Monday, June 30, 2014

Clyde Bruckman: The Gag Man

[post 383]

Today is the 120th birthday of Clyde Bruckman.

Clyde who?

You've probably never heard of him because, even in his heyday, he was never actually famous. He was for many years a gag writer for Buster Keaton who also directed for Harold Lloyd, Laurel & Hardy, and W.C. Fields, and wrote for Abbot & Costello and the Three Stooges. In the silent film era and beyond, when the gags often came first in the creative process and the story second, "gag writer" was a recognizable job description.


One joke of the time was that Keaton's employment application consisted of two questions: “Are you a good actor?” and “Are you a good baseball player?” and a passing grade was 50 percent. Brand ran into Bruckman, realized he was a natural fit for Keaton’s studio, arranged a lunch, and Bruckman started the next Monday, in a dual role as “outfielder and writer.”  — Matthew Dessem


Being a gag writer also got him into trouble, because when a decade later he recycled Harold Lloyd gags for Three Stooges movies — certainly a common practice at the time — Lloyd sued Columbia Pictures for $1.7 million and "won." Well, won, but only won $40,000, perhaps enough to pay his lawyers. As somewhat of a physical comedy historian, I'd have to take Bruckman's side on this one. So many of the gags of that era were lifted from earlier movies, films that it was assumed would never be seen again. And in any case, you can find references to many of these same gags being performed on the variety stage long before the advent of film. Nothing new under the sun. T'ain't what ya do, it's the way hows ya do it.

I mention Bruckman today not only because it's his birthday but as an excuse to encourage you to check out an excellent article on him which sheds some light on how gag writers worked in the 20s and 30s. And all you have to do is click here to read The Gag Man by Matthew Dessem.

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