Today is the birthday of Marjorie “Babe” Kane (1909-1992), not to be confused with her contemporaries Marjorie Beebe, Babe London, or Helen Kane. The Kane in question started out as a teenager in Chicago vaudeville and presentation houses in the Balaban and Katz chain. Her performance of the “Varsity Drag” in the 1928 Chicago edition of the hit Broadway musical Good News brought her to the attention of scouts. She went to Hollywood for a screen test and was hired by Paramount just as talkies were coming in.
Kane was one of those ones whose movie career was most impressive at the very beginning. She performed a number called “The Flipperty Flop” in the 1929 Paramount The Dance of Life, then went on to good roles in movies like the insane Erich Von Stroheim ventriloquism vehicle The Great Gabbo and Fanny Brice’s starring film Be Yourself! (1930). Here she is in Sunny Skies (1930) with Benny Rubin.
In 1920 she signed a five year contract with Mack Sennett, at whose studio she began to appear in comedy shorts with the likes of Andy Clyde, Bing Crosby and Edgar Kennedy. Nowadays she is perhaps best known for playing W.C. Fields’ daughter in the classic shorts The Dentist (1932) and The Pharmacist (1933). Unfortunately, Sennett went bankrupt shortly after this and the balance of her career consists mostly of bit parts and walk-ons. Notable films she appeared in during this period included Harry Langdon’s Counsel on de Fence (1934), Laurel and Hardy’s Swiss Miss (1938), Joe E. Brown’s The Gladiator (1938), Destry Rides Again (1939) and Life with Blondie, with Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake (1945). From 1940 through 1943, she appeared in Columbia shorts, supporting the Three Stooges, Slim Summerville and others. By the beginning of the 50s even the bit parts dried up, although she did return for one television walk-on in 1959. But for comedy fans, her role in The Dentist is more than enough to make her immortal.
To learn more about 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.