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1958: Everything old is new again



At this time 50 years ago, in March 1958, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum officials were hurriedly working to convert the venerable venue into an interim, makeshift facility for baseball. In January, the major-league Dodgers, preparing for their first season in L.A. after moving from Brooklyn, had reached an agreement to play there after also considering the much smaller Los Angeles Wrigley Field, longtime home of the minor-league Angels, or another football facility, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

But as Angelenos anticipated their first season with a big-league team, they went to the movies. And one of the films that was showing featured, of all people, Carole Lombard:



The above ad ran in the Los Angeles Times on March 7, 1958.

The film, "The Golden Age Of Comedy," was a compilation of segments from silent comedies, mostly of the 1920s. It was directed, written and organized by Robert Youngson, a longtime director of short subjects (including two that won Academy Awards earlier in the decade); this was his first feature-length film. He initially planned this as another short subject, but after securing rights to the Hal Roach film library, he decided to expand the project.

The Lombard clip was from perhaps her best-known work for Mack Sennett, "Run, Girl, Run," where she portrays a college track star whose personality is as flighty as her feet.



The segment was edited to focus on Lombard, eliminating extraneous scenes (including a rather distasteful racial stereotype gag where a black man is spotted stealing chickens), but the trite musical accompaniment and narration doesn't help matters. Lombard's segment, and one involving a young Jean Harlow from the Laurel & Hardy short "Double Whoopee," comprised "act four" of the compilation, "Two Unforgotten Girls."

Several years before this came out, many films in the Paramount and RKO catalogues were sold in packages to television stations, enabling audiences to be exposed to Carole's movies for the first time since her death in 1942. "The Golden Age Of Comedy" made people aware of another side of Lombard, one largely unknown to most.

Most of the attention understandably went to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, featured in several of the compilation's "acts." (Hardy had died in the summer of 1957.) Harry Langdon is also shown, as are Ben Turpin, Billy Bevan and Charley Chase...even Will Rogers. (Yes, the Oklahoma-born writer and humorist made a number of silent movies.) None of the "big three" of silent comedy -- Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd -- are included, probably because Youngson couldn't secure rights to the film clips.

Youngson had difficulty finding a distributor for "The Golden Age Of Comedy," finally getting a small firm, DCA, to handle things. The film premiered in New York on Dec. 26, 1957, thus making it eligible for an Academy Award (but it wasn't even nominated). It won largely good reviews from the New York press and did surprisingly well at the box office; Youngson was also a guest of TV host and comedy buff Steve Allen, who offered his praises.

Armed with critical and financial success, Youngson secured a large distributor in Twentieth Century-Fox, and by the spring of 1958 "The Golden Age Of Comedy" began getting national exposure and became an unexpected hit. He followed it up with several other compilations, none of which featured Lombard footage, and died in 1974.

"The Golden Age Of Comedy," plus Youngson's 1960 followup "When Comedy Was King" (which includes some early Chaplin and some Keaton, but no Lloyd) was released on DVD last year under the title "The First Kings Of Comedy."



"Run, Girl, Run" can be found in its entirety as an extra on the DVD of the Clara Bow film "This Plastic Age."

Oh, and as for the Coliseum, it was ready for use on April 18, when the Dodgers opened their home season against the similarly relocated San Francisco Giants:



This year's Dodgers will honor that milestone by playing an exhibition at the Coliseum against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox on March 29. More than 100,000 people (including standing room) are expected to attend, making it the largest crowd to ever see a major-league game.
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