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The Slapstick Mayhem of The Three Stooges

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As far as slapstick is concerned, The Three Stooges stand alone as the quintessential purveyors of the comedic gag. They transformed low brow humor into an art form all its own, bringing their vaudevillian act to the screen for an impressive thirty-seven years. Their work takes on a near-archetypal significance in the history of American comedy: No one forged such wicked chemistry, no one managed to make violence so artful, no one found themselves in such awkward scenarios.

Moe Howard was the cranky boss, always barking orders and taking responsibility for situations that are inevitably bound for doom. Jerry “Curly” Howard was the naove whipping boy of the troop, though no one has ever matched Curly’s ability to perform the frustrated scapegoat so innocently and unironically. Joining from the flank was Larry Fine, who was quite willing to impart his sense of justice on the unsuspecting Curly as the sycophant to the tyrannous Moe. Together, the original three stooges crafted a formula for comedy that even today remains profoundly original and witty. Their mix of madness and mayhem has indeed stood the test of time.

The history of the troop is one of both ingenuity and luck. Traces of the Stooge style began when Moe Howard worked on the vaudeville circuit worked with childhood friend Ted Healy. As part of the performance, Moe would interrupt and rag on Healy’s performance. One day, Moe’s brother Shemp Howard saw the performance and was bullied into the shenanigans. On a fateful evening in 1925, the three met Larry Fine–a violinist from a musical act called Haney Sisters and Fine–and Ted Healy & His Stooges were born. They were a hit on the American vaudeville circuit; they even made Broadway. They were so popular, in fact, that they even made a film in the height of the Depression: 1930’s “Soup to Nuts.”

The Three Stooges

Healy soon took a better position at MGM and Shemp began working for Vitaphone in New York. Shemp was then replaced by his and Moe’s younger brother Jerry Howard. Playing the irreverent “Curly,” the bald man without a plan took the role by storm, vaulting the Three Stooges to heretofore unseen comedic heights. Soon enough, they were making shorts for Columbia Pictures. “Men in Black,” their second short directed by Ray McCarey, was even nominated for an Academy Award in 1934.

Throughout their forty years of comedic brilliance, The Three Stooges worked with many directors. They first established themselves as a force to be reckoned with working with director Del Lord. In classics like “Dutiful but Dumb” and “An Ache in Every Stake” from the early 1940’s, the directorial flair he had for quick narration added to the troupe’s slapstick style, creating sound comedic chemistry.

The Stooges worked with many other directors, Charley Chase and Edward Bernds to name a few,but often their act depended on impromprovisational talent. For instance, “Curly’s” classic “woo-woo-woo” began as a slip up when he forgot one of his lines in Men in Black.

Despite shifting directors and changes in cast–Curly was hospitalized in the forties and was again replaced by Shemp, who was then replaced by Joe DeRita in 1958–The Stooges managed to continue performing for many years. They always experimented with different forms of comedy, mixing political satire, romantic screw-ups and fraternal bashing with unmatched irreverent wit. The troupe retired in 1975 when Moe Howard died of lung cancer.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife

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McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Tragedy?
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal

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The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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