The bellhop or bellboy character is a timeless comedic classic. Could this cap wearing uniformed hotel porter's position have been created first for comic purposes and secondarily for the transportation of baggage? So many of the great American comics have taken a turn with the role both as bellhops and interacting with bellhops, I seriously wonder. Some particularly hilarious bellhop performances were given in 3 silent short films;The Bell Boy with Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton , Laurel and Hardy in Hop to it Bellhop and Bughouse Bellhops with Harold Lloyd. The first 2 Marx Brothers features The Cocoanuts(1929) and Animal Crackers(1930) included quality bellhop scenes. Even Donald Duck tried his hand at bellhopping in his 1942 short Bellboy Donald. Jerry Lewis reset the bar in 1960 with his feature film The Bellboy. Search your favorite comic actor and bellhop and see what you find. One of my favorite contemporary Bellhop scenes occured in the finale of the 4th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm entitled "Opening Night" where the bellhop is taking the notoriously paranoid and thrifty Larry David up to his room and trying to coax a tip out of him by explaining how to use the various amenities the high end hotel has to offer including how to use the room key, how to turn on the television and how to use the shower.
Here is my Grandfather doing a bellhop routine at a Vaudeville show in Detroit Michigan circa 1915.
This has been bugging me since it happened and I'm trying to recoup something out of it. I did the antique store equivalent of whistling when you've got cards in a Poker game or what Joe Mantegna called "cracked out of turn" or "crumbed the play" in House of Games.
Earlier in the month I was up in Portland Maine visiting some friends and getting out of the city for awhile with the kids. My friend is the Director of the Portland Art Museum so one rainy morning we went downtown for the private tour. Before going into the museum I noticed an appealing looking antique store across the street. When our tour was done we had some lunch and did some shopping at the LL Bean Outlet store. We were on our way back to the house as the weather appeared to be clearing up and I asked the kids if they would mind taking a short detour past the store and started reciting the standard issue speech about not breaking anything. Something was pulling me in there.
I've always liked collecting things and since I learned of my family's early entertainment roots I've started collecting vintage postcards of old Vaudeville Theaters from around the country. I asked the proprietor if they had any of these postcards and he told me that they didn't but they had a few old Vaudeville photos somewhere around and he continued on with his business. After a few minutes I asked him about the photos he had mentioned and he started looking for them. With a look on his face like he was straining to remember he said to me "I think his family name is Sale. Do you know anything like that?" This is where I cracked.....My Grandfather was writing and directing talking movies right when talkies first started. A few weeks earlier I'd been reading all about them. One of the stars of his earliest 2 reel films was a Vaudeville comic named Chic Sale. I just couldn't contain myself. I said to him "Sure I know a guy named Chic Sale" and started spouting off every last detail I could remember with such relish and confidence that a huge smile started forming on his lips.
He walked to the back and whispered something to his partner who looked around for a minute or so and found a few photos sitting on an old trunk covered in dust. He handed them to me and sure enough there he was as his signature "Granpa" character in full garb with a hand written note and his name Chic Sale signed on the bottom. I tried backtracking but the damage was done. I made some stupid comment about how obscure these really were. Finally, I asked him what he wanted for them and it was way more than I could justify spending. I tried bargaining but he had played his hand well. I asked him if I could buy one but he told me he couldn't break up the set. My only move for now was to walk and try something else but he had me. He gave me his card and told me to think about it.
Now 2-3 weeks have gone by and I'm still thinking about them. Lesson Learned!
I've always been attracted to old things. There's something innately valuable about them. They trigger a pleasure center by disrupting the context of the present world while providing insights into the future. Some people refer to this as history others might think its a form of escapism, still others call it nostalgia, however you want to tag it, I'm drawn to it. Other than as decorations what can you do with old things? How do you use them? learn from them? What are the factors that make material items evolve into new forms and make their predecessor old? Better technology. Is technology always better? How is a passion for old things compatible with the current technological revolution and 2.0 world?
I'm also intrigued and always pulled in by family stories and dynamics. People preserve their histories and legacies differently; heirlooms, lore, photographs, etc. But they're almost always handed down by way of the family. Sometimes they're simply given over by a parent or relative other times they can be discovered through less traditional or expected paths.
These are my first thoughts and queries as I enter the blogging arena. A few years ago, I stumbled on a remarkable collection of personal family history at the top of a closet in my parent's apartment. Some of my findings are over a century old and covered several different types of media. Since then I've immersed myself in this discovery and figuring out how to "handle it"; to use the resources available to me to learn about, catalog, preserve, write about and ultimately pass it on to my kids and their families.
In this space I hope to share the knowledge and insights I gained through this experience and hopefully get others to share their interesting family stories, discoveries and archives with me.