Today is the birthday of movie director Wesley Ruggles (1889-1972). The younger brother of actor Charlie Ruggles, Wesley too started out on the stage, acting in musical comedies, stock companies and minstrel shows** before joining up with Keystone in 1914. He appears in seven Keystone comedy shorts, most of them Syd Chaplin’s “Gussle” movies, as well as the Chaplin feature A Submarine Pirate. Through Syd, he next went over to support Charlie Chaplin in several of his Essanay films and a couple of his early Mutuals:
By 1917 he was directing shorts and features for Vitagraph, both comedies and dramas; through the end of the silent period, he also directed for FBO and Universal. Among the dozens of films he made during this period, of special note were several he made for Universal’s “Gumps” series (based on the comic strip) in 1926. His talkie period was similarly eclectic. The most notable comedy was Mae West’s I’m No Angel (1933), but he had several other successes in other genres, such as Cimarron (1931, for which he was nominated for an Oscar) and Arizona (1940). The critical and box office failure of London Town (1946), England’s first Technicolor musical, effectively made it his last film.
Now here he is in one of his best parts as a silent comedy performer, as The Crook in Chaplin’s Police:
To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy please check out 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
**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad.