Norman Z Mcleod – Hollywood Legend (and his Stornoway cousin)

16 01 2015

If you’re an old SY who frequented the picture house in the early 30s, you’ll have fond memories of the Marx Brothers and their great early comedies such as “Monkey Business” and “Horse Feathers”, directed by Hollywood legend Norman Zenos McLeod.

You may have less fond memories of sitting through the films made by Tormod Zebos Macleod, Norman’s less successful cousin from Stornoway. Inspired by the success of his American relative, Tormod set up a studio in 1928 on Seaforth Road, roughly where Stornoway’s thriving Gaelic media village is located today.

Tormod’s modus operandi was usually to find out what his cousin Norman in Hollywood was working on, steal the whole idea then try and rush a cheap locally made ripoff out to the picture house before the proper movie was released.

So it was that the Macs Brothers “Monkfish Business” graced the screens of Stornoway’s picture house a full two weeks before the Marx Brothers released “Monkey Business” in the US.

Set aboard the “Loch Ness” en route from Stornoway to Kyle of Lochalsh, the Macs brothers play 5 Stornoway stowaways desperate to get to the mainland, pressed into service as reluctant hard coves for 2 rival kipper barons, and going to great lengths to avoid being caught by the crew.

The film made stars out of the four Macs brothers from Benside called Bogio, Snoolio, Zeebbo, Chico and Deetan. The five brothers instantly acquired a reputation for being sophisticated and elegantly dressed bodachs, often winning the ‘Best Dressed Man’ awards at the Tong Show.

Although Tormod stopped working with the Macs Brothers, due to a dispute over who got the monktails at the wrapping of the film, they managed to make several other films including A Night At the Ocrach, Guga Soup (which featured the imaginary village of Freechurchia) and A Day At the Razorfish.

These were all directed by Tormod’s fierce rival, top-hatted dipsomaniac comedian WC Plasterfields. The later films did not feature Chico, who had bought a pub with his earnings. Chico soon fell out with WC Plasterfields due to Plasterfield’s incessant demands for free drams and refusal to leave the bar at chucking out time.

Incensed by the defection of his proteges, Tormod decided to form another troupe along similar lines to steal back the Macs’ Brothers share of the market. After a quick tour round the town’s butcher shops he’d soon recruited Charlo, Barlo, Williejohn-o, Hecto and Mombasso – The Marags Brothers. The Marags Brothers set out to sabotage their rivals’ careers by making even worse rip-offs of the Macs Brothers’ dreadful Marx Brothers rip-offs, including “A Night at the Opera House”, “(Coinneach) Go West(side)”, “The Board Store” and “A Day at the Orduighean”. These were dire efforts, marred by poor plotting and non-stop plugs to camera by the “actors” extolling their black pudding, mince and chops.

Tormod also had ‘success’ producing a cheap ‘knock off’ of Road to Rio called ‘Road to Rudhacho’ staring Bing Crossbost, Bob Hovansnahovanohh and Dorothy Laxdalemoor.

Tormod ended his career producing Machair, and was laid to rest in Sandwick cemetery in 1995.

Rumours that he has recently come out of retirement to produce “Fonn Fonn Fonn” have just been made up the now.

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3 responses

16 01 2015
Jean Forsyth

Love it. Whoever you are, you always make me smile. Pure genius.

16 01 2015
stornowayhistory

Thanks Jean-very kind of you.

17 01 2015
Iain

That’s your best one since your last one. Love it. Keep up the great stories.

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