This post is part of the Shorts Blogathon, hosted by the queen of all things silent film related, Fritzi Kramer. Check out her Movies Silently website to dig into other bite-sized goodness!
Given that @moviessilently has already covered this film with an excellent review, at http://moviessilently.com/2015/03/01/double-whoopee-1929-silent-film-review/ I decided to tackle this piece in a slightly different way. Supposedly, this is the film where an agent saw Jean Harlow working, and suggested her to audition for the role in “Hell’s Angels”, and as they say, the rest is history.
So I ‘invited’ Jean to tell us the story of the movie from her point of view, as follows.
Double Whoopee (1929) – An actress’ point of view
When I first walked into the studio, and was offered a part in the movie, I didn’t think a lot about it. They showed me the script: pretty standard Laurel-and-Hardy slapstick stuff, in which I would lose part of my dress, not for the first time in my life. Hey, it was a paycheck, a couple of days’ work for a small-time actress, not the sort of part I tended to turn down … at the time.
Hey, they even offered my friend, Clara, a bit part, too, so both of us would eat for a few days after this.
As I say, the movie was nothing special, and if it wasn’t for future events, it probably wouldn’t have survived very long, and certainly not been remembered nearly a century later. But …
The plot? Oh, fine. Stan and Ollie go to a hotel, to start work as a footman and doorman, respectively. Thing is, they arrive, just as some Highness from some distant country arrives at the hotel, and people think they are the royalty. The staff fawn over them until Ollie hands over the letter of introduction, and then things change. They get sent off to get ready for work, and the real Highness and his main man sign into their suites, then head to the elevator. The royal gets in the lift, then gets asked to make a brief speech. He then goes to get back into the lift. In between, Ollie has called the elevator, and the VIP falls down to the bottom of the shaft. Yes, you’ve guessed it, by the time he’s been rescued, and the elevator called, Stan is now ready for work.
Next, Ollie gets to test his doorman’s whistle, and of course, the cab driver thinks it’s genuine business, and drives up. Standard annoyance, with a warning to Ollie, follows, and he drives off.
Meanwhile, inside the hotel (just a movie set), it’s my friend’s time to do her thing with Stan. She and her man for the night are getting ready to go out. Stan puts his coat on, and it doesn’t look right, so he tries to adjust it. Tugs underneath his coat, out comes his shirt. Yes, it was rigged: the moment Stan put the slightest pressure on it, it would come away—a bit like most of my dresses, but anyway …
He undoes his coat, Clara looks duly shocked at the sight of his shirtless body, and that’s it, her pay is earned for the day.
So then it’s back outside, and building up to my big moment. First though, Stan tries out Ollie’s whistle, and the same cab driver pulls up: another false alarm. Much pulling of clothing, including that of a policeman, ensues, and the cab driver rushes off.
By now, Clara has returned, recovered from her “shock” in time to watch me do my thing. The cab ride, about 20 yards! Firstly they open the cab drivers door, then finally get to letting me out. Ollie sees this glamorous blonde get out, and rushes to act the gentleman. I look flattered, take his arm, and he instructs Stan to shut the cab door behind me. Yes, you guessed it, not all of the dress was out of the cab, and I reveal a little more leg than a lady normally would. The pretence is that nothing happened, and Ollie escorts me to the hotel desk, where I start to book in. Then, and only after much effort, do we all discover that I’m revealing my legs, as the back of my dress has been torn away. I look duly shocked, exit right, and that’s it. Like I said, it’s a pay check.
Another scene with the lift, as Stan and Ollie leave the job in disgrace, and in all truth that’s pretty much it. As I said, a pretty standard twenty-minute slapstick short that would never win any awards, and would soon be forgotten, I had no doubt. But, it was money, and struggling actresses don’t object to getting paid a day’s wages for an hour of work!
Oh fine, yes, you’re right; it’s still around today. And most of the reason for that isn’t Stan, or Ollie, it’s me. Let’s face it, they had to add me to the credits a few years after the release.
What I knew was that silent movies were in decline. The big new thing was talkies. What I didn’t know at that point was that Howard Hughes was making a big movie, called “Hell’s Angels,” and that he was planning to remake it as a talkie. The thing was, the actress in the part of Helen was some Swedish lady, whose accent was never going to work with audiences. So, he decided he needed to find another actress for the role.
Equally, what I didn’t know was that he had agents out everywhere looking for the woman who could replace her. One of them was around the set of “Double Whoopee” that day and saw me. No idea why (even I admit I wasn’t the world’s greatest actress), but he saw something, got me an audition, and I got the role.
That’s why, a year later, an extra name got added to the credits of “Double Whoopee.” Up until then, only Stan and Ollie were credited, but, because of an actress who had made it big, they added my name to the screen. Didn’t get me any extra pay, but, by then, that was less of a concern.
Oh, what’s that, my name? Well, I was born Harlean Carpenter, but you’ve probably heard of me by another name. Yes, that’s right: Jean Harlow.
I have no idea if Double Whoopee really was my big break, or whether I was just in the right place, at the right time, but anyway …
So yes, the film is worth watching if you really like Laurel and Hardy, or if you want to see Jean Harlow’s moment that made her. You can find it at
Let’s face it, it’s not the most leg that I showed in a movie, but …
(And yes, honest, I told Stevie Nicholls all this. If you believe that … 😉 )
(Oh, and an additional footnote: I have no strict evidence that the lady mentioned as Clara was, in fact, Clara Johnson, another bit part actress from that era, whom I discovered under regression was me in a previous life. That was just a fun bit, a cameo for me.)