Another Good Story Ruined: Senor Wences and ‘History Is Made at Night’

 

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I received a couple of comments about my statement on the mystery movie “History Is Made at Night” regarding the appearance (or non-appearance) of ventriloquist Senor Wences – or at least the appearance/non-appearance of his left hand.

So I thought I would take a break from my sabbatical to dig into it.

July 25, 2015, Senor Wences

Senor Wences is listed way down in the imdb entry on “History Is Made at Night” as an uncredited performer.

Senor Wences - Deefeecult For You, Easy For Me
For comparison, here is Senor Wences and “Johnny” from the cover of the album “Deefeecult for You – Easy for Me.” (And yes, a recording of a ventriloquist is a bit like listening to one the radio, but Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy made it work.

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The sequence in question begins at the 14:46 minute mark in a scene between Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer) and Irene Vail (Jean Arthur).

Dumond tells Vail that he lives with a woman and asks if she would like to meet her.

July 25, 2015, History Is Made at Night
Insert to Dumond drawing a face on his hand.

July 25, 2015, History Is Made at Night
Dumond: May I present the woman I live with … Coco.

July 25, 2015, History Is Made at Night.
Coco: Hello.

July 25, 2015, History Is Made at Night

Coco and Vail get acquainted.

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Coco: Parlez-Vous Francais?

July 25, 2015, History Is Made at Night

Dumond: Speak English.

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Coco: I hate men, don’t you?

Vail: Definitely.

Coco: Then why did you get married?

July 25, 2015, History Is Made at Night

Coco: What made your husband do that to you tonight?

July 25, 2015, History Is Made at Night

Vail: Coco, ask him to ask me to dance.

July 25, 2015, History Is Made at Night

Coco: Ask her to dance, stupid.

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The death of Coco: Dumond wipes his hand with the napkin that was Coco’s scarf.

July 25, 2015, History Is Made at Night. Senor Wences - Deefeecult For You, Easy For Me

OK, let’s compare. On the left, Coco in “History Is Made at Night.” On the right, Senor Wences and Johnny.

Not too encouraging.

July 25, 2015, History Is Made at Night
And except for a few inserts, there is no way for anybody to double shots like this.

July 25, 2015, History Is Made at Night
Or this.

July 25, 2015, History Is Made at Night
The only shot that might be a double is this insert. In the other shots, Boyer is wearing a wrist watch, but it’s not visible here.

So much for the internal evidence. Let’s take our research to the next level: Where was Senor (or Signor) Wences during the filming of “History Is Made at Night?”

In later years, Senor Wences was familiar to TV audiences from his 50 appearances on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” but in the 1930s, when “History Is Made at Night” was filmed, he was much more obscure.

As nearly as I can determine, “History Is Made at Night” was filmed in late 1936. Motion Picture Daily reported Oct. 30, 1936,  that “History Is Made at Night” would start production Nov. 2, 1936.

The earliest mention of Senor Wences that I can find in U.S. papers is a Nov. 10, 1934, item in the New York Times’ Night Club Notes, in which he is identified as a juggler and ventriloquist. His first mention in the Los Angeles Times is Oct. 12, 1940, and his next mention in the New York Times is July 11, 1941.

According to Variety,  Senor Wences was in Chicago in August 1936, and in June 1937, “Signor” Wences was in London. It’s unclear where he was between those dates, but there is nothing to indicate he was in Los Angeles.

Finding: Based on internal and external evidence, there is every reason to believe Charles Boyer did all of the Coco sequence and that Senor Wences was not involved, regardless of what it says in imdb or any books that may have relied on imdb.

All of this might seem like overkill on a trivial point, but there is another lesson: Be careful of what you find in Internet resources. Do your own research.

Johnny might say: “Deefeecult for you, easy for me,”  but the truth is that anybody can do this kind of digging if they have the patience and determination.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1936, 1937, Another Good Story Ruined, Film, Hollywood and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Another Good Story Ruined: Senor Wences and ‘History Is Made at Night’

  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you for pointing this out!

    Like

  2. Earl Boebert says:

    When I was teaching, I always referred to sources like Wikipedia and imdb as “some talking dog on the Internet” and advised my students that the proper reaction was “thanks for the tip, I’ll check it out.”

    Like

  3. iratelamar says:

    While I think you’re correct, the notes section for “History is Made at Night” in the American Film Institute catalog includes “Specialty performer Senor Wences performed his famous “Coco” hand trick in this film.” The notes section of the AFI catalog were culled from Hollywood trade papers and other contemporary news accounts and was compiled years before imdb existed. Was Wences famous enough at that time that they would’ve used his name for publicity purposes?

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    • lmharnisch says:

      I checked lantern (lantern.mediahist.org) and couldn’t find any mention of Wences in the trades related to this film; also the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. It seems to me that the writer may have been relying on a memory of seeing the movie rather than examining a print of the film. Wences was somewhat known but not famous in 1936, when the film was shot.

      According to Worldcat, the AFI catalog was compiled beginning in 1971, which would tend to argue that the writer may have been relying on memory. Today, we have immediate access to films on DVD or YouTube that was unimaginable in the 1970s. It reminds me of reading a passage in “The Film Till Now” (1951) about “The Best Years of Our Lives” in which the writer clearly relied on a faulty memory to describe a scene rather than being able to watch the film.

      To we ancient ones who remember the dark ages before video recorders, when movies were cut up for ads on TV, only seen at movie series or (like “Scarface”) locked in a vault and unavailable, these are wonderful times.

      Like

  4. iratelamar says:

    I flagged the Wences credit with a link to your story, I hope you don’t mind. imdb must agree with you since they pulled the credit.

    Like

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