Fred Gabourie’s Flights of Fancy

Some of Gabourie’s handiwork: the crazy house in “One Week” (1920)

Just a few words of homage to an unsung comedy hero, Fred “Gabe” Gabourie (1881-1951), the man who made a lot of Buster Keaton’s most extravagant screen visions come true.

Gabourie was a Seneca Indian from Ontario who had served in the Spanish-American War. He reportedly came into the fold as an employee of Arbuckle’s Comique company when it was based in New York (ca. 1917). When the company changed hands in 1920, Gabourie hit the ground running as Keaton’s all-around technical director, art director, set designer, etc, starting with One Week (actually The HIgh Sign, which was produced prior to One Week, but released later) all the way through The Camera Man, the entirety of the 1920s. He is the man who devised such delicious realizations as the surreal houses in One Week and The Electric House, and that terrifying falling wall in Steamboat Bill Jr. He is also largely credited with inspiring The Navigator (1924) — he’d told Keaton about derelict vessel he’d seen while scouting ships for The Sea Hawk. He also helped design Keaton’s lavish home, the fabled “Italian Villa”, so you could say that, in a way, he designed Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931), parts of which were shot there.

In the diaspora of Keaton’s team that followed his signing with MGM as a star, Gabourie continued to perform similar duties on other pictures, undoubtedly with smaller challenges. He is credited as the art director on the 1929 Gus Edwards shorts Gus Edwards Song Revue and Song of the Roses, and designed the sets for such films as Murder in the Private Car (1934), The Merry Widow (1934), and Murder in the Fleet (1935). His official title at MGM was construction supervisor, a job he held for over two decades. His son, also named Fred Gabourie, was a bit player and stunt man.

For more on classic and silent comedy please read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.