It has now been seven years since I first decided that a Clark and McCullough-less internet was a prospect too dire to be contemplated and, since then, my obsession with the team has only grown by leaps and bounds, and the mystery keeps pace by deepening. For every answered question about this most cryptic of comedy teams, a dozen sprout in its place. Moreover, the biggest questions remain unanswered.. and may always remain so due to the relentless passage of time. This year marks the 70th anniversary of Paul McCullough's passing and it has been 46 years since Bobby Clark slipped the mortal coil. As each year passes, the prospect of uncovering the answers becomes ever more remote. Most of the team's career can now be accurately charted, although the substance of that career, stage-bound as it was, has been lost to the ages. Even those films which would have recorded the team's early vaudeville and burlesque routines would now appear to be lost. I can think of no other comedy team, or comedian, who reached such critical heights and touched upon so many venues and mediums and yet left so slight a trail in their wake. From minstrel shows to circus to vaudeville to burlesque, Broadway, film, radio, and TV, the history of 20th Century American entertainment can be charted, together or apart, through Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough.. and yet they remain enigmas, little known outside a small enclave of obsessives such as myself.
As for those unanswered questions, they may be too much to ask. The rumors that surrounded Clark and McCullough's partnership were rather unlike the general gossip that swirled about most comedy teams, probably spurred on by Paul's "torment" as the stooge of the act and his near total eclipse by Bobby. Paul's acceptance of the stooge role, after beginning as the comic, was regarded as a mystery by many in the press given Paul's formidable comic abilities (and frequently dismissed with the argument that "someone has to be the stooge!"). Indeed, as far as I can tell, why they made the switch was never revealed by either man. Persistent suggestions that Bobby treated Paul less than kindly off-stage as well as on seem unlikely to me given the seemingly genuine affection for his teammate Bobby expressed to the press, but who can say? As Bobby and Paul appear to have been temperamental polar opposites, with Paul extroverted in the extreme and Bobby tending towards uncertainty and shyness, I find friction likely, but certainly not the charges of cruelty that dog Bobby to this day. And what of Paul's suicide? His tragic end takes on a new horror in contemporary news reports which reveal that he slashed open not only both wrists with a straight razor but his throat and arms as well, a frenzied, agonized act of self-destruction that defies explanation and suggests personal demons that lay far deeper than those hinted at in the story of his "nervous breakdown" from overwork. A 1936 item from the Journal American by Bill Farnsworth (excerpted in Notes On a Cowardly Lion by John Lahr) plainly states that the long-married Paul "had lost a girl of whom he was exceedingly fond", which is either apocryphal or suggests an extramarital affair. Will we ever really know? Exacerbating troubles with research is the fact that neither Bobby nor Paul left behind any direct heirs. Paul's extended family appears to have maintained most of his personal effects and the scrapbook he kept may still survive with family members in Florida, but what became of Bobby's belongings is a mystery. Presumably they remained in the possession of his wife, Angele Gaignat, but even she seems to have vanished after Bobby's death in 1960. While I have heard from several members of the McCullough family (especially nephew Paul Brick and his son Mike), I have never heard from a single member of the Clark family.
Happily, however, the team is still with us thanks to the complete survival of their RKO series of short comedies, although even many of those titles are difficult to track down. Bobby's growl and Paul's cackle are today a part of the global digital record, and we can still bear witness to a pair of performers who, at their best, were every bit the equal of any comedy act in the business. Even more remarkably, the survival of Paul McCullough's mother's scrapbook, which comes courtesy of Mike Brick, has left a record of the team's earliest days and even a glimpse into the private life of Paul himself, a possibility I would have considered vastly remote when I established this site in 1999. Thanks to these things, Clark and McCullough will not fade into complete obscurity and the hope remains that further remnants of their lives and careers will surface in the future, perhaps allowing us an opportunity to examine and assess the team as thoroughly as has the Marx Brothers or Laurel and Hardy. A man can dream, can't he?
-Aaron Neathery 10/12/06