Bruckman, Clyde

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Writer and Director. Nationality: American. Born: Clyde Adolph Bruckman in San Bernardino, California, 1894. Family: Married Gladys (Bruckman). Career: 1916–19—newspaper reporter; 1920—title writer for Monty Banks-Bull Montana comedies at Warner Bros.; 1921–25—writer and director with Buster Keaton unit; mainly a director from 1926 to 1936; 1939—joined Columbia under Jules White and worked there into the 1950s, writing also for Keaton's and Abbott and Costello's TV shows. Died: (Suicide) in Santa Monica, California, 4 January 1955.

Films as Writer (Shorts):


Three in a Closet (Lyons and Moran)


A Punctured Prince (Fay) (gags only); Rob 'em Good (Stromberg); Glad Rags (Fay) (gags only)


Remember When? (Edwards—short)


Three Little Beers (Lord); Half Shot Shooters (Black)


Grips, Grunts, and Groans (Black); Whoops! I'm an Indian (Lord); 3 Dumb Clucks (Lord); Cash and Carry (Lord)


Moochin' through Georgia (White); Pest from the West (White); Andy Clyde Gets Spring Chicken (White); Three Sappy People (White); Nothing but Pleasure (White)


You Nazty Spy! (White); Rockin' thru the Rockies (White); Pardon My Berth Marks (White); The Taming of the Snood (White); Nutty but Nice (White); Pleased to Mitt You (White); From Nurse to Worse (White); The Spook Speaks (White)


Fresh as a Freshman (White); So Long, Mr. Chumps (White); Black Eyes and Blues (White); I'll Never Heil Again (White); General Nuisance (White); In the Sweet Pie and Pie (White); Yankee Doodle Andy (White); Mitt Me Tonight (White); Loco Boy Makes Good (White)


Glove Birds (White); Olaf Laughs Last (White); Tireman Spare My Tires (White); Three Smart Saps (White); Socka-bye Baby (White); Spook Louder (Lord); Shot in the Escape (White); Farmer for a Day (White); I Can Hardly Wait (White); Pitchin' in the Kitchen (White); Dizzy Pilots (White)


The Yoke's on Me (White)


A Miner Affair (White)


Uncivil War Brides (White); Honeymood Blues (Bernds); Three Little Pirates (Bernds); Andy Plays Hookey (Bernds)


The Scooper Dooper (Bernds); Fright Night (Bernds); Out West (Bernds); Nervous Shakedown (Lord); Rolling Down to Rio (White); Brideless Groom (Bernds); Should Husbands Marry? (Lord); Wedlock Deadlock (Bernds)


Pardon My Clutch (Bernds); Tall, Dark and Gruesome (Lord)


The Gink at the Sink (White); Up in Daisy's Penthouse (White)


Love's A-Poppin' (White); Goof on the Roof (White); Pals and Gals (White)


Two April Fools (White)


Wham-Bam-Slam! (White); Husbands Beware (White)

Films as Writer (Features):


The Three Ages (Keaton and Cline); The Rouged Lips (Shaw) (titles only); Our Hospitality (Keaton and Blystone)


Sherlock, Jr. (Keaton); The Navigator (Keaton and Crisp)


Seven Chances (Keaton); Keep Smiling (Pratt)


For Heaven's Sake (Taylor)


The Cameraman (Sedgwick) (co)


Professor Beware (Nugent)


Blondie Goes to College (The Boss Said No) (Strayer)


Honeymoon Lodge (Lilley); So's Your Uncle (Yarborough); Swingtime Johnny (Cline)


Week-end Pass (Yarborough); Moon over Las Vegas (Yarborough); South of Dixie (Yarborough); Twilight on the Prairie (Yarborough)


Under Western Skies (Yarborough); Her Lucky Night (Lilley); She Gets Her Man (Kenton)

Films as Director:


The General (co + co-sc)


Horse Shoes ; A Perfect Gentleman ; Love'em and Feed 'em (short); Call of the Cuckoo (short); Putting Pants onPhilip (short)


The Battle of the Century (short); Leave 'em Laughing (short); The Finishing Touch (short)


Welcome Danger (+ co-sc)


Feet First (+ co-sc)


Everything's Rosie


Movie Crazy


The Human Fish (short); Too Many Highballs (short); The Fatal Glass of Beer (short)


Horse Collars (short); Spring Tonic (co); Man on the Flying Trapeze (The Memory Expert)


On BRUCKMAN: articles—

Blesh, Rudi, in Keaton, New York, 1966.

Adamson, Joseph, III, in American Screenwriters, edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1984.

Pratfall, vol. 2, no. 6–9, 1985.

Positif (Paris), June 1994.

Sanders, J., and D. Lieberfeld, "Dreaming in Pictures," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), no. 4, 1994.

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The intention of a comedy craftsman is not only to create a comic situation, but to build on it, complicate it, top it, and give the comedian room to work in his own unique personality. The gagman/director Clyde Bruckman was one of the most sought after talents of comedy's Golden Age.

Harry Brand lured Bruckman away from Warner Bros. to work for Buster Keaton in 1921. Along with Joe Mitchell, Jean Havez, and Eddie Cline, Bruckman fashioned the blissfully odd mechanical world of which the poker-faced Keaton was the center, controlling nothing. The story lines for these shorts were strong and remarkably serious for their time, but with logical twists that snowballed into the chase. The daring acrobatic stunts and incredible sight gags rank as some of the best on film today. Although he didn't receive screen credit until his feature films with Keaton, Bruckman had a hand in many early pictures, most noticeably Cops.

As the medium grew from one- and two-reelers to feature-length productions, Keaton and his stable of gag writers pushed themselves into creating more deliberately paced sequences. Buster insisted that impossible or "cartoon gags" be discontinued, though he used them rarely anyway. When complications arose (or worse, if they didn't), they'd break for baseball in the backlot or continue playing cards until a better idea came along. This freewheeling approach to screen collaboration worked at the Keaton Studio, especially for Bruckman. "In such a situation, gags are never a problem. You feel good. Your mind's at ease, and working."

It was Bruckman who showed Keaton a Civil War novel about a Confederate raid into Northern lines, and knew the comic possibilities in it. This became The General, which he cowrote and codirected with Keaton. Their story was scripted by Al Boasberg and Charles Smith, and used fewer than 50 title cards. Six of the seven reels involved a pursuit of locomotives at full steam, one manned by an army of Northern spies and the other by Keaton alone. The General is a marvel of sustained ingenuity and, though unsuccessful in its first release, remains what many consider the last great silent comedy.

Harold Lloyd needed a person of Bruckman's talent to get his timid "glasses character" into mighty and hilarious situations. A businesslike comic, Lloyd sometimes found sitting in on gagwriting sessions unsettling. "Our lack of method is deplorable, but sometimes it works."

Lloyd often used Bruckman in tight situations, such as turning the silent Welcome Danger into a sound picture (a painful early lesson in postdubbing) and directing Feet First, Lloyd's first venture as a "sound comedian." The latter's climax had Harold roll onto a painter's scaffold in a mail sack that becomes hooked on the side of a sky-scraper. His attempts to escape provided the thrills that audiences screamed for, yet it was the Harold Lloyd Corporation that later sent Bruckman's own career out the window.

Producer Hal Roach sought Bruckman to direct comedian Max Davidson in Call of the Cuckoo in 1927. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were featured in secondary roles, and Bruckman's credit in the development of this comedy team is notable in the next four pictures he directed. Bruckman's ability to milk a single embarrassing situation, that of Putting Pants on Philip (with Stan as a woman-crazy Scottish nephew of Ollie), was praised by film historian William K. Everson for design and editing. This might have been part Leo McCarey's handiwork, part Stan Laurel's, part Bruckman's, and surely the uncredited editor's.

What is important was something special in the foolishness of Laurel and Hardy, and they seized upon it. Here was a case of two characters groping for a screen persona, and Bruckman's direction established them as a team—a couple of children innocently creating a mounting choreography of chaos. The Battle of the Century had the banana peel and pie fight spectacular to end them all, Leave 'em Laughing a hysterical traffic jam with the boys convulsed by laughing gas, and The Finishing Touch carpentry sight gags galore.

W.C. Fields was known to eat directors alive. Bruckman directed Fields twice. The Fatal Glass of Beer, produced by Mack Sennett, was a patchwork burlesque of long-winded dramas of the demon drink set in the Yukon. There is hardly any structure to it, but the nightmarish lunacy of this film made it a cult classic. Fields himself called upon Bruckman to fill in as the director of Man on the Flying Trapeze during a flu epidemic.

Bruckman worked best with comics who established their own screen personalities and knew what they wanted. From the simple-minded Stan Laurel to the malevolent W.C. Fields, the all-around guy Harold Lloyd to the analytical Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman adapted to the rhythms of each of these contrasting comic characters, subordinating "specialty" gags for the excellence of the picture as a whole. Using this same surefire material for other comedians got him into big trouble.

By the mid-1930s, one of the last bastions of the comedy short was Jules White's unit at Columbia Pictures. Bruckman worked as director for The Three Stooges in Horse Collars in 1935. Later, for the most part, he wrote stories and screenplays directed by White. Among the best of these were his collaborations with Felix Adler in the Hitler lampoons You Nazty Spy!, a favorite of Moe's and Jules White's and Larry's, and its sequel I'll Never Heil Again.

1939 brought a happy reunion for Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman at Columbia Pictures, making two-reelers again. Keaton had done one feature with Bruckman at MGM in 1928, was fired in 1933, and since then had batted around in shabby Educational Comedies and miscellaneous jobs. Even though Bruckman wasn't providing fresh material, Keaton was giving it all he had. The film historian Leonard Maltin calls Pest from the West "one of Keaton's funniest pictures." Keaton made ten shorts at Columbia from 1939 to 1941, seven of these with Bruckman.

Time and budget restrictions at the Columbia short-subject department (averaging three days and using leftover sets) required the elastic ability to land on your feet, and Bruckman was already on a downward slide. Alcoholism and bouts with depression had dissipated a lot of his talents. He was drawing from past routines, sometimes word for word, and not crafting them to the artist. In 1945 and early 1946, the Harold Lloyd Corporation filed three suits against Universal Studios and two against Columbia Pictures for alleged plagiarism of Lloyd's films, naming writers who had previously worked with him. Bruckman was named in all five. In 1947, the Lloyd Corporation collected. The court's judgment held that the Universal films So's Your Uncle, She Gets Her Man, and Her Lucky Night contained material lifted from the Lloyd comedies Movie Crazy, Welcome Danger, and The Freshman, respectively. The Stooges' two-reelers Three Smart Saps and Loco Boy Makes Good contained material borrowed from The Freshman and Movie Crazy.

Being sued closed almost every avenue for employment. With his reputation shattered and his drinking getting worse, Bruckman was becoming more and more unreliable. And, like Buster Keaton, he found the assembly-line method of story conferences in the industry made him lose confidence in his own ideas. In the 1950s television was growing and it had a huge appetite. Bruckman worked on The Buster Keaton Comedy Show, one of the pioneering live television shows, and from 1951 to 1953 on The Abbott and Costello Show, one of the first syndicated comedy series. (Joseph Adamson III writes that Bruckman did uncredited work for Abbott and Costello's 1944 feature In Society.) Much of his material for these shows was derived from his old pencraft, as well as vaudeville and burlesque routines. The Golden Age was over, and Bruckman became a tragic casualty: he killed himself in Santa Monica in 1955.

—Rob Pinsel