Today is the birthday of the great silent comedy actor Henry Bergman (1868-1946). Originally from San Francisco, he began acting on stage around 1888, making it to Broadway (where he appeared in two dozen shows) by the turn of the century. In 1914 he started working for Henry Lehrman at L-KO, supporting Billie Ritchie in scores of shorts. In 1916 he got the opportunity to become part of Charlie Chaplin’s stock company at Mutual, and he took it, becoming one of Chaplin’s most versatile and dependable players.
Large enough to be the heavy in any company that didn’t include Eric Campbell, to Bergman were usually relegated authority figures: fathers, and rich men, mostly, although he could also be relied upon to play something farther afield, like the violent masseur in The Cure or the pawn broker in The Pawnshop. Bergman was such an excellent character actor, he would often play two or more roles in a single film and audiences would be none the wiser. As the films grew longer, Bergman’s parts in them grew smaller in relation, although he remained with Chaplin for the remainder of his career. For example he is a clown in The Circus, the Mayor in the statue unveiling in City Lights, and a restaurant owner in Modern Times. He was also as assistant director on the last two films, and an assistant to Chaplin on The Great Dictator. In his final years he occupied his time by operating his own Hollywood restaurant.
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 Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc