Bobby Ray: Right in Der Fuehrer’s Face

We have too long overlooked silent screen comedian and director Bobby Ray (Wilhelm Robert McBain Fuehrer, 1899-1957).

Originally billed as Bobby Fuerher (yes, Bobby Fuerher, which I guess is better than Wilhelm Fuerher), Ray started out as a juvenile, starring in a series of Universal Ike Jr shorts for Universal when he was not yet 15. He was clearly hired to fill in for the early departure of Universal Ike (Augustus Carney), who had originally been Alkali Ike at Essanay, left after a salary dispute, then went to Universal, and left after another salary dispute. Committed to a series, they replaced Carney with child star Ray. While it was not unusual in those days to have girls in their young teens play grown-up women, it seems a strange choice even then to have a teenage boy play a grown man, as he did here, with Louise Glaum playing his wife. In his very first film, he frets about a visit from his mother-in-law. He’s so distraught that he can’t even finish his beer!

Next Ray appeared in several Billy the Office Boy comedies starring Tammany Young. The first, Bill Joins the W.W.W. (1914) features Fay Tincher, Max Davidson, Edward Dillon, and Tod Browning! Later, Ray would take over the role of Bill in this series, which ran through 1915, and he also starred as Bobby the Newsie in several pictures for Reliance.

There follows a five year blackout period where Ray lacks film credits. It’s possible he went on the stage for a time in vaudeville, burlesque, musicals or melodrama (he’d had stage experience prior to Universal), or that he took some kind of offscreen production job. He returned to screen acting in 1920 although his roles were small and scanty for a few years. From 1925 to 1927 he worked steadily in comedies again for small independent studios, with Oliver Hardy, Billy West and others. (As Steve Massa points out in Lame Brains and Lunatics, the comedies with Hardy are interesting precursors to his work with Stan Laurel a few months later.) Ray directed some of his own shorts and then a couple of features in which he did not appear as an actor: Riley of the Rainbow Division with Creighton Hale, and Dugan of the Dugouts with Pauline Garon, both in 1928.

The coming of talkies forced a career reorientation, but Ray was able to keep working as an assistant director on B movies, most of them westerns with the likes of Tom Tyler, Tex Ritter, Hoot Gibson, Bob Steele, and others. The last theatrical feature he worked on was the really low budget The Flaming Urge (1953) with Harold Lloyd Jr. After that he worked in television through 1956.

For more on silent slapstick comedy please read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.