Here in America we note that February 22 is George Washington’s birthday, but internationally it might do well to observe the natal day of another Founding Father, André Deed (Henri André Chapais, 1879-1940), one of the first movie comedians. We are shocked to discover that we have not paid him tribute here yet, though we did give him appropriate mention in our silent comedy book Chain of Fools.
Born in Le Havre, France and raised in Nice, Chapais moved to Paris as a young man and began performing in music halls and cabarets as a singer, acrobat and comedian. Starting in 1901 he began appearing in the films of Georges Méliès; he may thus be spoken of as an apple off of Méliès’s tree. Around 1907 he began playing a comical character named Boireau; this was to remain the name of his screen character in France. The following year he moved his base of operations to the Italia Studios in Turin, Italy, and this is where he began to crank out world-famous comedies through the start of World War One. To ingratiate himself with audiences throughout the globe, he used several different screen names, which can make tracking him quite an epic chore. As we saw, “André Deed” is a pseudonym to begin with, and “Boireau” (sometimes “Gribouille”) the name of his screen character in France. In Italy he was known as Cretinetti, in English-speaking countries “Foolshead”, in Latin nations, “Toribio”, in Germany, “Müller”, in Russia, “Glupyshkin”, and in Hungary “Lehmann”. At this writing you will find numerous of his comedies under these various names on Youtube.
As happened with his fellow pioneering countryman Max Linder, Deed’s career momentum was seriously curtailed, in effect obliterated, by the interruption of the war. Whereas he had appeared in something like 230 films prior to his war service, he returned in 1920 to star in only 2 or 3. Following a deafening silence in audience response, he then played supporting roles in about another dozen films over the next two decades.
For more on silent film and classic comedy, including the contributions of André Deed, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,