Monday, April 20, 2009

Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today...

Ever get an idea in your head that it would be fun to do something and then never get around to it?
Well, stop wasting time.
Get around to it.

Below is a invoice from Blackwell's, the famous Oxford bookseller, for one copy of Richard Anobile's book Why a Duck?
I found it tucked inside my copy when I bought it second hand on Charing Cross Road many years ago. It is dated 24th May 1973, just under a month before I was born, and addressed to Dr D. S. Parsons of Merton College, Oxford.
It seemed so right, somehow, for a doctor at Merton College to have ordered such a book, and so sad that he should have sold it on, with the invoice still carefully preserved inside.
As soon as I saw it, it struck me that it might be amusing to write to Merton College, to ask if by any chance Dr Parsons was still on the staff, and if so to find out how it came about that he lost possession of the book he ordered and paid £2.50 for back in 1973.
Marx Brothers fans, I've generally found, like meeting each other. A certain kinship is automatically assumed when a shared love of the Marxes is discovered: I'm sure it helped me to my own place at London University when I noticed that the man interviewing me had a picture of them on his office wall, and I named the film from which it was taken.
Needless to say, however, my Dr Parsons idea remained just that.
Years passed, and some fool invented the internet, and the idea occurred to me again. Now it would be so much easier.
So just over a year ago I looked up the staff of Merton College and found to my amazement that Dr Parsons was still a fellow of the college.
And again I put it off.
Finally, last week, with this site as impetus, I looked up the college again, but this time his name wasn't there. Perhaps he'd finally retired. So I wrote to ask if they could forward his contact details to me.
A few days ago I received this email from Matt Bowdler, Development Office, Merton College:

Dear Matthew,
I am afraid I have to be the bearer of bad news, Dr Parsons passed away last July. If there is any other information that I might be able to provide for you, do let me know.

So, Dr Parsons, I'll never know why you parted with your copy of Why a Duck? I'll never find out what your favourite movie was. I'll never share with you any reminiscence of that unique species of happiness that only the Marx Brothers can provide. I hope you exited laughing.
Hail and farewell.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Whatever happened to Cyril Ring?

A film trivia question. What actor appears alongside The Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello, as well as featuring in all of the following films:
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Laura, Mr Skeffington, The Seventh Victim, I Married a Witch, Holiday Inn, This Gun For Hire, Saboteur, Sullivan's Travels, Two-Faced Woman, Meet John Doe, The Lady Eve, North West Mounted Police, The Great Dictator, The Roaring Twenties and a little something called Citizen Kane?

The answer is Cyril Ring. Poor Cyril Ring.

It seems to me he makes a perfectly good job of villainous Harvey Yates in The Cocoanuts. But for some reason he got the most terrible reviews, and his career didn't so much decline as nosedive almost immediately afterwards.

Okay; many stars don't make it, perhaps the majority of Hollywood careers are brief. Stars are rare, numerically speaking at least. But the sad thing about Cyril Ring is that he didn't disappear. He kept working in the movies until the early fifties, making many, many films a year throughout that time, for virtually all the major (and minor) studios.
But always in the tiniest roles, demeaning walk-ons, a glorified extra, perhaps a line or two at most, always there, somewhere; turning up for the cheque, doing next to nothing. A face in the crowd, but a haunting one. Once you tune your eyes to spot his distinctive visage, with its pencil moustache and slicked-back hair - a look he never changed - you'll see him all the time; silent, reproachful, living testament to Hollywood's heartlessness.
After The Cocoanuts he made over three hundred and fifty films. He received screen credit in maybe three or four.
One where he didn't was Monkey Business (1931). What must it have felt like for him on that set? A major supporting actor in the first Marx Brothers movie and then, just two years later, a nobody in their third.
Poor Cyril Ring. You'll always be a star to me.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Cocoanuts hits London!

Thanks to Anthony Blampied for these two unusual adverts used during the London run of The Cocoanuts.
The first is a real puzzler: who are these men?

And I love that quintessentially British mix of wild hyperbole and sober grammar: "It is impossible to resist splitting with laughter."

The other one is more straightforward:

I suppose I should point out to our younger readers, however, that neither "Ziegfeld's famous stars making love" nor "London's coolest theatre" mean quite what you think they do.