Old Movie Teams

Weren’t they also in that other movie?

Al Shaw & Sam Lee

As the venues in the video suggest, Sam Lee and Al Shaw were perhaps at their best and most comfortable in front of vaudeville audiences. As the video itself underscores, only while in front of a camera did they manage to treat future audiences with a lasting record and enduring display of their musical-comedy act.

They began as a team in the early 1920s and by 1928 were performing in short, as well as feature-length, films. They teamed for the camera a total of 16 times over a period of 30 years. Their presence on film was usually relegated to minor roles, especially in their feature-length movie endeavors.

Their comedy employed simple, yet agile, feats of dancing and/or various physical antics accompanied by deadpan, yet subtle and, for its subtlety, a kind of profound banter. A signature routine of theirs involved standing shoulder to shoulder while they removed and then replaced their hats on their heads. It was a simple maneuver made amazing by the tangle of their flailing intertwined arms, all the while looking straight ahead without smiling, blinking, or moving any other parts of their bodies (see the video).

Although their schtick portrayed them both as equally silly, their standard usually put Mr. Shaw, the shorter and slighter of the two, in the persona of sillier to Mr. Lee’s straight-man character. Their last outing as a team in the movies was in the George Gobel-Diana Dors vehicle “I Married a Woman” (1958). Mr. Shaw and Mr. Lee do not share any scenes, but still manage to perform as a team. Towards the end of the movie, Mr. Shaw makes an appearance as an elevator operator, delivering Mr. Gobel to the 16th floor and grinning, as the saying goes, like a Cheshire cat. In the next encounter with that elevator, we find Mr. Lee in the lobby, playing the role of an elevator repairman, dutifully informing everyone that the elevator is out of order. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for this turn of events until we stop to reflect on the fact that it is Sam Lee reporting on the fate of an elevator Al Shaw had been operating. At that point, we can’t help but smile, even laugh at the subtlety of their teamwork.

The following is a list of their collaborations in front of the camera:

The Beau Brummels (1928 Short Film)
Going Places (1930 Short Film)
Young and Beautiful (1934)
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934)
You Belong to Me (1934)
Gentlemen of Polish (1934 Short Film)
I Live for Love (1935)
King of Burlesque (1936)
In Paris, A.W.O.L. (1936)
The King and the Chorus Girl (1937)
Ready, Willing and Able (1937)
The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1939
Under Western Skies (1945)
Hollywood Varieties (1950)
Skipalong Rosenbloom (1951)
I Married a Woman (1958)

6 Comments»

  vaudfan wrote @

these guys are hilarious! their timing is impeccable, both physically and verbally, and their material holds its own against any other vaudeville act of the period. their act is such a hoot they made me wonder why i, a vaudevilleophile, hadn’t heard of them before.

  Roy wrote @

My uncle was Al Shaw. It is amazing to find these tiny clips. I wish I could find the whole Beau Brummel clips somewhere

  pkingwp wrote @

It would be great to find a cache of Shaw and Lee videos. Even audio recordings of their act would be nice. Here’s a youtube link to a radio program hosted by Bob Hope in July 1942: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlXUCwTd87g

  Michael Goldsman wrote @

Hi Roy – One of their shorts is on Vimeo https://vimeo.com/19767598

Also this is available as part of a Jazz Singer’s dvd release w/ extra disks.

  Roy wrote @

Thanks for the clip. I could picture them in my mind.

  Louise wrote @

http://www.ozy.com/performance/shaw-and-lee-vaudevilles-loony-futurists/41753
There’s over 8 minutes of The Beau Brummels here


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