We boomers sure saw some good entertainment when we were kids. But just how easily did it come to us? As Perry Block writes, we were the beneficiaries of formulas in teamwork that we probably didn’t appreciate at the time. And maybe not even today.
I finally got around to seeing the Martin Scorsese film about George Harrison on HBO the other night. or at least as much of the three-and-a-half-hour opus as I’m ever likely to see.
It confirmed for me that George — usually thought of as the Quiet Beatle — was at heart a rather unpretentious guy who probably never quite got over the fact that he was able to pick up the phone at four in the morning and reach Bob Dylan. It also confirmed that he was a lot smarter, wittier, and more creative than he was generally given credit for.
Could there have been a Fab Four without George Harrison, as long as there were the others? No doubt about it.
But would it have been The Beatles?
Would anything great have been nearly as great without all the moving parts as we knew them?
Like George without Gracie. Or The Three Stooges without Larry.
All us boomer guys loved The Three Stooges, but the curly-haired stooge in the middle often got our short shrift, if in fact he got any shrift at all.
But that middle stooge, Larry Fine, smoothed out the hard edges between Moe and Curly, preventing The Two Stooges from violating the Comedy Rule of Threes and the act from becoming a dizzying non-stop Slap Slap Slap/Nyuk-Nyuk-Nyuk-a-Thon, difficult even for you and me to stomach much of the time, let alone the wife or girlfriend who thought the Stooges sucked and never failed to remind you of that!
And as Curly gave way to Shemp, Joe Besser, and ultimately Curly Joe DeRita, Larry fulfilled an even more important role. He became the funny one!
Sherlock Holmes without Dr. Watson.
Sans the moderating influence of Dr. Watson, the great detective’s debut would have been A Study in Blow, the only mystery at hand being the question about up which of Sherlock’s nostrils all the money vanished each week.
Even as personified by the loyal and childlike Nigel Bruce, would any other partner have stood by Holmes so faithfully and perpetually without ultimately bludgeoning the ego-tripping Englishman to death with his own pipe, slippers, and violin?
No, in a Watson-less world, striking out instead after the fiendish Dr. Moriarty would have been Holmes and his trusty landlady Mrs. Hudson, the least charismatic and sexy duo to hit the public eye since— and I base this on another recently viewed HBO offering— Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Abbott and Costello without Abbott.
Costello: Well tell me the fellas’ names.
Costello: Well, then who’s on first?
Costello: I mean the fellow’s name.
Costello: The guy on first.
Costello: The first baseman.
Costello: The guy playing…
Costello: I’m asking YOU who’s on first!
Costello: That’s who’s name!?
Costello: I don’t even know what I’m talking about!
[View it on YouTube]
Hey, Abbott? Ya done good, dude.
But how about The Beatles without Ringo Starr?
John, Paul, George, and Pete? Doesn’t have the same ring, does it? Sounds more like the infield for the 1947 Chicago Cubs than the composition of the world’s greatest-ever musical group.
Actually, aside from his not-so-bad drumming, Ringo did add an important dimension to the Fab Four as a sort of comic Everyman. Here was a more or less goofy-looking schnook riding the express train to immortality who seemed to be just like one of us, only a good bit luckier.
And as it turned out, that’s exactly what he was.
Which brings us back to you, George Harrison.
And Within You Without You, George, Here Still Would Have Come the Sun, but things wouldn’t have been anywhere near as all right, My Guitar Would Still Have Wept, but never quite so gently, and that Something in the Way She Moves would probably have been gout.
So here’s to the Quiet Beatle.
And to all the Quiet Beatles among us!