Victor Heerman: Unsung Hero of “Animal Crackers”


Today is the birthday of Victor Heerman (1893-1977), best known today as the director of the Marx Brothers‘ Animal Crackers. 

Later dissed in interviews by Groucho, Heerman was in fact as experienced as they come, and was instrumental in making a classic out of the Marx’s second feature. Heerman had been raised in the theatre. His mother was David Belasco’s head costumer. Heerman had started out as an actor and theatre manager, then started working at Thanhouser Studios as a scout around 1910. Then he worked as an assistant to Henry Lehrman at L-KO. By 1916 he was writing and directing comedies for Mack Sennett and Fox Sunshine and other comedies.

Heerman directed very few talkies. It was Heerman who made a manageable movie vehicle out of the unwieldy play that had been Animal Crackers, cutting a substantial portion out of the script before the camera even started rolling. And it was also Heerman, known for his disciplined sets, who kept the anarchistic Marx Brothers in line throughout the production.  After the early 30s Heerman concentrated on screenwriting with his wife Sarah Mason. They won an Oscar for their screenplay for Little Women. They also wrote Imitation of Life, Magnificent Obsession and Stella Dallas. He retired around 1950.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc

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