Barney Hellum: The Original Barney Google

Just a few of the known facts on comedy character actor Barney Hellum (Bjarne Fredrik Hellum, 1895-1935), who appeared as a bit player in films for a decade, including some comedy classics, and for two brief years, enjoyed his own starring series.

Born in Stavanger, Norway, Hellum begins to show up in Mack Sennett shorts in 1923, supporting the likes of Billy Bevan and Harry Langdon. Some well known silent comedies he appeared in include Lizzies of the Field (1924), The Luck o’ the Foolish (1924), Boobs in the Woods (1925), and The Golf Nut (1927).

In 1928, the Standard Photoplay Company hired him to play the title character in a series of Barney Google shorts, adapted from the popular comic strips. This was his moment in the sun. (More on that series here). The Barney Google series was silent and lasted until July 1929 — quite late for silent picture. The conclusion of the series undoubtedly had to do with the expense and difficulty involved in converting to a talkie format.

In 1930, Hellum immediately went right back to work as a bit player for Sennett, this time in talkies. You can see him in the W.C. Fields classics The Dentist (1932) and The Pharmacist (1933), and in Hypnotized (1932) with Moran and Mack, among many others. His last film The Big Fibber (1933) starred Walter Catlett, and also featured Billy Gilbert, Joyce Compton, Elise Cavanna, Grady Sutton, and Bobby Dunn.

Over a ten year period, Hellum appeared in 112 films. He died of colon cancer in 1935. I remain curious about Hellum’s early years, how he came to America, and what he did prior to Sennett. I’ve not yet turned up anything but when I do, I’ll be sure to add it here!

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,