Today is the birthday of the great silent comedian Chester Conklin (1886-1971).
A former circus clown and actor in musicals, Conklin was hired by Mack Sennett at Keystone in 1913 first as an extra. He was coached by his cohorts to develop a character, which would hinge on his distinctive walrus mustache, a touch he copied from a local burgher in his Iowa hometown. Conklin was to flourish at a number of studios throughout the silent era, even forming a loose team for a while in features with W.C. Fields. He is best known to contemporary audiences for his role as Charlie Chaplin’s co-worker in Modern Times, released more than two decades after his Keystone debut.
In certain movies of 1914, he seems to be part of a loose team with Chaplin. Dough and Dynamite is one of these; they’re very funny together, you can see why Chaplin wanted to work with him again twenty years later:
For more on Conklin and silent 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.