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.
Today is the birthday of Raymond McKee (1892-1984). Born in Iowa, he began acting in stage melodramas as a boy after the family moved to Chicago. He broke into films in 1912 in the Florida based Lubin Manufacturing Company, whose principal comedian at the time was a young Oliver Hardy. When Lubin folded in 1916, he moved over to the Edison company, then Fox and other major studios. In 1922 there was much noise in the press that he was to marry vaudeville performer Frances White, but this apparently did not take place. However that year he did fall in love with his co-star in the film Down to the Sea in Ships, Marguerite Courtot; the two were married in 1923. In 1924, McKee started acting for Mack Sennett. From 1926-29, McKee starred as Jimmy Smith in Sennett’s series of “Smith Family” comedy shorts. After Sennett, McKee worked for a few years making talkie shorts with Jack White (no relation to Frances) at Educational. It seems not to have gone well for him. By 1932 he returned to the theatre and vaudeville. What bad timing! Luckily, during the boom of the 1920s he had put his money into oil, real estate and a restaurant, facilitating his and Courtot’s subsequent retirement.
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.