Archie Mayo: Wide of Girth, He Made Much Mirth

The terrific director Archie Mayo (1891-1968) was born on this day.

Originally a stage actor, Mayo began directing silent L-KO comedy shorts in 1917. Later he would direct shorts for Christie and the Century imprint of Universal, as well. By the middle of the next decade he was entrusted with features, among them the 1927 films Johnny Get Your Hair Cut with Jackie Coogan, and The College Widow, based on a George Ade play and starring Dolores Costello. 

In the talkie era Mayo truly made his mark, directing a number of comedy classics and pictures starring legendary vaudevillians, including My Man (1929) with Fanny Brice, Sonny Boy (1929) with Al Jolson, Is Everybody Happy? (1929) with Ted Lewis, The Sap (1929) with Edward Everett Horton, Oh Sailor, Behave! (1930) with Olsen and Johnson, Night after Night (1932) which was Mae West’s first film, Go Into Your Dance (1935) with Jolson and Ruby Keeler, Charley’s Aunt (1941) with Jack Benny, and A Night in Casablanca (1946) with the Marx Brothers. 

Some non-comedy classics from his body of work: Svengali (1931), The Petrified Forest (1936), and the KKK drama Black Legion (1937) . His last movie as director was Angel on My Shoulder (1946) with Paul Muni, Claude Rains and Anne Baxter.

Mayo was a plus-sized man with a big personality to match, and he appears to have had frequent run-ins with his stars, possibly one reason he abandoned the director’s chair at the young age of 54, although he later dabbled in producing.

For more on classic film comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,