Huzzah for Hazel Deane

A rare but deserved plug for a book besides ones of my own this morning and that’s Steve Massa’s Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy, the most authoritive and wide-ranging resource on silent screen comediennes. Most of the biographical details in this post were taken from there. There ain’t anywhere else.

The film career of Hazel Deane (Hazel Schilling, 1901-1986) lasted less than a decade and a mere two dozen movies, but it was pretty solid nonetheless. She was a 17 year old Malibu lifeguard when she (quite naturally) began working as a bathing beauty and bit player for such studios as Fox Sunshine, Mack Sennett, Christie, and others. Her debut was in A Tight Squeeze (1918) with Lloyd Hamilton. By her third film, Matrimaniacs (1920) she is already co-starring with Neal Burns, This was followed by two with Chester Conklin that same year, Who Am I? and The Soft Boiled Yegg. Her most widely seen comedy is Buster Keaton’s feature Seven Chances (1925), in which she plays one of the aspiring brides (not in the big crowd scenes, one of the ones he actually meets and has scenes with.)

Lovers of silent westerns may be likely to know Deane better than comedy fans, for most of her films in the ’20s were feature length oaters, in which she was sometimes billed as Hazel Maye, co-starring with the likes of Neal Hart, Ken Maynard, and Bob Custer. Her last picture was Speedy Smith (1927) with Billy Sullivan. The timing would seem to indicate that the coming of sound was not for her, although at 26 she was at a peak marriage age, which was another frequent cause of females dropping out of the business back then. I’ve not come across any information about a husband, According to Massa, Deane entertained troops during WWII with the USO. This suggests to me that in the intervening time she kept a hand in as a live performer. With those healthy gams she seems a shoe-in as a dancer or a chorus girl. As we learn more we’ll fill out this portrait. Buy Steve’s book!

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For more on the history of silent film please see Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube