My late-ex-father-in-law, who was born in 1911, used to go see silent comedies as a kid the way today’s kids go to the cinema to see Steve Carell and Will Ferrell. He told me his favorite was Charley Chase, and its not hard to see why. Chase is not only screamingly hilarious, but his character is more “normal” than most of his slapstick contemporaries (even moreso than Harold Lloyd), creating a body of work that hasn’t really aged in a way that, say, Larry Semon’s has.
Born Charles Parrott this day in 1893, he started performing in vaudeville in his native Baltimore when still a teenager, doing Irish monologues, songs and dances. He went into the movies at age 21, bouncing around the various studios starting in the mid teens. Towards the late teens and early twenties he concentrated on directing, eventually becoming one of the most valuable men on the Hal Roach lot. Starting in 1923, he went back in front of the camera and quickly became a star in comedy shorts, in a series of films directed by Leo McCarey, and having more in common with modern sit-coms than with knockabout pantomime. He fared just as well in the sound era, his mellifluous voice suiting his comedy style perfectly. He continued to star in comedy shorts for Roach and Columbia throughout the 30s before succumbing to a heart attack in 1940.
For my more in-depth essay on the comedy of Charley Chase go here.
Here he in The Fraidy Cat (1924), directed by Chases’s Brother James Parrott, with an original organ score by Ben Model:
For much much more on Charley Chase and silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, and to learn more about vaudeville, in which Charley Chase also performed, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous
[…] home, where he turned out countless comedy classics featuring Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase, Our Gang, Harry Langdon, Max Davidson, et al. Among the better known ones are Big […]
Thank you for writing a post about this long-gone (but not really forgotten) film comedian. It is good to see that film buffs and comedy fans are continuing to watch his films, going on almost a century after they were made.
“Fraidy Cat” and many other silent short films of his are available on “Becoming Charley Chase” (All Day Entertainment, 2009), “Cut To the Chase” (Milestone, 2012), and on two DVDs released by Kino in 2004 and ’05, and on the “Silent Comedy Classics” collection (Alpha, 2009). All of his last films, 20 2-reel talkies made at Columbia from 1937-1940, are available as well (Charley Chase Shorts, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Sony, 2013). Also, we can see Chase in a couple of films with Laurel and Hardy on “The Essential Collection” DVD set of L&H films (2011).