Like many lovers of classic comedy and other vintage Hollywood movies I had no doubt seen Jack “Tiny” Lipson (1901-1947) dozens of times, but his sight-gag walk-ons were too brief for me to get curious enough to look him up. But the other day, I watched A Night at the Opera (1935) for the gazillionth time, and realized that, there he was again, that “Engineer’s Assistant” who looked a lot like Billy Gilbert, but wasn’t. Like Gilbert and the other famous comedy “Tiny”, Stanley Sanford, Lipson was a big man (6’4″) with many pounds on his frame. His roles (over 100 of them) ranged from funny one-offs (many of his screen characters were named simply some variation on “Fat Man”), to “heavy” roles like those played by Eric Campbell and early career Oliver Hardy. His biggest role was probably that of King Vultan in the original 1936 Flash Gordon serial.
Originally from Denver, Lipson’s earliest screen credit (on IMDB, anyway, and I know that’s fallible) is as the rival in Larry Semon’s The Stunt Man (1927). Now, that is a good sized role, so it’s likely he had some smaller ones prior to that. It’s also likely he had some kind of stage background; almost everyone who came to films back then did, and Lipson would have been 26 by that time, old enough for some experience. He went on to appear in scores of comedy shorts with the likes of Snub Pollard, Ben Turpin, Monte Collins, Charley Bowers, Poodles Hanneford, Cliff Bowes, Harry Gribbon, Al St. John, Jimmy Aubrey, Lloyd Hamilton, Jack Duffy, Mack Swain, Franklin Pangborn, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and The Three Stooges. In addition to A Night at the Opera, his features included Rio Rita (1929) with Wheeler and Woolsey, Prosperity (1932) with Marie Dressler and Polly Moran, Professor Beware (1938) with Harold Lloyd, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) with W.C. Fields, Hellzapoppin’ (1941) with Olsen and Johnson, I Dood It (1943) with Red Skelton, and Lost in a Harem (1944) with Abbott and Costello. His last film, released posthumously was Luxury Liner (1948) starring George Brent and Jane Powell.
Lipson was only 46 when felled by a heart attack in 1947.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.