Today is the birthday of silent screen comedian and stunt man Billy Gilbert (William Victor Campbell, 1891-1961), sometimes known as “Little Billy Gilbert” (he was 5’3″ tall and weighed 120 lbs). We call him “Billy Gilbert #2” to distinguish him from the more famous comedian of the same name from the sound era, although Billy Gilbert #2 came first chronologically.
Born and raised in Hollywood, he first worked as a clown, acrobat and daredevil, who specialized in high dives. Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park is one of the places where he worked. In 1913, he went to work for Keystone as a stunt man, bit player and sometimes property master. He was often to be seen among the Keystone Kops, and he appears in countless comedies starring Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle in the years 1914-1915. In 1917-1918 he directed four Harold Lloyd comedies for Hal Roach. Throughout the rest of the silent era he appeared in countless comedies for Mack Sennett, Fox, Reelcraft and others. He made a few on camera appearances in the sound era but mostly transitioned into his fall-back specialty as prop master.
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 Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
To learn about the history of 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.