The Blystone Brothers and Classic Comedy

There were three cinematic Blystone brothers, hailing from the hinterlands of Wisconsin. They’ll never be household words I guess, but the family made a mark in classic comedy that ought to be acknowledged.

John G. Blystone (1892-1938), sometimes billed as Jack or J.G., was the first to break into the film business. Famous Wisconsin Film Stars by Kristin Gilpatrick tells us that Blystone graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and then headed straight to Hollywood in 1914. He acted in four films for Nestor, The Wheel of Life, Cupid Incognito, Passing of the Beast, and A Wife on a Wager, all 1914 and all with Wallace Reid and Dorothy Davenport, with Reid directing. Blystone began directing films himself that same year, initially comedy shorts starring the likes of Alice Howell, Fatty Voss, and Clyde Cook. He also produced some of Mack Swain’s “Ambrose” comedies in the late teens. By 1923, he had graduated to directing silent features, the best remembered of which is Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality (1923). The coming of sound didn’t slow him down any. He directed dozens of talkies including the 1930 remake of Tol’able David, Mr. Lemon of Orange (1931) with El Brendel and Fifi D’Orsay, and his last two with Laurel and Hardy, Swiss Miss and Block-Heads, both in 1938. All in all Blystone directed over 100 films in nearly a quarter of a century.

Stanley Blystone (1894-1956) started in pictures a decade later than John, and was strictly an actor, amassing a jaw-dropping 550 screen credits over three+ decades. From the mid ’20s through the early ’30s he supported the likes of Lige Connely, Lloyd Hamilton, Billy Bevan, Madeline Hurlock, Lupino Lane, Chester Conklin, Vernon Dent, Andy Clyde, and Billy Gilbert in comedy shorts. In feature length pictures he was usually a bit player or extra but you can see him in many comedy classics. He supported Chaplin in The Circus (1928) and Modern Times (1936); Laurel and Hardy in The Laurel and Hardy Murder Case (1930), Sons of the Desert (1933), and Swiss Miss (1938); Eddie Cantor in Roman Scandals (1933) and Strike Me Pink (1936); Wheeler and Woolsey in Hips, Hips Hooray (1934), Silly Billies (1936) and High Flyers (1937); the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera (1936) and Room Service (1938); Abbott and Costello in Buck Privates (1941) and Bob Hope in The Paleface (1948). Over the years, westerns were also a staple in his portfolio. In the TV era, he worked regularly on such programs as The Roy Rogers Show, The Lone Ranger, and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. 

A third brother, Jasper Blystone (1899-1965) worked as a second unit director and assistant director on 71 productions from 1925 through 1952, occasionally on pictures directed by his brother John. His full list of credits is here. 

For more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.