Today is the birthday of Neal Burns (1892-1969). Originally a stage actor, Burns transferred his skills as a light comedian to films at Nestor in 1915 with Nellie the Pride of the Fire House. The following year he began working for the Christie Film Company, which would be his home base until the end of the silent era, although in the early years he would also occasionally work for the Sennett, L-KO and Century studios. Among his historically notable films is 1918’s Hickory Hiram, famous for being Stan Laurel’s cinematic debut. Frequent co-stars for Burns included Alice Howell, Gale Henry and Fay Tincher.
Though he had been a minor star in silent comedy, in the sound era all he could get were walk-on roles, and you can see him in several films of the Three Stooges, as well as Wheeler and Woolsey’s Diplomaniacs and the Astaire–Rogers vehicle The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. He retired in 1946.
Surviving Burns films are rarities today. Ben Model’s new DVD set Accidentally Preserved contains the 1928 short Loose Change in which he co-stars with Jack Duffy. Find out more here: http://www.accidentallypreserved.com/thefilms.html
To learn more about silent and slapstick films 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