Armand "Curly" Wright

A Biography - Part II

by Marie Suzon Wright

All photos below are thumbnails – click on them to see larger versions.

Sailor's LuckAW shouts down two gobs in the comedy Sailor's Luck (1933) – one of his many character roles.

Joe looked at him and laughed, saying "Are you crazy? How can I pay you anything like the salary you are now getting?" Joe continued "This is a new industry, and we are hampered by insufficient financing, having to employ people that don't know any more about this business than the man on the street - and we know very little more–we are all learning together."

Then Armand said, (pointing to a man crossing one of the stages) "How much do you pay that man?"

Joe said, "Oh he's just a plain laborer to whom we pay $2.50 or $3.00 a day."

Armand quickly replied "Give me a job like that - it may be just labor, but I guarantee that I won't stay long at that level."

Joe asked, "Do you really mean it? – You really would work for $3.00 a day?"

Armand said, "Try me."

They shook hands, and Schenck called the foreman of the labor crew. "I'm sending you a new man tomorrow," he said. "He is to get $3.00 a day, and make sure he earns his money." Armand was then told to report at 7 a.m. (the middle of the night to show people!) The next morning Armand was at the studio right on the dot in his new "costume" – a pair of overalls! With a broom as his new "tool of the trade", he was assigned to clean a stage.

Curly and his two FarinasCurly with the two girls who played Farina in the first Our Gang comedies.

A few days later, Joseph Schenck, still dubious, thought he would "look in" on his new employee. He found Armand hard at work carrying two buckets of plaster to one of the stages where a new set was being erected.

Joe asked "How goes the job - - getting used to working?"

Armand looked at him, and laughingly showed him his hands. Once well kept and beautifully manicured, they were now callused and blistered. "How do you get used to this?" Armand asked Joe.

"Put down those buckets and come into my office for a drink and I'll tell you about your new job," Joe told him.

After downing their drink, Joe sat at his desk while Armand (in his dirty overalls) landed in a very "plush" chair. He heard Joe say, "Tomorrow you'd better come into my office, but not before ten o'clock a.m., and I'll tell you about your new assignment. Meanwhile you can get rid of the overalls."

Curly with Slim SummervilleCurly (seated below camera) and Slim Summerville with the crew of an unidentified silent feature.

The next morning Armand showed up at Joseph Schenck's office to find that he was now an "Assistant Director." This went well, and soon he was directing lesser known "second features." He also made the very first "Our Gang" talkie (talkies were the new thing then) in New York in 1928. As a publicity stunt, he ran a number of contests in New York for this picture, and that is where "Farina" was discovered. Actually "Farina" were two twin brothers, who were used alternately in the film as one person. This was very profitable for the company, as they could use each one of the brothers the allowed number of hours, allowing them greater flexibility.

Armand eventually got the chance to film stories of his own. At Universal Studios he produced and directed the "Harold Teen" comedy series with Arthur Lake (who later became famous as "Dagwood Bumstead" in the Blondie comedies). It was here that Armand also directed Slim Summerville in a number of films.

Curly's RKO cardAW's RKO studio pass – a rare piece of golden age Hollywood memorabilia. New passes were issued for each film one worked on.

He went on to the RKO Studios, writing a number of stories that were subsequently made into films. He wrote the "pilot" for a comedy series to feature himself and Henry Armetta, a one-time barber in the exclusive Lambs Club. Now a comic Italian actor. Henry showed the story to his agent – who insisted that "Armand is experienced in show business, and if you ever get on a stage with him, it will kill you professionally." So the series died before it was ever born.

In 1927, Armand's mother passed away in New York. Since he was in the middle of a picture, it was impossible for him to get away. He sent instructions that she was to be placed temporarily in a vault until he finished the picture, when he would be able to come to New York. (This is when he made the "Our Gang" talkie). Armand's mother's estate probate was quite lengthy. As he was only on a thirty-day leave of absence from the studio, he had to wire and ask for another thirty-day extension.

The studio acceded to his request and granted him the extra 30 days. Then because he was obviously enjoying the renewal of relations with his relatives, he asked the studio for a third extension. This was denied and the studio informed him that if he did not return immediately, his contract would be canceled. Armand continued on in New York and his contract was indeed canceled.

Four Jacks and a JillA smiling AW serves up hot dogs to a stunned Ray Bolger as Desi Arnaz and others look on in the musical Four Jacks and a Jill (1942).

This led to Armand's decision to become an actor while continuing to do his writing on the side. One of his early pictures was Lawyer Man with William Powell (of Thin Man fame). Another was "East of the River" with John Garfield and Marjorie Rambeau. Then followed a number of pictures, one of which was "Love & Hisses" with Walter Winchell who by now had become a very famous personage. It was while going for the interview for this picture that he met a girl he would marry – in just 6 weeks! Her name was Marie Suzon Rodriguez. He swept her off her feet, even though he was much older than her, she didn't care.

Wright with Irene Dunne and Clive BrookIrene Dunne and Clive Brook chat with Curly in a 1930s feature.

They married in 1936 and lived an average life – with the exception that God gave them two beautiful children: Marie Suzon Wright (little Marie) and, Armand Vincent Wright II – who they called "Vinnie" to differentiate from his father.

Life was very uneventful with the exception of the birth of the children and the trip we made to New York in the spring of 1946. This was one shining memory which remained with them the rest of their lives.

They traveled to New York so that they could meet "the family." It was a very leisurely trip. They had planned to be in New York at Easter time to stay with Uncle Tom, who always made a big celebration of Easter. They crossed the country by car, driving by a southern route that took in all the historical and famous landmarks – the "French Market" in New Orleans, the "Fountain of Youth" in Florida, and the first American schoolhouse in St. Augustine.

Deadline at DawnAW as a fruit peddler in the murder mystery Deadline at Dawn (1946).

The family arrived in Daytona Beach on Palm Sunday where Joseph Vallone, (Armand's cousin) and his wife Julia greeted them with open arms. The Vallones insisted that they spend a little time with them. After all, Uncle Tom had many of the family nearby, while they had no one in Florida. They made the family's short stay very memorable, and Armand and Marie barely left in time to be in New York by Easter.

When they arrived at Uncle Tom's house, the whole family gave them a royal welcome. It turned into an extended stay, and was so enjoyable that they remained with Uncle Tom until July 5! These months became the highlight of their lives, with memories of the welcome and the love that was showered on Armand, Marie and the children.

Our Gang AuditionsCurly holds public auditions for the first Our Gang film.

Some of the pictures that Armand made after he and Marie Suzon were married:

Armand had six wives before Marie. They were all beautiful and most of them were his dancing partners. He used to say that it was cheaper to marry them than to "carry" them. By "carrying" he meant supplying a personal maid, paying for separate hotel accommodations and the expense of separate baggage – which would have been expected for a partner in vaudeville.

AW in Love BungalowAW on one foot in a comic scene from Love Bungalow.

Ironically Armand's first and last wives shared the same first name and middle initials – Marie Sabott Wright and Marie Suzon Wright. His other wives (that the family can remember) were Ruby Earle, Patricia Fox, and Jane Parmater.

Marie Suzon Wright once said, "For the first 25 years of our marriage, I was under the impression that I was his 6th wife – it was after 25 years that I learned that I was not wife number 6, but wife number 7!"

EDITOR'S NOTE: After a long and productive life, Curly Wright died of stomach cancer in March 1965.

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