Today is the birthday of Hollywood film director Roland West. Born Roland Van Zimmer this day in 1885, he was part of a family of actors from Cleveland, OH. He began acting in vaudeville playlets as a teenager, later using his expertise to write and direct them as well. This led naturally to his career as a film director. Notable films included The Monster, with Lon Chaney (1925), The Bat (1926) and its later sound remake The Bat Whispers (1930), both of which I write about in more detail here.
West was a master of moody atmospherics, a fact which colors the incident for which he is sadly best known today: he was implicated in the suspicious death of his lover and business partner, movie star Thelma Todd, well known as a co-star of Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy , Charley Chase and many others. Nothing was ever proven, but it effectively ended his career. He died in 1952 — reportedly with a confession upon his lips.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss 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