Movie Comedians of the 1950s

Defining a New Era of Big Screen Comedy

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About the Book

The 1950s were a transitional period for film comedians. The artistic suppression of the McCarthy era and the advent of television often resulted in a dumbing down of motion pictures. Cartoonist-turned-director Frank Tashlin contributed a funny but cartoonish effect through his work with comedians like Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope. A new vanguard of comedians appeared without stock comic garb or make-up—fresh faces not easily pigeonholed as merely comedians, such as Tony Randall, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Some traditional comedians, like Charlie Chaplin, Red Skelton and Danny Kaye, continued their shtick, though with some evident tweaking. This book provides insight into a misunderstood decade of film history with an examination of the “personality comedians.” The talents of Dean Martin and Bob Hope are reappraised and the “dumb blonde” stereotype, as applied to Judy Holliday and Marilyn Monroe, is deconstructed.

About the Author(s)

Wes D. Gehring is a distinguished professor of film at Ball State University and associate media editor for USA Today magazine, for which he also writes the column “Reel World.” He is the author of 39 film-related books, including award-winning biographies of James Dean, Carole Lombard, Steve McQueen, Robert Wise, Red Skelton and Charlie Chaplin.

Bibliographic Details

Wes D. Gehring
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 212

Bibliographic Info: 36 photos, notes, bibliography, filmography, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9996-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2692-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Preface and Acknowledgments 1

Prologue, with Notes on Abbott & Costello 3

 1. Judy Holliday: Born Yesterday (December 27, 1950) 7

 2. Martin & Lewis: Sailor Beware (February 1, 1952) 21

 3. Bob Hope: Son of Paleface (October 2, 1952) 35

 4. Charlie Chaplin: Limelight (October 25, 1952) 48

 5. Red Skelton: The Clown (January 29, 1953) 61

 6. Hope & Crosby: Road to Bali (January 30, 1953) 72

 7. Tom Ewell/Marilyn Monroe: The Seven Year Itch (June 4, 1955) 84

 8. Jack Lemmon: Mister Roberts (July 15, 1955) 96

 9. Martin & Lewis: Artists and Models (December 22, 1955) 107

10. Danny Kaye: The Court Jester (February 2, 1956) 123

11. Tony Randall: Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (September 12, 1957) 136

12. Lemmon & Curtis/Monroe/Joe E. Brown: Some Like It Hot (March 30, 1959) 149

Epilogue: The Question of Quality 1950s Film Clowns 170

Filmography 181

Chapter Notes 183

Bibliography 193

Index 199

Book Reviews & Awards

“Gehring remains supreme in film comedy scholarship”—Choice; “He explores, in detail, a dozen of the classic movies of the era. It’s a fascinating study”—Pop Culture Classics; “a fresh and fascinating inside into screen comedies of the 1950s…Gehring expertly covers an even dozen of the decade’s most significant comedy films.”—Yes!Weekly; “Wes D. Gehring is a prolific author and film historian with an expertise in screen comedy. Thus, a book on movie comedians of the fifties would be especially significant coming from someone with this frame of reference and accomplishment. Gehring carefully and insightfully examines all of the movies and spotlights their connection, their importance, and their contiuned impact. One of the most interesting film books of the year”—jlneibaur-writer.