Billy Ruge: Oliver Hardy’s First Comedy Partner

Tribute today to silent screen comedian Billy Ruge (1863-1955).

From the late 19th to the early 20th century Platttsburgh-native Ruge performed in a trapeze act with partner Bill Frobel, which played vaudeville, music halls and circuses all over Europe and South and North America, once appearing on a bill at the London Hippodrome with Houdini, Sandow, and W.C. Fields.

His first film was the 1914 Edison short Fantasma, but he is best known for his time in Jacksonville where he worked for the Lubin, Vim and Jaxon studios, notably on around 40 Plump and Runt shorts with Oliver Hardy (1915-1916). In essence, this makes him Hardy’s first comedy partner, a dozen years before his teaming with Laurel. In 1917 and 1918 he briefly partnered with Walter Stull of Pokes and Jabs in a half dozen Finn and Haddie comedies, and he also teamed with Kate Price (later of The Cohens and the Kellys series) in six “Sparkle” comedies. His 88th and last film was He Got It (1921).

In 1922 he and a partner named Joe Rose were booked on the Loew’s Circuit with an acrobatic comedy act that played at least through mid 1924. In the early ’30s he toured with a traveling production of Babes in Toyland. 

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