The Muse

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I promised to write something about Clarence Muse — a heroic figure — for The Chiseler a while ago, and I started it, and I got sidetracked, and then very busy, and Fiona got ill, and somehow it never got finished. And then I noticed how many unfinished things I had stacked up and realized I’d better start whittling them down. So I finally finished the Clarence Muse piece and Daniel Riccuito, in a show of supreme efficiency that shames me, got it online within 24hrs. It’s here.

You are invited to weigh in on your own favourite Muse moments below.

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14 Responses to “The Muse”

  1. jiminholland Says:

    It’s striking that only a year after sitting at a table being served by Muse in Heaven Can Wait, Eugene Pallette was fired from Preminger’s In the Meantime, Darling for refusing to play a scene in which he sat at the same table with Muse (Pallette to Preminger: “You’re out of your mind. I won’t sit next to a nigger.” Preminger immediately reported this to Zanuck and Pallette was gone).

    In 1939, the very interesting (and now grossly neglected) director Bernard Vorhaus made Way Down South, whose script was co-written by Muse and Langston Hughes. Vorhaus didn’t hold Muse in high regard: “He was very much a keen operator, not a particularly talented actor or writer.” Vorhaus may well be right about Muse as “operator” and writer (having no basis for judgment, I can’t say one way or the other), but on Muse as an actor, I think he’s far off the mark.

  2. That’s a bizarre thing for Vorhaus to say. Of course, different actors act differently for different directors, and Muse may not have responded well to Vorhaus’s direction. I love Vorhaus’s work, but I think he was missing something major there.

    I knew the Pallette story from Preminger’s book, and have to reluctantly believe it. Preminger may not be 100% reliable as storyteller, but his racial politics are fairly impeccable, and I don’t see him making up something like that.

  3. The charm Pallette exuded on screen was nowhere to be found off of it. The was a Total Racist Wingnut and in his later years retreated to a compound he built to withstand nuclear attack from the Russians, which he believed was imminent. Sad.

  4. It does tie in to my theory that many manifestations of racism are not unconnected to clinical paranoia.

  5. I appreciate racist wingnuts that retreat into compounds. It’s thoughtful of them to build their own prisons and interim hells.

  6. La Faustin Says:

    Oh, I’m so glad you wrote this lovely piece!

    Some Muse moments: in 1932, besides his NIGHT WORLD doorman, the sorrowful heart of that deco gyroscope, he played a tail-coated cabaret entertainer (very Jolsonesque) in BIG CITY BLUES, and a maternally tender, gorilla-like “boy” in PRESTIGE. The latter, like NIGHT WORLD, gave him the opportunity for pull-out-the-stops death throes.

    Even in a threadbare little number like AFTER THE DANCE, his two minutes are a lesson in comic rhythm.

  7. By some strange quirk, Pallette onscreen embodies only the more lovable human vices. And that’s the contribution he made which survives. The rest belongs deep underground.

    Prestige is one weird movie — the constant zooming (yes, zooming!) tracking and panning make it look like a Lucio Fulci movie transported to the pre-code era. Christine Leteux suggests that the preposterous colonial attitudes expressed may be tongue-in-cheek on the part of Tay Garnett, who, as an Irish-American, had no reason to love British imperialism. It certainly doesn’t benefit from taking seriously.

    Muse throws himself into it, seemingly incapable of giving less than 110%.

  8. Thanks for the mention, D — will post Muse’s open letter to black actors in the next Chiseler!

  9. I’ll link to it here!

  10. Scott Dwight Says:

    A personal favorite not mentioned is Prison Train.

  11. Oh, haven’t seen that one! And from the writer of Portrait of Jennie and The Lost Moment!

  12. @dcairns I’m glad I didn’t give more details about his role. It’s a bit of a surprise.

  13. My grandmother told me that Clarence Muse was her father. I believe her account and appreciate that you acknowledge him and his gifts. Thank you. Peace

  14. That’s an amazing legacy to have! A great actor and a great man.

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