Stars of Slapstick #163: Leo McCarey
Today is the birthday of one of the greatest comedy directors of all time, Leo McCarey (1898-1969).
Fresh out of law school, McCarey went to work for Tod Browning as A.D. on three pictures in 1920 and 1921, which led to him being hired by Hal Roach in 1923. McCarey was to become one of the key people on the Roach lot through the rest of the silent era, first writing gags for the Our Gang series, then directing numerous hilarious Charley Chase shorts, and finally becoming one of the crucial shapers of the team that became Laurel and Hardy, writing and directing many of their earliest comedies as a team.
He next directed a half dozen sound features before hitting his stride with a practically endless stream of classics: The Kid from Spain with Eddie Cantor (1932), Duck Soup with the Marx Brothers (1933), Six of a Kind with W.C. Fields, Burns & Allen, Charlie Ruggles et al (1934), Belle of the Nineties with Mae West (1934), Ruggles of Red Gap with Charles Laughton, Charlie Ruggles and Zasu Pitts (1935), The Milky Way with Harold Lloyd (1936), The Awful Truth with Cary Grant and Irene Dunn (1937 — a film in which McCarey is said to have helped shape Grant’s subsequent screen character), Going My Way and The Bells of St. Marys with Bing Crosby (1944, 1945) and An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr (1957, a remake of his 1939 hit Love Affair). Anti-communism began to creep in as a theme in some of his later work, and films like My Son John (1952) and Satan Never Sleeps (1962) were less popular.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss 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 show business past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.