Stars of Slapstick #1: Billy Bevan

Bevan is the One on the Right

This is the first installment in the second content stream we are producing in connection with our new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube. “Century of Slapstick” (launched a few days ago) will examine certain landmark comedy films on the centennial anniversaries of their release (our next installment in that series probably won’t be for some months). “Stars of Slapstick”, like the “Stars of Vaudeville” series, will celebrate silent and slapstick comedy stars on their birthdays.

Today is the birthday of silent comedy star Billy Bevan (1887-1957). The Australian native began performing as a child and spent eight years with the Pollard Light Opera Comedy before coming to the U.S. He started out at L-KO studios, Pathe Lehrman’s Keystone splinter group in 1916. In 1920, he moved over to Sennett, where he was to become of the King of Comedy’s top stars during the 1920s. His distinctive moustache (like a pair of brillo pads) and perpetual look of surprise made him one of the most distinctive comedians on the lot during its last decade. He is frequently credited with originating that bit later revived by Curly Howard and Lou Costello, where his efforts to eat a bowl of chowder are hampered by a spitting, apparently sentient oyster. That’s him in one of the most famous clips of the last Sennett years, wearing nightgown and cap driving his bed down the street. The 1924 comedy is called Lizzies of the Field, and also features his frequent co-star Andy Clyde. Part of it is below, with German sub-titles:

In the sound era, Bevan was no longer a star, but was he ever present in Hollywood films! He became a bit player, that Australian accent usually subbing for Cockney, and he was frequently cast in period pieces and horror films as the querulous lantern-holding constable, or the driver of a hansom cab. Look for his turns, still his unmistakable self, in such films as Dracula’s Daughter (1936), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). His last picture was 1950’s Three Secrets.

Don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.


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