Emil's forty-ninth career film role brought him back again to Columbia Pictures, but after four films in a row with the Three Stooges, he found himself working this time with a different and yet familiar star. Harry Von Zell was making his eighth and final comedy short for the studio. Often playing the victim of Harry's pranks, Emil appeared in all eight episodes of the Von Zell series, with this film marking his forty-first appearance in a Columbia short subject.
Originally it was Harry Von Zell's popularity as a radio announcer that prompted Jules White to sign him to Columbia Pictures, so all the Von Zell shorts have him working in a radio station as an announcer. For HIS BAITING BEAUTY, Emil plays Harry's boss, station manager "Waldo Whipple," who is also a wolfish playboy.
The story opens with Harry reading his fan mail, and one particular letter contains a romantic poem and a racy photo of a "bathing beauty" named "Ethel Dunkel," played by Jean Willes.
Harry's a recently-married man, so of course he shrugs off the fan letter. But when Ethel shows up to meet the man with the radio voice she's crazy about, Harry avoids her unwanted advances by telling her that Emil, and not himself, is the smooth-voiced radio announcer. Emil's character Waldo Whipple is a wolfish bachelor so he plays along with Harry's ruse and pretends he's Harry.
The plot thickens when Harry's wife (played by Christina McIntyre) finds the suggestive fan letter in Harry's coat pocket. She and her mother (Minerva Urecal) are joined by her circus toughman brother named "Gorgeous Gus" (Dick Wessel), who hasn't met Harry yet, and the three of them set out to avenge Harry's apparent philandering.
When they find him, though, big brother Gus (Wessel) mistakenly thinks that Emil, instead of Harry, is his cheating brother-in-law, and he proceeds to administer several generous doses of punishment to the unwitting and defenseless Emil, who has no idea why Gus is after him. At this point, Harry decides he needs Ethel (Willes) to explain the truth to his wife, but she's too upset and won't cooperate. As Wessel beats up on Emil and Harry chases Ethel, the mayhem builds and pandemonium breaks out.
When things eventually settle down, Harry convinces his wife he's innocent and all ends well... almost. In one last flurry of anger, Emil, who's been an innocent bystander and who sustained most of the physical abuse, grabs Harry by the lapels and bangs his head repeatedly against the wall. But this dislodges a fan from a high shelf, and it falls squarely onto Emil's head, knocking him out cold. As he stiffens and crosses his eyes, he mutters, "Here we go again" and falls to the floor. Harry says, "Look, the boss heard from another fan!" and the film ends, fading out with his trademark laughter.
It had been many weeks since Emil's last job in the Stooge comedy SLAPHAPPY SLEUTHS (1950)
, but this role in HIS BAITING BEAUTY was a substantial four-day job that earned him top billing in the film credits. His picture is also featured so prominently on the movie poster you might have thought he was the star.
With his character "Waldo Whipple" described as a "wolf/lover," this film represented an acting challenge for Emil, who did not often portray straight leading-man types. After seeing him create so many comically eccentric characters, watching him enact a relatively normal person with a normal voice seems odd. But he carries it off well, flirting like a practiced womanizer.
Besides challenging Emil's acting range, this role included several difficult stunts for Emil, who was still suffering neck pains and headaches from the injuries he's sustained 14 months earlier while making BILLIE GETS HER MAN (1948)
under the direction of Ed Bernds. Most of his roles since then, particularly when working with Bernds, had been devoid of any rough action, but apparently Emil convinced him he could again take the punishment. He performs numerous falls and takes various objects smashed over his head, but there's one stunt that really stands out. At one point, Emil goes to answer a knock on the door, thinking that it's Jean Willes as Ethel. Instead, it's big brother Dick Wessel who punches Emil in the nose so hard that he stumbles backward, landing flat on the floor with a table on top of him! It's quite a stunt, and it's a testimony to Emil's professionalism that he executed it so well under the circumstances.
Other notable supporting performances were turned in by Dick Wessel as the angry muscle-man brother-in-law, and the beautiful brunette Jean Willes as the overzealous and romantically inclined radio fan that causes all the trouble.
Christine McIntyre, with whom Emil had worked innumerable times, seems somewhat miscast as a jealous newlywed bride. With her good looks, she often plays "the other woman" rather than the jealous wife. She puts in a solid performance here nevertheless, and she also showed what a good sport she was by executing a scene in which a large vase full of water is thrust into her face, drenching her cocktail dresses and ruining her fancy hairdo. The image of here standing there soaking wet and dripping, and her stammering, sputtering reactions are wonderfully hilarious. For supporting-actor fans, this and Emil's back-flip over the table make this film "worth the price of admission."
Emil had worked with actress Jean Willes several times before, but this film gave him numerous scenes with her and they worked well together. Willes does a convincing job of playing a young ingenue infatuated with a "famous radio star," completely taken in by Emil's flirtations. Previous films in which they both worked include AIN'T LOVE CUCKOO? (1946)
starring Schilling & Lane, HONEYMOON BLUES (1946)
with Hugh Herbert, SLAPPILY MARRIED (1946)
with Joe DeRita, and BRIDE AND GLOOM (1947)
starring Shemp Howard.
Jean Willes, who had been previously known as Jean Donahue, worked with Emil again in several more Columbia shorts, including HULA-LA-LA (1951)
and GYPPED IN THE PENTHOUSE (1955)
starring the Three Stooges, as well as several feature films such as KILL THE UMPIRE (1950)
with William Bendix, THE FULLER BRUSH GIRL (1950)
starring Lucille Ball, and ALL ASHORE (1953)
with Mickey Rooney.
Willes went on to appear in dozens of movies over the next twenty years, including SON OF PALEFACE (1952), FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953), ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS (1953), BOWERY TO BAGDAD (1955), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), THE FBI STORY (1959), OCEAN'S ELEVEN (1960), GYPSY (1962), CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB (1970), and BITE THE BULLET (1975).
She had an even more prolific television career, making scores of guest appearances throughout the 1950s and 60s, on everything from Perry Mason
and Bat Masterson
to The Munsters
and The Beverly Hillbillies
Released in January 1950, HIS BAITING BEAUTY was Harry Von Zell's last short-subject for Columbia Pictures. It was three years earlier, in July 1946, when Emil first worked with Von Zell, who, like Vera Vague, had achieved success on radio and switched over to films. Making use of the same writers and directors as well as the supporting cast of the Three Stooges, the Von Zell shorts are considered by many to be some of Columbia's funniest and most entertaining non-Stooge two-reelers.
Prior to working for Columbia Von Zell was a successful radio announcer, although he achieved a measure of notoriety for one of radio's most famous "flubs." Reportedly, in 1931, a young and nervous Harry Von Zell was introducing then-president Herbert Hoover. After reading a long introduction that had him repeat the president's name many times, somewhere toward the end Von Zell slipped up and called the president "Hoo-bert Hee-ver." Von Zell later remarked that it was a good thing the windows were sealed in the high-rise building where the broadcast was taking place, or he'd have jumped out from embarrassment!
Although his comedies were very popular, after making eight shorts for Columbia, Von Zell was ready to move on. He subsequently landed his career-defining role in The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show
, the ground-breaking hit television series he appeared in from 1951 through 1958. Von Zell nevertheless appreciated the beneficial effect the Columbia shorts had on his career and said he believed they led to his affiliation with Burns and Allen.
A few Von Zell shorts were packaged with other two-reelers featuring Andy Clyde, Vera Vague, Hugh Herbert and several other comedians for release to television, just as the Three Stooges films were. However they never achieved anything close to the popularity of the Stooge comedies, and very few people remember Harry Von Zell these days.
In the twilight of his career, Von Zell became the commercial spokesman for Home Savings & Loan, appearing in dozens of radio and television advertisements throughout the 1970s. He was also recruited by the large banking company to host ocean cruises made available to members of their "Silver Circle" (depositors holding at least $5000 in an account). He and other celebrity hosts, such as George Fenneman of Groucho Marx fame, would mingle with the vacationers and pose for pictures.
Although Emil never again worked with Harry Von Zell, neither man ever forgot the experiences they shared nor the people they worked with, and they were pen-pals for many years afterward.
Harry Von Zell died of cancer in November 1981 at the age of 75 in Woodland Hills, California. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.