December 18, 2011

Deadline Hollywood summarizes the movie and TV history of men dressed as women...

On the occasion of the new TV show "Work It" (which we talked about yesterday):
While it may have deeper implications today than it did decades ago, men dressing like women is one of the oldest forms of comedy. It is at the heart of one of the best feature comedies ever made, Some Like It Hot, as well as several other classic comedy films, Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire and The Birdcage, and it has had a presence on TV, most notably with the 1980 series Bosom Buddies starring Tom Hanks, and Saturday Night Live where male cast members regularly impersonate female celebrities. And then there is the British school of comedy with Monty Python and Benny Hill. ABC’s president Paul Lee brought up his heritage when explaining his decision to pick up Work It to critics at the summer TCA press tour. “I’m a Brit, it is in my contract that I have to do one cross-dressing show a year,” he said. “I was brought up on Monty Python. What can I do?” As a fellow European who also grew up with Monty Python and Benny Hill, I can actually relate to that...."
I can see the Brit excuse, but it's really awful, if you're going to indulge in argument by listmaking like that, to leave out the most prominent — in more ways than one — cross-dresser in the history of television, the man who was called Mr. Television, Milton Berle.

Here's a great clip of Berle in drag — in a guest spot on Lucille Ball's show.  (If you've only got 2 seconds to spare, click here.)



By the way, what a concentration of comic acting in that 5-minute clip, from everybody involved, including Desi Arnaz, who, if he showed up on TV today, would probably elicit criticism from some dignity-protecting group that doesn't care whether or not comedy has room to breathe.

20 comments:

Sorun said...

But Dave Chappelle sees a special burden for the black man.

Darleen said...

Can we stop with the totally inappropriate term "transgender". Either one is a transsexual (someone on the journey to physically changing their sex, or has completed it) or one engaging in manipulating behavior with "well, I'm not sure what I am, so you must act upon my whim of what I'm called."

Transsexuals are rare - transgenders are political creations.

Most movie comedies of men disguised as women is based on, 1) the unfamiliarity of men in the role of the Other 2) and these men then experiencing what women go through - they experience a revelation, as such and have a new appreciation of women by the end.

Psychedelic George said...

And women have been dressing up as men for centuries in theatre...How many of Shakespeare's heroines masqueraded as men? ...Next up, Glenn Close's new movie where she plays butler "Albert Hobbs."

Darleen said...

How many of Shakespeare's heroines masqueraded as men?

In Shakespeare's time, women weren't allowed to be actors - so all parts were done by men. So you had a man acting as a woman pretending to be a man.

Victor/Victoria

SGT Ted said...

Victor/Victoria is one of the best movies of that genre; a woman pretending to be a male female impersonator.

Pogo said...

The New Puritans see witches everywhere there is humor, save for that against heterosexual men, Christians, and Republicans.

All else is grievous sin.

edutcher said...

As George notes, this goes back centuries, but the way the writer wants to turn it into a "gay" issue shows how we're being propagandized to the homosexual agenda.

There was a story last week about how a class of kindergarteners were being taught "Deck The Halls" and how they all giggled when they came to the line, "Don we now our gay apparel". They knew no other definition of the word.

Oligonicella said...

"While it may have deeper implications today than it did decades ago,..."

No. It doesn't. It's friggin' humor. Kinda like having a Nellie in the scene who can't handle all the excitement.

People with no humor are to be pointed at and ridiculed.

Firehand said...

"Comedy is only appropriate when it serves the collective, Comrade; so knock it off! You're irritating the humorless!"

Or so it seems at times

Sorun said...

There was a story last week about how a class of kindergarteners were being taught "Deck The Halls"...

I wonder if kids still sing:

Jingle bells,
Batman smells,
Robin laid an egg...

EDH said...

It's likely Titus would have been a Milton Berle fan.

And not because of the cross dressing.

But I wonder if that had anything to do with Berle's dressing as a woman?

Quaestor said...

Psychedelic George wrote:
[W]omen have been dressing up as men for centuries in theatre...

To which Darleen replied:
In Shakespeare's time, women weren't allowed to be actors - so all parts were done by men.

Shakespeare's plays along with all theatrics were banned under the dictatorship of Cromwell. The theaters reopened during the Restoration and professional actresses were seen for the first time, however under Charles II public tastes had changed so that Elizabethan and Jacobean dramas were seldom produced. During the reign of Queen Anne Shakespearean drama enjoyed a renaissance which has endured to the present day. Thus George's comment is correct, women been cross-dressing in Shakespeare plays for centuries.

Darleen's comment is also generally accurate, but there are exceptions. Firstly, the absence of women in the professional theater companies of Elizabethan London was not due to legal restrictions, it was to avoid being seen as panders. 16th century attitudes lumped all female entertainers -- singers, dancers, actresses, -- together with bawds as women available for sexual favors at a price. Shakespeare and his investors didn't want their Globe to be seen as a whorehouse, so they didn't hire women. The same was true of the other professional companies.

Amateur appearances by women actors were not unheard of and date back at least to the time of the Wakefield mystery plays. These dramas were staged by the guildsmen of the town who also did most of the acting, however, certain roles such that of Mary in the Annunciation play were done by a virgin daughter of a guildsman to avoid any hint of blasphemy.

SteveR said...

Helps if its actually funny. The mere fact of a specific plot device (e.g. men dressing as women) means nothing.

ricpic said...

The journey to changing ones sex, tra la,
The journey to changing ones sex,
Is rather like changing ones cooking
From boring straight Tex to Tex-Mex, tra la,
From boring straight Tex to Tex-Mex.

ricpic said...

And in the opposite corner, wearing a tux and scaring the hell out of Hemingway...Marlene Dietrich!

michaele said...

I think Berle like donning dresses because he had long shapely legs with very dainty refined ankles.

Chip Ahoy said...

The debil made me Flip on some YouTube videos and *snap* what I saw is what I got.

denmotherblog said...

The men of Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatricals have been doing it for years. But for my money, no one beats Flip Wilson's Geraldine.

Anthony said...

I never found men dressing as women to be remotely funny.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Men dressing as women and women dressing as men are supposed to be funny, a way of kidding the opposite sex and one's own sex at the same time.

Re: actresses in Shakespeare's time, actresses were generally allowed in Italy. Some people argue that Shakespeare had seen such plays, or was at least mentally keeping the possibility in his head.