Frank Daniels: The Man With a Million Laughs

I love having published so many posts that new ones often sound like composites of old ones in the same field, in this case say, oh, Frank Alexander and Bebe Daniels (no relation). But Frank Daniels (1856-1935) was a stage and screen comedy star in his own right, with a career than spanned nearly half a century.

Daniels was from Boston, educated at the New England Conservatory of Music, and obtained his first stage experience performing in Gilbert and Sullivan and other light opera in the area there. A Rag Baby (1884) at the 14th Street Theatre seems to have been his first New York credit. After this he played in a show called Little Puck, which ran for seven years. His dozen or so Broadway shows included Victor Herbert’s The Wizard of the Nile (1895) and the Weber and Fields’ reunion show Roly Poly (1912).

Daniels stepped before the movie characters for the first time as early as 1905 alongside May Irwin in the Edison short The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog, directed by Edwin S. Porter. In 1915 he embarked on a busy three year period at Vitagraph which may represent the peak of his national recognition. It was at Vitagraph that Daniels was billed as “The Man of a Million Laughs”. After playing the title characters in Crooky (1915) and What Happened to Father (1915), he starred in three successive series of film shorts, playing the title character in each. 12 “Mr. Jack” shorts (1916) were followed by 10 as “Kernel Nutt” (1916), followed by a couple of dozen as “Captain Jinks” (1916-17). Between the latter two series he played a guy named Percy in Dear Percy (1916), which presumably was not popular enough to justify a series. ironically, today he is best remembered for supporting roles in four Harold Lloyd shorts: Count the Votes, Pay Your Dues, His Only Father (1919) and Among Those Present (1921). After this busy period, he returned to Broadway one last time in The Gingham Girl (1922-23) with Eddie Buzzell, Helen Ford, et al.

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