A Piece on Kay Deslys

We have been remiss in not previously mentioning Kay Deslys (Kathleen Herbert, 1899-1974), key cast member of many a classic comedy.

Born in London, Deslys had performed in music hall, vaudeville and legit stage productions before her first film Tarnish (1924) starring May McAvoy, Ronald Colman, Marie Prevost, Priscilla Bonner, Harry Myers, Lydia Yeamans Titus, and William Boyd. Snitz Edwards played her husband. That is quite rarified company, and a LOT of professional talent to learn from on your first film shoot! And Deslys was a highly castable comic type, plump and fun loving. She reminds me a little of Alice Howell. Many of the the parts she played (often the friend of the female lead) remind me of the kind of roles Marie Prevost played in her later years, years after the peak desirability of Tarnish. I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate that he professional surname was a comment on that of Gaby Deslys, either to imply a relation, or as an ironic joke, in light of her body type. At any rate, her very next screen role proved one of her memorable ones: she played Georgia Hale’s friend in Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925).

Deslys was to be a staple of Hal Roach comedy shorts over the next half dozen years, appearing with Charley Chase in Innocent Husbands (1925), There Ain’t No Santa Clause (1926), Fluttering Hearts (1927), The Lighter That Failed (1927), Assistant Wives (1927), Leaping Love (1929), Whispering Whoopee (1930), The Pip from Pittsburgh (1931), and What a Bozo (1931); Jimmy Finlayson in Should Husbands Pay? (1926); Anita Garvin and Marion Byron in Going Ga-Ga (1929); Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts in Maids a la Mode (1933) and Laurel and Hardy in Their Purple Moment (1928), Should Married Men Go Home? (1928), We Faw Down (1928), Perfect Day (1929), and Below Zero (1930). She played Mrs. Hardy in a couple of these.

Deslys also appeared in comedy features, although in much smaller roles. These include The Red Mill (1927) with Marion Davies, directed by Roscoe Arbuckle; Belle of the Nineties (1934) with Mae West; The Big Store (1941) with the Marx Brothers; Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) with W.C. Fields; and a couple of the Maisie films. She’s also in screwball classics like You Can’t Take it With You (1938) and Casanova Brown (1944). Another notable pictures include Treasure Island (1934), Call of the Wild (1935), Diamond Jim (1935), The Great Flamarion (1944), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1945), and Pat and Mike (1952), her last.

She was married to Jack Baxley, a character actor of lesser stature, who had very small roles in such things as Zenobia and The Gracie Allen Murder Case.

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