Cast & Crew
Herbert H. Heebert's student girl friend rejects him, and he becomes an avowed woman-hater and leaves town. Arriving in California, he takes a job as a houseboy at a large boarding hotel owned by ex-opera star Helen Welenmelon. He learns that the house is populated by 31 careerwomen and tries to quit, but Miss Welenmelon persuades him to stay on. Though most of the women think him cute but stupid, Fay, an aspiring actress, takes a genuine interest in him and helps him overcome his girl-shyness. After wrecking a television interview set up for Miss Welenmelon, Herbert gets into more trouble with some of the boarders' dates, including George Raft. On Miss Welenmelon's birthday Herbert and the women give her a surprise party, and Herbert impresses one and all with his impersonations of Chaplin, Jolson, and Groucho Marx. Just as he begins to enjoy his job, Herbert is led to believe that everyone is being nice to him only because houseboys are hard to come by. As he prepares to leave, however, the boarders persuade him that they really are fond of him. Elated, he happily drops his suitcases, hugs Fay, and decides to remain with Miss Welenmelon and all the wonderful ladies.
Jack La Lanne
Westbrook Van Voorhis
C. C. Coleman Jr.
William C. Davidson
John P. Fulton
Ernest D. Glucksman
W. Wallace Kelley
The Ladies' Man
Lewis is back in familiar spastic, ga-ga-voiced form as Herbert H. Heebert (the H stands for, of course, Herbert), a junior college graduate who swears off girls when he catches his childhood sweetheart in the arms of a jock. He inevitably ends up taking a job as a handyman at a boarding house bubbling with young women, an eccentric group of aspiring performing artists nurtured by a retired opera diva with the perfectly Lewis-ian name Helen N. Wellenmellon (real life singer Helen Traubel). Imagine Stage Door (1937) packed with sixties-era beauties and Lewis ping-ponging through the house with the braying, nervous energy of an adolescent juiced on espresso and raw sugar.
Like The Bellboy, The Ladies Man (plural, no apostrophe) is a largely episodic film. The script (begun in collaboration with Mel Brooks, who was fired early on and was refused screen credit by Lewis) is essentially a series of gags that embrace everything from crude slapstick to comic absurdism to a ballroom dance with George Raft. Kathleen Freeman, a veteran comic actress with a couple of Lewis and Martin pictures to her credit, was promoted to third billing and a meaty role as a housekeeper with a maternal affection for the heartbroken Herbert. It was the first of many collaborations with the new Lewis and she became his answer to Margaret Dumont, a dependable adult foil to his childlike characters. "I could write three pages at night and give it to her at coffee in the morning," Lewis recalled in his commentary for the DVD release of the film. "She'd nail it by the time we'd go and make the shot. And she would do spontaneous pieces with me that were incredible. I always opened up stuff and she handled it like a champ."
The film's greatest fame rests not in the slim script nor in the inventive set-pieces, but in the set itself: a massive construct that swallowed up two soundstages at the Paramount lot. Lewis the director shows remarkable patience as he slowly reveals the magnificent construction to the audience over the morning routine of the household. The camera glides from room to room and cranes down the staircase as the girls rise and make their way down to breakfast, the trickle of individuals gathering into a herd of females. Finally Herbert awakens, gawking at the magnificent mansion on his way downstairs while the camera (mounted on a camera crane so big it took up another soundstage) slowly pulls back to fill the screen with the sprawling four story set, a life-size dollhouse with cutaway walls revealing a warren of bedrooms and hallways.
More than merely a visual inspiration, it was an engineering marvel: 60 rooms, each wired for sound with built-in mikes and individually illuminated with hidden lights, on the largest indoor set built up to that time. It gave Lewis the freedom to choreograph action through multiple rooms and follow it with fluid, unbroken camerawork, or to pull back to show the hive of activity in the honeycomb of a house.
Lewis was so proud of his accomplishment that he posted a sign outside the stage door: "This is NOT a closed set." He even erected bleachers for visitors to watch the shooting. "This was the film that Francis Ford Coppola visited," remembers Lewis (Coppola was an intern at Paramount at the time). "He was on the set almost every day of the shoot. He loved the set, he loved the girls, he loved the idea, and he was enamored with what I did with the video assist and the shoot." The video assist was a pioneering idea and Lewis was the first to make use of the technology on the film set. (Coppola took the video assist into the next generation when he brought video technology into his fledgling Zoetrope Studios decades later.) There was no videotape in 1961 but through the placement of monitors around the set, Lewis could see the camera eye while performing.
The ensemble scenes are choreographed (with the help of Bobby Van) as much as they are directed, with numerous scenes playing out wordlessly to the brassy swing soundtrack. Like much of the crew, composer Walter Scharf was a longtime Lewis collaborator and his energetic score helps set the pace and tone of the film. In one stand-out scene, a forbidden door opens into the all-white room of a seductive dancer who descends from the ceiling and as the walls expand and Harry James and his Orchestra perform on a balcony that doesn't exist anywhere but in Lewis' imagination. In another hilarious sequence, Herbert drives tough guy Buddy Lester into a quivering mass of jelly, creating a classic twist on the slow burn. Lester was subsequently cast as the bartender in the unforgettable Alaskan Polar Bear sequence of The Nutty Professor (1963).
Lewis bragged about the savings that his technological innovations brought to the ambitious production, but the film still finished over schedule and over budget, costing over $3 million. The set itself cost $1 million, according to Lewis. It was money well spent. American critics were (for the most part) impressed and the French were ecstatic. Yes, the cliché about the French proclaiming Lewis a genius was born here, but there is justification for the claim. While some may cringe at his spastic performance and baby-talk dialogue, it's hard not to be awed by the technological leaps of this production, and at their best his gags delve in to the realm of the surreal last visited by the Marx Brothers.
Producer: Jerry Lewis, Ernest D. Glucksman
Director: Jerry Lewis
Screenplay: Jerry Lewis, Bill Richmond
Cinematography: W. Wallace Kelley
Film Editing: Stanley Johnson
Art Direction: Ross Bellah, Hal Pereira
Music: Walter Scharf
Cast: Jerry Lewis (Herbert H. Heebert/Mama Heebert), Helen Traubel (Miss Helen Wellenmellon), Kathleen Freeman (Katie), Hope Holiday (Miss Anxious), Madlyn Rhue (The Translator).
by Sean Axmaker
The Ladies' Man
The Ladies Man (1961) - The Ladies Man on DVD
Of course, it's still a Jerry Lewis movie, so the goal remains the same: to execute gags. The Ladies Man just goes about it in a slightly different manner. The massive mansion interior set, with every room pre-equipped with built-in lights and microphones, serves the story in which Lewis plays Herbert H. Heebert. Herbert (don't call him Herbie!) is a just-jilted junior college grad trying to get away from women who nonetheless ends up a houseboy in the mansion, which former opera star Helen Mellenwellen (Helen Traubel) has turned into a boarding house for young women breaking into show business.
Lewis uses his all-inclusive set to smoothly move from the first floor to the second, one scene to another and one gag to the next. Lewis's physical comedy is always dependent on timing, but perhaps never more so than in The Ladies Man, in which dancer Bobby Van choreographed extended sequences that aren't necessarily dances, but which depend on the body movements of large groups of women.
Lewis the writer-director makes the most of the set, and gives the movie a spontaneous energy in the process. Early on, upon discovering he's surrounded by women distraught Herbert frantically sprints through the house, his agony so extreme he soon becomes four Herberts (Lewis and three doubles), criss-crossing on the stairways and landings in a single long shot. Such economy in shooting also aids the very funny sequence in which Herbert brings mail to a succession of over-the-top boarders, including an aspiring actress (Hope Holiday) who asks Herbert to help her rehearse, in scenarios that invariably end with her slapping him around.
The sequence in which meek Herbert reduces a tough gangster (Buddy Lester) into a blithering wreck is one of Lewis's absolute funniest (it all starts with Herbert accidentally sitting on his hat and then trying to fix it). The Ladies Man is also the best example of the priceless interplay between Lewis and a regular foil, Kathleen Freeman, who was in 11 movies with him. As the mansion's housekeeper, her role is to either send sensitive Herbert into a tizzy, even force-feeding him breakfast in a high-chair, or to react in horror at the trail of destruction Herbert leaves (let's just say his dusting technique lacks finesse).
The Ladies Man DVD shares the same mix of extras many of Paramount Home Video's recent Lewis releases have: an audio commentary, a few deleted scenes, screen tests, several promo trailers. The bulk of the deleted footage is puzzling, being a totally straight operatic performance by Miss Mellenwellen. It's hard to even guess where this might have gone in the movie (or why). Nowhere to be found are the cut songs "He Doesn't Know" and "The Ladies Man," nor the cut scenes with Jack LaLanne and comic Marty Ingels, all mentioned in James L. Neibaur and Ted Okada's 1994 book, The Jerry Lewis Films.
Lewis's audio commentary (like the others in the series, with pal Steve Lawrence) offers interesting tidbits here and there, though is a little sparse. Most frustrating is the lack of discussion on the movie's fantasy sequence in which Herbert dances with a taller woman who towers over him and whose clothes suggest a dominatrix. She even wears a cowl when Herbert first sees her. Alas, during this Freudian scene of (apparently) Herbert's symbolic loss of virginity, Lewis and Lawrence talk mostly about Harry James, whose orchestra accompanies the dancers. The most surprising tidbit in the commentary is Lewis's mention of young Francis Coppola being on the set regularly. This makes The Ladies Man, perhaps the most daring of Lewis's movies, the spiritual godfather to Coppola's overly-maligned One from the Heart, which also sought to bring economy to shooting through technology.
For more information about The Ladies Man, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order The Ladies Man, go to TCM Shopping.
by Paul Sherman
The Ladies Man (1961) - The Ladies Man on DVD
TCM Remembers - Jack Kruschen
Jack Kruschen (1922-2002)
He may have not been a household name, yet his career consisted of over seventy-five films, spanned over six decades, and displayed a strong versatility in playing either dramatic or comic roles with equal effectiveness. He was the definitive, "I can't quite remember the name, but I remember the face" character player who enlivened many films with his robust frame, cherubic face and infectious smile. His name was Jack Kruschen, a superb performer who died on April 2, 2002 at the age of 80, leaving behind a strong body of work that was impressive as any character actor of his generation.
Kruschen was born on March 20, 1922 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The son of a watchmaker who later set up shop in Hollywood, he was performing in an operetta at Hollywood high school when a talent scout for CBS radio discovered him. Kruschen was soon doing voice characterizations on popular network programs such as Dragnet, The Danny Thomas Show and Sam Spade. With his gift for dialects (he was most adept at playing ethnic types like Greeks, Yiddish or Italians - a skill finely honed in his radio days), Kruschen was a natural for the movies and soon made his film debut with a small role in the Betty Hutton comedy Red, Hot and Blue (1949).
Kruschen's early career is peppered with a variety of roles like a comical gangster in both Abbott & Costello Go to Mars (1953) and Money from Home (1953) starring Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin; a hard-nosed police detective in Confidence Girl (1952) and Julie (1956), an underrated Doris Day thriller; or doomed victims to alien prey in Sci-fi cult classics: the 1953 version of War of the Worlds (fans remember him as Salvatore, one of the first earthlings to be killed by the invading Martians) and The Angry Red Planet (1959). The roles offered steady work, but not much critical recognition. All that changed when Billy Wilder cast him in the key role as Jack Lemmon's bemused but caring neighbor, Dr. Dreyfuss in The Apartment (1960). As the man who observes the steady stream of women in and out of Lemmon's apartment and the one who saves Shirley MacLaine from a drug overdose, Kruschen offered a wonderful performance - viewing his neighbor's proceedings with a jaundiced eye, yet never letting his disdain overtake his humor and humanity. He was justly rewarded with an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.
From this point on, Kruschen was seldom out of work, appearing in over 40 films (including a terrific dramatic turn in the original Cape Fear (1962) as Dave Grafton, a corrupt southern bigot) and nearly 60 guest roles on television for the next two decades. Kruschen would later find fame toward the end of his career when he was cast as Papa Papadapolis in the hit sitcom Webster (1985-1987) and would show pleasant variations of the "kindly old codger" throughout the remainder of his career - like his final role in the romantic comedy 'Til There Was You (1997). His death in April this year may have gone largely unnoticed by the movie-going public, but for those of us who treasure the art of the character player, Kruschen's passing was a loss that is fortunately compensated by his strong body of work that will be enjoyed for fans of the late show for many years to come.
By Michael T. Toole
SIGNE HASSO, 1910-2002
Actress Signe Hasso died June 7th at the age of 91. She was best-known for starring in A Double Life (1947) but played numerous Europeans in films during the 1940s. Hasso was born on August 15, 1910 in Stockholm, Sweden and began acting on stage at the age of 13. Ten years later made her first film appearance as Signe Larsson. She was married in 1936 and adopted the last name of her husband, cinematographer and later director Harry Hasso. After a dozen Swedish films, Hasso moved to Hollywood in 1940 where her first screen appearance was an uncredited role in Journey for Margaret (1942). A brief stint at RKO didn't lead to any more promising film parts so Hasso concentrated on her stage career in New York City. Eventually, her film career became more active, thanks to a quick succession of roles, most notably in Fred Zinnemann's The Seventh Cross (1944), Douglas Sirk's A Scandal in Paris (1946) and Henry Hathaway's The House on 92nd Street (1945). However it was her portrayal of Ronald Colman's wife in the Oscar-favorite A Double Life that solidified her fame. But as Hasso continued to act on the stage and TV, her film work began to taper off. She appeared in high-profile thrillers like Crisis (1950), several made-for-TV movies, a few European productions and even the cult murder mystery, Bert Gordon's Picture Mommy Dead (1966). In 1972, the king of Sweden decorated Hasso for her work. Her final appearance was in a 2001 documentary about Greta Garbo.
HERMAN COHEN, 1927-2002
One of the key producers of B-movies, Herman Cohen, died June 2nd at the age of 76. Like most producers, his name wasn't generally known outside the industry or the realms of film buffs but most people never forget the titles of his films: I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) and the not-quite-immortal Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952). Cohen was a Detroit native, born August 27, 1927. He entered the film business in the smallest possible way, as a 12-year-old janitor, often accepting passes for his family and friends instead of wages. Cohen served in the Marine Corps (several articles incorrectly say the Army) before becoming a publicist at Columbia Pictures. By 1951 he was working as a producer's assistant on low-budget independent films, mostly for Realart Pictures run by another Detroit native Jack Broder. Soon Cohen was producing his own movies, including Westerns and mysteries, until hitting big with the famous I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Starring a then-unknown Michael Landon (under personal contract to Cohen who later tore it up so Landon could appear in Bonanza), the film was made for $100,000 but in just a few months grossed over $2 million. Cohen didn't hestitate to turn out I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and Blood of Dracula by Thanksgiving of that same year and before long had made several films that continued to earn money for years to come. (One TCM writer remembers Horrors of the Black Museum turning up in a small Alabama town in the early 70s, over a decade after its initial release. The film is scheduled for a DVD release with a Cohen commentary from VCI Entertainment.) Cohen also made several films in England including The Headless Ghost (1959) and the cult favorite Konga (1961) where Cohen even paid RKO $25,000 for the rights to use the title King Kong in publicity for his own film. Cohen's later movies included a spaghetti Western and Joan Crawford's final acting role Trog (1970). In the 1980s Cohen ran a company, Cobra Media, that distributed some films and licensed material such as Teenage Werewolf to Landon for use in one of his Highway to Heaven episodes.
By Lang Thompson
TCM Remembers - Jack Kruschen
During this production 'Jerry Lewis' attached a small video camera to the side of his 35mm camera, in effect, pioneering the "video assist" system that is standard on just about every feature film today.
Released in United States on Video July 23, 1990
Released in United States Summer July 1961
Released in United States Summer July 1961
Released in United States on Video July 23, 1990