Sunday, January 12, 2014

Harold and the Vitch Mystery

While waiting for my literary ship to come in (and based on past experience, that could take a long time, i. e.the next lifetime maybe,) I like to make Facebook covers featuring my hero, the Glass Character of the silent screen, Harold Lloyd.

In my incessant bloodhound search for new material, I recently turned up this caricature, at first completely unknown to me. But the answer was in there somewhere. It looked like one-o-dem things they used to hang on restaurant walls during the 1930s, sketches of famous people who used to sit in dem-dar booths. 

Turns out it was. It was drawn by a man named Vitch, a nickname based on the last 5 letters of an unpronouncable name. He frequented the legendary Brown Derby restaurant, the place where Hollywood types flocked after a long day's shoot, and drew (for tips, presumably) caricatures of celebrities. Based on this one, he was pretty good, because in a few deft lines he got a very convincing likeness of Harold.

The legend is that he did these clever, quick sketches on the spot. Perhaps it started out that way. But note the similarity between the photo (one of Harold's stock head shots which he autographed for fans and friends) and the caricature. One could easily have been based on the other. You have to tilt the hat just a little, but the jaw line, the glasses, the position of the nose and mouth are identical. Though the chin is only half drawn in, you get the idea of it. The sideburns are definitely the same. The shadowy right side of the face is also shadowy in the photo. In fact, the whole face and head are in such an identical position that the caricature almost looks like it could have been traced from the photo.

Clearly, this was not done from life. That would give the artist a lot longer to work on making it look effortless. He could also throw away all the attempts that didn't work out.

I hope he got a good tip for this one. But not too good.

POST-BLOG OBSERVATIONS: More on Eddie, that son-of-a-Vitch!

Eddie Vitch
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Eddie Vitch (April 6, 1903 – September 1, 1985) was born in Skierniewice, Poland and made his way to the USA in the 1930s. In 1931, he approached the Brown Derby owner Robert H. Cobb and offered to draw caricatures of the famous patrons who dinned at the restaurant.[1]
In a very short time, Eddie had drawn hundreds of pictures of Hollywood stars and the Brown Derby became famous for the caricatures which adorned it walls. For aspiring actors having their caricature on the walls of the Brown Derby meant they had finally 'made it' in Hollywood. For Eddie Vitch it was to become his ticket into the world of entertainment.
By the 1940s, Eddie had created a comedy mime act and was traveling the world in variety theater alongside some very famous stars such as Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and Josephine Baker. His career took off during the 40s and 50s and he performed with the Folies Bergere,[2] Paris, in the Berlin Wintergarten theatre, the Hippodrome, London and the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen.[3]
He went on to perform his comedy shows on TV and had guest appearances in several movies. In 1966, he retired from theater life and moved to Australia.

At long last, and after much digging and sleuthing, I've figured out the mystery of the Harold Lloyd caricature I liked so much, the one that bore the mysterious signature "Vitch". 

I'm not sure how I found this information, but it must have been somewhere. This led me to the (of course, definitive) Wikipedia version of the story. Everyone who loves Old Hollywood (and I'm so tired of it by now I want to cry) knows all about the crowd who dined at the Brown Derby, a restaurant so ugly I won't even put up a picture of it. It appalls me that anyone with taste would even go there. Anyways, after a hard day of shooting, Mickey and Judy and Ted and Alice and a host of others would all romp arm-in-arm along Sunset Boulevard, blocking traffic for miles, until they got to the Brown Derby and ordered, I don't know, something brown. 

But one day, an enterprising young Pole entered the room just as Al Jolson was dancing on the table in blackface, and approached the proprietor. "Gimme bowl of zoup," Eddie Wolowosiezevoskivinkizinovitch said. "Get out, ya bum," he replied. Eddie (Whatever) then proceeded to throw chalk at the wall until Jolson stopped dancing. From that point on he became a hero, and got a free bowl of soup. When no one could pronounce his name, he said, "Shit!" which someone mis-heard as "Vitch!", the last five letters of his name. 

That's MY version, and you must admit it is a hell of a lot less boring.

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