Luis Alberni (1886-1962) was a much beloved Hollywood character actor for decades. Though often cast as comical Italians, and his surname sure sounds Italian, he was actually Spanish. Alberni was the son of a judge, and he actually possessed a law degree, but he was more drawn to the stage, working in stock companies and in circuses (as a clown) for years, before finally moving to the States in 1914. From 1915 through the end of the ’20s, he appeared in ten silent movies and 15 Broadway shows, including both the stage and screen versions of 39 East, and the original stage production of What Price Glory? (1924). (John Ford was to cast him in his movie version of the latter nearly 30 years later).
In the sound era, Alberni concentrated entirely on films, appearing in over 150 of them over a 30 year period, usually in small supporting or bit roles. I find it noteworthy that he worked with John Barrymore in three pictures at this time: Svengali (1931), The Mad Genius (1931), and Rasputin and the Empress (1932), and later The Great Man Votes (1939). But mostly we want to point out his comedies: The Cohens and the Kellys in Hollywood (1932), Trouble in Paradise (1932), Strictly Dynamite (1932) with Jimmy Durante and Lupe Velez, Goin’ to Town (1935) with Mae West, Judy Canova’s Scatterbrain (1940) and Hit the Hay (1945), So You Won’t Talk (1940) with Joe E, Brown, Road to Zanzibar (1941) with Hope and Crosby, Mexican Spitfire’s Elephant (1942), Two Weeks to Live (1943) with Lum and Abner, In Society (1944) with Abbott and Costello, Wonder Man (1945) with Danny Kaye, and In Fast Company (1946) with the Bowery Boys. He appeared in the Preston Sturges’ scripted The Good Fairy (1935), Easy Living (1937), and The Lady Eve (1941), and in the musicals Flying Down to Rio (1932) , and Roberta (1935), with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
You can also see him in several late Mack Sennett comedy shorts: Strange Birds (1930) and Movie Town (1931) with Marjorie Beebe, Monkey Business in Africa with (1931) with Andy Clyde, I Surrender Dear (1931) with Bing Crosby, The Great Junction Hotel (1931) with Edward Everett Horton, The Girl in the Tonneau (1932) with Arthur Stone, et al, as well as Sennett’s 1932 feature Hypnotized.
Alberni’s very last role was a bit part as an Old Hebrew in The Ten Commandments (1956).
For more on vaudeville history, 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.
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