Louise Carver: Somewhere in Turkey

A few words about stage and screen comedienne Louise Carver (Mary Louise Steiger, 1869-1956). The daughter of a Davenport, Iowa teamster, Carver studied singing in her youth, and performed in vaudeville, stock theatre, and opera in the midwest beginning as a teenager and for many decades thereafter.

By 1908 (nearly age 40) Carver was in New York; that year she played two plum Shakespearean roles in short films at Vitagraph, Lady MacBeth as well as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. By this time she rather a stout, imposing woman. Onscreen she normally played dowagers, washerwomen, nosey neighbors, landladies, and the like, often with a bit of a scary tinge. In 1912, she married Tom Murray (best remembered for his later role as Black Larsen in Chaplin’s The Gold Rush). Circa 1911 she may have gone into Lew Fields’ The Hen Pecks as a replacement. In 1916 she and Murray supported Marcel Perez in some comedies. She also supported Victor Moore in Ballads and Bologna (1917) and Harold Lloyd in Somewhere in Turkey. (Ha! Get the title now? Carver? Turkey? I got a MILLION of ’em!)

Between 1923 and 1941 Carver played supporting roles in over 100 films, both features and shorts. Among the features were the 1923 adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, Mabel Normand’s The Extra Girl (1923), Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances (1925) and Free and Easy (1930), The Barker (1928), Barnum Was Right (1929), The Sap (1929) with Edward Everett Horton, Side Show (1931), Hallelujah I’m a Bum (1933) and Eddie Cantor’s Roman Scandals (1933) and Kid Millions (1934), and New Faces of 1937. Much more numerous were shorts for Mack Sennett and others, in which she cavorted with the likes of Harry Langdon, Mack Swain, Andy Clyde, Ben Turpin, Harry Gribbon, Monty Banks, Charles Murray, Snub Pollard, Alice Day, Lloyd Hamilton, Billy Bevan, Madeline Hurlock, Eddie Quillan, Raymond McKee, Al St. John, etc.

Carver’s last film was Some More of Samoa (1941) with the Three Stooges. By that stage she was in her early 70s and Murray had passed away, a natural juncture at which to retire. Carver passed away herself in 1956 — long enough to see some of her old pictures broadcast on television.

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