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Friday, April 25, 2014

Dessem: Clyde Bruckman: The Gag Man

Clyde Bruckman: One Smart Sap. Sportswriter to Hollywood legend to…a fascinating read.

That spring, before he’d graduated, he began writing about sports for the San Bernardino Sun.  He rose to sports editor in a year, and was hired to cover the 1914 baseball season for the Los Angeles Times. That summer, as World War I began, Clyde chronicled the fortunes of long-forgotten teams of the Pacific Coast League, whose names ranged from the unimaginative (the Los Angeles Angels, the Oakland Oaks), to the bizarre (the Venice Tigers, for some reason). Bruckman’s prose in these stories is occasionally purple and unintentionally funny—“Ty Lober spread wreck and ruin all over the local ball yard yesterday afternoon”—but compared to Grantland Rice he was Ernest Hemingway. His mentor was fellow San Bernardino native Charles E. Van Loan, a sportswriter and fiction writer (baseball stories, mostly) who was working at the time for the Saturday Evening Post.

...Bruckman didn’t cut ties with his old profession right away. September, 1919 finds him on a team of sportswriters in an exhibition game against a team of ringers led by local nightclub and gambling impresario Baron Long. He pitched 19 strikeouts, which is less impressive when you learn that the game ran for 18 scoreless innings before being called in the 19th on account of darkness. And it’s Bruckman’s byline on the wire story about Harvard, of all teams, winning the 1920 Rose Bowl. But in 1921, he finally got the opportunity to combine his interests. 

By this point, Bruckman had left Universal to work for Warner Bros., which he described years later as “Jack, Sam, and Harry Warner, Monte Banks, and a few extras and props, in an old barn of a studio at Bronson and Sunset, where the big bowling alley now is.” Legendary publicist Harry Brand, who also started as a sportswriter (he played third base for Bruckman’s team when they battled Baron Long) was working by then for Buster Keaton, a baseball nut known for actively recruiting players to work on his movies. (One joke of the time was that his employment application consisted of two questions: “Are you a good actor?” and “Are you a good baseball player?” and a passing grade was 50 percent.) Brand ran into Bruckman, realized he was a natural fit for Keaton’s studio, arranged a lunch, and Bruckman started the next Monday, in a dual role as “outfielder and writer.”

...Everyone’s life is the story of learning you don’t have that particular lamp. But let Clyde Bruckman have it. Go past the man with the neatly typed note in the bathroom stall, past the loans and the television shows and the lawsuits, past MR. BRUCKMAN’S ABSENCE ON ACCOUNT OF ILLNESS and Queen of Angels Hospital, past flasks and bottles and crystal decanters and years and years of monotonous failure. Here’s where the lamp takes him. He’s 31 years old, living with Lola, the woman he married at 22, back when they were practically kids. He and Jean Havez and Eddie Cline and Joe Mitchell and Buster Keaton are at each other’s houses ’til all hours, cooking late-night meals, throwing anything they can think of at the wall, writing jokes that will outlive them by decades, inventing the cinematic language of comedy. He won’t shut up about this book he’s reading about a train. On warm afternoons they play baseball.

Repoz Posted: April 25, 2014 at 06:23 PM | 5 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history

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   1. greenback is not cosmopolitan Posted: April 25, 2014 at 07:03 PM (#4694532)
Clyde Bruckman's Final Repoz wouldn't involve auto-erotic asphyxiation, would it?
   2. Esoteric Posted: April 25, 2014 at 08:00 PM (#4694543)
Nah. Repoz doesn't die.

At all. Ever.
   3. Morty Causa Posted: April 25, 2014 at 10:02 PM (#4694570)
   4. Morty Causa Posted: April 25, 2014 at 10:08 PM (#4694575)
The article linked kind of demeans Bruckman's talents. But if you check his credits on IMDB, he was involved, officially and unofficially with some fine films, some of Keaton's and the Stooges's best.
   5. Greg Franklin Posted: April 28, 2014 at 01:35 PM (#4695918)
Thanks for the article, Repoz. I don't see how the article demeans Bruckman or his talents, as it delves into his relationship with Keaton and the Stooges. The "demeaning" was due to something out of his control - he thought comedy gags should be recycled from project to project and were the output of a collective, as many in the comedy business did at the time, and his talents were sunk when Harold Lloyd objected and took Hollywood into the age of artist-controlled copyright. (See Peter Decherney "Hollywood’s Copyright Wars: From Edison to the Internet" for a good discussion of this.)

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