This is one in a series of posts we are producing in connection with our book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, available from Bear Manor Media
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, Hughie Mack’s heart gave out at age 43.