Obituary: Charles Lamont
Monday 04 October 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.
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 Prince Harry leaving the armed forced to pursue conservation projects in Africa
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin
Leonard Nimoy dead: Star Trek Spock actor dies after suffering lung disease
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin, says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
White and gold or blue and black – what colour is the dress? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...
£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...
£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...
£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...