Hugh Herbert in Dames (1934)
August 10, 1885|
Binghamton, New York, U.S.
|Died||March 12, 1952
North Hollywood, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||cardiovascular disease|
Rose Epstein (1932-1949)
The advent of talking pictures brought stage-trained actors to Hollywood, and Hugh Herbert soon became a popular movie comedian. His screen character was usually absent-minded and flustered. He would flutter his fingers together and talk to himself, repeating the same phrases: "hoo-hoo-hoo, wonderful, wonderful, hoo hoo hoo!" So many imitators (including Curly Howard of The Three Stooges and Etta Candy in the Wonder Woman comic book series) copied the catchphrase as "woo woo" that Herbert himself began to use "woo woo" rather than "hoo hoo" in the 1940s.
Herbert's earliest movies, like Wheeler & Woolsey's 1930 feature Hook, Line and Sinker, cast him in generic comedy roles that could have been taken by any comedian. He developed his own unique screen personality, complete with a silly giggle, and this new character caught on quickly. He was frequently featured in Warner Brothers films of the 1930s, including Dames, Footlight Parade, Bureau of Missing Persons, Fog Over Frisco, Fashions of 1934, and Gold Diggers of 1935, as well as the 1935 film adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. He played leads in "B comedies", notably Sh! The Octopus, a 1937 comedy-mystery featuring an exceptional unmasking of the culprit.
He was often caricatured in Warners' Looney Tunes shorts of the 1930s/40s, such as The Hardship of Miles Standish and Speaking of the Weather. One of the minor characters in the Terrytoons short The Talking Magpies (1946) is also a recognizably Hugh Herbertesque bird. In 1939 Herbert signed with Universal Pictures, where, as at Warners, he played supporting roles in major films, and leading roles in minor ones. One of his best-received performances from this period is in the Olsen and Johnson comedy Hellzapoppin', in which he played a nutty detective.
Herbert joined Columbia Pictures in 1943 and became a familiar face in short subjects, with the same actors and directors who made the Stooges shorts. He continued to star in these comedies for the remainder of his life.
Herbert wrote six screenplays, co-writing the screenplays for the films Lights of New York (1928) and Second Wife (1930) and contributing to The Great Gabbo (1929), among others. He acted in a few films co-written by the much more prolific (but unrelated) screenwriter F. Hugh Herbert: Fashions of 1934 (1934), We're in the Money (1935) and Colleen (1936). He also directed one film, He Knew Women (1930).
Herbert was married to Rose Epstein, who was also known by the name Anita Pam.
Hugh's brother, Tom Herbert, was a screen comedian who played mildly flustered roles. Fans of Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges may recall Tom Herbert as the nervous bartender confronted by Lupe Vélez in Hollywood Party (1934). Tom Herbert is featured in the Warner Brothers short subject Double or Nothing (1940) as his brother Hugh's movie double.