Alf Reeves: Chaplin’s Right Arm

I’ve long wanted to do a post on Alfred “Alf” Reeves (1876-1945). There’s not much to be said, but he deserves to be honored. The brother of the better remembered Billie Reeves, Alf was initially a performer with Karno’s Speechless Comedians. He eventually became company manager, accompanying the troupe on its American tours. When Chaplin defected, so to speak, from Karno, Reeves became one of his entourage, surely as devasting a loss as Chaplin’s own departure.

In his autobiography, Chaplin refers to him as his “manager”. By that, he meant not his personal manager (his brother Syd filled that role) but more like his company manager, credited as production manager on several of his films. IMDB gives him this title on The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), and The Great Dictator (1940). He performed the same job on earlier films as well, it merely didn’t recieve formal credit in those earlier Hollywood days. He also played small roles in A Dog’s Life (1918) and A Day’s Pleasure (1919).

I’ve often wondered how Chaplin interacted among his fellow physical comedians, not a group known for their intellectual precocity back in those days. Chaplin, though from the very humblest of origins, grew to be bookish, aloof, and one of the richest and most powerful individuals in the world. Yet he would still from time to time need to interact with the Chester Conklins and Hank Manns of the world, as in his movies of the ’30s, quite late in his climb. Did he talk to them from on high? Would they have stood for it? They were his peers once upon a time. I think keeping Alf close to him must have been a key. Reeves could both play the intermediary, but he would also keep the music hall atmosphere alive on the set, something that was crucially important for the comedy. I didn’t see the 2006 Chaplin musical, but I see from the internet that Alf Reeves was a character in it, which seems an intelligent decision. You couldn’t tell Chaplin’s story properly without him.

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