Many’s the time I’ve looked on a silent comedian’s get-up and thought of Tin Tin’s Thomson and Thompson, but never more so than with respect to Charles Dorety (1898-1957). It turns out that he was one half of a similar cinematic team.
A San Francisco native, Dorety had performed in vaudeville, stock theatre and in the Al G. Barnes Circus, before landing his first film, Fox’s Roaring Lions and Wedding Bells (1917) with Lloyd Hamilton, Monty Banks, and Jimmie Adams. Though only 19 at the time, Dorety played the father of the bride in that one, a testament both to Dorety’s skill and silent comedy’s aesthetic of unreality. Dorety was a reliable ensemble player in comedies throughout the rest of the silent era, working at Fox, Universal, L-KO, and Mack Sennett, working directors like Henry Lehrman, Jack White, Charley Chase, Chuck Reisner, Alf Goulding, and Norman Taurog, and comedians like Billie Ritchie, Gertrude Selby, Virginia Rappe, Dot Farley, Hughie Mack, Bud Jamison, Bert Roach, James T. Kelley, Ethel Teare, Joe Murphy, Dick Smith, Dorothy Devore, Baby Peggy, Brownie the Dog, and The Century Lions (for some reasons, there are NUMEROUS comedies featuring these lions). He’s in Arbuckle’s last short with Keaton The Garage (1920) and in Keaton’s first solo The High Sign (1921). By 1920 he was starring in his own comedies at Universal’s Century division. From 1927 through 1929 he costarred with Charles King in Rube Goldberg’s Mike and Ike comedies for the Stern Brothers. King was Mike; Dorety was Ike. As the original comic strip was subtitled, They Looked Alike.
Not unusually, Dorety’s status slipped when sound came into the picture, He continued to work steadily in films, mostly comedies, for the rest of his life, but only as a walk-on, extra, or bit player. You can see him in the background of dozens of comedies starring Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, Andy Clyde, Charley Chase, Charles Murray, Wheeler and Woolsey, Olsen and Johnson, and Red Skelton. He’s in Earl Carroll’s Vanities (1945). He retired from the screen after 1946 but returned a decade later to make appearances in Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops (1955), and the short Come on Seven (1956) with Wally Vernon and Eddie Quillan.
For more on vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic and silent slapstick comedy read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.