Sunday, July 31, 2011

Garvin and Byron

Anita Garvin and Marion Byron may not be household names, however decades before Lucy and Ethel, Laverne and Shirley, and French and Saunders, Garvin and Byron broke comedy's glass ceiling by becoming the world's first female comedy team, an almost unheard-of concept in the largely male-dominated world of slapstick entertainment.

Back in the 1920s, visionary director/producer Hal Roach got the crazy idea of creating a female version of his highly successful Laurel and Hardy franchise. H
is first attempt at this unusual experiment resulted in the pairing of leggy beauty Anita Garvin--who was nearly 6' tall--with big-eyed cutie Marion Byron, who was only 5' tall. The humorous visual contrast between the statuesque Garvin and the diminutive Byron was accentuated by the girls' gifts for physical comedy. In their 1929 film, A Pair of Tights--considered by many to be one of the best screwball comedies of the silent era--audiences reportedly roared at Byron's uncanny ability to repeatedly catch a scoop of ice cream that keeps getting knocked out of her ice cream cone. (The "pair of tights" in the title referred to the girls' tightwad boyfriends.)

Garvin and Byron only made three films together before splitting up to work on other projects, however the trio of Hal Roach comedies they did together were popular enough to prove that movie audiences would embrace a female comedy team. Roach's instincts had been correct. Realizing he had a hit formula, Roach went on to produce a raft of successful comedies starring female comedic actors, most notably the popular films of Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts, (pronounced "Zay-soo"). 

Unlike so many Hollywood stories, Garvin and Byron's had a happy ending. Garvin went on to do a whole slew of popular comedies with the likes of Charlie Chase, Laurel and Hardy, and The Three Stooges. She was one of Laurel and Hardy's favorite foils, and in later years was a frequent and much-beloved guest of Stan and Ollie's official fan club, The Sons of the Desert. In 1930 she fell in love with and married band leader and trombonist Clifford Stanley, though she continued to appear in supporting roles until 1940, when she finally retired from the movie business to raise a family. She died on July 7, 1994 at the age of 87, at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, CA.

After the Hal Roach films, Marion Byron continued to act, in silent films and then talkies, usually appearing in musicals and light comedies. She married prolific screenwriter and director Lou Breslow in 1932 and continued to appear in supporting roles until 1938, when she left the movie business due to the impending birth of her first son, Larry. She died on July 5, 1985 in Santa Monica, CA. She was 74.

Hats off to Anita Garvin and Marion Byron! Beautiful, funny girls...

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