On May Milloy and Ford West

Fragments this morning on a vaudeville couple. I’m uncertain how I became aware of them — most likely from movie comedies in which they played supporting parts.

May Milloy (1875-1967) was from Montreal; one of her first mentions is for a show she did there entitled My Geraldine (1896). Her brother Richard Milloy, also an actor, was performing in New York by 1900; he and a stock company enacted a repertoire of classics at the Fifth Avenue Theater that year. May toured the West Coast (Seattle, San Francisco) with a play called Mr. Hopkinson in 1909. By 1911 she was touring vaudeville with a melodrama parody sketch called “More Sinned Against Than Usual”, one of those send-ups in the vein of Ten-Nights in a Barroom, The Fatal Glass of Beer, and The Villain Still Pursued Her. (In 1930 this trifle was turned into a Vitaphone short with Charlotte Merriam and Charles Middleton.) In 1912 she was in two Broadway shows produced by William A. Brady: The Fatted Calf and The Point of View, the latter with Madge Kennedy, Lucile Watson, and William Morris. From 1914 to 1915 she toured with an act called “Beauty is Only Skin Deep”. She then met and married Texas actor Ford West (1873-1936), with whom she formed a two-act, touring vaudeville starting in 1915. Milloy retained her given surname as her professional one — after all, there was already a famous Mae West by this time.

By 1920, the pair were in Hollywood. Milloy’s screen career was the more modest of the two by an order of magnitude. She has a bit part in Souls for Sale (1923), Eleanor Boardman’s first film. In 1929 she appeared in two Hal Roach comedies, Hurdy Gurdy, a parody of Elmer Rice’s Street Scene, starring Edgar Kennedy, Max Davidson, and Thelma Todd (Milloy played an Italian woman); and Dad’s Day, in which she played Kennedy’s mother. The following year she had a small role in The Man from Blankley’s with John Barrymore and Loretta Young.

Of the two West had the much more significant screen career, and how could he not with that great name? A perfect handle for silent comedy, combining as it does the names of Ford Sterling and Billy West! (Though naturally if you google “Ford West” you’ll also get lots of John Ford hits). West specialized in rural characters (increasingly aging ones as time went on. His first film credit was the 1920 Fox comedy Ten Nights Without a Bar-Room with Slim Summerville, Ethel Teare, and Tom Kennedy. Over 40 film roles followed. 1924 was probably his most reward year: he played the theatre manager in Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr and had a role as a race official in the Keystone classic Lizzies of the Field with Billy Bevan. You can also see him in small roles in Angora Love (1929) with Laurel and Hardy, Everything’s Rosie (1931) with Bob Woolsey, King of the Wild Horses (1933) starring Rex the Wonder Horse (!), The Little Colonel (1935) with Shirley Temple, and Uncivil Warriors (1935) with the Three Stooges, his last. He died in a car accident in 1936.

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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.