Syd Saylor: B Movies and Buffoonery

Some tribute today to Syd Saylor (Leslie Raymond Sailor, 1895-1962), sometimes billed under his given name or as Leo Sailor, Sid Sailor, or Sid Saylor.

Born in Chicago, a bit of legend attaches to Saylor’s early years. His father, George Sailor is said to have died or disappeared in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake (an engineer, he was said to have gone there for a job and was never seen again.) Syd would have been 11 at this time.

After appearing in vaudeville, circuses, and stock theatre in his youth, Saylor moved to Los Angeles, where an uncle (whose name is unmentioned in any account I’ve yet come across) supposedly worked for the police department and was a former member of Mack Sennett’s comedy company, and helped him break into the movies. That (starting out at Keystone) was a pretty conventional p.r. narrative for performers who began in silent comedy back in the day, but it doesn’t seem to pan out in Saylor’s case. Sid Saylor started out working for Universal, and had appeared in (indeed starred in) dozens of films before he ever worked for Sennett, and he only worked for Sennett on a couple of occasions.

At Universal, he starred as George in Century Comedies’ adaptations of George McManus’ comic strips Let George Do It and The Newlyweds from 1926 through 1929. When he wasn’t appearing in these comedies (of which there were over 50), he occasionally acted in westerns at Universal, presaging the bulk of his work in the 30s, for which he is probably better remembered today.

When sound came in, Saylor starred in a half dozen comedy shorts for Universal in 1930, after which he was cut loose. Over the next 30+ decades he amassed close to 400 additional credits, ranging from extra parts and walk-ons, to decent supporting parts. He is probably best remembered as a comic sidekick on B movie westerns. He was the original “Lullaby” in Republic’s The Three Mesquiteers in 1936, a part later played by Max Terhune and others. Throughout the ’30s he was frequently paired with western stars like Buster Crabbe, Ken Maynard, Johnny Mack Brown, or Tex Ritter as the comic relief. he also appeared memorably in the Clyde Beatty serial The Lost Jungle (1934). he was known for a stuttering bit he did, not unlike Rosco Ates. 

Among his hundreds of credits are lots of major classic comedies, although usually just in bit parts or extra roles. These include Sidewalks of New York (1931) with Buster Keaton, Million Dollar Legs (1932) and If I Had a Million (1932), with W.C. Fields, Horse Feathers (1932) with the Marx Brothers, He Learned About Women (1933) with Stuart Erwin, Goin’ to Town (1935) with Mae West, Topper (1937) with Cary Grant and Constance Bennett, The Cowboy and the Lady (1938) with Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon, $1,000 a Touchdown (1939) with Joe E, Brown, Jitterbugs (1943) with Laurel and Hardy, The Kid from Brooklyn (1946) and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) with Danny Kaye, The Pale Face (1948) with Bob Hope, The Fuller Brush Girl (1950) with Lucille Ball, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (1952), Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953), and Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair (1952). The Mack Sennett shorts we mentioned were Goodbye, Legs (1930), and Slide, Speedy, Slide (1931). Saylor also worked for Hal Roach, in the aforementioned Topper, as well as Curley (1947) and Fabulous Joe (1947).

Vaudeville and show biz related stuff included: Little Miss Broadway (1938) with Shirley Temple, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942),Buffalo Bill (1944), The Merry Monahans (1944), Incendiary Blonde (1945), Three Little Words (1950), and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952),

In television, in addition to many westerns and other dramas, Saylor appeared on classic comedy programs like The Abbott and Costello Show (1952-53), and The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1953-55). His last credit was in the horror film The Creeping Hand (1963).

To find out more about vaudeville and its veterans, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous; for more on silent and classic comedy film, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube