Funny Lady Blogathon: Kathleen Howard

And My Funny Lady Blogathon Pick is… Kathleen Howard

I am so excited to be participating in the Funny Lady Blogathon. I just adore comedy, so I was really excited about writing this post! A Big Thank You to the marvelous Movies Silently for hosting this event!

It’s interesting; I thought I’d be torn when trying to decide who to cover for this blogathon — but for whatever reason, the fabulous Kathleen Howard immediately came to mind; I didn’t even have to think twice about it. Perhaps it’s because I ‘grew up’ on W.C. Fields films and so fondly remember her as Fields’ wonderfully shrewish wife, or perhaps it’s simply because of her impeccable comic timing and inimitable cadential voice — so grandly theatrical — as she reprimands, admonishes, and complains.  Gosh, I can almost hear her now!

Kathleen HowardKathleen Howard (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Now I will admit that I didn’t know much about Howard’s background, so this was an excellent learning experience for me. And, I’m happy to say that I dug up some very interesting information about her. Here goes…

Miss Kathleen Howard standing on South Michigan Avenue, between Congress and Van BurenKathleen Howard standing on South Michigan Avenue, between Congress and Van Buren, in the Loop community area of Chicago, Illinoisca. 1914 Nov. 24.  (Courtesy of Chicago History Museum)

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Phase One of Kathleen Howard’s Career — opera singer…

Kathleen Howard was born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada on July 17, 1880. She wanted to be a singer ever since she was a young girl, and although she was told she would never ‘make it’, she managed to work her way up through London’s Covent Garden and New York’s Century Opera to finally debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Third Lady in The Magic Flute (Nov 20, 1916). She quickly became the MET’s most popular character contralto, and created the role of Zita for the World Premier of Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi at the MET in 1918.

Kathleen Howard as CarmenKathleen Howard as Carmen (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Being a popular vocalist, Howard recorded numerous arias and songs (for the American branch of Pathé Frères) and also wrote a book about her experiences called “Confessions of an Opera Singer” (published in 1918).

You can hear Kathleen Howard sing via these links:

mp3 of Kathleen Howard, Contralto, singing “Voce Di Donna (Angelic Voice)”

mp3 of Kathleen Howard, Contralto, singing “Largo”

And you can read her entire book “Confessions of an Opera Singer” for free here at gutenberg.org:

Confessions Of An Opera Singer by Kathleen Howard

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Phase Two of Kathleen Howard’s Career — fashion editor…

After she retired from her operatic career in 1928, Kathleen Howard moved on to become a fashion editor for Harper’s Bazaar — again, quite famous in her own right.

Kathleen Howard as Harper Bazaar's fashion editorKathleen Howard as Harper Bazaar’s fashion editor

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Phase Three of Kathleen Howard’s Career — Hollywood film actress…

“My livelihood is to me a great adventure, and I change my line of work whenever it shows signs of getting dull”
-Kathleen Howard

In 1934, Howard made her film debut as Italian grande dame, Princess Maria, in Death Takes a Holiday (starring Fredric March and Evelyn Venable).

News Article Kathleen Howard from Fashion Editor to ActressAnnouncing Kathleen Howard’s debut film role in Death Takes a Holiday (The Independent, Florida Feb 23, 1934) (full article: Independent Kathleen Howard article)

During her 17-year acting career which spanned from 1934 to 1951, she appeared in 53 roles but is probably best known for her role as W. C. Field’s nagging wife in It’s a Gift (1934) and Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935). She also appeared in a third W.C. Fields film called You’re Telling Me (1934, as Mrs. Murchison). Other notable appearances include Ball of Fire (1941, as Miss Bragg), Deanna Durbin’s First Love (1939; as schoolmistress Wiggins) and One Night in the Tropics (1940, as Judge McCracken).

On a bit of a tangent, but nonetheless… Here’s an interesting piece of news about Ball of Fire that I never knew about…

News Article Barbara Stanwyck breaks Kathleen Howard's JawBarbara Stanwyck breaks Kathleen Howard’s Jaw (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Oct 7, 1941) (full article: Pittsburgh Post Gazette Kathleen Howard article)

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So now that we covered her basic (but quite phenomenal) background, let’s get to my favorite part — clips and quotes!  But before we start, I just have to say:

I just LOVE Howard’s grand ‘operatic’ vocal style 🙂 she’s so dramatic yet I believe every word she says in her frustration with husband W.C. Fields!

Now, for the fun stuff…

First, the Opening Scene from Man on the Flying Trapeze, with Kathleen Howard as Leona Wolfinger (wife of Ambrose/Fields):

Man on the Flying Trapeze with Kathleen Howard as Fields’ wife Leona…

“I don’t know WHAT’s come over you lately, you’re ALWAYS in that bathroom brushing your teeth.”

“Hurry up and come to beddddd”

“Are you suuurrrrreee you’re brushing your teeth?”

“Pleeeeeease come to bed and put the light out.”

You’re CERTAINLY making a lot of noise taking your SOCKS off!”

Ambrose, Ambrose! Wake up, wake up Ambrose! Ambrose! There are burglars singing in our cellar!

Man on the Flying Trapeze Kathleen Howard and W.C. FieldsMan on the Flying Trapeze (1935, director Clyde Bruckman)

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And now the infamous Porch Scene from It’s a Gift, with Kathleen Howard as Amelia Bissonette (that’s Bis-son-naye) (wife of Harold/Fields). [Please know that this scene is not ideal for showcasing Howard, but I had a hard time finding suitable clips]:

It’s a Gift with Kathleen Howard as Fields’ wife Amelia…

 “Harold, will you pleeeeease keep quiet and let me get some sleeeeep!”

“Who were those women you were talking to?”

“Seems to me you’re getting pretty FAMILIAR with Mrs. Dunk UPSTAIRS.”

It's a Gift starring W.C. Fields and Kathleen HowardIt’s a Gift (1934, director Norman Z. McLeod)

And some more Kathleen Howard It’s a Gift quotes from various other scenes…

“I don’t know WHERE you get the idea you could make money raising ORANGES when you can’t even run a corner grocery store.”

“You’re CONSTANTLY doing things behind my back and I know NOTHING about them til you’re in some sort of a SCRAPE and I have to get you out.”

 “I don’t know why it is that eveeeeeery time I want to talk to you, you’re off in some other part of the house.  I have to SHOUT, SHOUT, SHOUT.  No wooooonder the neighbors know all about our private affairs. I get little enough opportunity as it IS to find out what’s going on — without you running away as if I have the smallpox or something eveeeery time I open my mouth…”

“Are you listening to me?!?  Wake up! Wake up and go and sleep!”

“I don’t know how you expect anybody to get any sleep, hopping in and out of bed all night, tinkering ‘roooound the house, waiting up for telephone calls. You have absolutely nooooo consideration for anybody but yourself.  I have to get up in the morning, get breakfast for you and the children… I have no maid you know, probably never shaaaall have one…”

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Just love it! Pitch Perfect Nagging at its Best! In my humble opinion…

And last but not least, Kathleen Howard’s book is on kindle for FREE 🙂

Hope you enjoyed the post! And please don’t forget to read the other fun Funny Lady Blogathon posts at Movies Silently.

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Visit CMH’s BlogHub for more posts about Kathleen Howard by Veteran and Emerging Classic Movie Bloggers.

 

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6 Responses to Funny Lady Blogathon: Kathleen Howard

  1. Pingback: It’s here! The Funny Lady Blogathon! | Movies, Silently

  2. Fritzi says:

    Hey there!

    I didn’t know anything about Kathleen Howard’s pre-film career either so this was quite enlightening for me. What an amazing woman! Most people would love to succeed in one career path. Three? Wow!

    I also loved all the wonderful clips you tracked down. It’s marvelous to see her in action.

    Thanks so much!

    Fritzi, MoviesSilently.com

  3. Pingback: UPDATE: Funny Lady Blogathon | Movies, Silently

  4. Pingback: Funny Lady Blogathon | Movies, Silently

  5. I have been looking forward to your article on Kathleen Howard since it was announced on the blogathon list. Much to my hubby’s chagrin I have based my wifely attitude on that of Mrs. Bissonette. To discover that Ms. Howard was a fellow Canuck and an opera singer and author has made my day. To relive her great screen comedic success is a treasure, as is the fascinating article.

  6. Le says:

    Wow, what an impressive background! I believe her being an opera singer might have helped her further career as a comic actress. Sometimes, the exageration of a prima donna, a real diva, turns into something funny!
    so glad to know her book is available for free! Yay!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
    Greetings!

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