Hellzapoppin' (Universal,1941) starring Olsen and Johnson, Martha Raye and a cast of hundreds!


Page updated 13th June, 2010.
Before 'Airplane' (aka 'Flying High'), before 'Blazing Saddles', before '1941' and in the year 1941, there was 'Hellzapoppin'', a madcap, zany, hilarious and addictive 'movie' (well, that's open to question, to quote from the script) based on a highly successful Broadway comedy of the same name. Did you ever wonder where Mel Brooks, the Zuckers and many other successful movie makers and entertainers found their one-liners and sight gags? Don't ask me, but you might find some answers in 'Hellzapoppin'.

Full cast and crew details, plus a number of entertaining viewer comments, will found on the Internet Movie Database.

This fan page, established March, 2004, will gather information on the cast and crew from hardcopy sources; old movie annuals, magazines and reference books. Contributions are welcome, either by way of comments, information or photos. You can e-mail me at chiefchook@gmail.com If sending image attachments, please contact me prior to doing so.

THE CAST - so far

Martha Raye (r.n. Margaret Theresa Yvonne Reed) ('Betty Johnson')

Martha Raye was born on 27th of August, 1916 in Butte, Montana. According to James Parish in The Slapstick Queens (Barnes, 1973), backstage at the local vaudeville theatre where her parents were performing. Blue eyes and dark brown hair, five feet four inches tall. The book mentioned above devotes over 50 pages to Martha.

The photo is from an English cigarette card printed during the 1930s.

Comprehensive information on Martha Raye is available from this site.

Jane Frazee (r.n. Mary Jane Freshe) ('Kitty Rand')

Born on 18th of July, 1918, in Duluth, Minnesota, Jane retired in 1951 and went into the real estate business. "If her sister had not married, we should not have seen Jane Frazee on the screen. Jane and her sister Ruth began singing together as children. Schooldays over, they used their talent professionally, but their successful and prominent team was broken when Ruth married. They made their last appearance together in Hollywood. This gave Jane her chance, and she made her film debut in the leading role of 'Melody and Moonlight'. She has since been in 'Rookies', 'Angels with Broken Wings', Moonlight in Hawaii' and 'Sing another Chorus'. She is five feet four inches tall, with blue-green eyes and chestnut hair, and is of Norwegian descent." * +

Image coming.

Shemp Howard ('Louie')

Born Sam Howard on the 4th March, 1895, Shemp is remembered for his work with the Three Stooges but in fact made many independent appearances after Columbia signed him as a featured player. 'Curly' replaced Shemp until 'Curly' became ill. Shemp returned to the Stooges but passed away from a heart attack on his way home from a prize fight at Hollywood Legion Stadium on the 11th November, 1955. **

Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson

John Siguard Olsen, born in Peru, Indiana on 6th of November, 1892 and Harold Ogden 'Chic' Johnson, born on 5th March, 1891, formed their crazy partnership in 1915 after a number of years of vaudeville experience. They toured the USA, Australia and Britain during the 1920s before going into movies in 1930. The original stage production of Hellzapoppin' began in New York at the 46th Street Theatre on the 22nd of September, 1938, and ran for three years. Chic passed away in 1962, Ole in 1963. This information comes from Brian Rust's discography mentioned below.

Mischa Auer (r.n. Mischa Ounskowski) ('Pepi')

Born on 17th of November, 1905, in St Petersburg, Russia, Mischa took his stage name from his maternal grandfather, violinist Leopold Auer, who brought him to America in 1920. Mischa attended the Ethical Culture school in New York, entered theater and while appearing in 'Magda' on Broadway was offered a role in 'Something always Happens' by director Frank Tuttle, in 1928. For the next seven years he played small, usually villainous, parts but finally hit the big time thanks to his great performance in Gregory La Cava's comedy, 'My Man Godfrey'. After appearing in around 60 films, Mischa moved to Europe where he continued to work in the movies, right up until just before passing on in 1967. Brown eyes and hair, six feet three inches tall. ** +

Elisha Cook, Jnr. ( 'Harry Selby')

Born on the 26th of December, 1903 in San Francisco, Elisha first appeared in vaudeville at the age of 14 and on the stage before going into the movie 'Her Unborn Child', in 1929, duplicating the part he'd played in the stage version. Returning to Broadway, it would be another 6 years before he moved into the movies as a regular, usually playing wiry gangsters or evil henchmen. Most remembered for his role in 'The Maltese Falcon' with Bogart, often termed the toughest little guy in Hollywood, after Jimmy Cagney. Brown hair and eyes. ** +

Andrew Tombes ('Max Kane')

Born in 1889, in Ashtabula, Ohio, Andrew came to the movies by way of vaudeville and musical comedies on the stage, like most actors of his era. Often played "... a genial man with a mischievious streak, often a doctor or a judge" + Brown eyes. **

Gus Schilling ('the orchestra conductor')

Born on 20th of June, 1908 in New York City, Gus followed the usual route to Hollywood, via burlesque and musical comedies. **

George Chandler ('the cameraman' - uncredited)

Born on 30th of June, 1898 in Waukegan, Illinois, George followed the usual route to Hollywood, via burlesque and musical comedies. He was apparently billed as 'The Musical Nut' + ! Brown hair and eyes, five feet eight inches tall.**

* From Picture Show Annual, 1943, published by Amalgamated Press, London, 1942.
** From Picture Show Who's Who on the Screen, published by Amalgamated Press, London, c1956. Date of birth corrections kindly supplied by Jordan Young.
+ From information contained in Ephraim Katz's The International Film Encyclopaedia, MacM, London 1980
If stills from the movie are located, I'll replace the above with them.

Ole Olsen .... Ole Olsen
Chic Johnson .... Chic Johnson
Robert Paige .... Jeff Hunter
Jane Frazee .... Kitty Rand
Lewis Howard .... Woody Taylor
Martha Raye .... Betty Johnson
Dean Collins .... Betty's dancing partner (uncredited)
Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart.... Specialty (as Slim and Slam)
Ann Johnson and Frankie Manning.... Dancers (as Harlem Congeroos) see Sheila's
note below
Ben Hall .... Goofy man in Betty's way (uncredited)
Clarence Kolb .... Andrew Rand
Nella Walker .... Mrs. Rand
Mischa Auer .... Pepi
Richard Lane .... Director
Elisha Cook Jr. .... Harry Selby
Hugh Herbert .... Quimby
Olive Hatch .... Ballet specialty
Shemp Howard .... Louie
Jody Gilbert .... Louie's girlfriend
Andrew Tombes .... Max Kane
George Davis .... Butler
Hal K. Dawson .... Photographer
George Chandler .... Cameraman (uncredited)
Frank Darien .... Man calling for Mrs. Jones
Eddie Acuff .... Drafted devil
Fred Sanborn .... Man playing tic-tac-toe (uncredited)
Billy Curtis .... Taxi driver
Harry Monty .... Midget
Catherine Johnson .... Lady looking for Oscar
Don Brodie .... Theater manager
Gil Perkins .... Butler in pool
Dale Van Sickel ... Man Who Falls Into Pool
Gus Schilling .... Orchestra conductor
Sig Arno .... Cellist
Bert Roach .... Robert T. MacChesney
Jerry Mandy .... Chef with bread (uncredited)
Susan Miller .... Mother calling for Junior (uncredited)
Rex Stewart .... Trumpet specialty (uncredited)
Tiny Lipson .... Junior

" ...The townspeople build a fake Rock Ridge, which the army blows up, precipitating the cast of 'Blazing Saddles' into the set of the musical extravaganza being filmed next door, a gag that had been used more than a generation before in 'Hellzapoppin'. ''
From History of Movie Comedy by Janice Anderson, Deans, London, 1985. isbn 0 603 03694 5 (page 177)
"Olsen and Johnson, first seen on the film in this country in that super-crazy picture, "Hellzapoppin", are a pair of comedians who are perfect in their own line of comedy. They were the introducers of crazy comedy in America and "Hellzapoppin", in which they starred, ran three years on the stage."
From Picture Show Annual, 1943, published by Amalgamated Press, London, 1942.

Videos and an all-region DVD are available.
Region 2 version is now available.
You may already know this but there you can buy a legitimate DVD of Hellzapoppin’ through
The full link is:
The price is a very reasonable 4.98 (about $US 11-12) and shipping was 3.00 to Canada. It is a legit release by Universal unlike the bootleg versions available on ebay and elsewhere. - Richard Kolke 13.8.08

ORIGINAL RECORDINGS (See comments below; these are not from the movie.)
This information comes from Brian Rust's The Complete Entertainment Discography to 1942 (Arlington House, USA, 1973) isbn 0 87000 150 7. A ban on recording by the American Federation of Musicians in 1942 brought all recordings to a halt for 2 years which is possibly the reason for there being no records of the movie's soundtrack. Olsen and Johnson did generate the following recording, probably based on the stage show.
Vocal by O/Spud Murphy, with the Four Bellles. NY c May, 1940. Varsity recording label.
US-1716-1 - Oh! Gee, Oh, Gosh, Oh! Golly, I'm in Love
US-1718-1 - My Heartzapoppin' ("Hellzapoppin'")
There have been Japanese releases of the music; found a web page but it disappeared before I could return and take notes.

As is generally known, the movie was a watered down version of the stage version. For some details, use the musicals.101 link below. Why was it watered down? Certainly some aspects of the stage version would offend sections of the viewing public today but one has to ask if somewhere there are out-takes just waiting to be seen.

1930s Musicals
Martha RAYE
Polish film history site (in Polish)
http://www.inzine.sk/ clanok.asp?id_clanok=7598
SF Musings
Lindy Hop - West Coast Jitterbugs

* 'Sons O'Fun', the stage sequel to Hellzapoppin', played Broadway's Wintergarden in 1941, then toured the US. Joe Besser, who played a stooge with Moe and Larry in 1957's 'Hoofs & Goofs', partnered Ole Olsen's brother in the comedy act of Alexander and Olsen, and later went into 'Sons O'Fun'. From Richard Lamparski's Whatever Became of ...?, #11.Crown, 1989 isbn 0 517 57151 x
* Films and Filming for August 1968 mentiions this being one of the most popular comedies to be screened on BBC1.

COMMENTS - Thanks to all you you! Latest below.

Date: 2/03/05 4:01:37 AUS Eastern Daylight Time
From: Vahl and Merijane
Hellzapoppin played at the Strand Theater in Marshalltown, Iowa in 1941, while I was the doorman (ticket taker). Big hit with the audiences. Too bad it is not available on DVD or VHS.
[It is; but not through shops. Best place on the net is via eBay. - John]
Did you know that George Chandler, a cast member, was president of the Screen Actors Guild at one time? [No, but thanks for letting us know.]

Date: 16/03/05 3:31:26 AUS Eastern Daylight Time
From: Sheila
Cangaroo [Harlem Congeroo] dancers, aka Whitey's Lindy Hoppers...in order of appearance
William Downes (overalls) and Frances "Mickey" Jones (maid).
Norma Miller and Billy Ricker (chef's hat).
Al Minns (white coat, black pants) and Willa Mae Ricker.
Ann Johnson (maid) and Frankie Manning (overalls).
I hope this helps!

Date: 19/05/07 1:01:24 AUS Eastern Standard Time
From: Ray
I saw your HELLZAPOPPIN' page and thought I'd give you some additional music info.

First, none of the songs you listed is from the 1941 Universal film; they are associated with various incarnations of the stage production (not the original 1938 Broadway production).

Second, the only song from the film to be recorded was "Watch The Birdie". It was recorded by Sonny Dunham and by Gene Krupa, both in 1941.

There are surviving promotional discs sent by Universal to radio stations. I have recordings of the following 78rpm discs:
"What Kind of Love is This"
"Watch the Birdie"
"Heaven For Two"
"You Were There"
(2 sides - chorus and Jane Frazee with chorus)
To date I have not been able to track down a disc of "The Congo Basso".

On a personal note, the film is credited to H.C. Potter. However it is completely unlike ANYTHING Potter otherwise directed on film. The cutting, camera setups, pacing are all completely in the style of then-Universal comedy ace Eddie Cline (who directed the other three Universal O&J films). I have always been convinced that Cline did most of the helming on this picture. Unfortunately, this is pure speculation on my part and I am the first to give NO credence to any suppositions that are not supported by primary source material (studio memos etc.).

When HELLZAPOPPIN was reissued by Realart Pictures in 1950, they removed the pre-title sequence and opened the film on a static "Hellzapoppin" title card.

The film version of HELLZAPOPPIN was not really a "watered-down" version of the stage production. The stage show was a revue. It was not in any form that could be adapted to the screen (as Richard Lane barks - "this is Hollywood, we change everything!"). So they took the name, a few gags and created a film-oriented hour-and-a-half of lunacy. Olsen and Johnson's subsequent films were actually closer to their stage shows in that they featured a parade of specialty acts in between the comedy sequences.

I have tons of promotional material on O&J and their shows & films. What I have never been able to track down is an original theatrical trailer to HELLZAPOPPIN or the 1941 pressbook (I have the Realart pressbook, which is only a four page adaptation).

My Olsen and Johnson sob story is that I use to have an ashtray with a full color printed emblem "Stolen From Olsen and Johnson's Carmel NY Restaurant". My wife put it in the dishwasher. After 50 years, ALL GONE! Chic and Ole would have loved that one!

Finally, some trivia - Chic Johnson's grandson is Bob May, who played the Robot on LOST IN SPACE.

Best wishes,
Ray Faiola
Chelsea Rialto Studios
Now Available on CD: Max Steiner's THE THREE MUSKETEERS

Date: 26/09/07 AUS Eastern Daylight Time
From: Don
Greetings! You have a great website! I hope Universal will release all four Olsen & Johnson comedies on DVD, domestic USA Region 1 someday soon. I love HELLZAPOPPIN' - one of my all-time favorite musical comedies !!! I love Olsen & Johnson !!! I would like to further add to the songs listed on the soundtrack of the movie. Thanks to Ray Faiola for adding his contribution, to which I will add the following: The songs which follow the ones he has listed are: WAITING FOR THE ROBERT E. LEE - Sung by Martha Raye, with studio orchestra and chorus The CONGA BESO [CONGA KISS] - Sung by Jane Frazee, with studio orchestra and chorus END TITLE - Universal Studio Orchestra and chorus, conducted by Charles Previn. The entire movie's music score was conducted by Charles Previn, composed by Charles Previn and Frank Skinner, Orchestrations by Ted Cain. Ray sent me a CDR of his seven tracks of songs from HELLZAPOPPIN'.  WOW! Imagine having a soundtrack album from the film! I love it! Cheers, Don J. Long [Later] A fan of Olsen & Johnson since the late 1950s when I first saw HELLZAPOPPIN' and their zany followup feature CRAZY HOUSE (Universal, 1943). P.S. In 1990, I met John Olsen Lear, the grandson of Ole Olsen, and the son of William Lear, of Lear Jet fame. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and is a commercial pilot. I was invited to his home near Nellis Air Force Base and he showed me a miniature piano about 4 feet long by 3 feet wide and about 4 feet high, that Ole Olsen used in his vaudeville show days onstage! He also showed me pictures of Ole and his wife, and pics of O & J clowning around.

24/09/08 6:14:19 AUS From: jperin@cinci.rr.com (John Perin)
On the "Hellzapoppin" webpage, you give the dates of death for Olsen & Johnson. You are correct that Chic Johnson passed away in 1962, but Ole Olsen died in 1963 (not 1965). / I have a DVD of "Hellzapoppin" that a purchased at a Radio-TV convention here earlier this year and really enjoy watching it. Thank you.
John Perin, Cincinnati, Ohio
Thanks, John; I've changed the date.

21/12/07 8:07:54 AUS From: djlprojects@usa.net (Donald John Long)
Can you put this request out for me on your website? Can someone please tell me the names and composers of the classical music scores heard in the movie HELLZAPOPPIN in the ballet scenes at Kitty Rand's country estate theater with Martha Raye and Mischa Auer performing their comic antics? Thank you!
Cheers, Don J. Long

HOME PAGE You can e-mail John at chiefchook@gmail.com If sending image attachments, please contact me prior to doing so.