Gary Johnson wrote:Right Richard. As it's been said before, the state of comedy was changing by the late 30's. I'd say radio was the main cause. Everyone, and I mean everyone was a wise ass over the airwaves then. So I agree with your assessment of the late L&H Roach features and I agree with Randy S.'s vigorous defense of Stan & Ollie's characters through the years. I can even agree with some aspects of Seguin's critiques (just some, mind you). What I cannot accept is the expression "jumping the shark" to describe L&H's career arc. That's a really strong term. It was apt for the program that the phrase became known from -- HAPPY DAYS really did go downhill fast after the fanatical popularity of the Fonzie character and the abdication of Ron Howard. The show became unfunny and unwatchable. That is not what happened with L&H immediately after WAY OUT WEST. They still had 3 more years of great, productive comedy to create at Roach. The parts may have been greater than the whole, but those parts still outshone anything that came out of the FOX/MGM years.
Every comedian worth their salt alters their personae eventually during a long career. The flower that Chaplin brings to his boss in PAY DAY signaled a turn to a more sensitive, less roguish tramp -- and not for the betterment of comedy. I prefer scrappy Charlie. Chase famously dropped his man about town character, halfway through his Roach talkies, in favor of a fussy, prissy older man. I prefer the earlier Charley. Fields elegant cynicism on display throughout the Paramount years was coarsened and hardened into a parody of how the public conceived him from his radio appearances by the time he went to Universal. I prefer Sam Bisbee any day. The Marxes went from anti-social hooligans to loveable scamps. I think we all know where we stand in that equation. Keaton, Langdon and L&H all had their characters altered after they lost their independence.
And yet, despite that, we still laugh and enjoy all of these eternal performers throughout all of their many incarnations. Probably not at the same level as during their hey day, but enough to make us remember them. Jumping the shark, indeed.....
Yeah, I'll have to admit that "jumping the shark" is a stupid phrase, just like so many that for some bizarre reason gets fixed in the public's mindset. The real irony for me (and who thought I'd ever be discussing HAPPY DAYS anywhere with anyone ) is thatthat show went downhill after the first season, when they went from a single-camera filmed show to a three-camera live with a studio audience show. I was long gone as a viewer when Fonzie jumped the shark.
Yep, radio was indeed a big cause of the coarsening of film comedy, except in Laurel and Hardy's case, who were not appearing on radio. Like I said before, the change seemed to infect the whole Hal Roach Studio, everything seemed to get a bit more obnoxious. I can't even stand those last two years of Our Gang one-reelers, because there is nothing more obnoxious than Alfalfa! At this point, there was no Director General like Charles Parrott, F. Richard Jones, or Leo McCarey to over see all the comedy with either a humanist or just a good gagman's eye. Henry Ginsburg and S. S. Van Keuren were just businessmen, and the product began to suffer. And we were indeed heading into the WW2/Abbott and Costello generation, more shallow wisecracks streamlined for wartime production. The Fox years would show the real changes to Laurel and Hardy's humor, and even though they can be the real line of demarcation for the fans, I think it is valid to say the decline, however gradual, had started when the Boys were still at Roach, and some blame can be lain at Stan Laurel and Hal Roach's feet.
RICHARD M ROBERTS