Patsy O’Byrne: Cooks, Crones and Catty Neighbors

The photo above indicates the kind of roles Patsy O’Byrne (1883-1968) was known for playing: biddies, scolds, gossips, neighbor ladies, and very often cooks and maids. Her beginnings are murky. Over 40 years old at the time of her first screen credit, it is reasonable to assume that she had a background in vaudeville and/or stock theatre. Steve Massa’s Slapstick Divas informs us that she had performed at the New York Hippodrome and that she can be spotted in the background of Larry Semon’s 1919 Between the Acts. IMDB tells us she was originally known as “Sadie”. It also shares this oddity, which looks like it predates her known films:

I have a theory that O’Byrne may have been a friend of Will Rogers, based on nothing but the fact that her first credited film, and one in which she has a decent part, was his silent short The Cake Eater (1924), and also that one of the few talkies in which her character actually has a name was Dr. Bull (1934). And she was from Kansas, next door to Oklahoma. Nothing but an instinct with a smidgen of logic, but it’s a place to begin for anyone who wants to take it farther!

What we know is that O’Byrne was in close to two dozen silent comedy shorts for Hal Roach, Mack Sennett and others between 1924 and 1928, supporting the likes of Rogers, Stan Laurel, Glenn Tryon, Ralph Graves, Billy Bevan, Our Gang, et al. The best known of these is Their Purple Moment (1928) starring Laurel and Hardy. She is also sixth billed in the 1926 Universal feature My Old Dutch, based on the Albert Chevalier play and song, along with May McAvoy, Pat O’Malley, Cullen Landis, Jean Hersholt, and Edgar Kennedy.

O’Byrne is also in over three dozen films in the sound era, usually in smaller bit parts, walk ons or stints as a crowd extra. In addition to the aforementioned Dr. Bull, you can see her in Laurel and Hardy’s Chickens Come Home (1931) and Saps at Sea (1940), Paramount’s all-star Alice in Wonderland (1933), Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1933), W.C. Fields’ It’s a Gift (1934), Leo McCarey’s Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), Abbott and Costello’s In the Navy (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), Swing Shift Maisie (1943), The Canterville Ghost (1944), Danny Kaye’s The Secret Life of Water Mitty (1947), Hope and Crosby’s Road to Rio (1947), and Bob Hope’s Sorrowful Jones (1949) and The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). Her last film was George Stevens’ 1952 Something to Live For, with Joan Fontaine, Ray Milland, and Teresa Wright. Stevens was an old Laurel and Hardy hand, of course — one gets the feeling that O’Byrne’s old friends and fans looked after her in her final professional years. As aways, when I come across more, I’ll update this post!

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