Stars of Slapstick #119: Mae Busch
Today is the birthday of the great Mae Busch (1891-1946). It’s ironic that today she is best known for playing shrewish and unattractive wives in Laurel and Hardy movies; at the height of her career she was considered one of the legendary beauties and vamps.
A second generation vaudevillian from Melbourne Australia, Mae joined the family act “the Busch Devere Trio” in 1903, after the Busches had moved to the U.S. She left the act in 1912 to replace Lillian Loraine in the Broadway musical Over the River with Eddie Foy. In 1915 she started working at Keystone, where she became Mabel Normand’s best friend UNTIL the latter caught her red handed in bed with her fiance Mack Sennett. Busch is reported to have thrown a vase at Normand’s head, knocking her out of commission for several weeks.
Busch appeared in Sennett comedy shorts through 1916. After this she began to be cast in features where she gained her reputation as a vamp in such films as The Devil’s Pass Key (1920) and Foolish Wives (1923), both directed by Eric von Stroheim, and Tod Browning’s The Unholy Three (1925) with Lon Chaney. In 1926, after years of wild partying she had a nervous breakdown and broke her contract with MGM. Her star rapidly sank and she went broke. She want back into the comedy game in 1927, working with Hal Roach where she enjoyed her ten year association with Laurel and Hardy. After this she mostly played bit parts in films, sometimes unnamed or uncredited. Her last film was Ladies Man with Eddie Bracken in 1947.
Here’s one of my favorite Mae Busch moments, which I talk about a bit in Chain of Fools as one of the clever ways sound could be used in a slapstick comedy. It’s from the 1929 short (their first talkie) Unaccustomed As We Are. She was the best, even if she did have a wicked streak:
And 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
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.