Gus Leonard: A Roach Rascal from the Riviera

Bon Anniversaire to comic character Gus “Pop” Leonard (Amédée Théodore Gaston Lerond, 1859-1939).

Born in Marseille, Bouches-du-Rhône, France, he immigrated to San Francisco with his family as a small child, and was already a child actor on San Francisco stage in the 1860s. When vaudeville he came along, he performed a drunken waiter act on the circuits. Gus Leonard was a pretty good stage name, I guess — sounds like a combination of Gus Edwards and Eddie Leonard!

Leonard was already 55 years old when he acted in his first film, the independent feature St. Elmo in 1914. That movie was a melodrama, but he quickly found a niche for himself as a comedy geezer. Throughout most of 1916 he worked in Kalem Comedies with Bud Duncan, Ethel Teare and others. At least one of these was a Ham and Bud short, with Lloyd Hamilton. At the very end of the year, he went over to Hal Roach, where he began supporting Harold Lloyd in Lonesome Luke comedies. This association with Lloyd lasted for two decades; Leonard appeared in most if not all of Lloyd’s comedies into features and even talkies. His last with Lloyd was The Milky Way (1936). He also supported other Roach comedians, such as Stan Laurel, in Hoot, Mon! (1919).

Nor was Leonard’s output restricted to Roach. In the early 20s he worked for the Christie studio in things like the Jiggs comedies (adaptations of the comic strip Bringing Up Father), and Bobby Vernon shorts like Hey, Rube! (1921). Even as was appearing in Lloyd features in the ’20s, he also appeared in Buster Keaton’s Go West (1925), Exit Smiling (1926) with Bea Lillie, and The Nickel-Hopper (1926) with Mabel Normand. 

When sound came in, Leonard fared just as well. You can see him in Harry Langdon’s talking shorts for Roach in 1930, as well as the classic Vitaphone picture The Happy Hottentots with Joe Frisco and Bob Callahan. Lubitsch used him in Trouble in Paradise (1932). He’s in the Joe E. Brown comedies The Tenderfoot (1932), Elmer the Great (1933) and 6 Day Bike Rider (1934), as well as Eddie Cantor’s Roman Scandals (1933), and Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934). He is perhaps best remembered today for appearing in several Our Gang shorts, such as Mush and Milk (1933), Teacher’s Beau (1935), and The Lucky Corner (1936). One of his last films, Todd Browning’s The Devil-Doll (1936), reunited him with his French origins — he plays the elevator operator at the Eiffel Tower! Leonard’s last film was the Nelson EddyJeanette MacDonald musical Maytime (1937).

For more on silent and slapstick comedy film, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube; to find out more about vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous