Alice Davenport: Leap Year Battle-Ax

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Today is the birthday of Alice Davenport (Alice Shepphard, 1864-1936). Born in New York, Alice went on the stage as a child and acted in stock and melodrama productions for decades. She was briefly married to stage and screen actor Harry Davenport, of a famous theatrical family (we’ll inevitably blog about them). Mr. Davenport is best known to modern audiences as Dr. Meade in Gone with the Wind. The couple had two daughters, Dorothy (who married Wallace Reid) and Ann.

Davenport went into films in 1911. She worked for the Nestor and Horsley companies before coming to Biograph in 1912 where she became part of Mack Sennett’s stock company in films like A Spanish Dilemma and Mabel’s Lovers. Sennett loved types, and Davenport was perfect for playing dowagers, mothers-in-law, and “battle-ax” wife characters. She stayed with him at Keystone, and she is a staple of many of Charlie Chaplin’s first films, and comedies starring Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Mack Swain and others. In 1919, she left Sennett to appear in Fox Sunshine comedies, although she does appear in Sennett’s Oh, Mabel Behave (1922). She has a bit part in the audience on Larry Semon’s The Show. Her regular film credits end in 1924. She returned to Broadway in 1929 and 1930, took one last role as an extra in the western The Dude Wrangler (her only talkie) and then retired. The prolific Davenport appeared in 140 films — many of them classics of silent comedy.

To learn more about comedy film history don’t miss my 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. For still 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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