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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pioneer Women. 4.

We're pounding down the homestretch on the Pioneer Women series.
Women who preceded and were funnier stand-up performers than Phyllis Diller.



She started out at at the age of three as Baby Rose-Marie.
How's THAT for being ahead of Phyllis Diller?
It's been said about Rose-Marie that when they built the first stage, she held
the hammer.
This is certainly not too far from the truth.
When she was in her twenties, she was literally one of the first performers to work
Las Vegas.
When Bugsy Siegel built the Flamingo in 1947, she was on the opening night bill.
She held the hammer.
Singing was not really her strength, although she did a lot of it in her act, along
with a lot of special material.
Much can be found on YouTube, and is quite entertaining.
I never saw her nightclub act but I'll bet it was hilarious.
Because SHE was hilarious.
It probably involved at lot of storytelling.
And her work on the Dick Van Dyke Show was super.
Except when they did episodes that concentrated on her character.
Those were always rather maudlin.
But this has been a woman whose timing has always been impeccable, and I'll bet
she put on a hell of a nightclub act.

Gracie Allen.

I know she was actually half of a team.
But she did all the work.
George Burns stood next to her and fed her straight lines, and was great at it,
but Gracie Allen was essentially a monologist.
And a great one.
She could have talked straight out to the audience, without George being there, and
been just as effective.
She played a character, and did jokes.
Just like Phyllis Diller.
But she was far easier to take.
And far funnier than most human beings.

Mimi Hines.

She was also half of a team. Phil Ford and Mimi Hines.
But Phil Ford really didn't do anything, except subserviently play straight to
He was really a third wheel on a unicycle.
When Mimi Hines took over for Streisand in "Funny Girl" on Broadway, they gave Phil
Ford a minor supporting part. And I'm sure he was grateful for it.
He knew his station in life, and seemed resigned to it.

Mimi Hines is a clown.
Cut from the same piece of cloth as Martha Raye.
Except, instead of having a big mouth, she has buck teeth.
But she has always been an inspired performer, a great singer, and truly funny.
When you think of Marcia Carsey and Tom Werner, if you think of them at all,
it is as the Executive Producers of "The Cosby Show" and "Roseanne".
This enabled Werner to become part owner of the Boston Red Sox.
But before "Cosby" and "Roseanne", they perpetrated a pilot on the TV watching
public called "The Oogily Family"
It was a half-hour sitcom about, you guessed it, a family that was ugly.
I saw this show.
It also contained the element of having a daughter who was attractive, who the
entire rest of the family was ashamed to be seen with, and call their own.
An element directly lifted from "The Munsters"
When you're stealing from "The Munsters", you're sinking pretty low.
So "The Oogily Family" is not exactly on the top of the Carsey-Werner resume.
Al Molinaro was in "The Oogily Family"
As was Mimi Hines.
I felt badly for both of them.
But Mimi Hines is a great performer, and did a lot of stand-up, and is much funnier
than Phyllis Diller.

Next time, we wrap this up with the all-time champion pioneer of womens stand-up

'Til then.


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  1. In which I truly make an ass of myself by telling a professional comedy writer ... :

    Gracie Allen's style, her character, needed a partner.
    The Gracie character thought and spoke laterally.
    That was what was funny about her.
    George Burns's job was to react to Gracie's funny words - without laughing himself.
    If Gracie were "in one", the only reaction would be the audience laughing at her, which makes her pathetic rather than endearing.
    Playing to a partner - George, or the Mortons, or Harry Von Zell, or all those people who came to the door - Gracie stays endearing and lovable, while her partners draw the laugh to themselves, compounding it for double effect.
    That was clumsy; I'll try again.
    Gracie's line starts the laugh; the partner's reaction builds the laugh to bigger effect.
    That's teamwork, and George and Gracie both knew it - as did Bea Benaderet and Larry Keating and Harry Von Zell and Rolfe Sedan and Joe Kearns and all the others who partnered Gracie in those scenes.
    Put Gracie in one, just talking to an audience, and they would feel badly about laughing at the nice lady who said the silly things.
    Put her together with someone who has to take her at face value,and they look sillier by trying to take her seriously than she does by simply being silly herself.
    Next time you watch "Burns & Allen", watch George's reactions to what Gracie is saying.
    That's a comedy TEAM in action.

  2. The last five minutes of "The Burns and Allen Show" was the two of them doing one of their vaudeville routines.
    George barely opened his mouth.
    The material was so good that I don't think there would be any danger of Gracie looking pathetic if she worked in one.
    There were other single acts who worked in her style. Dody Goodman, Victoria Jackson, a woman named Donna Jean Young....
    none of them were as funny as Gracie, but none of them were pathetic either.
    I agree that she worked better interactively, but she would have been fine by herself.

    1. Granted, when Gracie started talking, George mainly kept his mouth shut.
      After he asked Gracie the question that got her started.
      Over the years, I guess I've seen almost all of those closing routines, and here's the thing:
      They're always in a two-shot.
      What you see is Gracie talking - and George reacting.
      And consider the material itself.
      Gracie doesn't start talking until George (in the routines) or someone else (in the stories) asks her something.
      If Gracie is alone on stage, "in one", who's going to get her started?

      George Burns once described the TV format in an interview this way:
      "Someone's got a problem. He gives it to Gracie and she runs with it."
      Same basic principle with the dialog routines with George.
      George asks "Gracie, how's your brother?" and then Gracie starts talking.

      If you did HTML, I would have italicized quite a bit of the foregoing.
      It might have been clearer if we were talking to each other aloud; you could hear me emphasizing words.
      So I just have to settle for this.

      (... and dammit, I'm still right about 'it's' and 'its'! So there!)

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About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."