Last summer, outside the Lincoln Theatre in Belleville, Illinois, members of a St. Louis fraternal society fought each other as a promotional stunt. Prior to the Saturday rumble, fewer than 100 tickets had been purchased. By Sunday's event, more than 300 patrons crowded into the theater to watch old black-and-white film shorts accompanied musically by Stan Kann, organist extraordinaire. Between features, rowdy festival attendees stood on their seats and shouted impatiently for more -- all to the delight of the Babes in Toyland.
The Babes belong to the international society Sons of the Desert, an organization dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of Laurel & Hardy films. Many of the Babes, particularly "Keeper of the Celluloid" Bill Furman, keep the film society's aesthetic alive by collecting and screening their own 16-mm prints. Incidentally, the promotional fight (not the first staged by the Babes) was a pie fight, and the enthusiastic festival-goers (at least the rowdy ones) were children getting their first taste of the dynamic duo. "Kids love 'em," says the Babes' "Grand Sheik," Phil Steinberg.
Concurs Furman: "To see how young people react to them is always a joy. Kids were going nuts in between films."
Sons of the Desert boasts an international membership roster of more than 100 "tents," of which the Babes are number 44. Stan Laurel wrote the society's constitution, which states that everything must be conducted with "half-assed dignity." That's exactly what you'll get Wednesday, September 7, when the Babes meet at Mei Hua Chinese Restaurant (9626 Olive Boulevard, Olivette) for dinner and toasts, as required by their constitution. Following the meal is the Laurel & Hardy talkie Pardon Us. The curious of all ages are welcome to come for dinner and toasting at 6:30 p.m.; the free film-screening is at 8 p.m. For more information contact Phil Steinberg at 314-385-1192.