Eugenia Gilbert: The Mrs. in “Movie Night”

The screen career of Eugenia (sometimes Eugenie) Gilbert (1907-1978), coincided almost precisely with the decade of the 1920. (It’s an auspicious day for those with her surname; W.S. Gilbert was also born on November 18, as she was).

Victories in over a dozen beauty pageants led the New Jersey native to a role in the satirical anti-feminist comedy Paul’s Peril, produced by the short-lived American Lifeograph Company in 1920. The film presents a purported dystopia of the chaos caused by women doing jobs traditionally associated with men. The timing of the film is significant; the 19th amendment was ratified that year.

Through early 1923 Gilbert played supporting roles in features starring Pat O’Malley, Richard Talmadge and others. Starting in 1923 she began alternating her features work with appearances in Mack Sennett shorts, sometimes as a Bathing Girl, sometimes in proper supporting roles with the likes of Billy Bevan. Harry Langdon, Vernon Dent, Ralph Graves, Barney Hellum, Alice Day, including One Cylinder Love (1923), Picking Peaches (1924), His New Mamma (1924) and Feet of Mud (1924). During this period she was also one of the gazillion brides in Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances (1925). In 1926 she went over to Hal Roach where she got better roles opposite comedians like the pre-Hardy Stan Laurel and especially Charley Chase. She played the wife, for example, in one of Chase’s best remembered shorts Movie Night (1929).

In addition to her couple of dozen shorts, Gilbert was in about 40 feature films, most of them westerns with stars like Tom Tyler, Bob Custer, and Leo D. Maloney. Her last film was Courtin’ Wildcats (1929) starring Hoot Gibson. When talkies came in she returned to modeling and worked as a mannequin in fashion shows.

For more on classic comedy, see Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.