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.
The Big House (1930)
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