Wally Van, Vitagraph’s “Cutey”

Thanks be to Immortal Ephemera for gathering together more info about Wally Van (Charles Wallace Van Nostrand, 1880-1974) than I might otherwise have easily gotten.

Born in New Hyde Park, Van had performed in vaudeville as a comedian and singer of dialect songs. He was also a trained electrical and mechanical engineer with an interest in yachting and speed boats, and through this pursuit, he appears to have hooked up with J. Stuart Blackton of Vitagraph Studios. When Mary Grew You Up (1913) with Clara Kimball Young and Flora Finch was his first film. He was to star in dozens of comedies at the studio through early 1917, most often playing a character named “Cutey”, along with co-stars like Finch, John Bunny, and Hughie Mack. In about a third of these, he was paired with Lillian Walker, whose screen character was “Dimples”. During the same years, he directed around 50 movies for the studio.

Van left Vitagraph after early 1917, possibly because Larry Semon had become the studio’s reigning comedy star (and Semon’s movies were expensive to produce). For around five years, Van is said next to have been the director for an independent studio called the Hallmark Picture Corporation.

Van’s remaining work in the film industry was more sporadic, and for a variety of different studios. He directed the drama False Gods (1919) and the serial The Evil Eye (1920). In 1923 he played supporting roles in the features: East Side – West Side and The Common Law (with Corinne Griffith and Conway Tearle), then starred a comedy feature called The Drivin’ Fool (with Patsy Ruth Miller), and was in Slave of Desire with George Walsh, Bessie Love, and Carmel Myers. In short, he was a proper star now. And yet there are only two more features in which he had a direct involvement, both in 1925: Barriers Burned Away, in which he played a supporting role, and a western called Rough Going, which he directed.

After this he may have continued to work at the fringes of the film business in ancillary industries, perhaps as a casting agent, as this article suggests, with some evidence.

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