Lest we get too comfortable with the great jazz and big band music in the Soundies oeuvre, let us not forget that vaudeville and variety acts were almost always a part of the weekly release schedule.
With the exception of gross exaggeration – The Cone Heads and Fat Bastard come to mind – we are thankfully starting to get past comedy based solely on the exploitation of physical differences. Of course, this was not the case in the first half of the 20th century and this approach to humor made its way regularly onto the vaudeville stage … and sometimes into Soundies. Such is the case of a knockabout comedy trio – a Little Person, a Giant, and person of normal height – who billed themselves as Low, Hite and Stanley.
Lowe (Roland Picaro, the Little Person), Hite (Henry Hite, the Giant) and Stanley (Stanley Ross, the person of normal height) presented a very popular comedy routine on variety stages nationwide beginning in the mid 1930s. The trio made their debut playing theaters in New England. They were called to Hollywood and introduced to a wider public in the 1937 feature film New Faces. Since their act was completely visual in nature, it is not surprising that they did not record and cannot be found on radio. But for more than ten years, the Lowe, Hite and Stanley were popular stage entertainers. As evidenced in this Soundie, their act is somewhat derivative, and the group appropriated many bits used by the Three Stooges. While the violence and physical abuse are discomforting, it is typical of comedy routines and films from the period.
To say that producer Ben (B.K.) Blake got the most for his money is putting it mildly. The Soundie was probably filmed in one take, using two cameras. Nothing complicated here because this is one of the group’s regular stage routines. The act was filmed live, with the music, almost certainly a pre-recording track, dubbed in later.
How should we view this type of comedy today? As noted above, it is way past the time that we should make physical difference the focus of “fun making.” On the other hand, preserving and sharing a routine such as this one is important in understanding Soundies and popular culture of the war years. To quote dancer Sammy Warren, a member of the Three Chefs, whose Soundie Breakfast in Rhythm” can be found on this site, “If you don’t show my films, then my entire career disappears. I spend years on stage, and all of a sudden, I am totally forgotten. Please don’t let that happen.”