Billie Bennett: Madam of a Slapstick Bordello

 

Born on this day, character actress Billie Bennett (Emily B. Haynie, 1874-1951). Bennett began her career as a stage actress in the mid 1890s, breaking into comedy films in 1913, with a short stint at Universal. She then moved to Mack Sennett’s Keystone where she cavorted with the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, and Mabel Normand in early classics like Mabel’s Busy Day (1914), Mabel’s New Job (1914), The Masquerader (1914), Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914), Leading Lizzie Astray (1914), Fatty’s Chance Acquaintance (1915), Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers (1915), Court House Crooks (1915), and The Best of Enemies with Weber and Fields (1915). She normally played a bossy wife or some such character. 

In the 20s she was in some major silent features, including Robin Hood (1922 — in the Una O’Connor role) and the silent version of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windemere’s Fan (1925). Her career did not long outlast the advent of sound, but ironically her life began to be even more interesting at that point. It has been alleged that she became the madam of a “high class bordello” for studio execs and their guests, where many of the call girls were hired based on their their resemblances to major screen actresses of the day. Surely a partial inspiration for L.A. Confidential?

Note: a couple of factoids here were drawn from Steve Massa’s mega-excellent Slapstick Divas. Steve’s the man!

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