Jules Mendel: Stage Star and Supporting Player at Roach

Comedian Jules Mendel (1874-1939) made all of 21 silent comedies, one in 1915, the rest between 1923 and 1926. All of them (even the early one) appear to have been made for Hal Roach. He actually stars in the first one Fun at a Ball Game (1915), directed by Roach himself, at a time when even Harold Lloyd wasn’t yet his breakout star. By the time he returns eight years later, Roach is a much bigger deal and Mendel is a supporting player. His first movie from this period is the Our Gang comedy A Pleasant Journey (1923). With Charley Chase he appeared in Sweet Daddy, Outdoor Pajamas, The Royal Razz (all 1924), The Rat’s Knuckles, Fighting Fluid, Looking for Sally, and Isn’t Life Terrible? (all 1925). A great many of these were directed by Leo McCarey. In 1925 he also appeared in Chasing the Chaser and Unfriendly Enemies, both with James Finlayson and directed by Stan Laurel; also Moonlight and Noses and Should Sailors Marry? with Clyde Cook; The Haunted Honeymoon and Whose Baby Are You? with Glenn Tryon; Sherlock Sleuth with Arthur Stone; Sure-Mike with Martha Sleeper; and Wild Papa with Frank Butler. In 1926 he made Good Cheer with Our Gang; Wandering Papas with Oliver Hardy, Clyde Cook and Sally O’Neil; and Don Key (Son of Burro) with Max Davidson.

Originally from San Francisco, Mendel was a comedian of vaudeville, burlesque and the musical comedy stage. One finds many references to him appearing in shows in the Los Angeles area from about 1909 through the early 1920s. In a 1910 article in the Los Angeles Herald we find a clue that his career was going long before that. “I’ve been kicked in the stomach almost constantly for seventeen years and I have never gotten sore,” he boasts to a reporter. This would put the beginning of his professional career as a comedian at least at about 1893. Mendel appears to have specialized in Weber and Fields style Dutch (or German) comedy on the stage. In one show, his character’s name was “Pickles Heinz.”  At a certain point he was paired in a slapstick team with a guy named Al Frank or Franks. In 1916 it was announced that the duo would star in comedies for Universal but nothing appears to have come of it.  He worked the Pantages Circuit, and he worked with Blossom Seeley on several occasions. He was married to a burlesque actress named Teddy La Due (Marie Haswell), who was also his stage partner.

Mendel’s last film was released in 1926. Thanks to reader Linda Lee Holmes, a relative, we now know what happened to him after this. Mendel was seriously injured performing a stunt, and was forced to retire, confined to a wheelchair for nearly a decade. Marie helped support their family during those hard years by operating an on-set catering business.

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