Today is the birthday of director Roy Del Ruth (1893-1961). The young journalist got a job working for Mack Sennett in 1915 as a screenwriter and gagman (presumably through the auspices of his brother Hampton Del Ruth, who started at the studio a year earlier), and within four years was directing comedy shorts for Sennett, Mermaid, Fox Imperial and Sunshine. At Sennett, he worked primarily with Billy Bevan and on Harry Langdon’s earliest films. For example, he directed Smile, Please (1924) from which this clip is derived:
By 1925, he had graduated to features, which he was to reliably and prolifically turn out for another 35 years. Interestingly he had no particularly allegiance to comedy, having a hand in just as many gangster pictures (many starring James Cagney), horror pictures, musicals, bio-pics – -the full gamut of genres. Readers of this blog though ought to be interested in his association with Kid Millions with Eddie Cantor (1934), On the Avenue with theRitz Brothers (1937), Topper Returns, produced by Hal Roach (1941), DuBarry was a Lady with Red Skelton and Lucille Ball (1943), and Always Leave Them Laughing with Milton Berle (1949). Interestingly, much like William Beaudine, his last couple of pictures were cheap horror vehicles: Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954), and The Alligator People (1959).
Also of interest here, he was married for many years to vaudeville performer Winnie Lightner. Their son Thomas won an Emmy for his work as cinematographer on The West Wing.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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
To find out more about show business past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.