Today is the birthday of Arabella Estelle “Minta” Durfee (1889-1975). The diminutive Durfee had become a chorus girl with the Morosco Stock Company by age 17, and later worked with Kolb and Dill. While acting in musicals she met and married Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle” in 1908 and the two toured in shows together to points as distant as the Far East. In 1913, the pair were hired by Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studio, where both were significant players in the ensemble. She appeared in over five dozen short comedies over a four year period, including many now considered comedy classics, in particular those starring Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin.
In 1917, Durfee moved to New York with Arbuckle when he left Keystone to star in his own pictures for Comique. The couple broke up shortly thereafter. Durfee had a good role in Mabel Normand’s Mickey (1918) and a melodrama called The Cabaret (1918).According to Steve Massa’s Slapstick Divas, she got her own starring series of two reelers for Truart in 1920. Five comedies were made; none survive and the films have not yet been listed on IMDB, although their existence appears to be well documented.
Durfee was briefly in the news in 1921 as one of the few vocal supporters of Arbuckle during his rape/murder trial. After this, she ceased to be a big name in show business. Around 1940 she began to work frequently again, as a bit player and extra, and kept busy at this until 1971. Old time comedy fans cherish many of these turns; many of the films are classics. She’s in the Martin and Lewis comedies Artists and Models (1955) and Hollywood or Bust (1956), The Buster Keaton Story (1957), Frank Tashlin’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), all-star affairs like Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and late campy horror films like Willard (1971) and What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971). And many others.
In 1974 Durfee gave a series of remarkable interviews for writer Don Schneider. A little crazypants, so take it cum granis salis: http://www.mn-hp.com/minta1.html
To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy, including old time stars like Minta Durfee, don’t miss my 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