Harry Bernard: Merry Mirthmaker

If there hadn’t been a guy named Harry Bernard (1878-1940), I might have invented one, for his handle combined the first names of Harry Langdon, Harry Gribbon, Harry Richman, Harry Jolson, Harry Fox, Harry Rose, Harry Von Tilzer, and Harry Houdini…with the last name of Sam Bernard, Barney Benard, Al Bernard, and Mike Bernard! Perfect fictional name for a vaudeville guy!

But Bernard was quite real. Born and raised in San Francisco, he’d been a boxer in his youth and toured the west coast in vaudeville, at one point with an act called Harry Bernard’s Musical Merrymakers, which included Charles Parrott, later known as Charley Chase. Like Chase, Bernard worked a lot for Mack Sennett in 1915. You can see him in several comedies with Chester Conklin, or Mack Swain, or both. The best known of these may be A Hash House Fraud (1915), directed by Chase and starring Hugh Fay and Louise Fazenda.

With the exception of Hal Roach’s Cash Customers (1920) with Snub Pollard, Marie Mosquini, and Hughie Mack, Bernard was off movie screens between very early 1916 and 1928, treading the vaudeville boards those dozen years. But when he returned, he did so with a vengeance. The short, compact, scrappy looking comedian played supporting parts (often cops) in around 150 comedies, mostly at the Roach studio, starting with Laurel and Hardy’s silent Two Tars (1928) and ending with their feature Saps at Sea (1940). That is why you’re reading this post right now. Bernard’s in over a couple of dozen Laurel and Hardy comedies; and I just watched that Laurel and Hardy marathon on TCM. Bernard can also be seen in nearly three dozen Charley Chase comedies, as well as Our Gang, and Thelma Todd’s teams with Zasu Pitts and Patsy Kelly. He also appears with Van and Schenck in They Learned About Women (1930); the all-star comedy Six of a Kind (1934); Wheeler and Woolsey’s Kentucky Kernels (1934), The Rainmaker (1935) and Silly Billies (1936); Ruggles of Red Gap (1935); Harold Lloyd’s The Milky Way (1936), Swing Time (1936) with Fred and Ginger; the Mandrake the Magician serial (1939), Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1939), etc.

Bernard was felled by a heart attack at age 62.

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