Today is the birthday of the great comic foil Vernon Dent (1895-1963). It eludes me how I have failed to do a post on this key comedy supporting player until now! Comedy fans will grasp the egregiousness of this oversight. All I can say is that my round-the-clock army of bloggers here at Travalanche allowed it to fall through the cracks. As a consequence, I had to let twelve of them go. It happens.
Originally from San Jose, California, Dent started out with a singing group (and also wrote songs) in vaudeville. After serving in WWI, he broke into films in 1919 when Hank Mann spotted him singing in a cafe and realized his potential (Dent was of large girth, making him a natural for a silent comedy heavy.) In the silent era, Dent’s primary association was with Mack Sennett’s studio, appearing as the foil (or the obnoxious buddy) in almost all of Harry Langdon’s shorts as well as many starring the likes of Billy Bevan and Andy Clyde, and appearing in Mabel Normand’s 1923 feature The Extra Girl. He also free-lanced at other studios, notably supporting Larry Semon in several shorts at Vitagraph.
With the coming of sound, Dent made his initial home base at Educational until 1935, when he made his fateful leap to Columbia. I say “fateful” because he did his best known work at the studio; he is best known today for the scores (hundreds?) of shorts he did with the Three Stooges there. He also supported most of their other major stars including Charley Chase, Buster Keaton, Eddie Quillan, Hugh Herbert, and many others. In the 30s and 40 he also appears in some classic comedy features, including Million Dollar Legs (1932), You’re Telling Me (1934), and My Favorite Blonde (1942). Blindness caused by diabetes caused his retirement in the mid 1950s.
Here he is supporting Bert Wheeler in The Awful Sleuth (1951).
For more on silent and slapstick comedy film history 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 learn more about vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.