Monday, December 1, 2008

El Brendel on Mars

While reviewing some of the bizarre, often futuristic movies of the year 1930 lately, I naturally came across El Brendel in the Fox Sci-fi musical Just Imagine. Many things have been said about this strange film so I will not go in to detail about it as there’s already many blogs written about the subject.

There was however some thoughts that sprang to mind concerning El Brendel I want to share with you. When I first heard of him I immediately associated his name with the image of a crafty Mexican bandit or something, and then much to my amazement, I learned he was actually impersonating a Swede. Being a Swede myself, naturally I wanted to check him out more closely.

El Bendel, born as Elmer Goodfellow Brendel was certainly a good fellow but contrary to common belief had no Swedish connection what so ever. He was born in Philadelphia to Irish and German parents. He started out in vaudeville just before the First World War as a German dialect comedian but was soon more or less forced to develop his schtick into a character of another immigrant community which was less involved in the war. His choice was to become somewhat of a spokesperson for the many Swedes residing in the USA at this time. In fact, Chicago was the first major city in the world to include more than a million people of Swedish origins. And naturally the Swedish people took him to their hearts. He became so popular in the Swedish communities around Chicago, in Michigan and Minesota that he always had top billing up there. The New Movietone Follies of 1930 even had its title changed to "Svenson's Wild Party" in some areas as a result of his popularity. Here in Sweden he wasn't extra popular because of his (not very) Swedish accent, I guess we never even realised he was portraying one of us.


El Brendell at his best around 1930.

Another thing that I often think about when I see El Brendel, especially when he’s quiet, is how much his character reminds me of a slower and slightly less musically gifted Harpo Marx. In many ways I think they share the same manners or mannerisms. Look at this segment from Just Imagine and tell me what you think. Unfortunately the sound is very bad on this rather damaged print. (In this clip we also get an eyeful of Joyzelle Joyner mentioned earlier as the Panther Lady. This time she is Loo-Loo, the empress of Mars.)



Stacia at She Blogged By Night has written a great biography on El Brendel here.
The picture I have colorized can be found in its original form at El Brendel's blog housed by Louie.

16 comments:

Raquelle said...

Are there any cool futuristic 1930's movies you can recommend? That are on DVD? I want to see some!

Jonas Nordin said...

Raquel,
Sorry, I can't think of a single one that is available on DVD.

King of Jazz said...

Jonas--great site! It's reassuring to know this particular era can live on among various blogs with like-minded people. It's extremely ripe for re-discovery.

Jonas Nordin said...

King Of Jazz...Mr Whiteman? :)
Thanks for your kind comment.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Whiteman it is. ;D KING OF JAZZ was a revelation when I first saw it in 1983 on cable. I look forward to your future installments.

Jonas Nordin said...

Ah, Thank you Mr Whiteman!
I greatly admire your work! :)
King Of Jazz is a very interesting film... it may deserve a future post.

Stacia said...

I too thought El Brendel was some kind of Mexican bandito at first! It was a long time before I realized "El" was short for "Elmer".

Great write-up, and thanks for the shout out!

KING OF JAZZ said...

I wish Universal would issue KING OF JAZZ on DVD as they did on VHS, but that would be extreme wishful thinking; maybe as part of a multi-early sound Universal set? That's even more extreme.

-- KOJ (sometimes known as Anonymous!)

:D

Ginger Ingenue said...

He's kinda handsome anyway...this non-bandit, fake-Swede, El Brendel. ;)

Great job on the coloring! :)

I guess the Swedish population of old Chicago fell in love with him like Southerner's love Vivien Leigh for playing Scarlett O'Hara, most of 'em not realizing, of course, that she was in fact British.

Louie said...

Jonas,
Just found your site, thanks for recognizing my site on El.

Not wanting to be a pain, but just a couple of corrections to what you wrote. First off his name ALWAYS was Elmer Goodfellow Brendel. No other spelling of the last name ever existed, regardless of what is written elsewhere.

The New Movietone Follies of 1930 was actually played as "Svenson's Wild Party". In 1933 Fox released a film with him called "Olsen's Big Moment" which can also be listed as "Olsen's Night Out".

The blog looks great! Keep up the good work!

Jonas Nordin said...

Louie,
Thanks! Since you're the expert I'm gladly changing Elmer's name and the movie title. Silly me! :)

Louie said...

No worries, really. Just trying to right the wrongs that have been foisted on El.

Anonymous said...

Elmer Brendel on DVD by Sony is very unlikely. Due to reason that Three Stooges is more popular than Elmer Brendel and the others. Elmer Brendel is rarely known to some people today.

Anonymous said...

It looks like Columbia non-Stooge shorts such Andy Clyde, Harry Langdon, Shemp Howard (solo only), and El Brendel is going to remain in Columbia vaults, permanently. It is not as popular. Three Stooges are really popular all over the world.

Anonymous said...

Although, they released Buster Keaton films from Columbia and Keaton is really popular. It looks like Columbia non-Stooge shorts such Andy Clyde, Harry Langdon, Shemp Howard (solo only), and El Brendel is going to remain in Columbia vaults, permanently. It is not as popular. Three Stooges are really popular all over the world.

Anonymous said...

Update:
Shemp Howard in the solo career have been released in the box set as a bonus from Columbia. As always, It looks like Columbia non-Stooge shorts such as Andy Clyde, Harry Langdon, and El Brendel is going to remain in Columbia vaults, permanently. It is not as popular. Three Stooges are really popular all over the world.

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