Jack Duffy: Silent Comedy Codger


Today is the birthday of Jack Duffy (1882-1939). Born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island (yes!), he became a vaudeville performer and then went into musical comedies, spending ten years total on the stage. In 1916 he appeared in the Universal serial The Adventures of Peg O’the Ring, directed by Francis Ford, John Ford’s brother. Duffy worked for a number of comedy shops in the silent era, including Universal, L-KO, Vitagraph (he appeared in many Larry Semon comedies) and especially Christie, where he starred in his own shorts.

An expert in stage make-up (and missing all of his teeth, which is unusual for a young man), he played spry, feisty old men, often a stingy Scotch stereotype character named Sandy MacDuff. The illusion was excellent, so that audiences were surprised and delighted when, at key moments, the apparently elderly Duffy (who in reality was anywhere between 24 to 38 during the silent era) would throw away his shawl and cane and click his heels, leap, do handsprings and jigs and so forth (usually if he encountered a hot chick).

In the sound era, his star rapidly plummeted to the level of uncredited walk-ons, and thankless parts like “Leg of Mutton” in Paramount’s all-star Alice in Wonderland (1933) but he did finally get to work with Sennett and company in the talkie short Keystone Hotel (1935).

For more on the history of 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 Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc 


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