Broida Family (click to see family tree)
[NOTE: Edited 04/28/15 to add newly found information.]
You know how there are those amazing character actors in movies- especially the older, black & white movies- in which you never know the name of the actor, but you recognize them on sight? It’s always a bit part, sometimes playing the villain, sometimes as comedy relief, or sometimes they are the right-hand person of the main character, but never the one in charge. If you like old b&w movies, and are a Broida, you may have seen one of your cousins on the screen, be it a small b&w tv with rabbit ears on top, or today’s fantastic curved digital HD 70+ inch screens in our own homes. That cousin on the screen would be Max Broida, who used the stage name “Buster Brodie.”
In fact, unless you are one of the maybe 3 Americans who has never seen the 1939 version of “The Wizard of Oz” with Judy Garland, you have seen Buster in action- he was a flying monkey.
Comedy appeared to be Buster’s thing- most of the time he was in shorts or films that were completely comedies, or he was the comedy relief in a more serious film.
Max Broida headed to California likely sometime in the 1920s. He had been in the circus, vaudeville, and on the stage, even traveling the country as ‘Buster Brown,’ the comic strip mascot used by Brown Shoes in St. Louis. (‘Buster Brown’ was a young boy with a pageboy hairdo and a fussy little suit who was always getting in trouble. Max was short so could pass as a boy; often midgets/little people acted as Buster Brown in the theatre and advertisements.) Max probably wanted to make it in the then-silent shorts, which came before longer film technology started to become available in the late 1920s. It is estimated that about 1,000 film ‘shorts’ were released each of the years of that decade, and Buster hoped to be in a lot of them!
We don’t know why or when Buster took the stage name, ‘Buster Brodie.’ Buster Keaton was a very popular comedian at the time, and Max may have wanted to trade on that name. Playing Buster Brown may also have been a part of the decision, with kids calling out to him, “Buster! Over here, Buster!” Being a part of a circus was probably frowned upon by his family, and acting may have been as well, so Max might have altered his last name to help ‘protect’ them from gossip. The ‘Broida’ family name was actually relatively new anyway- it was a name some Karklinskys took once they immigrated to the US.
We do know that in 1910, Max Broida was enumerated in the US Federal Census in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a laborer in a shop (possibly his father’s clothing shop). The 1920 census entry for Max/Buster has not yet been found, and the earliest name change we know of was in 1928, when Max Broida registered to vote in California with the name “Buster M. Brodie.’
Max/Buster may have worked in vaudeville with Wheeler & Woolsey, a famous vaudeville comic duo of the time. Wheeler & Woolsey made the film, “Cracked Nuts” in 1931, with Boris Karloff playing a comic villain named, interestingly, “Boris.” (One year later, Karloff would star in his breakthrough, Frankenstein.) Max played the “Royal Humidor” in this movie. (A humidor is a container for cigars that kept them from drying out too much.) “Cracked Nuts” had W&W, the comic duo, shooting back and forth a conversation about the towns of “What” and “Which”- obviously a precursor to Abbott & Costello’s more refined and comedic, “Who’s on First.” And Buster was a part of that film, with its ground-breaking comedy.
What is ‘funny’ has changed over the years, and some of the jokes may be lost on our generation. Here is a quote from the 1933 RKO Radio Pictures short, “Fits in a Fiddle”:
Pretty Girl: Do you have change for a twenty?
Bobby Clark: Not since 1929.
Knowing history will put this in context- in 1933, our country was in the midst of the Great Depression.
Many silent film stars did not make it into the talkies because they had strange voices, but Buster did have some speaking parts- and a strange voice. It would be interesting to know more about Buster’s career- he must have been in more productions than just those listed, in order to support himself. Note the large number of war-time films. “Hers to Hold” was actually filmed in an aircraft manufacturing plant, and had to be filmed on Sundays in order to avoid disruption of warplane production.
Buster did star with many a Hollywood big name, or big-name-to-be, and was in one genre-defining film, “Island of the Lost Souls,” based on the 1896 (horror) science fiction novel of the same name by H. G. Wells. The makeup used was the beginning of subsequent sophisticated ‘monster’ makeup, and Buster would have experienced it firsthand in his role as the ‘Pig-Man.’
We will tell more of Max’s story in our next post. Check out the notes below to actually see Max in some of his films.
Caution: Please be careful when using these links- they were good at the time of this writing. Also, see note below.
Buster Brodie’s Filmography
Half a Hero (a short)
Trimmed in Gold (a short)-Customer in barbershop*
There It Is (a short)- Fuzz-faced Phantom; silent film comedy with added music score; with Kathryn McGuire and Charlie Bowers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKEtAtjgwTc. See excellent article about Charlie Bowers and note re: Buster Brodie: http://brightlightsfilm.com/forgotten-charleys-i-charley-bowers-silent-comedys-wizard-of-the-bizarre/#.VT9TWjesa-8
Goofy Birds (a short)- Charlie Bowers and Buster Brodie are the only two actors listed for this short
Say Ah-h! (a short)
Cracked Nuts– Royal Humidor*; with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi. excerpt (without Buster)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIWWVGsE_Gs. The entire film is also available on video.
Island of Lost Souls– Pig Man- a Little Beast*
Fits in a Fiddle (a short)- Orchestra member*
Kickin’ the Crown Around (a short)- Page for the King*
The Big Idea– Little Bald Man (with Ted Healy & His Stooges)
Babes in Toyland– Jack in the Box* with Laurel & Hardy (there are numerous versions so check the date)
Strikes and Spares (a short)- Little bald man* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nK8hkWRnhD8. He is the amateur first seen at 3:00- with hair! Definitely racial stereotyping sadly consistent with the times and sexist too.
Kentucky Blue Streak– Jockey* Online at http://free-classic-movies.com/movies-03b/03b-1935-05-01-Kentucky-Blue-Streak/index.php. Buster is a jockey in this film- see 51:23-51:37- always the comedy relief with his funny voice. Also, as an “Easter Egg” (a hidden joke or reference), at 52:34, the rider for the horse “Time Out” is announced as “Buster Brodie.”
Mountain Music– Hillbilly*; with Martha Raye, Gabby Hayes
A Doctor’s Diary– Bald man* See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0028793/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm, clip- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvLWOxyiah0
The Wizard of Oz– Flying monkey; with Judy Garland. Flying (Winged) Monkeys scene from the 1939 film”The Wizard of Oz”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SESI19h4wDo
Dance, Girl, Dance– Spectator at Burlesque House*
The Grapes of Wrath– Migrant*; with Henry Fonda
Miss Polly– Bald townsman*; with Kathleen Howard. “Miss Polly” also online at http://free-classic-movies.com/movies-04e/04e-1941-11-14-Miss-Polly/index.php At 33:15, Buster is the bald man with checked shirt and tie sitting on the aisle at the town meeting; Miss Polly taps him on the head.
Tales of Manhattan– Call Boy in the Laughton sequence*; with Charles Laughton, Buster Keaton, Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, etc.
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch*
Baby Face Morgan– Curly, a messenger at racetrack*
Nearly Eighteen– Little bald man*; with Gale Storm
Hers to Hold– Popcorn man*; with Deanna Durbin and Joseph Cotten
Lady in the Dark– Clown*; with Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland
Crazy Knights– Baldy; with Shemp Howard from the 3 Stooges
Firebrands of Arizona– Musician*
Step Lively– Bald man*; with Frank Sinatra, Gloria DeHaven
Ghost Catchers– Little bald man in nightclub*; excerpt (but without Buster)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6CrXrj01GA
Show Business– Bald man*; with Eddie Cantor, George Murphy. Original trailer (no Buster)- http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/135165/Show-Business-Original-Trailer-.html. “Show Business” online at http://flixcube.com/watch-show-business-1944-movie-online. Clips of soundtrack: http://tunes.zone/movie-show-business-soundtracks-109030#/play/109030/89330/list_base
Cassanova in Burlesque– Bald man in box*; with Dale Evans, Joe E. Brown
Action in Arabia– Bald man* Original trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5W4fcn9KwjQ
Patrick the Great– Bellboy. Musical, with Donald O’Connor. Not found on US websites, but on an Irish film history website, likely because of Donald O’Connor being in the film: http://www.tcd.ie/irishfilm/showfilm.php?fid=58531
Groovie Movie (a short)- Piano Player.* Available on YouTube. It is a funny jitterbug instructional video that is less than 10 minutes- watch til the end to see each appearance of Max, and take a look at his shoes… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbaNYWkQYYA
Action in Arabia– Bald man* Original trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5W4fcn9KwjQ
Patrick the Great– Bellboy. Musical, with Donald O’Connor. Found on an Irish film history website, likely because of Donald O’Connor being in the film: http://www.tcd.ie/irishfilm/showfilm.php?fid=58531
George White’s 1945 Scandals– Box gag man (Buster was famous for this bit.)
Beyond the Pecos– Baldy*
Hit the Hay– Bald man*
Bells of Rosarita– Circus Clown*; with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans- http://free-classic-movies.com/movies-04c/04c-1945-Bells-of-Rosarita/index.php. Hard to tell which clown is Buster- may be at beginning of parade, possibly at 1:07, the clown on the right who lays down on ground at end. Not a very good copy, but this is also available on DVD.
The Horn Blows at Midnight– Little bald man at carnival*; with Jack Benny
Shadows of Death– Bald man getting haircut*; with Buster Crabbe. Max is in a barbershop bit at about 22:00. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXVomV1nuyE or free movie online at http://www.ovguide.com/shadows-of-death-9202a8c04000641f800000000f14a8ce
Patrick the Great– Bellboy*; with Donald O’Connor
So You Want to Keep Your Hair– Little bald man.* B&W, 11 min. One of a series of 62 shorts entitled “So You Want To…” or “So You Think…” produced in the 40’s-50s by Warner Brothers. http://www.democraticunderground.com/10301820
Yankee Fakir– Bald man*
Buckaroo from Powder River– Bald customer
Notes, Sources, and References:
1) Rotten Tomatoes Bio- Buster Brodie- http://www.rottentomatoes.com/celebrity/buster_brodie/
2) A page for Buster- in Czech! http://www.osobnosti.cz/buster-brodie.php
3) Three Stooges website: http://www.threestooges.net/cast/actor/826
4) International Movie DataBase- http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0110886/
5) Turner Classic movies (TCM) page for Buster Brodie: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/person/22744%7C25165/Buster-Brodie/
6) “Whatever happened to Buster Brown shoes?” http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2839/whatever-happened-to-buster-brown-shoes
7) Some of Buster Brodie’s videos are still available.
“The Wizard of Oz” is of course on tv, DVD, and online.
“There It Is” may be found on YouTube in its 18 minute entirety. It was some of the first stop-motion animation and had some ‘special effects.’ Max/Buster got good billing in it, and is seen throughout as the short, fuzzy-faced phantom with the big glasses. The original had music added to it in the movie houses; the YouTube version has contemporary music that does seem to fit well. It is worth the time to watch to see what was funny in 1928, to see how short Max really was and what he looked like, and it is just charming- watch til the very end: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKEtAtjgwTc. The great-great-great nieces and nephews will get a hoot out of it.
The two shorts “There It Is” and “Say Ah-h” may also be found on the DVD “Charley Bowers. The Rediscovery of an American Comic Genius.” (Note: One Amazon reviewer states “There It Is” is not included but this video does come up with an Amazon search for “Buster Brodie,” though it may be because there is another film on the disc in which Buster Brodie appears. It is listed as included in the French, “Charley Bowers Collection (17 Films)” which cannot be played on American DVD players.)
The following movies are available on DVD, VHS, or live streaming:
The 1934 version of “Babes in Toyland” AKA “March of the Wooden Soldiers” with Laurel & Hardy
“George White’s 1945 Scandals”
“Tales of Manhattan”
“The Grapes of Wrath”
“City Lights” with Charlie Chaplin- considered Chaplin’s greatest film.
“Island of Lost Souls” (the genre-defining horror film- to this day- with Bela Lugosi)
There have been multiple films made at different dates of some of these stories, so make sure to check the date before you order if you want to see Buster Brodie. Also, be careful with downloading from unknown websites- while researching one site locked up my computer, with a message that I had a Trojan virus and had to call a number to unlock. Thankfully I was able to reboot and everything was ok, but I do have a Mac… So make sure you have a current backup in case anything does go wrong, and be wary of websites that look out of the mainstream.
8) America’s Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry, by Daniel Eagan, 1910. See p. 135-6 for “There It Is” which lists Buster Brodie as the “fuzz-faced phantom.” https://books.google.com/books?id=deq3xI8OmCkC&pg=PA135&lpg=PA135&dq=%22Buster+Brodie%22+vaudeville&source=bl&ots=cY8qNdcvd_&sig=yXbbOzYcvIFRicgAI5fRXbo4DIg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=tkQjVc3HI8PfsAX4rICwCw&ved=0CDQQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=%22Buster%20Brodie%22%20vaudeville&f=false
9) A very special thanks to Frank Reighter, who documents actors who worked with the Three Stooges and shared what he had learned about Buster Brodie. He got me motivated to finish up this post I have been working on for many months, and added to the information we have about Buster’s career.
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