Obituary: Sid Kuller

Sid Kuller, lyricist, screenwriter, director, producer: born New York City 27 October 1910; died Los Angeles 16 September 1993.

'EVERY comedian can become exasperating or frustrating, not just the Marx Brothers. The creation of comedy is a painful experience,' Sid Kuller said to Joe Adamson, author of the book Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo. During his long life, Kuller not only wrote for the brothers Marx, but for the brothers Ritz, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Bert Lahr, Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason, Eddie Cantor and Abbott and Costello. And that's just the comedians. Kuller's song lyrics were sung by Rosemary Clooney, the Andrews Sisters, Sammy Davis Jnr, Peggy Lee and Tony Martin.

Remember the last in the Marx Brothers' The Big Store, singing: 'The Cohns and the Kellys, / The Campbells and Vermicellis, / They form a part of my Tenement Symphony]'? Kuller, who wrote that lyric, was born in New York, the city his song celebrated. He attended Columbia University, then drifted into writing jokes and songs for vaudeville. For a while he was a ghost writer for Al Boasberg, vaudeville's top gagsmith.

Hired to work on the Broadway show Earl Carroll's Vanities, Kuller found himself writing for the Ritz Brothers. They liked his material, and took him with them when Hollywood beckoned. He and his composer Ray Golden supplied material for such Ritz pictures as Life Begins in College (1937), The Goldwyn Follies (1938), The Three Musketeers (1939) and Argentine Nights (1940).

In 1941 Kuller, Golden and Hal Fimberg were signed to write the screenplay for The Big Store. Groucho recognised Kuller's quick wit, and demanded his presence on the set throughout the shooting to provide extra lines, one of which was 'You mean that a woman of your culture and money and beauty and money would marry this impostor?'

Early in the summer of 1941 Kuller conceived the idea for a revue that was decades ahead of its time. Jump For Joy set out to eradicate the African-American's stereotyped image. Presented at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles, it featured Dorothy Dandridge, Ivy Anderson, Herb Jeffries, Duke Ellington and his band, and many other gifted black performers. Kuller co-directed the sketches, many of which he wrote. He also contributed lyrics, including the title song. Written with Ellington and Paul Francis Webster, it emphasised the show's point of view: 'Fare thee well, land of cotton / Cotton lisle is out of style, honey chile / Jump for joy]'

Ellington wrote in his autobiography: 'The show was a smash during its three-month run in LA but along came World War II to scoop up most of our young show-stoppers.' It also scooped up Kuller, who went into the US Air Force and scripted training films. On his return, he wrote and staged night- club acts and surprised the town by writing a Western, Slaughter Trail (1951). He next became one of the regiment of writers churning out television material for Bob Hope in The Colgate Comedy Hour (1952-53).

In 1956 Kuller wrote, directed and produced Miltown Revisited, a topical night-club revue starring Abbott and Costello. It was scheduled to open at the Sahara Hotel, Las Vegas, followed by a long tour. The first show at the Sahara was a triumph, but Bud Abbott came on stage drunk for the second and Costello never forgave him. The tour was cancelled, and at the end of the Las Vegas engagement Bud and Lou went their separate ways, never again to work together or even meet. Recalling that opening, Kuller called it 'the most terrible night of my life in show business'.

Another disappointment was a musical version of The Prisoner of Zenda, tersely titled Zenda, which the San Francisco Light Opera Company presented in 1963, with Kuller, Martin Charnin and Lenny Adelson providing the lyrics and Vernon Duke the music. The impressive cast included Alfred Drake, Anne Rogers and Chita Rivera, but Zenda never made it to Broadway, despite much rewriting and re-rewriting.

Although Kuller never stopped working on night-club acts, his last film credit was Stop] Look] and Laugh] (1960), a melange of old Three Stooges sequences plus new material. The New York Times wrote: 'The picture has one genuinely bright sequence - a devastatingly funny and clever takeoff on the Cinderella fable, as portrayed by a group of chimpanzees. The chimps have it all over the Stooges.' This sequence was written and produced by Sid Kuller, who must have found the chimps a lot less painful to work with than people.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits