Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Muriel Landers

The first time I saw Muriel Landers, was in a Three Stooges comedy, "Sweet and Hot" (1958). Her character was 'Tiny' Landers, and the plot had her not joining a nightclub act because she was afraid to perform in front of people. She was cured of her stage fright with hypnosis and gave a rousing singing and dancing performance.

While living in North Hollywood in the mid-1970s, one thing I did during my spare time was locating people who'd worked with The Three Stooges. The first source I'd check was the local telephone directory (actually, the Greater Los Angeles Area had several directories, so I'd start with my local one, and then look into others).

Muriel Landers was listed, with two phone numbers but no street address. I called the first number and her recognizable voice answered. I told her of my interest in her appearance with the Stooges, and she was quick to invite me over to visit. She gave me her address, on Hazeltine Avenue in Van Nuys, and soon I was there, enjoying an entertaining conversation with her over a cup of coffee and piece of home-made cake. (I later learned from Muriel's sister, actress Janice Davies, the cake was "Muriel's Strawberry Wine Cake", the only cake Muriel ever made. According to Janice, Muriel was "famous for it among her friends". Janice provided me with the recipe, shown here):




I was familiar with some of Muriel's acting other than with the Stooges, including a touching dramatic role in the "Twilight Zone" episode 'A Piano in the House' (1962). I also remembered seeing her on the sketch comedy show "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" (1968) and some other assorted tv shows.

At the time I met her, she was not in the best of health, plagued by high blood pressure and diabetes. Yet, she was very lively and fun to be with. I visited her several times, a couple of times even grocery shopping for her (she'd ask if I could do the favor, and she gave me a list and the cash). Her mother Sylvia lived with her, as well as her three Pug dogs.

Muriel had an assortment of glossy photos lying around her living room, and when I asked for an autographed picture, she chose this one. She used a ballpoint pen to inscribe the photo, and it "skipped" a bit, as such pens will do on a glossy surface. The inscription reads: "To Bill, All Best Wishes to My Number 1 Fan!!"

One sunny day, when she was showing me the garden and little chapel behind the house, I took two pictures of us together. (This was done by setting the timer after propping the camera on an outdoor wall). Muriel loved to 'mug' for the camera, as seen here and here.

I moved back to New York in May of 1976, but kept in touch with Muriel by phone and mail. Her health continued to deteriorate until she suffered a stroke in February of 1977 and died. Her mother called me with the sad news. She sent me a funeral program, shown below.

On a side note: Several months later, when talking to Janice, she told me that she called several of Muriel's friends to invite them to the funeral service. Besides Ray Bolger and Iris Adrian, both of whom spoke at the service, she called Jack Haley (the 'Tin Man' in "The Wizard of Oz"). Haley's wife Flo answered the phone, and when told of the date of the funeral, asked Janice if she could re-schedule it for the following day because she had a beauty parlor appointment that day! Janice was momentarily stunned at Flo's insensitivity, then had a few words with her. I won't repeat what she told me, but the Haleys did not attend Muriel's service.

4 comments:

johnbasalla said...

Nice story. Being a Stooges fan myself, what you did must have been a fun hobby, looking for people who appeared in their films. How many did you get to meet. I too enjoyed Muriel in "Sweet and Hot", a curious and rather a-typical "Stooges" comedy. Most of the song was stock footage from her own short done earlier.

davidjhogan said...

Bill, your reminiscence of Muriel Landers is charming. She sounds like a sweetie, and you were very kind to her.

I've always enjoyed SWEET AND HOT, and like Muriel's 1962 TWILIGHT ZONE performance, "A Piano in the House," very much. She could dance, sing, act--and she had that sweetly pretty face, too.

What a shame that Columbia's two-reel dept shut down just as Muriel was about to get her own series.

David Hogan
Chicagoland USA

desertrunner said...

Wow,what a wonderful time reminiscing. I just saw the 4th of July Twiglight Zone repeat of " A Piano in the House" I decided to do some research on Muriel and found this page. Hope you keep it up in her remembrance.

Anonymous said...

In a dream sequence, we see Moe, Larry and Joe playing their real selfs as uncles to Muriel Landers dressed as as little girl wasn't that cute, love that part she kiss Moe awww so cuddly and adorable when she's wearing that outfit I couldn't help with that.