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Cancer bulletin: nothing relives the doldrums of my birth month like a good laugh. Good luck finding anything resembling that at the movies; sure, it’s air-conditioned but “rom com” beware. The term alone guarantees the absence of wit, or for that matter, anything resembling human behavior.
Which means us humor-mongers must reach back to the archives. Yesterday was the birthday of one of my favorite moonchildren: Eugene Pallette (1889-1954) was a character actor from Hollywood’s golden age who got his start as a leading man in silent films (The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance), but found his true métier in screwball comedies.
Damn right, they had voices then. With the advent of sound, Pallette’s froggy rasp and his Humpty-Dumpty build made him the king of cigar chomping, high-dudgeon indignation. He made a specialty of the bewildered paterfamilias in The Bride Came C.O.D., My Man Godfrey, and memorably, The Lady Eve as a beer magnate whose disdain for his ophiologist–snake specialist–son (Henry Fonda) manifests itself in hilarious verbal zingers and double-takes. In this Preston Sturges masterpiece, Pallette isn’t the whole show (Barbara Stanwyck hits a career peak as Jean/Eve; Fonda was never handsomer, or funnier, especially in mid-swoon or full pratfall); he doesn’t appear until the film is half over, but he’s worth the wait. So don’t—head to Netflix (or the New York Public Library) pronto, and pour yourself a tall cool glass of glee.