Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fuzzy memories

One of the nice perks of this weblog is that I occasionally get e-mail inquiries from fans who sometimes ask for information on nostalgia-related issues…that is, when my e-mail spam filter isn’t dumping them in the same file as the ones needing my help to move a large amount of money out of Nairobi (seriously—would you entrust a task like that to someone like me, a guy who’d make Maxwell Smart look one of the men from U.N.C.L.E.?). Okay, I’ll come clean and admit that’s pretty much the only perk—unless you include the extra ketchup I sometimes receive with my onion rings order at Sonic…though I’m not certain my authorship of TDOY has any connection with that.

N-E-wayz—as my friend Lynn often writes—I got a nice e-mail from a fellow Georgian named Bob Brooks a week or two ago; Bob lives up the road a way from the home office here in Athens and he was looking for some info on Al “Fuzzy” St. John. I was able to help him out with what I know about St. John’s silent comedy career; he was the nephew of the great Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and his work alongside his uncle and Buster Keaton is accessible on DVD with the Kino collections Arbuckle & Keaton: The Original Comique Paramount Shorts 1917-1920 Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 and Image’s The Best Arbuckle/Keaton Collection. Image also put out a disc that contains a pair of Arbuckle shorts and a two-reeler with Harold Lloyd entitled The Cook and Other Treasures; the Arbuckle entries—The Cook (1918) and A Reckless Romeo (1917)—also feature St. John, but Buster is only in Cook.

Al maybe have been a mere second banana in the Comique shorts but a better one you could never hope to find; both he and Keaton were integral to the success of the Arbuckle comedies they appeared in and their antics are downright hysterical at times. St. John was a practiced farceur who appeared in an innumerable amount of the early Keystone comedies and later achieved a bit of success on his own as a solo comedian at Educational; I know of at least two examples of his work that appear on the sadly discontinued DVD set The Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle: Curses (1925), a funny parody of Western serials (this film was restored in 2004/2005 by many familiar names in silent comedy preservation: Paul E. Gierucki, Cole Johnson, Steve Massa, David B. Pearson and Richard M. Roberts) and the sound short Bridge Wives (1932) that casts St. John as a hapless husband whose wife (Fern Emmett) has fallen under the spell of the national card-game craze at that time.

The other major part of St. John’s career is the section that I suggested Bob contact Chuck Anderson at The Old Corral about: his lengthy stint as comic relief sidekick to B-western heroes like Buster Crabbe, Bob Livingston and Lash La Rue. The IMDb entry on St. John has an interesting blurb that says St. John was hired to appear in some westerns featuring Fred Scott only after the producers were unable to hire Fuzzy Knight (a fellow West Virginian, by the way—born in Fairmont [“the pepperoni capital of the world”] in 1901), and they decided to tag him with the “Fuzzy” nickname from that point on. St. John retired from the movies and television (he appeared on La Rue’s TV series Lash of the West in 1953) and spent his remaining days working in traveling Wild West shows; in fact, he died from a massive heart attack just as he was preparing to go “on stage” at such a show in Lyons, GA in 1963.

In my reply to Bob, I asked him for permission to post a photo he sent me in which he resurrects the spirit of “Fuzzy”—honest to my grandma, the resemblance is uncanny:

He later replied in a second e-mail that he’s part of a group of stunt theatrical western performers, headed up by a man named Bill Holden (no, not the guy from Stalag 17) who has appeared in bit parts in a number of movies filmed in the Peach State (My Cousin Vinny [1992], Fried Green Tomatoes [1991]) and the TV version of In the Heat of the Night. These fine people are scheduled to play a benefit at a hospital in Buckhead soon, and I for one am pleased as punch to see that there are still individuals out there dedicated to reproducing the sense of fun and wonder from those great B-westerns and for a worthy cause as well. Again, a generous doff of the TDOY ten-gallon hat to Bob for allowing me to post the picture.

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1 comment:

Sebina C. said...

It's astounding how much he indeed looks like him. Fantastic!