UCLA studies therapeutic effects of laughter
WESTWOOD -- Their last names are the first names in comedy -- Marx,
Costello, Fields -- and on Tuesday, the children and grandchildren
of comic legends took part in a singular tribute.
A half dozen celebrity children, themselves now in middle age,
and the writers who made "I Love Lucy" a comedy classic
toured the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA where a study of the
therapeutic effects of laughter on healthy and ill children will
begin next month.
Researchers there will show Abbott and Costello and Marx Brothers
movies as well as famous television comedies to children whose parents
might not have been born at the zenith of such films. Chris Costello,
daughter of Lou Costello, believes, though, that time will be no
barrier to the Simpsons and South Park generation.
"It's timeless. It's universal," said Costello, a Burbank
resident who still gets mail from young viewers of her father's
slapstick comedies. After seeing colorized versions of his movies,
some adolescents have concluded he is still alive, she said.
The five-year project, "Rx Laughter", created & developed
by entertainment industry network and production executive Sherry
Dunay Hilber, is aided by a $75,000 grant from Comedy Central, the
cable television network. It will be the first to specifically study
cardiac and immune system responses of children exposed to comedy.
The study begins next month when healthy schoolchildren at Seeds
University Elementary School, located on the UCLA campus, will help
determine what still works comedically and what doesn't by watching
classic film and TV shows.
About eight months later, researchers Lonnie Zeltzer and Margaret
Stuber will show comedy videos to ill children. If researchers find
a therapeutic value, cartoons, TV shows and films could be used
in the care of ill children during frightening treatments like blood
draws and chemotherapy to help ease stress, fear and promote faster
"They're really creating models that can diffuse out of UCLA
to other children's hospitals that can be used around the country,"
said Dr. Edward McCabe, physician-in-chief of Mattel Children's
Costello and Bill Marx, son of Harpo Marx, and Melissa Talmadge
Cox, granddaughter of Buster Keaton, are members of an advisory
board to the project. The researchers showed them the sites at the
UCLA Medical Center where their parents' videos will be shown.
The tentative slate of videos stresses comedies with physical humor
to which children can relate. It doesn't yet include any of Comedy
Central's current offerings. The network's line-up includes the
news spoof "The Daily Show" and "Kids in the Hall"
as well as "South Park." Chris Costello said some newer
comedies are riskier when it comes to showing them to children.
"Modern-day comedy, you really have to be careful. A lot of
it is good but a lot of it is off-color," Costello said.
Representatives of the network couldn't be reached for comment.
Robert Carroll Jr. said he has no doubt that "I Love Lucy"
will have benefits. If his name might ring a bell to viewers of
the 1950s' show, it's because he was one of its writers. He accompanied
fellow "Lucy" writer Madelyn Pugh Davis on Tuesday's tour.
Through generations of reruns, Carroll, a fan of the sitcoms "Becker"
and "Frasier," said he still hears from fans.
"It's helped (people) get through the day. If you're laughing,
you won't cry so much," the 81-year-old Laurel Canyon resident