumbing We Will Go has everything you could want from Moe, Larry and Curly, with the Columbia two-reel factory at its slapstick apex. As the unfortunate cook, Dudley Dickerson will never be forgotten. When it comes to the 1949 Vagabond Loafers remake, you cannot improve upon perfection.  ****

Nutty but Nice (June 14, 1940)

Director Jules White’s first Stooge misfire. The sentimentality doesn’t work and the “kidnapped father” premise never gels. Moe, Larry and Curly are in top form, but the Clyde Bruckman-Felix Adler script is decidedly lackluster. Easily the weakest 1940 short.  **½

How High is Up? (July 26, 1940)

“Well, it looks like good solid construction.”

The Stooges find work and hilarity on the 97th floor. A funny Del Lord outing as the boys surpass Harold Lloyd in terms of skyscraper heights (with a little help from rear projection). Riveting stuff, even though the sweater routine goes on a bit too long.  ***

From Nurse to Worse (August 23, 1940)

Jules White bounces back. The Stooges venture into the world of insurance fraud with dogs and hospital chases galore. It’s nice to hear Moe’s voice on the police scanner. Compared to later Curly shorts, Jules’ use of stock footage is skillfully integrated and relatively brief. Great fun from beginning to end.  ***½

No Census, No Feeling (October 4, 1940)

Curly:  “Are you married or are you happy?”

The boys do their bit for the U.S. government as census takers and embark on some wild detours. Vintage Stooges all the way, with a football climax superior to Three Little Pigskins. Symona Boniface makes a welcome return as the hostess of an alum-spiked bridge party. Another Del Lord gem that delivers the goods. One of several Stooge two-reelers I didn’t see until the mid-1980s.  ***½

Cookoo Cavaliers (November 15, 1940)

An underrated Jules White effort featuring some of Curly’s best pantomime. Though she appeared in only a half-dozen shorts, Dorothy Appleby was a memorable addition to the Stooges stock company. Except for Moe, Larry and Curly, I cannot think of any film comedian who garnered laughs from operating a beauty salon. However, the vanishing dog is a major continuity error.  ***

Boobs

Boobs in Arms (December 27, 1940)

Jules White strikes again as the Stooges go to war with hysterically fatal results. This partial reworking of The Fixer Uppers (1935) reveals how the boys could take Laurel & Hardy material and make it their own. Richard Fiske found his signature Stooge role as the combative drill sergeant — it’s hard to believe he was only 24 at the time of filming.  ***½

So Long Mr. Chumps (February 7, 1941)

Our heroes wind up in prison as they search for an “honest man” known as Convict #41144 (played by Stooge regular Eddie Laughton). One of Jules White’s finest directorial efforts, with an inspired Clyde Bruckman-Felix Adler script to match. The interaction between Curly and Moe is nothing short of sublime. Curly’s rock pile “ad lib” remains among the great Stooge endings.  ****

Dutiful but Dumb (March 21, 1941)

“I’m positive about the negative, but a little negative about the positive.”

Photographers Click, Clack and Cluck are sent to Vulgaria where, unbeknownst to them, picture-taking is verboten. Dutiful but Dumb has so many hilarious scenes that the abrupt “What the hell?” ending doesn’t matter. One of Curly’s shining moments on celluloid (oyster stew, anyone?) and the same goes for Bud Jamison. The Three Stooges and Del Lord at the peak of their comedic powers.  ****

All the World’s a Stooge (May 16, 1941)

Despite an uneven John Grey script, All the World’s a Stooge finds the Stooges in splendid form. The dentist scenes fare better than the “child refugee” mayhem. Leiah Tyler emerges as a good sport, but I couldn’t warm up to Emory Parnell as Mr. Bullion (the role cried out for Vernon Dent). Another detriment is the incredibly lame finish — having Mr. Bullion chase the boys with an axe just doesn’t cut it. Flawed but enjoyable.  ***

Heil

I’ll Never Heil Again (July 11, 1941)

A minority opinion, but director Jules White’s sequel to You Nazty Spy! improves upon its predecessor. I’ll Never Heil Again moves at an assured pace, delivers more laughs and Moe Hailstone never loses his “personality” (aka Hitler mustache). The inspired closing shot was Stan Laurel’s original “black” ending for Block-Heads (1938), but producer Hal Roach nixed it.  ***½

An Ache in Every Stake (August 22, 1941)

No Stooge fan can disagree with the enduring status of this Curly Classic. Del Lord doesn’t waste a single frame as the Stooges put their own spin on Laurel & Hardy’s The Music Box. Curly reaches a new level of comic brilliance when he “shaves” the ice for Vernon Dent’s birthday dinner. Along with Dent, the inspired supporting cast includes Bud Jamison, Gino Corrado, Symona Boniface and Bess Flowers (in her last significant Stooge role). Story and screenplay by Lloyd French, who directed Stan and Ollie’s Busy Bodies and Dirty Work in 1933.  ****

In the Sweet Pie and Pie (October 16, 1941)

I wish I could give In the Sweet Pie and Pie four stars, but it’s difficult to overlook  the clumsy stunt doubling for Curly in the bunk-bed sequence. Even worse, there was no need for the Hoi Polloi stock footage (the film was long enough already).

This brings up an issue regarding producer-director Jules White’s penchant for recycled footage. It’s one thing for Jules to lift a scene from a short he directed, but unethical to lift an entire sequence from Del Lord and not give him credit. Another problem lies in the time span. When Jules utilized a Dizzy Doctors excerpt in From Nurse to Worse, the footage was only three years old and matched well. However, Hoi Polloi was filmed in 1935 and the six-year difference was painfully obvious. Happily, the prison scenes and legendary pie fight easily redeem these missteps.  ***

Some More of Samoa (December 4, 1941)

Curly:  “Beat me, Daddy, down to the floor!”

How can you go wrong with Moe, Larry and Curly as tree surgeons on the isle of Rhum Boogie? This politically incorrect Stooge adventure was never shown on my local TV station — I had to wait until its VHS debut in 1984. A wild romp thanks to its offbeat tropical setting, Some More of Samoa gets better with repeated viewings. Great stuff.  ***½

Loco Boy Makes Good (January 8, 1942)

In this admirable change of pace, the boys transform a nice old lady’s run-down hotel into a lavish nightclub to stave off foreclosure. The film’s second half becomes a Stooge variety show with the trio in splendid form. You can always count on Curly to liven up the dance floor. Jules White’s engaging, fast-paced direction stands in stark contrast to the sledgehammer approach of his later work.  ***½

We have reached the end of the Stooges’ three-year creative hot streak. The remainder of the Curly era will see reduced production values, fewer classics, plenty of good shorts and a fair share of misfires. Sadly, this gradual decline will become more evident in 1945 with the deteriorating health of Curly Howard.

Cactus Makes Perfect (February 26, 1942)

It’s hard to believe Del Lord directed this one. Cactus Makes Perfect starts off strong, then goes downhill. Monte Collins makes an inspired Stooge Mom in the opening scenes. However, once the boys leave home, the short becomes a tired rehash of earlier triumphs. The Stooges are willing, but the material is weak and the production quality below par (with terrible rear projection at the 5:23 mark).  **

Matador

What’s the Matador? (April 23, 1942)

The Stooges travel to Mexico in this second-tier effort — highlighted by Curly’s classic bullfight. A childhood favorite solely on the strength of that hilarious sequence. Final Stooge appearances of Suzanne Kaaren and Dorothy Appleby. (Except for Charley Chase’s The Old Raid Mule, all the Columbia shorts featuring Appleby were directed by Jules White.) The ever-reliable Eddie Laughton plays two roles.  ***

Matri-Phony (July 2, 1942)

A troubled production history (the shooting schedule stretched out to three weeks and required some uncredited help from Del Lord) explains the unevenness of Matri-Phony. Nevertheless, the Stooges and Vernon Dent garner some laughs, even though the crab scene is a pale shadow of Curly’s “oyster stew” routine in Dutiful but Dumb. Harry Edwards’ poorly staged ending may be the worst in Stooge history (you can briefly hear the director’s voice on the soundtrack, which would normally be deleted). When considering the comic potential of its Ancient Rome setting, one wishes Matri-Phony had turned out better.  **½

Three Smart Saps (July 30, 1942)

“The wedding bells will start to ring . . .”

With the exception of Loco Boy Makes Good, the best short of 1942. Curly’s rumba with Barbara Slater remains among the great Stooge moments. Larry also gets an opportunity to shine behind the curtain. In terms of plot structure, Three Smart Saps features an inspired cyclical ending — a rarity in Stooge history.  ***½

Even as IOU (September 18, 1942)

A real clunker from Del Lord. This Runyonesque short begins promisingly, then falls apart in a blaze of sickening sentimentality. One of the weakest Curly two-reelers. Watch the far superior Playing the Ponies instead. 

Sock

Sock-A-Bye Baby (November 13, 1942)

Or Three Stooges and a Baby, Part II. Always great to see Larry receive more screen time — he deserves it. One of those rare shorts in which Moe and Larry outshine Curly, who seems to lack his usual manic energy. The climactic chase partially compensates for the set-bound claustrophobia (they finally get out of the damn house at the 14-minute mark), which may account for Curly’s somewhat restrained performance. Preferable to sentimental misfires such as Nutty but Nice and Even as IOU***

They Stooge to Conga (January 1, 1943)

If you want Stooge ultra-violence, look no further than They Stooge to Conga. Everyone is at the top of their game in the trio’s best wartime comedy, which makes the *½ rating in The Three Stooges Scrapbook (1982) rather puzzling. The authors base their negative assessment on the infamous climbing-spike gag (which was cut from the TV print I watched on San Francisco station KBHK in the early 1970s). U-boat commander Frederick Giermann would later appear as Sig Ruman’s Nazi assistant in the Marx Brothers’ A Night in Casablanca. The last Curly Classic directed by Del Lord, whose remaining two-reelers cannot hold a candle to his earlier work.  ****

Dizzy Detectives (February 5, 1943)

Curly:  “I don’t wanna be dead! There’s no future in it!”

Was the dated Pardon My Scotch stock footage really necessary? Dizzy Detectives could have done without the Jules White padding. Nevertheless, it’s a high-energy short with the boys in splendid form. The only two-reeler from the Curly era in which the Stooges are recruited as police officers.  ***

Spook Louder (April 2, 1943)

Del Lord’s remake of his 1931 The Great Pie Mystery was the first Stooge comedy with a flashback structure. Spook Louder features character actor Charles Middleton in his only Stooge appearance as the butler. (Middleton also had a role in Columbia’s Batman serial around this time.) No classic, but plenty of creepy hijinks — not to mention flying pies.  ***

Back

Back From the Front (May 28, 1943)

One of the few wartime shorts I remember seeing on television in the early 1970s and certainly among the best. Lots of great gags and wonderful support from Bud Jamison, Vernon Dent and Stanley Blystone. Moe’s final Hitler impersonation is a gem. Anyone notice that Curly leaves behind his Navy cap after the boys visit their girlfriends in the opening scene?  ***½

Three Little Twerps (July 9, 1943)

Director Harry Edwards’ second (and last) Stooge two-reeler is a slight improvement over the troubled production of Matri-Phony. The circus setting works better for the Stooges than the Marx Brothers, since I consider At the Circus one of their weakest films. Unfortunately, the short awkwardly begins while paperhangers Moe, Larry and Curly finish harmonizing. A pity their vocal interlude was cut, since the film only runs 15 minutes.  ***

Higher Than a Kite (July 30, 1943)

A lively wartime effort that I missed until its home-video debut in 1993. Larry enjoys some of the spotlight for a change . . . and we get to see Duke York sans monster makeup. Judging by the final shot, Del Lord made the most out of that European backlot street, which also shows up in Wee Wee Monsieur and Dutiful but Dumb. Another reason why 1943 was the last solid year of the Curly era.  ***½

I Can Hardly Wait (August 13, 1943)

No complaints about the first six minutes of I Can Hardly Wait. However, when Curly breaks his tooth, the proceedings become increasingly labored with the laughs fewer and farther between. I didn’t enjoy seeing my favorite Stooge in constant pain. Admittedly, the dream transition is rather imaginative on a visual level, but it’s not enough to salvage this Jules White misfire.  **

Dizzy Pilots (September 24, 1943)

Curly:  “Vice? I have no vice. I’m as pure as the driven snow.”

Set in the “Republic of Cannabeer,” the Stooges (known as the Wrong Brothers) attempt to make aviation history as Moe becomes the victim of some rubbery sight gags. The cartoonish Dizzy Pilots should have ended at the 14-minute mark. Unfortunately, Jules White’s tacked-on stock footage from Boobs in Arms diminishes a potentially great short.  ***

Phony Express (November 18, 1943)

The last Stooge western with Curly at full strength. Surprisingly disjointed for a Del Lord effort, but the laughs keep coming. Bud Jamison provides menacing support as outlaw Red Morgan. Silent-comedy veteran Snub Pollard appears unbilled as the town sheriff when the Stooges take over a traveling medicine show in their own inimitable fashion.  ***

A Gem of a Jam (December 30, 1943)

Ridiculously contrived yet consistently funny. When it comes to the Three Stooges, what more do you want? The boys turn Del Lord’s derivative script into something special. As much as I enjoy the Dudley Dickerson scenes, my favorite moment is Curly’s dance routine with an electrified Moe. Looking back, 1943 was a good year for the Stooges — certainly better than 1942.  ***

Crash

Crash Goes the Hash (February 5, 1944)

Director Jules White’s last Curly Classic and a fond farewell to longtime supporting player Bud Jamison (who died in September 1944). Our beloved slapstick icons portray undercover reporters at a swank dinner party where the gags come fast and furious. A welcome throwback to the team’s glory years, including a wild finish with Symona Boniface.  Thanks for the laughs, Bud.  ****

Busy Buddies (March 18, 1944)

Curly:  “Are you casting asparagus on my cooking?”

Though Busy Buddies is uneven, there’s much to enjoy in the first half when the Stooges run the Jive Cafe. Unfortunately, the cow-milking contest (a less-than-ideal comedic premise) simply fizzles. Try though he might, Del Lord’s screenwriting never approached the level of his directorial mastery.  **½

The Yoke’s On Me (May 26, 1944)

A painfully racist wartime outing, I didn’t see The Yoke’s On Me until its DVD debut in 2008. Curly’s fan dance stands out in this sluggish  anti-Japanese short. Moe, Larry and Curly lack their usual spark — weighed down by subpar scripting and direction. Perhaps the most cringeworthy ending of any Stooge two-reeler. 

Idle Roomers (July 16, 1944)

Duke York delivers a hair-raising performance as Lupe the Wolf Man in this horror comedy — one of Del Lord’s more successful efforts as writer-director. Worth the price of admission for the mirror scene between Curly and York. Glamorously talented Christine McIntyre joins the Stooges stock company (she will appear in six Curly-era shorts and emerge as a tremendous asset during the Shemp years). It’s too bad Columbia didn’t pony up the dough for the ending, which is astonishingly weak by Stooge standards.  ***

Gents

Gents Without Cents (September 22, 1944)

When I think about Niagara Falls, this short immediately comes to mind. Gents Without Cents was a childhood favorite and I always enjoyed the offbeat musical-comedy approach. A few lulls but generally entertaining, with a strong assist from acrobatic dancers Lindsay, Laverne, and Betty.  ***

No Dough Boys (November 24, 1944)

Compared to The Yoke’s On Me, this politically incorrect two-reeler marks a huge advance. Felix Adler’s wartime script is contrived nonsense, but the Stooges’ high-energy acrobatics and Vernon Dent’s villainous presence make it worthwhile (clumsy stunt doubles notwithstanding). The last Jules White-directed short with Curly in top form.  ***

Three Pests in a Mess (January 19, 1945)

Del Lord’s schizophrenic effort shifts gears from crime noir to traditional scare comedy with yet another unsatisfying wrap-up. Notable for being the only Stooge two-reeler minus a fadeout — instead, we get a jumpcut to the closing logo. The hilarious scene between Curly and seductive Christine McIntyre justifies your viewing time.  **½

Booby Dupes (March 17, 1945)

A partial reworking of Laurel & Hardy’s Towed in a Hole (1932) as the fish-peddling trio “cut out the middle man” by catching their own fish. The last film to feature Curly at full strength and director Del Lord’s penultimate Stooge short (he will return once more for Shemp’s 1948 Shivering Sherlocks). Apart from a contrived beach subplot with Curly, Vernon Dent and beautiful Rebel Randall, Booby Dupes is great fun and criminally underrated. In retrospect, it feels like the end of an era.  ***

Idiots De Luxe (July 20, 1945)

The Stooges venture into the great outdoors (via the Columbia backlot) to calm Moe’s shattered nerves. Idiots De Luxe deserves a few points for its flashback structure and giving Moe the spotlight. However, the results are only sporadically amusing and repeat viewings haven’t made the set-bound hijinks any funnier. Curly is no longer in his prime (especially on a vocal level) but fares better than most of his remaining two-reelers. The car-driving bear gets some of the best laughs.  **½

If a Body Meets a Body (August 30, 1945)

Idiots De Luxe revealed a noticeable decline in Curly’s energy level. Sadly, it gets much worse as the iconic Stooge’s listless performance weighs down this atmospheric remake of The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (1930). The first time I saw If a Body Meets a Body was on KPLR Channel 11 during a 1985 visit to St. Louis. From the beginning, I noticed something was wrong with Curly (who had suffered the first in a series of minor strokes), which hindered my enjoyment. Even though Moe and Larry have some good moments, I find the “old dark house” antics difficult to revisit.  **

Micro

Micro-Phonies (November 15, 1945)

Edward Bernds makes the transition from Columbia sound engineer to writer-director with his first Stooge release (though his third in production order). I have a slight preference for Three Little Pirates, but Micro-Phonies remains a first-rate short. Bernds knocks this one out of the park. Despite his illness, Curly splendidly rises to the occasion when he impersonates Señorita Cucaracha, with an unforgettable vocal assist from Christine McIntyre. Larry and Moe acquit themselves admirably as Señors Mucho and Gusto. The last Stooge appearances of Gino Corrado, Lynton Brent (stock footage notwithstanding), Chester Conklin and Bess Flowers.  ***½

Beer Barrel Polecats (January 10, 1946)

Brewmasters Moe, Larry and Curly:  “We all put the yeast in!”

A troubled production, but for reasons unrelated to Curly’s failing health. Scripted by former Hal Roach writer Gilbert W. Pratt, Beer Barrel Polecats was a reworking of the Laurel & Hardy prison comedy Pardon Us (1931). Shortly before filming, Harold Lloyd gave Columbia the heads-up on his copyright infringement lawsuit against the studio and screenwriter Clyde Bruckman. A one-time Lloyd collaborator, Bruckman recycled the magician’s coat routine from 1932′s Movie Crazy for the climax of Loco Boy Makes Good. As a result of Lloyd’s planned legal action, the scripted prison sequences lifted directly from Pardon Us were deleted and replaced with footage from So Long Mr. Chumps and In the Sweet Pie and Pie. Columbia later settled the suit out of court. (Special thanks to ThreeStooges.net for this information.)

Knowing the actual circumstances behind the tacked-on stock footage, it’s a shame that producer-director Jules White inserted the 1941 prison scenes without coherent thought, re-editing or redubbing. Nevertheless, I would rather revisit Beer Barrel Polecats than sit through Jules’ mostly dispiriting 1946 output. The boys’ unique approach to brewing is a Stooge highlight, with a few brief flashes of the old Curly in the new footage.  **½

A Bird in the Head (February 28, 1946)

Edward Bernds’ directorial debut (released after Micro-Phonies) was this underrated foray into the mad scientist genre. A Bird in the Head might have been a first-rate short if Curly was at the top of his game. However, the relationship between the legendary Stooge and Erik the gorilla works surprisingly well. Curly does his best under the circumstances (he’s more effective at pantomime than dialogue), with Moe, Larry and Vernon Dent picking up the slack.  ***

Uncivil War Birds (March 29, 1946)

When you’re saddled with remaking one of Buster Keaton’s worst Columbia shorts (1939′s Mooching Through Georgia), you know you’re in trouble. Not even Curly in his prime could have redeemed this slow-paced Civil War clunker. Enjoy the opening proposal scene because it’s one of the last times you will see outdoor filming in the Curly era. 

The Three Troubledoers (April 25, 1946)

“Coney Island Curly” becomes sheriff of Dead Man’s Gulch in director Edward Bernds’ uneven sagebrush satire. Christine McIntyre stands out as the damsel in distress, but a woefully underused Larry gets the short end of Jack White’s script. Curly has a few bright moments impersonating the justice of the peace. I’m surprised Bernds didn’t come up with a more satisfying closing shot — after an explosion, the boys run down the street inexplicably unscathed. The last and least of the Curly westerns.  **½

Monkey

Monkey Businessmen (June 20, 1946)

My favorite 1946 short after Three Little Pirates. Curly was reportedly in terrible shape during the filming of Monkey Businessmen yet he fares better than expected on screen. Writer-director Bernds keeps the proceedings moving at a good clip as Moe, Larry and Curly look forward to “a nice long rest” at Dr. Mallard’s crooked sanatorium. Kenneth MacDonald and Jean Willes make their Stooge debuts, with a memorable assist from veterans Fred Kelsey, Snub Pollard and Cy Schindell. An unappreciated gem.  ***

Three Loan Wolves (July 4, 1946)

Or Three Stooges and a Baby, Part III. The worst two-reeler of the Curly era is devoid of laughs and production value. Three Loan Wolves takes set-bound claustrophobia to painful depths — made even more unbearable by the irritating presence of a child actor who shall remain nameless. Jules White’s heavy-handed direction only emphasizes the deficiencies in Felix Adler’s uninspired screenplay. It’s nice to see Larry as the lead Stooge (poor Curly has little to do) but he deserved a much better film.  *

G.I. Wanna Home (September 5, 1946)

An improvement over Three Loan Wolves, this Stooge exploration of the postwar housing shortage never reaches its full potential — further hindered by a lame bunk-bed climax. Curly displays a little more energy compared to his final Jules White-directed outings. The last Curly short to utilize outdoor locations (evident in the first three minutes at the Columbia Ranch).  **

Rhythm and Weep (October 3, 1946)

Filmed after Three Little Pirates, Curly’s final complete performance includes one more “woo-woo-woo-woo” for the road. Despite a lackluster ending and an erratic Curly (his dialogue delivery is painful to hear), this rare musical-comedy remains director Jules White’s best 1946 release. Gloria Patrice, Ruth Godfrey and Nita Bieber provide the dancing this time around. Inferior to Gents Without Cents, but a welcome change of pace.  **½

Pirates

Three Little Pirates (December 5, 1946)

Curly’s last hurrah — fondly remembered for the timeless “Maha-Aha” routine and equally memorable knife-throwing sequence. Thanks to Edward Bernds’ assured direction and a lively Clyde Bruckman script, the immortal Stooge rallies back for his best performance since Micro-Phonies. Moe, Larry and a fine supporting cast also shine in this 17th century romp. If the Curly era had ended with Three Little Pirates, it would have been a spirited finale to an impressive body of work.

Extra Trivia: The “Red Hot” pinball machine (complete with “Ye Olde Tilt”) was made by J.H. Keeney and Company in 1940.  ***½

Half-Wits Holiday (January 9, 1947)

As a child, I grew up loving this two-reeler . . . especially the climactic pie fight. However, recent viewings of Half-Wits Holiday have been less enjoyable. Not until the early 1980s did I learn that this reworking of Hoi Polloi was Curly Howard’s swan song as the third Stooge (a massive stroke on the last day of shooting prevented him from taking part in the pie-throwing melee). Except for a few inspired moments during the etiquette and party scenes, Curly’s performance is sad to watch — casting a pall over the entire short.

Given his penchant for stock footage, it’s surprising that director Jules White did not insert a few shots of Curly from In the Sweet Pie and Pie to make the comedian’s absence less conspicuous. By shifting the action to Moe and Larry, the pie fight relies on a few too many edits and awkwardly fades out with Moe washing his hair in the punch bowl — a disheartening finish to the Curly era. On a more positive note, Half-Wits Holiday introduced another longtime member of the Stooges stock company: character actor Emil Sitka. And there’s the classic “Sword of Damocles” encounter between Moe and Symona Boniface.  **

1945

“When we lost Curly, we took a hit,” Larry Fine admitted in a 1973 interview. Jules White went further: “Curly was a great artist,” he said in Ted Okuda and Edward Watz’s The Columbia Comedy Shorts (1986). “Don’t get me wrong, I loved working with Shemp and thought he was a naturally funny guy, but when Curly left, the Stooge comedies were never the same.”

Curly’s early retirement created a void that could not be filled by his gifted older brother Shemp (originally replaced by Curly in 1932 when the trio got slapped around by vaudevillian Ted Healy), a miscast Besser and the serviceable DeRita. Even with Moe and Larry as a constant presence, each replacement made the Stooges feel like a different comedy team.

Beginning with Shemp’s return in Fright Night (1947) and continuing through the final bow of Moe, Larry and Curly Joe in Kook’s Tour (1970), the Three Stooges could still garner laughs. However, they were unable to recapture the surreal inventiveness that Curly brought to their films. “Try to imagine the Marx Brothers without Harpo,” Leonard Maltin wrote in his revised 1985 edition of Movie Comedy Teams. Everyone’s favorite Stooge was sadly missed.

Happily, Curly Howard left us with a more satisfying farewell than Half-Wits Holiday. In January 1947 (five years before his death at age 48), he felt well enough to film a surprise cameo in Hold That Lion: the Stooges’ 100th Columbia short and the only screen appearance of all three Howard brothers. Noticeably thinner and sporting a full head of hair, Curly plays the snoring train passenger discovered by Moe, Larry and Shemp. Lasting 30 seconds with nary a word of dialogue, the signature Curly mannerisms are unmistakable — one last glimpse of the old magic.

Grateful thanks to the Moronika website and the Curly Years discussion forum that helped inspire this article.

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The Other Manson Family or Bottom Feeding In The Overseas Distribution Aquarium – An Exploitative Memoir

 

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            My significant other and I arrived in Los Angeles in 1977. We’d driven a “drive-away” Impala through a cross country blizzard from Boston.  Her mother Natasha had snared us a one bedroom in the apartment sprawl she lived in.  It was a terraced bunker uphill from the  Whiskey a Go-Go.  Dionne Warwick had been the only notable tenant there until Motley Crue in ’82.  Warwick had left eons back but long time dwellers acted as if she was still there providing glittery gravitas to the joint. It was neglected and battered but Clark Apartments was all dream exotica to former denizens of Boston’s Back Bay.  With its soaring palms, floodlit pool and a glimpse of L.A. basin sparkle this was cockeyed heaven.

Bouncing from temp spots at IBM legal to Pepperdine’s lost Watts’ campus I was longing for some Hollywood glitz appointment. Natasha offered an opening at her company, a film distributor mere blocks away from our Clark Apartments. I interviewed with Manson Distributing Corporation’s president, an anxious, awkwardly jovial gentleman named Michael Goldman. After mild chit chat, Goldman hired me. Obviously Natasha’s recommendation was key, tinsel town nepotism at work.

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Manson Distributing Corporation was situated at 9145 Sunset Boulevard in the Aladdin Building, blatantly accented by the fat brass Aladdin’s lamp hung over the entrance. It was, and still is, an undistinguished two-story square which in 1977 sat across from the Cock’n Bull tavern, birthplace of the Moscow Mule and Jack Webb’s daily waterhole.  Next door was La Maganette, our usual takeout choice, a dimly lit Italian mock swank with regulars from Sammy Davis to Richard Deacon. Further east on Sunset was Scandia, considered L.A.’s premiere eatery alongside Ma Maison.  In that era L.A. had a narrow gastronomic belly. Other neighbors included Dick Clark Productions, Dick or his wife were often out front trying to curb their massive dogs, and the old school Paul Kohner Agency, my first agent’s quarters, with John Huston carefully squeezing himself and his oxygen tank through the front door.

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Jack Webb was never perched far from the feast at the Cock’n'Bull.

 

                  The rest of Sunset was ripping itself from the clutches of the sixties as it stumbled through the seventies. Filthy McNasty’s and its flooze were in last gasp. Power Burger gave super beef shots. Turner ruled the booze front. You could eat the same bubbling quiche at both Old World and Mirabelle’s. The Rainbow served decent crunch pizza (and still does) but the Hollywood Vampires had gone bye-bye and metal heads were beginning to ooze in.  The Roxy and the Whiskey had ace acts then (before they succumbed to pay-to-play to survive.) And Tower Records was the center of the vinyl cosmos (sorry Licorice Pizza.)

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Edmund Goldman, Michael’s father, started Manson around 1953 with Sam Nathanson, the name “Manson” came from their surnames’ last syllables.  Sam had departed and Ed was settling into a more patriarchal role as Michael commandeered the company through the next phase. Ed’s fame claim was that he purchased domestic rights to Gojira from Toho for twenty-five grand and brought it to Harold Ross and Richard Kay at Jewel Enterprises.  Ross and Kay with Terry O. Morse transformed Ishiro Honda’s ground busting anti-nuke fable into the castrated American Godzilla, King Of The Monsters. There were a number of accounts as to how Ed discovered the film. One had him seeing it in a Little Tokyo movie house (did Ed really stray from the Westwood or Beverly Hills theater circuit?) Another was that it was brought to Ed’s attention by his friend Paul Schreibman, an attorney and distributor, and importantly legal consultant for Toho. But the tale I favored was from Manson’s bookkeeper Margaret who said that during the war when Ed was the Far East emissary for Columbia Pictures he was put into a Philippines detention camp by the Japanese. He struck up a friendship with one of the guards and after the war that guard became an executive at Toho. As a token to their friendship the former guard alerted Ed to the wonder which was Gojira.  I never asked Ed for verification preferring to just savor the myth.

But I did demand back story on the framed photo in Ed’s office of him being attacked by the Three Stooges on the Columbia lot. In the pic Moe has Ed in a nasty hammerlock while Shemp and Larry are doing unmentionable things to his extremities. Regarding the gouging Ed commented, “Moe Howard was friendly enough but if a camera was around he’d become dangerously violent.  Those other knuckleheads would follow his lead.”

“How often did you go to the track with Shemp?”

“We weren’t that close.” he replied.

My annual bonding with Ed came as the various foreign film markets approached. Whether it was Cannes, MIFED, or the local newbie American Film Market Ed and I would go in the company car to Smart & Final on Melrose to buy a snack spread for the hotel sales room. We’d spend a day choosing the perfect client confections.  Ed believed food was crucial to making sales.  Ed in sweater vest and dress pants resembled the Monopoly man, sans top hat, gone casual. Ed said I looked like an extra from Satan’s Sadists (one of Manson’s many Al Adamson titles.) It wasn’t off the mark when the Smart & Final cashier suggested I was Ed’s “personal hippie valet.” Ed chuckled then muttered something about Al Adamson and Sam Sherman liking Red Vines.

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I was stationed at Manson with the boys in the shipping department. The “boys” were actually two gents in their late forties and one drag queen. Devon, a determined thespian in a magnificent but obvious toupee ran the scene with expert devotion, spiked wit and high drama. Devon’s long time friend Hal assisted.

Hal was a notary and professional eccentric who had developed his own axis and orbit. At first flush Hal was the spitting image of Ernie Kovacs homophobic conception Percy Dovetonsils, including bottle spectacles and moustache, although Hal’s tongue wasn’t Percy’s. Hal expounded on Marxist principles and the anti-carcinogen benefits of cinnamon in coffee and ground up apricot pits in everything while tirelessly playing a cassette of Edith Piaf’s best. He would display his weekend acquisitions from Bargain Circus and every yard sale in a 20-mile radius of Griffith Observatory, while indulging you for your take on their value, “Guess how much, how much?” He spoke endearingly of various “mudderfuggers” who had wronged him in his global trots, tales which included his excommunication from Israel, his deep romance with India (where a soothsayer said he’d die one day, the teller was off Hal took his dirt nap in Ireland) and the glorious Roma days with Devon dating Vatican cardinals and bishops while waiting for movie roles. Hal and Devon were in Catch 22’s whorehouse scene with Charles Grodin but that “mudderfugger Nichols cut us out!” Hal didn’t hit the editing floor in Cast A Giant Shadow where he can be seen briefly as Kirk Douglas’s secretary.

The drag queen, who Hal called Queenie, was the messenger.  He jockeyed Goldberg cans from Manson’s storage (a garage with a flea size studio apartment over it behind The Palm on Santa Monica) to Nossecks’, Aidikoff’s, and Sunset screening rooms around West L.A. and Beverly Hills.  But he spent too much time on the phone arguing with fabric stores over his next costume construct. Queenie’s days were numbered as his outside curriculum was encroaching on his workaday performance.

Shipping’s main responsibility was contract fulfillment of a title’s publicity and film elements or sending out sales materials to potential buyers.  70’s overseas sale promotion required mailing salt lick sized ¾” NTSC video cassettes (a 60 and 30 minute part for each title) along with brochure sheets like these:

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Manson’s library was primarily exploitation and a hefty part of that was adult fare or as Devon discreetly tagged it “fuck films.”  Not surprisingly there was concern when sending out screening cassettes about territory censor guidelines.  This meant that features needed to be clearly marked as “hard” or “soft.”  I was appointed to determine which library screeners had “erect” as opposed to “flaccid” organs on display.  Proper labeling would decide (sometimes) whether a title made it through customs or whether it ended up in the custom house’s private library. (Greece’s postal board held “art film” fests on the second Thursday of every month.)

Japan allowed adult importation as long as a metamorphosis occurred.  Japanese distributors would purchase a feature positive 35mm print and then carefully go through it frame by frame removing all  pubic hair and genitalia, intricately “painting” it out.  From the new “clean” composite they’d make a “dirty” (low grade) negative to create release prints.

In pre-video days most territories had no public outlet for things pornographic. The Mideast was an impossible sell for anything vaguely sexual. A breakthrough came when the new Manson salesman Pete (who had moved into sales from shipping hence opening my position) sold Sinderella and the Golden Bra, a very soft skin offering, to a Lebanese distributor. After governmental slice and dice the film could have been sold as live action Disney.

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The Manson library was morphing when I came aboard.  There’d been a past deal with Janus so classics like Chimes At Midnight had been sold alongside Orgy of the Golden Nudes but overall little strayed from b to z-standard sex and violence. Now Mark and Marilyn Tensor’s Crown International was providing Manson with a new wave of youth attractions.  Crown had gone from producing Weekend with the Baby Sitter and Blood Mania to mild teen romps like The Van and Van Nuys Blvd. The Crown feature The Pom Pom Girls was second to Disney’s The Rescuers in France’s 1977 box office, a defining prize for Manson and Crown.  Another source would come from producer Charles Band with nil-budget, humdrum sci fi like The Day Time Ended, Laserblast and End Of the World. That last title brought Christopher “Playgirl After Dark” Lee and Sue “Lolita” Lyon together for the first time. Not venturing completely from stroke flicks, Band also provided an adult musical Fairy Tales (in the tradition of Bill Osco’s Alice In Wonderland and Band’s own Cinderella.Fairy Tales was notable for finally pairing Martha Reeves with Professor Irwin Corey.

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But the bulk of titles remained in the grand bottom feed tradition. Many of the purveyors were loyal pals of Ed Goldman and no one truer than Bulgaria’s gift to the world Stephen Apostolof aka A.C. Stephens.  Steve’s amazing history has been detailed capably elsewhere (particularly the interview gangbang in Psychotronic No.8, Winter 1990.) He was a habitual visitor to Manson often bringing a box of “stinkweed” cigars for Ed which Ed would dispose of as soon as Steve was out of sight.  Manson distributed such A.C. works as Class Reunion, Snow Bunnies, Fugitive Girls and Lady Godiva Rides, with its trailer narration “Filmed on two continents… in Hollywood.”  Steve was presently trying to get Edmund to pick up his latest title Hot Ice. (Hot Ice was a caper film with intended and unintended comic overtones, that unique A.C. Stephens blend. As I recall it had almost no nudity which didn’t help the sale.)  As part of the new Manson prescience there was a reluctance to acquire Hot Ice. Steve was having difficulty with this and confessed openly about it to Devon and myself. He was certain this was his greatest film and possibly the last one his buddy Eddie Wood was capable of working on. “I’m worried about the son of a bitch. He just drinks and watches TV. If Manson distributes Hot Ice it’ll help Eddie.”

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This was before major hoopla over the Ed Wood oeuvre. Like many in the tri-state area my brother and I were big fans having watched Plan 9 and Bride every time they were on Zacherly’s Chiller Theater. I asked Steve to bring Ed with him next time and we could have lunch at Cock ‘n Bull and discuss the tender side of the “The Super Swedish Angel” Tor Johnson. Steve said Wood never leaves his chair unless he falls off it.  I pleaded some more and Steve said, “If Manson distributes my Hot Ice I’ll bring Eddie to lunch.”  After Steve left Hal and Devon described Eddie Wood as “a transvestite drunk” who they didn’t want near the office. They continued with how decrepit Criswell and Vampira had become haunting the aisles of Hollywood Ranch Market at midnight. I’d seen Vampira there once and she looked heavy but fine for late fifties. Devon added “Do you really want to eat lunch with a stinking old rummy in drag?” From then on whenever Hal and Devon saw a distressed female on the street they’d suggest I take her to lunch since it might be Ed Wood (akin to “don’t step on that spider it might be Lon Chaney.”)

The ribbing continued up to the day in ’78 when a despondent Apostolof came into the office and told us Eddie was dead. Steve mused, “If Manson had picked up Hot Ice maybe Eddie would still be alive and we could have lunch. That’s something to think about.”

Manson was a compact crew in 1977, with around ten employees.  Sales and acquisitions were handled by Ed, Michael and Pete. Natasha was Michael’s assistant.  Michael as a CPA oversaw finance and was a supreme organizer.  He oversaw a paper system with multiple title, agreement and client files with every telex and soon FAX copied in triplicate regarding every contractual burp. I would never see this level of order again at another film company, anal fascism at its best.

Margaret the Manson bookkeeper was in another realm, a chain smoker who looked like Ben Franklin in a muumuu anchored to a cyclone torn office. Her desktop was a document layer cake topped by charred invoices from smoldering Pall Malls. Margaret always wore sandals; shoes couldn’t contain her toes with their elongated, twisting, never manicured nails. Margaret’s life goal was to purchase federal land in Nevada and build an underground home for herself and her son. She’d show me house blueprints and cackle about the brilliance of her plan. It would never be but she did have a novel approach to financing. South Korean distributors often paid in cash due to their government restrictions for moving money overseas via transfers or checks. So Margaret sometimes would deposit hefty greenback payments in the Sunset City National on the Beverly Hills line. Once while walking cold thousands to the bank Margaret was robbed. Or so she said. Margaret had pulled a pathetic con. Instead of her underground home she ended up in a state run facility. Poor Margaret.  As I remember she made a first-rate lasagna.

Margaret used to complain about many things including tracking “short film” distribution. “What a waste of time these aren’t even real films.” Manson did distribute short films, one was The Legend Of Jimmy Blue Eyes which was nominated for an Oscar in ’64, directed by Robert Clouse who would later helm Enter The Dragon.  The other was Minestrone written and directed by Danny DeVito. DeVito during this time was mainly known for playing Martini in the play and movie of Cuckoo’s Nest as he hadn’t yet nailed the part of Louie on Taxi.  So like Apostolof DeVito had nothing better to do but hang around the shipping department chatting up Devon.

One fine day DeVito was to drop by to pick up some Minestrone flyers.  Devon left them out for Danny and headed to an audition. Hal was making his daily lunch concoction which consisted of Laughing Cow cheese cubes, wheat germ, Lipton’s onion soup mix, apricot pit powder and boiling water shaken up in a thermos. Queenie was out running errands. The shipping department was a unified jumble of desks and chairs, no partitions, telex machine, file cabinets and plenty of wall cases slotted for pub materials. Each of us had a chair but there was no space for guest seating. While passing Queenie’s chair I noticed its cloth seat was damp, badly stained.  I asked Hal if he’d dropped some of his thermos slop on Queenie’s chair.

“No, I did not.  Lemme take a look at it.” Hal examined the chair, feeling and sniffing it. “There’s K-Y all over it.  Wait‘ll Devon sees this he’ll have another heart attack.”

The bohemian occupant of the residence over the Manson storage garage had told Devon recently that Queenie was bringing visitors there.  It wasn’t to peruse stills from The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies of which there was an unusual glut of 8x10s in the garage.  The connect between Queenie’s chair and the garage would likely occur to Devon.

“Don’t touch that chair.  I’ll be right back.”  Touching it was far from my mind. Hal ran off to pick up Dirty Western dialogue continuity copies nearby at “Henry Jaglom’s copy joint”, “Jaglom’s” because he tended to stake out there.

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Edmund G. buzzed me to take a print of Cries Of Ecstasy, Blows Of Death across the street to Nosseck’s.  “Right this minute?” “Yes, right this minute.” I grabbed the print and left, leaving the shipping department unmanned. Nosseck’s Screening Room was in the rear basement of a building which would soon house David Geffen and Lookout Management. Run by Don and Marilyn Nosseck it was a historic little theater. Don was there between screenings so we struck up the usual conversation about the months Howard Hughes holed up in ’58 watching Republic horse operas while chasing Hershey bars with Alta-Dena quarts. As I examined the carpet for ancient cow juice stains I envisioned Queenie’s chair and DeVito sitting in it.  I hightailed it across Sunset.

DeVito was indeed in Queenie’s chair talking non-stop to Devon.  Hal walked in with the Dirty Western continuities. As he was about to inform DeVito about the state of things I intervened, “No, Hal, some things are best left… you know.”  DeVito departed with his flyers and Hal updated Devon on Queenie’s chair. Devon didn’t have a heart attack but he had one of his more striking outbursts, transparency sheets and an ashtray took wing, Devon’s skull rug did an Edgar Kennedy 360.  Queenie vamoosed to Las Vegas where someone believed he died in the 1980 MGM Hotel fire.

In ’79 Hal found some old lysergic acid in his freezer and dropped it before a dinner party.  At the soiree Hal had chest pains and ended up hospitalized.  It was a minor attack but he was put on lengthy bed rest.  This by the way doesn’t suggest a correlation between LSD ingestion and heart function (refer to Sidney Gottlieb’s CIA studies for further analysis.)

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With Hal temporarily gone Devon brought in a close pal (and perhaps past romance) to sub for him. I came into work to find a familiar face dressed in Johnny Cash black seated at Hal’s desk.  The distinctive Oklahoma accent, which graced Rod McKuen LPs, called out, “Hey, Todd, didja hear Sid Vicious is finally dead.” It was Jesse Pearson, Bye Bye Birdie’s Conrad Birdie announcing that Sid Vicious had OD’d in NYC.  Jesse was now directing porn having given up acting after a mountain top revelation while shooting Bonanza in’69. He’d tired of playing   cowboys and “Birdie types” like Johnny Poke on Beverly Hillbillies and Keevy Hazelton on Andy Griffith. Jesse was a sweet guy and very funny. A recent Manson acquisition was Olly Olly Oxen Free starring Katharine Hepburn (it paired well with Atom Age Vampire.)  Jesse did an imitation of Kate singing Sid Vicious’s version of My Way.  Jesse got smacked with cancer later that year and headed to Louisiana for his final days. My significant other and I went to his going away gala at erotic producer Tod Johnson’s Hollywood Hills castle. She spent the party crying in the bathroom as she’d had a pre-teen crush on his Birdie character.  Jesse regaled the rest of us with gallows humor about crossing Cedar Sinai’s striking nurse picket line to get to his dentist. “Let me through. Gotta get my cavities filled before I’m dead.” The last film Jesse directed, The Legend Of Lady Blue won best picture at the 1979 AFAA Erotic Film Awards and Jesse under the name A. Fabritzi won a posthumous best screenplay trophy.

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While Manson started picking up fringe mainstreamers like Charlton Heston’s Mother Lode, Philip Borsos’ The Grey Fox, Penelope Spheeris’s The Decline Of Western Civilization, Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and the Oscar winning documentary Genocide there was still room for top grade exploitation. Answering my prayers Jimmy “Salacious Rockabilly Cat” Maslon brought Herschel Gordon Lewis’s ‘60s classics Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs! to the Manson family.   As well Mr. Lewis was being coaxed to revisit Blood Feast with a follow-up (it was finally completed in 2002.)  Canadian productions under the Great White North tax shelter began showing up like Roger Vadim’s The Hot Touch and David Cronenberg’s Scanners.  There was morbid interest in how the Dorothy Stratton tragedy would impact sales of Crown International’s Galaxina (not much bang there.)

Reoccurring visitors made appearances in the shipping department.  Johnny Legend bopped through trawling for trailers for his comps.  Holly “Tuxedo Warrior” Palance and Tanya “Tourist Trap” Roberts dropped in for hot clips for their promo reels and cocktails at “La Maggot.” Richard “Soft White Underbelly” Meltzer came by and did a tap dance because his tune “Burnin’ For You” was climbing the charts. Jim Wynorski was our “one-day trailer maven” before he made his directorial debut with The Lost Empire beginning his eighty and still counting features.  Jim would bring his cohort Linda “Humanoids From the Deep” Shayne who hijacked my IBM Selectric.  Al Adamson and Regina Carroll would peek in on occasion.  And Steve Apostolof usually showed up around film market time still shopping Hot Ice.

Sometimes surprise guests hung around longer than they wished. Manson had a small screening room on the second floor with a booth for 16mm projection and ¾” NTSC playback.  The projection room door had a troublesome lock. Once while passing the room I heard banging and a voice yelling in French and English. I went in to discover Roger Vadim trapped in the projection booth.  I freed the understandably distraught director.  I asked him if he thought Bardot would have been a more superior Barbarella than Fonda and he punched me in the face.  No, actually he was so upset by his entrapment he barely said “Merci” and took off for the safety of Sunset Blvd.

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I made numerous excursions up to Charlton Heston’s home on Coldwater during the promotion of Mother Lode. He was usually wearing a corset for a back injury. “Damn tennis.” Heston would go through the color transparencies I’d chosen approving the slides we needed to support the film. He seemed often to be in pain so I didn’t engage him in heavy conversation.  But one time after throwing out complimentary jazz about Touch Of Evil and Will Penny I got around to his most recent stage turn as Sherlock Holmes and the role of Holmes in general. I asked him if Robert DeNiro would be better as a Watson or a Holmes. ”DeNiro can pretty much play whatever he wants to play and I’m sure he’d play it well.”  What about Clint Eastwood? “That would be an interesting portrayal.” What about Mickey Rooney?  Heston handed me the pile of slides. He made a guttural noise, adjusted his corset and strode into the next room. I never got to ask him about his co-star in the play Crucifer Of Blood, Jeremy Brett who played Heston’s Watson. At that time Granada was just beginning to court Brett for their Holmes series.

The next time I visited Heston he and his house staff greeted me outside by the tennis court and they kept my visit quick without dialogue or gracious house entry. It may have been my earlier mention of Mickey Rooney or the furtive gestures of the crazed individual, actor Johnnie P. from San Jose Confidential, who was sitting in my company Toyota in the drive.

 

Devon was getting more stage work and spending less time in the office.  Other than the time Mae West kissed him at the Crown International premiere of Sextette  the happiest I’d seen him was when he found the discarded brand new 40” TV in the building dumpster. Someone had deposited the TV and remote and Devon was the first to spy them. Devon carried them into the office proclaiming “They’re mine!”   Both items were in cartons shrink wrapped with colored cellophane.  Feverishly elated he set them aside by his desk and planned to take them home at day’s end.

In the hallway outside shipping the owner of the Aladdin building, a Beirut millionaire, accosted me and Adam, the non-drag queen new shipping guy, and asked us what happened to the TV set out by the trash.  We told him that Devon had snatched it up. He began to laugh maniacally.  “I put it out there to see who would take it. It’s a complete goddamn fake.”  A peculiar prank indeed, like bad Allen Funt on lithium.

When Adam told Devon I knew there’d be a compressed acting lesson in the offering.   Devon violently tore off the wrap, smashed open the carton and removed the TV shell weighed down with worthless ballast instead of tube and circuitry.  The TV remote turned out to be a pack of cigarettes.  Devon pushed everything to the ground.  Then he picked up the phony remote.  “Well at least I got a pack of cigarettes out of it.”

Devon would go on to star as Waldo Lydecker in a staging of Laura at the Hollywood United Methodist Church.  It was great acting, a critic pronounced him better than Clifton Webb.  Christopher Guest and Peter DeLuise were in the cast. The only down side the night we went was that Peter’s father Dom sat in front of us and  seemed to be doing a monologue for himself competing with the play.  The night of Laura’s final performance, after the last curtain call, Devon dropped dead back stage; he finally had that second heart attack.  It was like a cheesy Busby Berkeley plot only there was no need for an understudy to step in.  One odd note, days after Devon’s death the director of the play, Dick “East Of Eden” Davalos, called the office asking for Devon to go to lunch. He obviously knew of Devon’s demise but acted as though he hadn’t. Taken aback I told him Devon wasn’t in. Dick inquired about Devon the next day as well. I asked him if this was some sick joke. He said “Don’t worry about it.” and hung up.

Manson had a wonderful Christmas wingding each year at the Beverly Hills Hotel.   It was a fine arena for prattle and pratfalls.  A place for buyers, producers and talent to mingle in a festive moment.  Where Michael “Timerider” Nesmith would recall how Hendrix traumatized parents as the Monkees opening act and how his mother had invented Liquid Paper. Director Penelope Spherris debated the magnetic appeal of Albert Brooks vs Darby Crash.  A German distributor pulled a knife on a Scandinavian distributor. I tried to convince Mark and Marilyn Tensor to no avail that Crown should do a teen zombies flick. Richard Farnsworth acted out horse stunts making the ladies swoon. My future boss Andy Vajna declared First Blood would change the foreign marketplace forever. My future wife grabbed a violin from the string quartet and played hot gypsy improv. And Charlton Heston passed through quickly due to back problems. “Damn jai alai.”

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I quit Manson to go to Texas seeking lost romance and ended up spending time with a charming carnival freak show in Beaumont (Hall and Christ Sideshow I believe).  When I returned to L.A. Manson welcomed me back into their fold but it was a-changing.  Manson International eventually moved from Sunset to a “more prestigious” building on Olympic in West Los Angeles. The bigger digs were required for the larger Manson Family of twenty plus employees.  As part of its expansion Manson got hitched to production, financially floating Albert Pyum’s concrete boat Radioactive Dreams.  All production is high stakes gambling but some of us were concerned where Manson was placing its bets.  Employees jumped ship to more lucrative ventures. In 1985 Michael kicked me and two other “non-team players” out the door. It was the beginning of streamlining for eventual sale of the Manson library to Jonathan Krane’s MCEG in 1987.

I resurfaced at Carolco, a foreign distributor and producer which did not feed off the bottom, a company that transformed Hollywood financing for better or worse.  Carolco’s filing system was absolute chaos compared to Manson but for Carolco that may have been insurance.