Written for the Duluth News Tribune by Jim Heffernan for Saturday, February 6, 2021
I noticed in a recent obituary in this paper that the elderly gentleman who had died was fond of the Three Stooges. What a delightful, and insightful, thing to include in a man’s obit. I didn’t know him but wish I had.
It got me to thinking about what comedy team I might want to mention in my obituary when that day comes. I like the Three Stooges a lot too, but I think I’d prefer to be survived, on paper, by Laurel and Hardy. They are my all-time favorites, and when they show up on TV even today I am always compelled to watch. Their movies were still making the rounds in theaters when I was a kid
Still, the Three Stooges were great too — Moe, Larry and Curly (the bald one). I liked Larry the best, I think. Don’t know why. Moe was so dominant but poor Larry, a study in self-deprecation, was always the victim. Curly was he who got slapped.
Maybe more of us ought to think about what comedy team we liked best to include in our final public mention. In thinking about this subject, and before choosing Laurel and Hardy, I considered several other comedy teams.
I suppose many in my generation might choose Abbott and Costello — Bud and Lou — but not me. They were very popular when I was a kid, but even at a young age I thought Costello was too silly, presaging the serious approach to life I would take when I grew up, as readers of this can readily discern.
When Costello sadly dropped dead in the early 1950s, it seemed like he and Abbott were almost immediately succeeded on the screen by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. They became perhaps the most famous comedy team of all time, but I didn’t particularly care for them. Of course I went to all of their movies — what else was there to do? — but Jerry Lewis didn’t speak to me (too silly too) and Dean Martin was just his straight man. (In the old sense of straight.)
Back in the Abbott and Costello days, a comedy team on radio was very popular but seems almost politically incorrect to mention these days. They were called Amos and Andy and I feel it perilous to go into detail about their racially associated schtick. Not going to show up in any obituaries, I’d wager.
In more recent years (but not that recent) Rowan and Martin made a big hit with television’s “Laugh In” program but are now largely forgotten by today’s funeral directors, to whom obituary material is dictated by surviving family members. They were funny though, as was their cast of characters including Goldie Hawn and Richard Nixon, who showed up there once and uttered the famous “sock it to me” line featured each week on “Laugh In.”
Let’s see here… I’m running out of comedy teams. Well, around the same time as Nixon and Agnew were a couple of comics called Allen and Rossi. The usual fat clown and thin buddy, but they did a lot of TV and could be amusing. I don’t think they’re of obituary quality though.
I’ll digress now to a confession of a low point in my long-ago newspaper reporting years when I was assigned to go to Hotel Duluth (now Greysolon Plaza) to interview one half of an old radio comedy team called Lum and Abner. (No relation to Lil’ Abner of newspaper comic pages fame.)
Lum and Abner? I’d never heard of them. Unbeknownst to me they were apparently on radio forever with a folksy show purportedly out of some bucolic small town in Arkansas. I didn’t know that, though, when I dashed over to Hotel Duluth to interview whichever one was here to speak to some group.
The place was crowded with cheerful attendees apparently eager to hear either Lum or Abner speak, but my problem was I didn’t know which. My quest to find out became a low point in my reporting career.
The speaker was pointed out to me (of course I didn’t recognize him; I’d never heard of him) as the crowd assembled for a cocktail hour, so I approached the star and introduced myself as a reporter there to cover his lecture. He didn’t seem very friendly but that often happened when speakers realized they were going to be covered by the newspaper, especially politicians. They’d have to watch their fabricating more closely.
It was awkward for me because I didn’t know if I was talking to Lum or Abner and couldn’t proceed without knowing, so I asked:
“Which one are you, Lum or Abner?”
That pretty much ended the interview as he turned on his heel and got on a nearby elevator, the doors mercifully closing as he glared out at me after admitting he was Lum.
Not going to put Lum and Abner in my obituary.
I’ll end all this by mentioning a husband-wife comedy team on radio known as Fibber MaGee and Molly, played by Jim and Marian Jordan. They were enormously popular on radio before TV hit big in the 1950s, as they engaged their neighbors and other characters like Digger O’Dell, the friendly undertaker.
As an aside, they had a local connection. Peggy Knudsen, an actress who was born and raised in Duluth and who had considerable success in Hollywood in the 1940s and ‘50s, was married to their son for a time. You can Google her.
All, of course, have now been visited by Digger O’Dell’s successor brethren, hardly remembered by anyone…except me.
Even after all this, I believe I’ll stick with Laurel and Hardy.
Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and maintains a blog at www.jimheffernan.org.
Gotta growth Martin and Lewis.
Best scene - Lewis in a diner having lunch. Only thing he got sitting at the counter was a cup of hot water for the tea bag he brought - along with the rest of his lunch.
Best line, also by Lewis: Oh pain! Oh pain! I can stand anything but pain!
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