Mae Busch

Cincinnati’s “The Chimp Tent” welcomed 31 lucky attendees to another Laurel and Hardy film evening; tonight’s program celebrated the life (and film appearances) of Mae Busch, one of the most memorable adversaries in the Laurel and Hardy stable of co-stars. She had roles in approximately 130 films between 1912 and 1946, but she is best known for the 13 movies in which she worked with Laurel and Hardy, the first being the 1927 silent “Love ‘Em And Weep” (which is on tonight’s film program!), and last being “The Bohemian Girl” in 1936. She also worked on one other Hal Roach Studios film, the Our Gang short “Fly My Kite”, which not coincidentally will also be shown tonight!

Mae Busch was born in Melbourne, Victoria in Australia in 1891 and moved to New Jersey in 1900. She appeared on stage and in vaudeville before switching to films in 1912. In 1915 she joined Mack Sennett and Keystone Studios and during the first half of the 1920s, known as the ‘Versatile Vamp’, she starred in notable big-name feature films and worked with actors such as Lon Chaney and directors like Erich von Stroheim. Her career declined abruptly in 1926, when she walked out on her contract at MGM and suffered a nervous breakdown. Afterwards, she found herself working for less prestigious studios, and she was relegated mostly to supporting roles.

And then… along came the offer to join the Hal Roach Studios, where she enjoyed her second career battling Laurel and Hardy. Appearing in films with them such as “Chickens Come Home”, “Their First Mistake”, “Oliver The Eighth”, “Going Bye-Bye”, “Them Thar Hills”, “The Live Ghost”, “Tit For Tat”, and “The Fixer Uppers”, she established herself as a force The Boys had to reckon with. She appeared as Ollie’s wife in four of these films, including the wonderful “Sons of the Desert” feature film. Tonight we’ll take a look at four of her Roach comedies.

But first, we took a little detour and enjoyed a cartoon released on August 29, 1931. “Movie Mad” (8:09 running time) featured Flip the Frog who tries to break into Hollywood as an actor and has to gate crash a movie studio. Look for his encounter with some familiar faces in the pie fight! The cartoon was directed and animated by Ub Iwerks, a former Disney animator who left to start his own animation studio.

Now came a surprise bonus screening for the evening! Now just who were these two Mexican bandidos appearing onscreen? Well, they were Señors Laurel y Hardy of course, in one of their cameo appearances in the May 21, 1937 release, “Pick A Star”. The film stars Rosina Lawrence (remember her as Mary Roberts in “Way Out West”, and Our Gang’s teacher in “Bored Of Education”?).

Here, Rosina is a country girl who goes to Hollywood and becomes a star with the help of a publicity man. We won’t watch the entire film tonight; instead, we’re just going to show you the scene in which Laurel and Hardy appear as bandidos (they also appear in another scene in this movie, but we’ll show THAT piece at another meeting down the line). This movie isn’t a real “Laurel and Hardy” film as they are completely peripheral to the plot. However, their scenes ARE amusing, as you’ll see for yourself. And look for Jimmy Finlayson (without his moustache!) as a movie director in one of the scenes, with Charley Hall as his assistant.

Watch out now, because here came Mae! As noted above, her first appearance in a Laurel and Hardy film was “Love ‘Em And Weep” (20:32), shot in January and released June 12, 1927 (84 years ago this week!). Jimmy Finlayson, Vivien Oakland, and Charlie Hall (in his first appearance in a Laurel and Hardy movie by the way) add to the fun in this tale of a businessman (Finlayson) whose past indiscretions come back to haunt him in the form of a blackmailing Mae Busch. Stan Laurel is Fin’s friend trying to help him, and Ollie only has a bit part as a guest at Fin’s house (this movie was made ~ 6 mos. before the ‘official’ pairing of Laurel and Hardy). Four years later, however, after Laurel & Hardy had become the top comics on the Hal Roach lot, “Love ‘Em And Weep” would be remade as a talkie retitled “Chickens Come Home” with Hardy in the lead, Stan and Mae Busch repeating their earlier roles and Finlayson reduced to playing Hardy’s butler. Remaking their silent films, or parts from them, in later sound films was commonly done by the boys in the first decade after sound films were introduced, and these 2 films are just examples of the practice.

Mae Busch’s only appearance in the Our Gang series is chronicled in “Fly My Kite” (20:58). It was filmed from March 2-14 and released May 30, 1931. Along with Mae’s small role, the film stars the Our Gang kids and of course Pete the Pup. Margaret Mann plays Grandma, and Mae is the wife of the dastardly son-in-law Dan (played by Jim Mason). In this film, Dan tries to swindle Grandma out of her valuable stock certificates, while she is using the certificates as a tail to Chubby’s kite. When deceitful Dan tries to steal the kite, it’s up to the Gang, Pete the Pup, and Grandma to teach him a lesson!

After the intermission and ‘fabulous’ raffle, we viewed some ‘surprises’ not listed on the film program for this evening. We watched a very short clip (2:37) from the 1966 King World Productions ‘Claymation’ episode of Our Gang’s “Hearts Are Thumps” (we showed the real short during our October, 2010 meeting, remember?), and then the cartoon “Hollywood Goes Krazy” (a February 3, 1932 release timing in at 5:34), which of course featured caricatures of ‘the boys’ getting into their usual trouble…

Then (and only then) did we return to Mae’s mayhem in the May 4, 1929 release of Laurel and Hardy’s very first sound film, “Unaccustomed As We Are” (19:58). Edgar Kennedy and Thelma Todd also appeared in this ground-breaking (for Laurel and Hardy) film. In the opening scene, Laurel and Hardy speak their very first lines in film. Hardy’s first line is “And we’ll have a nice thick steak, smothered with onions…” Stan’s first line is “Any nuts?” This is the first film in which Hardy says to Laurel, “Why don’t you do something to help me!” which immediately became a catch-phrase, repeated in numerous subsequent films.

Also heard for the first time was Stan’s distinctive, high-pitched whimper of distress. The film is a series of marital misunderstandings and mischief. Look for the novel (in 1929) use of off-screen noises to indicate action and catastrophes that you have to imagine – and not see. And also look for Mae to become the screen’s first rap star and she harangues her husband Oliver to the beat of a 78-rpm record that plays in the background!

Our final Mae Busch-themed film for the evening was “Come Clean” (19:49), filmed circa early/mid-May and released on September 19, 1931. Laurel and Hardy (and Mae) are joined in the movie by Charlie Hall, who has a memorable (and feisty!) role as a soda jerk. Here’s the set-up: Mae does what she does so well, playing a floozie set to spoil the domestic bliss of both the Laurel marriage and the Hardy marriage.

Come Clean” is one of the “domestic” Laurel & Hardy comedies where they’re each married, with a premise based on their usual ethical dilemma: when they get into mischief, should they admit to their wives the truth or should they flat out lie or try to bluff it out? Guess which option they choose! Mae’s mayhem is malevolence to the max, a middle-class man’s matrimonial miasma: a crazy gold-digger with nothing to lose. What will happen? Watch and learn (or not!).

And so we concluded our mini-tribute to Mae Busch. We hope you enjoyed tonight’s films, and further evenings devoted to Jimmy Finlayson, Charley Hall, or other Laurel and Hardy co-stars may be in the offering in the future. And speaking of the future, don’t dare to miss our NEXT film evening on August 27, at the Seasons Retirement Coummunity main auditorium, where we will continue the theme of marriage in “Domestic Bliss”, with special appearances by Our Gang, Charlie Chase, and Robert Benchley in addition to Arthur Stanley Jefferson and Norvell Hardy, better known as Stan & Ollie! We hope to see you then!


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