Today is the birthday of George Ovey (George Overton Odell, 1870-1951). Missouri native Ovey had been end man with a minstrel company** for over a decade in 1915 when pioneering film producer David Horsley hired him to clown in his Made in America Films. Within months, Ovey was starring as one “Jerry” in Horsley’s single reel Cub Comedies. Horsley’s checkered-trousered, derby hatted character was none too subtle, but he continued to play variations on him in starring films for a variety of studios through 1920, first the Cub Comedies, then Universal, then Gayety and then an obscure outfit called the Pacific Film Company. In the twenties, he was mostly a supporting player, starting out as third or fourth billed…then gradually dropping in the billing. By the sound era he was a bit player or extra, but he worked until 1951.
For more on silent and slapstick film 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 the variety arts 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.
**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad.