Who are these two schlamiels anyway?

It’s amazing how much a film buff can learn when watching old movies on TV.  Thank heaven for Turner Classic Movies, one of the cable channels which runs not just classics, but old movies of every stripe.

A few weeks ago we caught up with a 1944 film called Seven Days Ashore. It’s a programmer from RKO, featuring Dooley Wilson (of Casablanca fame) and Virginia Mayo (one of the sexiest film fatales ever) and stars the comedy team of Brown and Carney.

Who, you ask?

Wally Brown (pictured above right) and Alan Carney!  RKO’s answer to Abbott and Costello. But unlike Bud and Lou, Brown and Carney are almost totally forgotten today. In fact, until now Frank had never heard of either one.  (Neither did he recognize the name of Freddie Slack and the Orchestra, also appearing in Seven Days Ashore. Who is Freddie Slack?)

At any rate, it’s no wonder. Carney and Brown weren’t very good as a comedy team and their material was even worse — not exactly stuff for the ages.  Here’s a sample. Carney to Brown: There’s certainly a lot of stupid people in this world. Brown to Carney: You can say that again! Carney to Brown: There’s certainly a lot of stupid people in this world.

Each man had had a solo career and was fairly successful. Brooklyn-born Carney (ne David Boughai) performed for years in vaudeville specializing in comic dialects. Late in his career he appeared in a number of pictures including 1963’s It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and 1961’s The Absent-Minded Professor.

Brown came from rural Massachusetts, and was the more “actorly” of the two.  His credits include Alfred Hitchcock’s superb 1946’s thriller Notorious starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. He and Carney were teamed for roughly three years in the mid-Forties, but they just had no chemistry together.

What was RKO — a studio we otherwise love — thinking???

(Hint: by 1942, Abbott and Costello at rival Universal were Hollywood’s No. 1 box office attraction.) Well, then, as now, film execs saw a successful idea and thought they could duplicate it. Not so fast.

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello (above) had been in burlesque together, in vaudeville AND had been big stars on radio before they entered the movies. They had had years to perfect their routines and timing.

In fact being on radio even provided them with one of their signature trademarks, Costello’s squeaky, high pitched voice. (Their voices were too similar over the airwaves so he decided to change his.)

They remain American comedy immortals.

Their hilarious Who’s On First? routine, introduced in vaudeville in the late Thirties, lives on and is still celebrated at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Who’s On First? is well worth a look on the internet.  Laughs guaranteed.

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