Obituary: Charles Lamont

Charles Frederick Lamont, film director; born San Francisco 5 May 1898; died Woodland Hills, California 11 September 1993.

CHARLES LAMONT enjoyed a 33-year film career, during which he was never out of work, directing hundreds of features and short subjects. He died at the age of 95.

Both his parents were actors, and he followed them on to the boards while still in his teens. In 1919 he began acting in silent films, but switched to directing in 1923. For 15 years he directed comedy shorts, most of them for Educational Films Corporation, a 'Poverty Row' company.

One morning late in 1931, Lamont and Jack Hays, a fellow director from Educational, visited Meglin's Dance Studio in Santa Monica, looking for children for Baby Burlesks, a new series of one-reel take-offs on well-known movies. Among the 200 children present was the three-year-old Shirley Jane Temple. As Lamont peered at her, Shirley Jane decided she didn't like his 'moon-shaped, jowly, moist-looking' face, and crawled under the piano to get away from him. 'We want that one,' Lamont said to Hays, and Temple was signed to a two-year contract. Lamont directed her in such Baby Burlesks as War Babies (1932), in which she flirted with doughboys as a French bar girl in an off-the-shoulder blouse and a large safety-pinned nappy and The Pie-Covered Wagon (1932), in which she was tied to a stake by tiny Indians. More than half a century later, Shirley Temple still recalled the terrors of Lamont's Black Box, into which she was placed several times for disobedience. 'It really was a devilish punishment,' she wrote in her memoirs. 'Remove child directly to the chill of the black box. Close access door tightly and leave child in box until sufficiently cooled and chastened.'

Lamont also directed shorts starring two great comedians whose careers had foundered after the coming of sound, Harry Langdon and Buster Keaton. These were strictly low-budget affairs, as were the first features he directed. Lamont ground out more than 20 long-forgotten quickies for various shoestring companies before landing a contract with Universal, his home for the next 17 years. From 1939 to 1956 he turned out a staggering number of B-pictures: vehicles for the Dead End Kids, the Little Tough Guys, Baby Sandy, Gloria Jean, Joan Davis, Donald O'Connor, Ma and Pa Kettle and Francis the Talking Mule. He was given an A-picture budget to make Salome, Where She Danced (1945), a Technicolor farrago that managed to cram in a sabre duel, a stagecoach raid, an attack on a Chinese junk, General Robert E. Lee, Bismarck, and Yvonne De Carlo, who emerged Venus-like from a shell to the strains of 'The Blue Danube'.

Dubbed 'the funniest deadpan parody I have ever seen' by James Agee, Salome made De Carlo a star, and Lamont directed her again in Frontier Gal (1945) and Slave Girl (1947). In the latter, she played a dancer who first robs, then falls in love with, a dashing young American, played by the paunchy, ageing George Brent. Universal considered shelving the film; preview audiences had hooted at the bad dialogue and worse acting. Lamont, however, shot new material, including a sardonic camel who narrated the story and knocked its absurdities. Released as a satire, Slave Girl turned a profit.

Lamont directed Abbott and Costello in nine movies. Lou Costello could be intractable, but Bob Thomas, in his book Bud and Lou, related a revealing on-set incident.

Charles Lamont directed a scene in which Lou bumped into an ambulance door. Next Lou bumped into the door of the hospital. Lamont halted the scene and asked, 'What did you do that for?' 'I think it's funny,' Lou replied.

'Once it's funny, twice it isn't,' Lamont said.

'I think it's funny, and I'm gonna do it.'

'Go ahead and knock your brains out. Don't forget: I'm the one who cuts the picture.'

Only one bump remained in the film.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee