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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Imagining The Life Of Bill Wolfe

Ever been so frustrated by the lack of information on a favorite personality that you’d resort to inventing your own biography for him/her? Well, today’s little bit of April Foolery is Greenbriar's imagining of the life of Bill Wolfe, that stalwart stooge who enlivened a number of W.C.Fields comedies with his ultra-low-key, cadaverous presence. I’d like to think Bill enjoyed an exciting and romantic life off-screen --- why should his admittedly skeletal, undernourished appearance deprive him of Hollywood’s high life? Whatever wrongs were done to Bill by way of neglect or indifference (try finding any info on this poor guy!), we are here to right them in the Greenbriar Theatre Of The Imagination --- so here goes with some memorable moments from the life Bill Wolfe should have had ---

Bill agrees to fill in for pal Jack Barrymore when the "Hamlet" star twists an ankle backstage. It’s just one performance, but the audience was still talking about it months later when harried producers made a bid to replace Barrymore with Wolfe. "Can’t do that to a friend", says Bill, but still-in-a-pique Barrymore refuses to speak to him for the next ten years.

Teenage Follies showgirl Louise Brooks embarrasses Bill when she refuses to vacate his digs at the St. Regis after a night of intense lovemaking. Decades later, her explicit recollections of the event are judiciously edited from an otherwise revealing PBS documentary.

Bill graciously volunteers to take over crowd control at the Valentino funeral in 1926. After all, he’d once rescued Rudy from a gigolo’s fate by getting him some extra work on Long Island. Trouble is, once Bill gets out among the mob in front of Campbell’s Mortuary, frenzied femmes get one look at him and forget all about Rudy! Pulled down from his mount, Good Samaritan Bill has to be rescued by cops.

Arriving in Hollywood, Bill begs old friend Joe Schenck not to sell Buster Keaton’s contract to Metro. Then he implores Buster not to go along, but the advice goes unheeded. Years later, Joe admits he was wrong when loyal Bill accompanies him to the train headed for federal prison. Seems poor Joe had also ignored Bill’s recommendation that he pay those income taxes!

When Doug Fairbanks chickens out on a hazardous Iron Mask stunt, Bill pinch hits for him and leaves premiere audiences aghast. "Let’s not say anymore about it" is modest Bill’s only statement for a curious fan mag columnist.

Some busy body at the Coconut Grove tells Bill that cowboy star Ken Maynard’s being cruel to his horse, Tarzan, over at Universal. In a rare show of temper, Bill strides over to Ken’s table and gives him a good pasting right then and there. Next day, it’s all handshakes and forgiveness. "Guy’s got a right hook like a jackhammer!" admits Ken, as he gives Tarzan some extra sugar cubes under Bill’s watchful eye.

Bill takes up for one-time boyhood chum John Gilbert when he rebuffs Irving Thalberg’s plea that he replace Jack in the Red Dust lead. Seems Irving thought Bill would be perfect to star opposite up and coming bombshell Jean Harlow. Discussion of the matter doesn’t go beyond Thalberg’s office. "After all", says Bill, "hasn’t Jack had enough disappointment?" Several years later, eventual Red Dust star Clark Gable sees Bill at the Troc. "Thanks for the break", he murmurs, as they pass each other at the bar. "Don’t know what you’re talking about, Clark", replies a subdued Bill.

Seeking to assist family friend and former Broadway juve Humphrey Bogart (Bill had once co-authored a medical journal piece with Bogie’s physician dad), Wolfe advises thuggish dumbbell actor George Raft not to accept the leads in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon. When he’s reminded of it years later, Bill gets a belated attack of guilt and arranges for buddy Frank Sinatra to throw down-and-out George a couple days work on Ocean’s 11.

Patriotic Bill is forfeiting a night at the clubs to put in a volunteer stint dishwashing at the Hollywood Canteen when he hears a ruckus in the parking lot. Seems a bunch of Marines are getting fresh with starlet-hostess Yvonne De Carlo, so good-guy Bill lends a hand by taking on the whole battalion! Within minutes, the ground’s fairly littered with
chastened leathernecks. "Let’s remember we’re gentlemen, boys", he tells the penitent warriors, "… besides, we’d all rather see you whip Hitler than an old duffer like me". Reporters were amused when they noticed Yvonne’s enthusiastic attentions toward her shining knight. "I’m stuck to Bill like glue!" said she as a scarlet-faced Wolfe rushed back to his dishes!

Bill’s own induction was delayed by what he referred to as a "military snafu", but insiders knew that the old rascal had lied about his age. Long-time padre (and navy Admiral) "Bull" Halsey finally gave Wolfe his own vessel, but how could he have anticipated that Bill would sail the thing right into Tokyo Bay --- and in the week before the surrender!

Delores catches Bob
dead-to-rights in Marilyn Maxwell’s apartment, and it’s the night before he’s supposed to host the 1951 Oscars! Soft-touch Bill agrees to step in, but Bob’s let out of the doghouse just before the curtain. The two old friends share a laugh about the whole thing at Musso and Frank’s the next day. Twenty years later, loyal Bill stakes Marilyn’s love-
child to a Harvard education. "I don’t care if it’s Bob’s or mine. Every kid deserves a leg up!"


Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

That was the funniest darn thing I've read in quite a while. It helped having the pictures of the bon vivant and general all around good guy! If this was on Biography - maybe I would watch it more.

9:13 AM  
Anonymous Griff said...

Not simply funny... brilliant and fully imagined. The Picture Shows' greatest entry to date!

11:48 AM  
Anonymous fILEP mOTWARY said...

wow!!Good work there!!!

10:57 AM  
Blogger Walloon said...

Some actual biographical details about Bill Wolfe: His real name was William Wolf. On his World War I draft registration in 1917, he was 23, single, an unemployed steam fitter's helper, living in Bayonne, New Jersey. He had blue eyes, black hair, and was described as short. He claimed the disability of "bad feet". In the 1930 U.S. Census, he was living in Los Angeles, and gave his occupation as "traveler and adventurer". His bad feet notwithstanding, he is listed as a veteran of the World War. Still single. His parents were from Russia.

4:46 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That's great info! Thanks for sharing it.

5:38 AM  

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