Obituary: Ken Englund
Friday 20 August 1993
KEN ENGLUND was a laughter specialist. During a long career he wrote comedy material for all the media and many of the top funny men, putting bright lines into the mouths of Danny Kaye, WC Fields, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Jackie Gleason. Abel Green, editor of Variety, wrote: 'When a shipshape shooting script is needed in Hollywood, there'll always be an Englund.'
After graduating from Lane Tech, in his home town of Chicago, Englund began writing for the humour magazines that flourished in the late 1920s. When comedians started stealing his stuff, he realised his wit was not limited to the printed page and began writing for vaudeville and radio.
His first movie script was The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1937). Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse had sold Paramount Pictures a screenplay about the attempts of T. Frothingwell Bellows (WC Fields), the millionaire owner of an ocean liner, the SS Colossal, to break the transatlantic speed record on his ship's maiden voyage. Fields rejected the script, feeling he would lose the audience's sympathy if he played a millionaire. Englund, Walter de Leon and Francis Martin saved the situation by writing Fields a second role; he now also played SB Bellows, the millionaire's impecunious twin brother, and the rejigged plot concerned a race between the Colossal and a rival ship, the Gigantic. The movie was Fields's last for Paramount and Bob Hope's first; with the help of Shirley Ross and their Oscar- winning duet 'Thanks for the Memory', he became a star in a role Jack Benny had turned down. (Englund also worked on Benny's 1938 musical Artists and Models Abroad.)
Throughout the war years Englund turned out escapist vehicles for a host of film icons, writing or co-writing This Thing Called Love (1941) for Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas, Nothing but the Truth (1941) for Bob Hope, Springtime in the Rockies (1942) and Sweet Rosie O'Grady (1943) for Betty Grable, and Here Comes the Waves (1944) for Bing Crosby and Betty Hutton.
In 1947 Samuel Goldwyn signed Englund and Everett Freeman to adapt James Thurber's 4,000-word story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty as a film for Danny Kaye. Instead of a middle-aged husband, Mitty became a youngish bachelor with a bossy fiancee, her bossy mother, and a bossy mother of his own. At least the Thurber touch was still alive in the dream sequences, particularly those featuring Kaye as a dauntless RAF Wing Commander and as the world's most brilliant surgeon: 'There, there, Miss Cartwright - don't worry. Your brother will pay the violin again. I just grafted new fingers on him.'
The 1950s brought Englund little glory. Few flocked to see A Millionaire for Christy (1951) or Never Wave at a WAC (1952), and of Androcles and the Lion (1953) Time wrote, 'This screen adaptation of a Shavian classic succeeds mostly in throwing GBS to the lions.' In 1956 Paramount signed the Maltese tenor Oreste Kirkop, removed his surname, and cast him in a remake of Rudolf Friml's The Vagabond King. Oreste's dialogue had to be dubbed by another, and his singing was so deafening that Time observed: 'Audiences may find themselves wishing he had two names and only one lung.' Englund and Noel Langley had written a colourful, tongue-in- cheek script, but The Vagabond King was an expensive dud. Afterwards, neither Oreste nor his co-star Kathryn Grayson made any more films, nor was Englund asked to write any. Instead, he turned to television, working on such popular series as Bewitched, The Honeymooners and Hawaiian Eye.
There was also much dedicated work for the Writers Guild. In an article for its magazine the Screenwriter, Englund wrote: 'Let us roll up our sleeves and try to scrub some of these cobwebs off our celluloid. There was a Geneva Convention to outlaw poison gas; can't the members of the guild get together to ban and consign to limbo the following? 'Listen, darling, they're playing our song', 'Violets] Oh, darling you remembered]', 'Moss roses] You remembered - oh, darling]' '
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