Eddie Baker: Worked With ’em All

A tip of the hat to comedy supporting player Eddie Baker (1897-1968). As is often the way. Baker enjoyed his bigger and more memorable roles in silent days. For example, he was the referee in the boxing match in Chaplin’s City Lights (1931), and was Stan Laurel’s foil in some of his solo comedies like Kill or Cure and Oranges and Lemons, both in 1923.

A native of West Virginia, Baker started out as a pop boy at Biograph at the age of 17. Within a couple of years he was appearing before the cameras in comedy shorts, supporting such comedians as Gale Henry, Billy Franey, Larry Semon, Laurel, Fay Tincher, Jiggs and Maggie, Paul Parrott, Sunshine Sammy, Harry Langdon, Bobby Vernon, Jimmie Adams, Dane and Arthur, et al. for Mack Sennett, Hal Roach, Educational, and other fun factories. In 1929 he was one in Laurel and Hardy’s first comedies as a team, Bacon Grabbers, and directed five shorts for Al Christie starring Bobby Vernon, Jack Duffy, Neal Burns, and Billy Dooley. This is probably the apex of his comedy career.

In the sound era, Baker was mostly a bit player and crowd extra, although he did appear in some comedy classics like Pardon Us (1931), Any Old Port (1932) and Sons of the Desert (1933) with Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business (1931), alomost all of W.C. Fields‘ early features, and shorts starring Our Gang, The Boyfriends, The Taxi Boys (Ben Blue and Billy Gilbert), Charley Chase et al.

In 1937 he retired, apparently not thrilled with playing a never-ending series of motorcycle cops. Amusingly, he then went on to become an ACTUAL motorcycle cop for nearly a decade before returning to the business in the mid ’40s at Columbia, where he did his usual schitick in comedies starring the likes of Joe Besser and Gus Schilling. Soon even these shorts were gone, and there was no longer any hope of anything much better than walk ons, which he did in film and TV for another two decades. By the time of his last credit, a 1967 episode of Dundee and The Culhane with John Mills, he had played over 300 roles.

For more on show biz 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.