Today is the birthday of Vivien Oakland (Vivian Andersen, 1895-1958).
The daughter of Norwegian immigrants, Oakland started out as a child in vaudeville in San Francisco, became a Ziegfeld chorus girl, and broke into films in 1924. This is unusually late in life for a screen beauty, although she did have one small part in the 1915 film Destiny: or the Soul of a Woman. Also unusually, she started out in features, appearing in three of them before Hal Roach snatched her up for his comedy shorts in 1926. Roach generally put the Nordic beauty’s flashing brow to good use as irate wives, casting her opposite his top comedians Laurel and Hardy and Charley Chase in classic comedies like Mighty Like a Moose (1926), We Faw Down (1928), That’s My Wife (1929) and Scram! (1932). Along the way she continued to work in features for various studios, including Wedding Bill$ (1927), with Raymond Griffith, The Floradora Girl (1930) with Marion Davies, Gold Dust Gertie (1931) with Winnie Lightner and Olsen and Johnson, and The Tenderfoot (1932) with Joe E. Brown. As the sound era wore on she continued to appear in comedy shorts at RKO and Columbia opposite the likes of Edgar Kennedy and Leon Errol. She had small parts in the late Roach features Way out West (1937) and A Chump at Oxford (1940). Most of the ’40s were spent in uncredited walk-ons. Her last film was the Leon Errol short Punchy Pancho (1951).
Here she is holding her own with co-star Charley Chase in Mighty Like a Moose:
For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 find out 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.