Sam Bernard: English “Dutch” Comedian

Born on this day in 1863, Sam Bernard is cut of the same cloth as his friends Weber & Fields.  He hailed from the same Lower East Side neighborhood, debuted the same year (1876, at the notorious Grand Duke’s theatre and saloon, which catered to children), specialized in the same kind of material (including a German accent), and was to become part of their stock company in the 1890s and early oughts. One salient difference is his ethnic origin. Born in England, Bernard (whose real last name was Barnet), actually changed his name in order to sound MORE ethnic, a gesture quite opposite to that made by most immigrants and their children. Throughout the first quarter of the twentieth century he starred in nearly two dozen Broadway shows (and a half dozen Mack Sennett comedies), before perishing at age 63 while making a transatlantic crossing.

At any rate, he made so few comedies with Sennett that we can actually list them. In 1915, he portrayed the title character in Poor Schmaltz, and he played himself in the Arbuckle vehicle Fatty and the Broadway Stars. His two 1916 films, both directed by Dell Henderson, sound more promising. The Great Pearl Tangle also features Minta Durfee, Harry Gribbon, and Harry McCoy. Because He Loved Her also had Polly Moran, Mae Busch and Alice Davenport. In 1921 he came back for one small part in Call a Cop, directed by Mal St. Clair and starring Marie Prevost. 

To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on silent and slapstick comedy film please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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