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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Sure, I'm obsessed, but can you blame me?

This is one of those things that came out of nowhere. No, not quite: I googled "Harold Lloyd caricatures", because I had yet to see one I liked. Most of them were ugly, bizarre and didn't look anything like him.

Oh how I wish I knew anything about this, as it appeared in a mishmosh of internet images. It's signed by "Harold", who usually uses his full signature, so it's something for a close friend. I can't make out the name. Kent, Kert, Hart? Impossible to say.

And the artist's signature: Vitch? Equally incipherable/untraceable. But the caricature itself IS Harold Lloyd in a very few deft strokes, with the right side of his face not even drawn in. At first I thought this was a mistake, or the artist losing interest before he was quite done. But like the best caricatures, the likeness is implied, not spelled out. With a very few lines, you "know". It's poignant that the right side of his face is a mere shadow: this was the side of his body that was most damaged by the bomb that went off in his hand in 1919, just as his career was in liftoff.

I don't know how an artist gets such a compelling likeness, so much with so little: 1/4 of a nose, a tiny fraction of a lip, a jaw-line, brows. He even got the expressive arched left eyebrow that drove women crazy. The thick black hair is implied with one bold stroke. It's all perfect, as are the eyes that softened and grew kinder with the years. This could be Harold at practically any age.

The longer I look at this, the stranger it gets! Even the hat is only half-drawn. But anyone would know who it was. This out-Hirschfelds Hirschfeld by a mile.

Fashion tips for gals on the go:: how to dress for your shape!

Stop the clock (short fiction)

“Marcie! Hey it’s good to see you!”

“Hi, Julie.”

Julie looked her up and down. Up and down, then smiled brightly, her eyes glistening like wet caramels. Then came the single syllable.


It wasn’t a “wow” like “wow, is that your new car?”. It was a “wow” like, “What happened to your new car?” It had a tiny backlilt, an inflection that was just a little bit “off”.

Marcie knew it wasn’t a good “wow”. It was almost a disappointed “wow”, but strained through a sort of Facebook screen so she could never be pinned down or held responsible.

“Wow yourself.”

“Yeah.!” The “yeah” started off as a high squeal, then sailed down to a whisper.

Julie looked away for just a second with a sort of reflexive hair-flip, like something you’d do in junior high. Marcie half-expected her to start chewing on the end of her braid. Then she brighted herself again.

“So what are you, y’knowwww – “

“Oh, same old thing.”

“Did you ever get – “


“So are you self-publishing now? Whatever happened to that novel? You know, the one about the cruise ship and the - ”

“That was quite a while ago.”

“I can see that.” (See what? “That”.)

She hair-flipped again. “So what do you do now exactly, you know? I mean.”

“The same thing you do, Julie.”

“Oh, of course!” She kept looking Marcie up and down, her eyes flipping from head to mid-thigh, though pretending she wasn’t doing it.

“You know, it’s been an awfully long time since we’ve seen each other, Julie.”

“Tell me about it!”, with a well-practiced “oh, yeah!” eye-roll.

It was then that she noticed something funny about Julie. Or at least, she thought it was funny. She had a sort of glaze over her, like something you’d pour over cinnamon buns, or maybe a shell of amber. Glossy. Her smile was glossy too.

Had she done something to herself?

Marcie believed that, as you aged, your face decided to go one way or the other. It either went Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy looked almost the same in the ‘60s, well, at least both of them had normal faces, and now Shatner was round as a pumpkin and Nimoy looked like a burnt-out old matchstick.

Skinny faces got fat, fat faces got skinny. Gaunt-looking people rounded out and softened, as if their inner selves were working their way out. The healthy-looking ones housing gaunt souls ultimately lost the battle of looking like someone else.

But there was a third possibility, and that was to stop. Stop time, stop the clock ticking. Marcie always thought there was another word for that: “death”, but apparently not, because everywhere she looked these days, she saw people who had decided to stop the clock

Except that there was a cost.

As Julie pretended not to look at Marcie’s burgeoning weight, the little dewlappy thing that hung below her rounded chin, the lizard skin on her arms, Marcie pretended not to look at Julie’s House of Wax immobility, the shellacked quality which was now considered highly desirable, even as she heard the creepy murmur of Vincent Price in the background.

Some even turned the clock back. Ageing backwards, which was really some trick. If they kept on going, they’d be fetal in a few years, or disappearing altogether, their molecules just coming apart: poof!

“So, I guess you have a pretty big one coming up pretty soon.”

“A pretty big one?” For some insane reason Marcie thought “bowel movement”.

Birthday!” She almost sang it, lilting high on the first syllable.

“Oh, Julie, how did you ever remember that?”

“I did your horoscope, silly, don’t you remember? Look at that.” She plucked a hair off the shoulder of Marcie’s blouse and looked at it.

“It’s a hair.”

“Yes, I know, but it’s - “

“Didn’t your hair used to be -  wait, now what color was it, I mean before?”

“Before what?” Julie was starting to sound defensive. She could dish it out, but she definitely couldn’t take it.

“Before the Jurassic Period,” Marcie wanted to say, but she didn’t. All the nasty things she left unsaid were going to kill her, one of these days, like a great landslide falling down on her.

“You’re still slim,” she said instead. “How do you do it?”

“Oh! I cleanse. Every month. High colonics, they’re awesome! You just purge away all that gunk in your system. All those toxins.”

“I thought you were vegan.”

“Oh, but vegetables have chemicals on them no matter what, because of the water supply.”

“I still eat cows.” She was becoming extremely depressed. How to get rid of her?

“You’re going to kill yourself, Marcie,” Julie murmured, pulling out and using the appropriate facial expression before tucking it away again.

(“Yes, if this conversation goes on any longer.” Another rock in the landslide.)

“My grandmother ate cows.”

“But they were different cows.”

Marcie burst out laughing.  She couldn’t keep the laugh to herself.

“I should say they were.”

“No, you don’t understand, they weren’t GMO cows.” Marcie thought this was something about General Motors or something. Her lack of interest finally must have registered on Julie.

“Listen, sweetie, I have to go now, but I want to give you something" (rummaging in her voluminous shoulder-bag) “- or actually, a few things, they’re freebies from the gym, you know? And the salon and stuff. Take them.” She thrust a wad of things in Marcie’s hands with a tight smile, turned around abruptly and gave a little Liza Minnelli backwards wave over her shoulder before flouncing away.

Marcie stood in the street shuffling through her treasures. A coupon for Turbo-Charge Fat Blaster Weight Loss Supplement, $2.00 off the first 60 capsules. An ad for a 60-ounce mega-capacity twenty-speed macerating Power-Juicer, 90-day trial free of charge! “Look 20 years younger in 20 minutes with Botuline, available NOW from your dentist!” A little packet of shampoo from a trendy salon, something called Blow your Head Off!, to mask “the grey” (grey sounding as ominous as some creepy space alien, and as undesirable). An ad for dental veneers with a woman smiling like a piano, showing every blinding-white tooth in her head.

God, she must think I’m a disgusting mess.

Just plaster things on the outside, and run-run-run. It’ll catch up with you one day. Sooner or later all your molecules will come apart, never to be replaced. When your molecules do come apart, there will literally be nothing left. Is that why you draw back so hard, by trying to minus-out the years you’ve slogged on this earth? Keep hitting the reset button. But what about your mind? Can you erase that too? I suppose you can. It’s done in a slightly different way.

They were friends then, quite good friends, had many excited conversations about this and that, though they often had a barbed quality to them, a putting-down-with-eyeroll. It was necessarily for them to have a mutual enemy or threat in order to really get along. Julie seemed like a super-coper, always on top of every situation, so Marcie was stunned when she suddenly, floridly fell apart. She had always been a little frantic, but this was something else, as if the tiny dancing ballerina on top of the music box had gradually accelerated until it was spinning a million miles an hour. This wasn’t any penny-ante breakdown, it was wholesale craziness, hallucinations, delusions, the works.

That sounds awful, Marcie thought, just heartless! It was pain and suffering, for sure, but it was funny how everyone around Julie seemed to suffer more than she did. And it was her family who decided she needed “shock”, something her sardonic old great-uncle called “Edison’s medicine”.

The shock re-set her for sure, but things weren’t the same after that. It was as if some mute but powerful presence deep in her psyche said: not this way; THAT way, and gave her a huge shove in the direction of artificiality. This was the way to make it. This was survival, solace, and something she could be really good at. As the years passed, her new strategy dovetailed beautifully with what the culture expected of her: the new Julie was popular at last, and because of that, Marcie just faded into the background. Not that Marcie went backwards: Julie just turned and walked away.

Now, it was: Wow. Look at you. All right. I’ve made decisions, more compromises than I ever thought I would have to. I am no prize. For this reason, I have one less friend in the world, though I suspect I lost her a long time ago. Life is inherently lonely, isn’t it? Aren’t the sweet fleeting times the very worst, because of how they always go away?

And why is it that when things are good, I mean, really good – as sweet as they can possibly be - we are always the last ones to know? Better not to recognize such beauty, even in ourselves, lest we cry out to a heedless universe in last-ditch desperation and despair: "Freeze!"