In the Laurel & Hardy movie (or episode, if you will) Blotto (1930), in the first scene, Stan is reading a hebrew newspaper.

Hebrew newspaper

So I was wondering, why a hebrew newspaper? Is there any reason and purpose for this, or has it got any meaning? I couldn't spot anything in the movie that this is a reference to or anything... I can guess it's some sort of a 'random' joke that really doesn't have a special meaning or purpose, yet I'm eager to find out if this is the case.

  • I wish someone could tell us what the headline reads. – user1614 Jul 2 '12 at 23:51
  • Indeed, that would be great :) – poepje Jul 3 '12 at 7:51
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    @user1614 As Mike has said, the paper is "Yiddishe Welt" ("Jewish World"). The two-line headline beneath the title seems to read "Lindbergh flight in rain and fog [illegible] Cuba to St. Louis". The journey described took place in early 1928, so not only can't Stan read the paper, it's two years out of date! – FredH Jun 17 '13 at 18:30
  • Contained within the newspaper is the phrase "Paul is Dead". This is why Laurel and Hardy made it onto the Sergeant Pepper album cover. – user18831 Feb 11 '15 at 4:28
  • @DoctorChess I had to look up 'Sergeant Pepper' to find out what you meant.. But what do you mean by 'Paul is dead'? Does it say that in Hebrew in the headline? – poepje Feb 14 '15 at 14:42

I think the joke is that he is presumed not to be able to read Hebrew, so this signifies that he is only pretending to read the newspaper. It could have been any other language, but one which uses a different alphabet makes it more obvious, and it may be that at the time the only choices most Americans would recognize would be Hebrew and possibly Russian, although since this is pre-Cold War, even that might be a stretch.

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    Pre-WW2 even... But yes that sounds eligible – poepje Jul 1 '12 at 2:24

This is not a hebrew newspaper but a yiddish newspaper "Yiddishe Velt", (Yiddish World).

Yiddish can be written in either hebrew or latin characters. In the first half of the 20th Century there were many yiddish newspapers in the USA catering to the large jewish immigrant community. There was also a very active yiddish film industry in the USA and Europe.

This could be an 'in joke' between the cast and crew, or just an interesting accident.

Incidentally, Laurel and Hardy were (and are) very popular with jewish audiences; in hebrew they are known as "Hashamen v' he razeh", literally "the fat one and the thin one".

  • But... Yiddish uses Hebrew writing..? – poepje Jun 14 '13 at 9:55
  • @poepje And English uses Latin writing (letters)…? So what? :) – Mario Aug 3 '16 at 9:19
  • @Mario Mike says 'it's not a hebrew newspaper but a yiddish newspaper'. But that's the same. – poepje Aug 12 '16 at 14:52

It was typical at the time to film movies in more than one language. Blotto was simultaneously filmed in French and Spanish. Anita Garvin, who plays Stan's wife, is replaced by Spanish and French actresses in those versions of the film. Perhaps the choice of newspaper was an attempt to find a visual joke that would work in more than one country.

This excerpt from an article on Leo McCarey (who wrote Blotto) by film historian Richard W.Bann suggests it may be a carryover from McCarey's other work at the time:

One of McCarey's first projects as production supervisor was to develop a series of Max Davidson comedies. Somehow, McCarey's Irish heritage helped him see the possibilities for Jewish humor surrounding Max Davidson as a beseiged, henpecked husband at the mercy of his family. And what a family. Rich in visual gags and situational humor, the Max Davidson comedies written, supervised, or directed by Leo McCarey remain among the funniest - and also the most unsung - of all silent short subject films. Born in Berlin, Max Davidson's brief series ended only when ethnic humor temporarily fell out of favour. One reason it fell out of favour was quite simply that the Jews who ran Hollywood were embarrassed by what they considered to be stereotypes. Seen even today, the little comedian's material is basically inoffensive and quite restrained.

http://www.laurel-and-hardy.com/archive/articles/1998-10-mccarey-long.html

  • Thanks, I knew about the Spanish version, but are you sure about a French one? (can't find anything about it on Wiki or IMDB) I was already surprised to find Stan and Oliver spoke both Spanish and German (these films were not voiced-over, but genuinly spoken by L&H themselves). – poepje Jul 1 '12 at 13:33
  • According to TMC, it was filmed "in French with Georgette Rhodes as Stan's wife and in Spanish with Linda Loredo in the role." The French version does not seem to be in existence any longer. tcm.com/tcmdb/title/511011/Blotto/articles.html – MJ6 Jul 1 '12 at 17:44
  • Can you explain how using a language with Hebrew script is a visual joke beyond my suggestion that it implies he is clearly not reading it? – James McLeod Mar 16 '16 at 2:39
  • @James McLeod The explanation is the same - he cannot read it. The question was about the choice of Hebrew over other languages or other ways to demonstrate not being able to read (like broken glasses, for example). If this was just for an American audience, the producers might have chosen some other language, but because they expected it to be released internationally, other audiences were taken into account. – MJ6 Mar 31 '16 at 14:46

The suggestion is that his wife is Jewish. There is an old stereotype of Jewish wives being, well, bitchy.

  • While I feel really weird asking this, could you provide more elaboration on your answer? – MattD Mar 8 '15 at 20:25
  • This might help: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotypes_of_Jews#Jewish_women I know people would like to bury their heads in the sand, but this film was made in 1930 and this was (and still is to some people) a stereotype of Jewish women. Please note, this isn't an attack or slander. I am JUST IDENTIFYING what is going on in the film. – Kevin Mar 8 '15 at 20:51
  • I think what MattD meant is why you associate this suggestion/old stereotype with the Hebrew newspaper. – poepje Mar 8 '15 at 21:29
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    The original post asked why a Hebrew newspaper. I was answering that question. The newspaper is a cue to the audience identifying Stan's wife for them, building on the stereotype I mentioned above. Note how Stan picks up the paper, realizes it is in Hebrew/Yiddish and then resentfully crinkles it up and throws it on the floor. It is evident that the paper belongs to his wife as I doubt he would do that to his own paper. Many stereotypes are present in old films as they were not as sensitive as we are today about these things. – Kevin Mar 8 '15 at 22:29
  • @Kevin I think you should add this info to your answer, it will definitively improve it. – Chanandler Bong Mar 15 '16 at 22:15

Basic logic objectively would indeed assume that if a Hebrew or Yiddish newspaper was a household item laying casually in the home portrayed there as the Laurel's, & that the paper seemed not useful to Mr. Laurel, then the other spouse, Mrs. Laurel, would seem to have need of it to be in their house, i.e. her being the Yiddish/Jewish family member in the home. Good stuff, Maynard.

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