Today is the birthday of Hank Mann (David Lieberman, 1888-1971), known best from his role as Charlie Chaplin’s boxing opponent in City Lights in 1931. Chaplin had known and worked with him 17 years earlier at Keystone. He’d started out as part of an acrobatic act on the Sullivan-Considine circuit, then went to work for Mack Sennett at Keystone in 1913.
Characterized by a potato like face, a push-broom of a mustache, a beak-like nose, eyes like two buttons, and Dutch-boy bangs; he looked sort of like the Thompson Twins from Hergé’s Tin-Tin books. Under the goofy façade was a muscular, athletic frame capable of punishing stunts, still in fine shape nearly 20 years later when he played the prizefighter in City Lights. Mann was also revered for his ability to slip in subtle scene stealing gags as buttons to the general mayhem.
In addition to his three separate stints working for Sennett, he also worked for Fox, L-KO, Universal and Joe Rock. From 1919 to 1920, Mann even had his own starring series of shorts. In the talkie years he would support Chaplin (not just City Lights but also Modern Times and The Great Dictator), but also The Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Our Gang and Jerry Lewis. These were all bit parts and walk-ons, but he was hired for a reason. Not only was he a professional, able to bring something special to his little one minute turns, but the producers knew that old time, die-hard comedy fans would recognize him, giving the movie a little zip when he appeared.
For more on Hank Mann and silent and slapstick comedy please check out my 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