Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Mother's Helper" 1933

In 1933, with the USA and the rest of the world in the grip of the Great Depression, the movie studios banded together by each making a short film to promote President Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act. The act made it possible for the President to regulate banks and promote public works programs to give the economy a boost it needed.

Five studios had their individual films shown for a special screening at Paramount Studios on Saturday September 2, 1933. There were some other studios involved in the project but they had not completed their films at the time of this showing .

The films ran the gamut between comedy and drama, most ran under 7 minutes, but all supporting the NRA and Roosevelt’s New Deal. Warner Brothers offered “The Road Is Open Again” which featured Dick Powell singing a song of the same name with a patriotic motif of George Washington (Alan Dinehart), Abraham Lincoln (Charles Middleton), and Woodrow Wilson (Samuel Hinds).

M-G-M whipped up Jimmy Durante in song with “Give A Man A Job”, which can be seen here. Keep an eye out for Moe Howard from the Three Stooges in a bit part talking about rats!

Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland appeared in Paramount’s contribution, but as of this time I have yet to find the name of it. R-K-O featured Edgar Kennedy, Virginia Sale, and Billy Barty(!) in “What America Needs”.

Over at Fox, our blog idol Monsieur Brendel was starring with Zasu Pits and Esther Muir in “Mother’s Helper” and concerns with a housewife’s demand for a 40 hour work week. The film is described by Variety as such:

"El Brendel tries to explain in a Weber and Fieldian manner how his working only 40 hours weekly will give another man employment. When his wife, Zasu Pitts, wants to know if the NRA affects housewives, Brendel explains he has attended to that and brings in the hot looking Esther Muir, explaining that in the future she’ll take care of half of Miss Pitts wifely duties. Miss Pitts conks Brendel for the fade out."

That’s it, but what more could there be as the film only lasted about 2 minutes! This film is NEVER listed in any Brendel or Pitts filmography and I just found out about its existance last year. El and Zasu were still a couple of months from starting the cameras rolling on “The Meanest Gal In Town” for R-K-O (which, of course, will be written about in the future) and Zasu was making films at Fox around the time this short was filmed, so I think that's why she was paired with El.

As for the survival rate of these shorts, a 35mm nitrate print (perhaps the only one in existence) of “Mother’s Helper” was sold to a collector a few years ago so it DOES exist (although I haven’t seen it). We know (and can see) that the M-G-M film is available and Warner Brother’s contribution is in the National Archives and was screened there this past February. As for R-K-O, Paramount, and the other studios involved (whoever they might be), I have no idea as to their whereabouts. Hopefully these shorts will be rediscovered, restored, and preserved for us all to enjoy.


Stacia said...

Ooh, I'd love to see this one. The description alone had me laughing. I recall someone on Usenet mentioning they owned a print of this, it just never occurred to me that person had one of the only remaining prints left (or possibly the only one!)

Anonymous said...

Another NRA short that thankfully does exist is "Signing 'Em Up" (Dec. 1933). Produced by RKO Radio, and Directed by Leigh Jason, the stars of this one were Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey, with Dorothy Lee, Bruce Cabot, Roscoe Ates, Pert Kelton, and Sydney Jarvis. This one's around if one looks hard enough. I have it on super-8 film, and on video. It's well worth seeing, especially for Wheeler & Woolsey fans.

Regarding "The Road Is Open Again", the actors and roles are switched for Charles Middleton and Samuel S. Hinds. Middleton played Abraham Lincoln, as he did in several other films, while Hinds played Woodrow Wilson.
----Rich Finegan

Louie said...

Thanks Rich. The info I had on the WB short came from an article in the L.A. Times from 1933. I also changed the info on the front page to reflect your information.

I also knew about the Wheeler and Woolsey short but decided not to include it as it was made after this initial batch of shorts and wasn't one of the films shown at the Paramount screening which I guess was the "Mother's Helper" premier.

Anonymous said...

Makes me really wonder how many one-of-a-kind rarities are in the hands of collectors, whether shorts or features. I hope in time many will finally see the light of day. TCM should have a deposit bin outside their door, no questions asked!


Anonymous said...

It can be very difficult to research these NRA shorts, as most were never listed in otherwise reliable research sources such as the Copyright listings and movie industry trade paper reviews and release charts. But I did find a review of the Paramount NRA short in Film Daily. They also reviewed "The Road Is Open Again". In the October 3, 1933 issue, Film Daily had this to say about the Paramount NRA short:
"Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland
in an Official NRA Featurette.
Paramount ..... 4 minutes.
Amusing: Bearing no title, this Paramount contribution to the series of special NRA shorts presents Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland in a domestic bit, with Mary repeatedly asking Charlie how to pronounce NRA, and Charlie giving replies that are both amusing and incidentally instructive in the NRA cause."
Ruggles and Boland were an amusing team in several Paramount features in the 1930's and this sounds like a fun short for their fans. Let's hope someone can locate a copy.
---- Richard Finegan

Louie said...

Sweet!!! Great to have that info!