Dorothy Christy: Well-Named for Comedy

Could there be a better name for a fictional classic comedy star than Dorothy Christy (1906-1977), seeing as how it combines the surname of Al Chistie with the given name of all those comedy Dorothies like Dorothy Dwan, Dorothy Sebastian, Dorothy Devore, Dorothy Granger, and Dorothy Lee. But Dorothy Christy wasn’t fictional, she was real, which may be why we don’t remember her as well (i.e., on account of the similarity). So she might have been better served by her given surname — Seltzer!

Christy is best remembered by classic comedy fans for playing Mrs. Laurel in Laurel and Hardy’s Sons of the Desert (1933) and for appearing with Buster Keaton in Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931). But she has a long list of credits, including numerous classic comedies, to know abou. The first references to her I have found are from local papers from 1925 mentioning her performances in her hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania. In 1928 she turns up in the chorus of the Broadway show The New Moon. In 1929 she got a proper speaking role in Follow Thru starring Jack Haley and Eleanor Powell. This show played a full year — well enough to give her a leg up into movie parts. In 1930 she played a domineering wife to Tom Dugan in the Vitaphone comedy short She Who Gets Slapped, directed by Carter de Haven. Next came a supporting part as a British aristocrat in Will Rogers’ So This is London (1930). Then over 100 subsequent credits, including films like Gold Dust Gertie (1931) with Winnie Lightner and Olsen and Johnson, the aforementioned Keaton picture, The Cohens and Kellys in Hollywood (1932) with Charles Murray and George Sidney, Sons of the Desert (1933), 6 Day Bike Rider (1934) with Joe E. Brown, Bright Eyes (1934) with Shirley Temple, the Phantom Empire serial (1935) with Gene Autry, and several comedy shorts with the likes of James Gleason, Andy Clyde, Billy Bevan, Franklin Pangborn, Leon Errol, et al.

By the late ’30s she was mostly a bit player and extra, but you could still see her in such things as George Whites Scandals (1945), Little Giant (1946) with Abbott and Costello, Scared to Death (1947) with Bela Lugosi, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947), and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) with Danny Kaye. Her last film was the 1953 remake of Edna Ferber’s So Big.

It is almost invariably given out that Christy also appeared with the Marx Brothers, though she is credited in none of their films or Broadway shows. However, it is more than possible she appeared in a touring or out of town production of one of their Broadway productions, or the live try-outs of their MGM vehicles. Confirmation of that awaits however.

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.