Stars of Slapstick #38: Madeline Hurlock
Today is the birthday of Madeline Hurlock (1899-1988). As brainy and literate as she was gorgeous, she hardly fit the profile of the typical Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty. After graduating from college in Philadelphia, she spent a little time with a stock company, then was a chorus girl in New York at the Century Roof Garden. Her first inroads into the film business as an extra circa 1917 were interrupted by her marriage to an army officer in 1917. She was hired by Sennett in 1923 (and divorced a few months later).
Hurlock plainly had more talent than most, and rapidly went up the ladder to supporting and even leading roles during her five years with Sennett, frequently clowning alonside the likes of Ben Turpin, Billy Bevan and Eddie Quillen. One of her best performances is in Flirty Four Flushers (1926), a remake of the 1910 Biograph comedy A Summer Tragedy (based on an O. Henry story). Directed by Eddie Cline, it casts Hurlock against type as a waitress bored with her job (she can do it almost literally in her sleep—she slides plates down the counter to people where they sit with superhuman precision, and catches a thrown ketchup bottle without even looking). At love, however she is not so brilliant. Pursued by two apparent millionaires (Bevan and Vernon Dent) she unfortunately chooses the one who is just a shmo who has been conning her. More typical of her more usual roles is the one that is most widely seen today, her part as Lady Tarbotham in the early Laurel and Hardy pairing Duck Soup (1927).
By 1928, she was done with films. She married the famous playwright Marc Connelly in 1930; they two were together for five years, at which point she divorced Connelly and married his friend, the even more famous playwright Robert E. Sherwood. The two were together for twenty years until his death in 1955.
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.