Today is the birthday of Joe Murphy (1877-1961). Murphy began and ended his 40 year film career as an extra, but from 1923 to 1928, he enjoyed five glorious years in the sun as Hollywood’s version of the popular comic strip Andy Gump.
According to Steve Massa in his terrific book Lame Brains and Lunatics Murphy started out in a Mutt and Jeff act in vaudeville with Bobby Vernon. It was Vernon who got him into films starting around 1916. (One of his first was Douglas Fairbanks’ Mystery of Leaping Fish). He played bit parts at nearly every comedy shop around at the time until his physical resemblance to the Gump character was noticed by Carl Laemmle at Universal. His co-star in the series was Fay Tincher as Min. The popular series was dropped when sound came in and Murphy went right back to being an extra. His last job was in Around the World in 80 Days (1956).
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.