Today is the birthday of James “Paul” Parrott (1897-1939). Parrott broke into films in 1917 through the good graces of his older brother Charles, a.k.a Charley Chase, who was then at Fox Studios. It was James who first went to work for Hal Roach the following year, playing supporting roles for Harold Lloyd, Hank Mann, and others. By 1922, he was beginning to star in his own shorts under the name Paul Parrott.
The resemblance to his more famous brother is striking, as is his way with an extravagant gag. In Shine ‘Em Up (1922), he plays a suspiciously middle-class-looking shoeshine man. A typically original (if implausible) Parrott gag has him waiting on two customers at the same time. One gentleman has white shoes, one has black shoes. He does the pair in the middle, giving each man piebald footwear. Angry, they chase him, and (here comes the implausible part) he manages to trick them into running into trays filled with the right color paint so that their feet are restored to their proper colors before they can catch up with him. Shiver and Shake (1922) is a haunted house comedy that relies on fun, cartoony special effects to keep us amused. In the end, the spook we’ve been seeing throughout the picture turns out to be a bird under a sheet. We would be seeing much more of that particular gag over the next twenty-five years. For sustained laughter and inventiveness, Paul Parrott’s best may be Post No Bills (1923), in which, with Chaplinesque impishness Parrott plays a cinema employee who puts his boss’s handbills up everywhere: trees, telephone poles, fences, windows, and even people’s butts. In the end, one even gets mixed up with a young couple’s marriage license.
In 1923 and 1924, the Parrott Brothers’ roles began to be reversed, with James spending more time behind the camera, and Charley relinquishing his role as Roach’s comedy supervisor to go in front of the camera as a star. James directed many of Charley’s best comedies, and most of the other Roach stars as well, including Laurel and Hardy, including their first feature Pardon Us (1931) and their Oscar winning short, the well known classic The Music Box (1932), in which the boys must move a piano up a long flight of stairs.
Unfortunately, Parrott had a drinking and drug problem. By the mid 30s he washed up as a director, although he did help write such Laurel and Hardy classics as Way Out West (1937) and Swiss Miss (1938). He died of heart failure in 1939.
Here he is in sunnier days in Post No Bills, with a score by Ben Model:
To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy 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 more 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.