Felix Adler: Great Comedy Screenwriter

Today is the birthday of one of at least three distinguished Felix Adlers (1884-1963). This one, it just so happens, was not the Founder of the Ethical Culture Movement, nor was he the circus clown whom we have written about here. This Felix Adler was a comedy screenwriter, best known today for his long association with the The Three Stooges, but he has several other extremely fine credits.

A Chicago native, he started out as a performer, first in vaudeville and then in a single silent film, So This is Hamlet? (1923) directed by Gregory La Cava and co-starring Charlie Murray. A few months later he went to work for Mack Sennett, hatching stories and writing intertitles for comedies starring the likes of Billy Bevan, Ben Turpin, and Andy Clyde. The very first film he contributed to as a writer (The Cannon Ball Express, 1924) was directed by Del Lord, a name fans will instantly recognize as one of his major colleagues a decade later at Columbia. Adler continued to write for Sennett into the sound era, until the latter’s studio finally folded (1933).

Meantime, Adler had enhanced his stock considerably by writing for Harold Lloyd’s first three talkies Welcome Danger (1930), Feet First (1932) and Movie Crazy (1932). In 1934, he began working for Columbia, writing some of the Three Stooges’ best known (and all around best) shorts including the Oscar-nominated Men in Black (1934); Three Little Pigskins (1934), which features one of the earliest speaking roles for Lucille Ball; Disorder in the Court (1936), You Nazty Spy (1940) the first comedy to lampoon Hitler, released several months before Chaplin’s The Great Dictator; and dozens and dozens more. At the same time, he was penning features for other major comedy teams. For Laurel and Hardy, he co-wrote Our Relations (1936), Way Out West (1937), Swiss Miss (1938) Blockheads (1938), A Chump at Oxford (1940) and Saps at Sea (1940). For Abbott and Costello he worked on The Naughty Nineties (1945), and Here Come the Co-Eds (1945). But his day-in, day-out bread and butter was the Stooges shorts. When they stopped making them, he retired. His last original screenplay was Oils Well That Ends Well (1958).

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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