The Backstory on Hilliard “Fat” Karr

Hilliard “Fat” Karr (1899-1945) is today best remembered as one third of the plus sized silent comedy team Tons of Fun, but he had a thriving solo career before, during, and after that popular comedy franchise.

Hilliard Hailed from Houston. He was all of 18 when he made his cinematic debut in the aptly titled Nathan Busts Into the Movies (1917), in which he plays a “country chap” clearly modeled on Fatty Arbuckle’s many characters. Imitation was endemic in the silent days, when audiences and consumers were unsophisticated. There were many comedians named “Fatty” during the era, as though ticket buyers wouldn’t notice whether or not it was the actual Arbuckle, the gold standard for cinematic comedy chubs. A shot time later (1918) Karr starred as a character named “Fatty Filbert” in a series released by the Florida Film Corporation, and Karr was to be nicknamed either “Fatty” or “Fat” throughout most of his career. We don’t condone the news, we just report it!

By the early ’20s Karr had made his way to Hollywood and the relative big time, such as the 1921 Fox comedies Fool Days and Ain’t Love Grand with Al St. John and King Baggot’s Human Hearts (1922). In 1924 he began appearing in Century Comedies for Universal, including several Buster Brown comedies, and in the odd independent such as Love (1924) with Billy West. The Ton of Fun series, which we wrote about here, ran from 1925 through 1928.

The coming of sound naturally shook things up a bit. Co-star Kewpie Ross retired, and the Ton of Fun disbanded. Co-star Frank “Fatty” Alexander fared slightly better, but Karr went on to do bit parts in four additional films: Love in the Desert (1929) with Olive Borden and Noah Beery, Too Hot to Handle (1930) with Louise Fazenda and Vernon Dent, She Devils (1931) with Molly O’Day, and The Big Shot (1931) with Eddie Quillan and Maureen O’Sullivan. 

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