Phyllis Allen: Battle-Ax

This is one in a series of posts we are producing in connection with our new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, available from Bear Manor Media in February 2013.

Today is the birthday of Phyllis Allen (1861-1938). A vaudeville headliner on the Keith-Orpheum circuit, she worked for Mack Sennett at Keystone from 1913-1916, holding her own in the ensemble with the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle and Mable Normand. With her imposing physiognomy (she was a large and stern looking woman, who usually played battle-axe wives and mothers-in-law) she is often, even usually, one of the funniest people onscreen. After 1916 she went over to Fox and other studios, and Chaplin would cast her several more times after he left Keystone. Her last screen role was in The Pilgrim (1923).

She makes a very funny fourth with Chaplin, Normand and Mack Swain in His Trysting Place (1914):

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

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For more on the history of show business consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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