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 Hugh McGowan, a.k.a Hugie Mack (1884-1927). At 367 pounds I think he just may have been the largest of all silent film comedians, making Roscoe Arbuckle and Frank Alexander seem like li’l pipsqueaks. An undertaker by trade, he was reportedly discovered sleeping on a Brooklyn park bench by executives of Vitagraph Pictures in 1910, and brought on to support their reigning fat man John Bunny. When Bunny died in 1915, that left Mack (never an actor) with some mighty big shoes to fill as Vitagraph’s top comedy fat man. Fortunately, he was assisted in the task by Larry Semon, who got his start in films directing Mack and devising broad slapstick gags for him for a couple of years. (Mack himself also doubled as a scripter and gag-man for comedy shorts). By the 1920s, he had graduated to supporting roles in features, among them some prestigious ones (notably, Von Stroheim’s Greed). Sadly, his heart gave out at age 43.
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 the variety arts 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.