Heavenzapoppin'! is a sweet, clever 30-minute short, shot on 35mm film (remember that?) about the denizens of a rural Eastern European village who magically find themselves in modern-day Hollywood. I won’t reveal any more of the premise, or describe how it’s executed, so you can experience it for yourself. Suffice it to say that I think the film is ingenious and very well executed; I enjoyed revisiting it after all these years. Writer-director-editor Watzke is also the star, along with a troupe called the Bubalaires, which tries to keep the spirit of Commedia dell’ Arte alive. You’ll probably recognize the filmmaker’s wife, Helen Slater, well-remembered as the star of Supergirl and The Legend of Billie Jean, and the late Bruno Kirby.
As for the genuine silent material I mentioned above, at least two amazing pieces of home-movie footage have found their way online from the archives of vaudevillian George Mann. The first is a blackout skit called “The Mormon’s Prayers,” performed by W.C. Fields in Earl Carroll’s Vanities, 7th Edition on Broadway in 1928 featuring the Great Man and a bevy of chorus-girl beauties. It’s only about minute long, but it’s wonderful to see the Fields on stage, and there’s a lovely bonus at the end.
Barto and Mann were a living Mutt and Jeff duo, the very tall Mann paired with the diminutive Barto; their unique dance act is nicely preserved in Broadway Thru a Keyhole (1933). All I know of Dewey Barto is that his daughter was actress Nancy Walker. It turns out that George Mann was a prolific shutterbug whose daughter-in-law, commercial photographer Dianne Woods, has selected one thousand shots and made them available for licensing through akg-images. You can see some of his precious black & white photos, evoking a lost era of show business, and life in decades past, HERE.
So, even as issues of privacy (or lack of it) and governmental control continue to flare, one can be grateful to the Internet for providing access to material that otherwise most of us would never get to see.