WeWriWa—A suggested alternative to candy

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes several pages after last week, when fundamentalist Samantha Smart and next-door neighbor Lotta Valli had an argument about celebrating Halloween and Lotta’s revealing costume.

After school, Cinnimin retrieved a pile of mail spilling out of the mailbox and brought it to her father, whose heart was weakened by rheumatic fever two years ago. One of the letters was from Portugal, bearing mostly miraculous news about a Polish family he’s trying to bring to America.

Hearing about that letter gave Cinni’s best friend Sparky (real name Katharina), who lives in the house with her family, an idea for an alternative to asking for candy.

At 6:00, Cinni, Sparky, Babs, Tina, and Violet set out on their trick-or-treating route, while Stacy, Gyll, the Valli twins, Lotta, and Mandy went on different routes and Terri and John went right to the school’s dance and party.  Sam and Urma stood at the window, shouting invectives and making hex signs.

“Can I ask for only money?” Sparky asked as they proceeded down Maxwell. “I wanna give it to the Hebrew Immigrant Aide Society, or whatever other group is helping the people escaping from Europe.  I’ll give the rest of the money to whatever group is helping people stuck in Europe.”

“Why would you waste perfectly good money on charity?” Violet asked, adjusting her angel wings. “Leave that for the government and official agencies.  They’d probably laugh at your few dollars.”

“As much as I love money, I’d be really mad if I only got coins on Halloween and couldn’t even keep it for myself,” Tina said. “Candy is always the very best part.”

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WeWriWa—Halloween isn’t just for kids

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when 15-year-old next-door neighbor Lotta Valli, dressed as a ballerina with a bit too much skin showing, told fundamentalist Samantha Smart she didn’t know how anyone could shun Halloween.

“Ain’t you a little old to go trick-or-treating?” Sam asked. “That’s something for little kids, as evil as it is.”

“I ain’t no little kid, and I’m going trick-or-treating,” Cinni said. “Girls can get away with it longer than guys.  Lotta and her friends go to the school dance and party too, and they can wear more adult costumes.”

“I can see that.” Sam glared at Lotta’s ample cleavage. “You oughta cover your body more, so you don’t offend God with that Satanic temptation.”

Lotta pushed up on her bust, and laughed at Sam’s horrified expression.

WeWriWa—Halloween costumes at the bus stop

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week, I’m switching to my yearly Halloween-themed snippets, in a section from the book formerly known as The Very Next. This is my chronological second Atlantic City book, set from March–December 1939.

During breakfast, antagonistic, longterm houseguests Urma and Samantha Smart had some very choice words for the Halloween costumes and decorations on display, and the holiday itself. Now Sam has gone out to the bus stop, and stands out like a sore thumb among all the other kids.

This has been modified somewhat to fit ten lines, and been given more paragraph breaks. Gyll is pronounced like Gil, not Jill. Like his oldest sister Liylah, I was too used to the alternate spelling to want to change it after my kreatyv spylyngz phase ended. Cinnimin’s name was an honest misspelling, not an attempt at creativity, but I kept it for the same reason.

Cinni had dressed as a devil, Sparky was a dog, Babs was a friendly witch, Stacy was a wizard, and Elmira was a princess.  Barry and Gary, standing off to the side, hadn’t worn costumes, though they could use the excuse of being too old and boys besides.  Babs was now in eighth grade, and in a minority coming to school in costume.  She got away with it for one more year because she was a girl.

Violet and Mandy came out to the bus in their own Halloween costumes, an angel and an antebellum girl, respectively, while Tina and Gyll came dressed as pirates.  Terri and John, like Barry and Gary, were too old to come to school in costume, though that hadn’t stopped John from dressing up as a dapper ringmaster.

The Valli children from next door, fifteen-year-old Lotta and thirteen-year-old twins Robert and Jane, had also flouted the unspoken rule against older students coming to school in costume.  Lotta was a ballerina with a little too much skin showing, Jane was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and Robert was the Cowardly Lion.

“The holy roller didn’t dress up, I see,” Lotta said. “I don’t know how anyone could possibly shun Halloween, since you get free candy and money for doing nothing, you get to wear a costume all day long, and the parties are always fun.”

Prohibition-era college hijinks

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Happy second birthday to my rook piercing!

Released 10 August 1932, Horse Feathers was the Marx Brothers’ penultimate Paramount film, and one of their most popular prior to their switch to MGM. It made the cover of Time. Parts of the film originated with their 1910 stage production Fun in Hi Skule. I particularly like this film because Zeppo gets way more screentime than in most of the other Paramount films!

Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho) has just become president of Huxley College, whose football team is a total trainwreck. After the opening song “I’m Against It,” Wagstaff’s son Frank (Zeppo) suggests he pump up the college’s reputation by buying some professional football players in a speakeasy.

Iceman Baravelli (Chico) is left to guard the speakeasy, whose password is “swordfish.” Being the good-natured dope he is, he gives away the password and lets Wagstaff maneuver his way inside. Soon afterwards, Baravelli’s partner Pinky (Harpo), an iceman and dog-catcher, joins them.

Meanwhile, Frank is wooing college widow Connie Bailey (the ill-fated Thelma Todd). A college widow is a woman who hangs around a college campus long past graduation to date and sleep with male students.

Wagstaff recruits Baravelli and Pinky as football players, though they have absolutely no experience with the sport. As part of this ruse, they have to enroll as students. The scene where they disrupt an anatomy class comes from the stage production.

There are several noticeable jump-cuts during the scene where the four brothers take turns going in and out of Connie’s room. This is both due to damage and the censorship demanded by the Hays Code. Sadly, there are no known surviving prints of the original, full-length version.

Also among the men going in and out of Connie’s room is Jennings, who later tries to get Baravelli to sell him Huxley’s football signals so he can throw the game. Baravelli gives him signals for the rival Darwin College, which Jennings immediately realizes. Having failed in his mission, Jennings enlists Connie to get the signals off of Wagstaff.

After this too fails, Baravelli and Pinky try to kidnap two football players from Darwin. The football players have already been tipped off about what’s supposed to happen, and easily overpower them. This puts the entire football game in jeopardy.

I won’t spoil what happens after this, but suffice it to say, there’s lots of typical chaos as the four brothers try to save the day.

The song “Everyone Says I Love You” is prominently featured, and performed by all four brothers. Zeppo gives a straight performance; Groucho gives a sarcastic performance when he and Connie are in a canoe; Harpo whistles it to his horse and plays it on the harp to Connie; and Chico does a comedic version while playing piano.

The song was written by the famous team of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, who wrote many other musical compositions for the brothers. These include “Hello, I Must Be Going” and “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” from Animal Crackers; the musical score for both the film and stage productions of Animal Crackers; “Hail, Hail Fredonia” from Duck Soup; and “I’m Against It” and “I Always Get My Man” from Horse Feathers.

Besides the segments censored out of the scene in Connie’s apartment, other cut scenes include the brothers playing poker as the college burns down, more scenes showing Pinky doing his dog-catching duties, Harpo bowling bottles with a grapefruit in the speakeasy, and an extended ending to the scene in Connie’s apartment.

A description of the poker-playing scene, and a still, survive in a 1932 press book. (Sorry I couldn’t find a larger image!)

During filming, Chico shattered a knee and broke numerous ribs in a car accident, thus delaying production by over two months. Due to his injuries, Chico had to be sitting down for almost all of his scenes, and needed a body double in higher-intensity scenes.

It’s pretty obvious in the famous horse-drawn garbage wagon scene, since the double is much taller than the real Chico (about 5’4, though still taller than I am!). Chico was about the same height as Harpo, while Groucho was about 5’7 and Zeppo was 5’9.

At this point in my fandom, I think Chico has become my favourite. I still love Harpo’s sweet, childlike character with its adult edge, and have no doubt he was the nicest, most approachable one in real life, but Chico’s warm-hearted, simple-brained character has completely charmed me. And who could resist that great smile?

ADATR at 80, Part II (Behind the scenes)

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Following in the footsteps of 1935’s brilliantly successful ANATO, ADATR also was previewed and perfected via a vaudeville tour. This gave the Marx Brothers the chance to see what audiences liked and didn’t like, what needed to be reworked, how to time gags and quips, and what needed ditched.

As a result, the screenplay went through many rounds of edits and outlines before attaining the final draft we know and love.

“All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm,” performed by Ivie Anderson and The Crinoline Choir, was nominated for Best Dance Direction at the 1937 Oscars. This was the only Marx Brothers’ movie to ever get an Oscar nomination.

Ivie Anderson was a very popular jazz singer who was performing with Duke Ellington’s orchestral band at the time. The dancers were Herbert “Whitey” White’s Lindy Hoppers of Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, including an uncredited Dorothy Dandridge.

The song was most likely inspired by traditional African–American spiritual “All God’s Chillun Got Wings,” which in turn inspired a 1924 Eugene O’Neill play of the same name. Its première starred Paul Robeson (one of my heroes), who sang the title song.

Allan Jones originally sang “A Message from the Man in the Moon” during his introductory scene. Another song, “Dr. Hackenbush,” was sung by Groucho upon his arrival at the sanitarium. They were cut out of consideration for the already sprawling length.

The former song is heard during opening credits and again by the dancing at the dull water carnival. It’s also sung by Groucho in the final scene. The DVD includes an audio extra of Allan Jones singing it. I think just about everyone would gladly trade that boring water ballet for either of those songs!

Originally, “On Blue Venetian Waters” was shot in light brown sepia, and the even more boring water ballet was tinted blue.

It’s interesting to note that at MGM, Groucho’s outlandish characters weren’t accepted without questions. Everyone knows or suspects he’s a fraud, even Chico’s own shyster characters. However, in spite of this, audience sympathy is always established. 

Dr. Hackenbush was Groucho’s favoritest character he ever played. In his later years, he often signed his letters and referred to himself by that name, and sang the deleted novelty song.

His character’s name was originally Quackenbush, but was changed due to fear of lawsuits from several real-life Dr. Quackenbushes.

Producer Irving Thalberg (who never allowed himself to be credited onscreen) passed away of pneumonia 14 September 1936, aged only 37. He’d always been sickly, due to a congenital heart disease. Filming immediately ceased. When it resumed on 21 December, production shifted to his brother-in-law Lawrence Weingarten, who was also uncredited.

While Thalberg was adamant about balancing the comedy with a romantic subplot and musical performances, there would’ve been a much better balance had he not died during production.

After this, the musical interludes began hogging more and more screentime. Allan Jones also wasn’t particularly happy with the songs he was given in ADATR. With the notable exception of “Tomorrow Is Another Day,” they weren’t as strong as the ones from ANATO, nor were any of them huge hits like “Alone.”

Besides the canned musical numbers, one of the deleted scenes featured Chico and Harpo infiltrating the dancing by the water carnival, pretending to be waiters in formal suits, and wreaking comedic mayhem. Another featured Harpo trying to calm a little girl by giving her ice-cream, and then swallowing a balloon she bopped him over the head with.

Several references to things we never see suggest other potential deleted scenes, such as Tony already knowing Whitmore and Morgan are in cahoots, and Dr. Hackenbush saying he thought he told Tony and Stuffy “to stay down there with those pigeons.”

Had Thelma Todd not tragically passed away in 1935, it’s quite possible she and not Esther Muir would’ve played blonde floozy Flo, who tries to frame Dr. Hackenbush.

A lithograph of this has been hanging on my wall for years!

Just about all reviews were very good, something which would never happen again. After Thalberg passed away, the Marx Brothers were left to twist in the wind, and became more and more like guest stars in their own movies. I don’t think the later films are nearly as awful as their reputation, but they’re not 5-star efforts either.

The classic 1976 Queen album A Day at the Races takes its name from the film, just as their 1975 A Night at the Opera takes it name from that movie.