Hazel Howell’s Greatest Hits

We became curious about Hazel Howell (1898-1965) after enjoying her prominent turn in Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box (1932), her last proper screen role. Surprisingly, she was apparently no relation to Alice Howell. For a time she was married to vaudeville performer Ned Norworth — who was apparently no relation to Jack Norworth.

Howell was a Los Angeles native whose father ran a big fruit and nut ranch. In her late teens she went to New York, where she broke into legit theatre and vaudeville. In 1919, she returned to the west coast with a touring production of Vera Michelena’s Broadway hit Flo Flo. With some good stage credits under her belt, the following year she was cast in the screen version of George M. Cohan’s 45 Minutes from Broadway, third billed to Charles Ray and Dorothy Devore. A half dozen subsequent films followed through 1921: A Full House with Bryant Washburn, Fixed by George with Lee Moran and Eddie Lyons, Old Dad with Mildred Harris, Danger Valley with Neil Hart, Desperate Youth with J. Farrell MacDonald and Gladys Walton, and My Lady Friends with Carter DeHaven and Flora Parker.

At this stage (1921), she married nut comic Ned Norworth and toured vaudeville with him for a few years. It seems a curious choice given that she was doing quite well in films — all those we named were major productions featuring top stars. But she may have been dissatisfied with being relegated to supporting parts, generally about sixth in the billing. Some scraps about Norworth are known. He was also a songwriter, and one of his tunes, “Which Hazel?” was clearly inspired by his bride. Another of his tunes was “In a Covered Wagon with You”. He also had two screen credits: The Microbe (1919) with Viola Dana, and Hotel Variety (1933) with Hal Skelly and Olive Borden.

According to Lord Heath, Howell and Norworth divorced in early 1926 after he slapped her for bugging him before he had his morning coffee!

By this time Howell had returned to the screen, appearing opposite Oliver Hardy in Neptune’s Stepdaughter (1925). Among her 30 or so other screen credits are The Wheel (1925) with Margaret Livingston and Harrison Ford, John Ford’s The Fighting Heart (1925) with George O’Brien and Billie Dove, With Buffalo Bill on the U.P. Trail (1926) with Roy Stewart and Kathryn McGuire, the 1926 adaptation of Charles Hoyt’s A Trip to Chinatown, a couple of Earle Foxe comedies, What Every Girl Should Know (1927) with Patsy Ruth Miller, Spuds (1927) with Larry Semon, The Way of All Pants (1927) with Charley Chase, A Perfect Gentleman (1928) with Monty Banks, General Crack (1929) with John Barrymore, Studio Sap (1931) with Chester Conklin, God’s Gift to Women (1931) with Frank Fay, and The Nickle Nurser (1932) with Charley Chase, Thelma Todd and Billy Gilbert. After her funny bit in The Music Box, her only screen credit is as an extra in King Kong.

In 1933 Howell retired from acting and married Ygnacio Forster, who, like her father, was a wealthy California rancher. Prior to this Howell had been named as the correspondent in the divorce suit pressed by Forster’s previous wife, Margaret Marsh, sister of movie star Mae Marsh. She was married time to a man named Alphonse Burnand Jr. about three decades later. These again, from Lord Heath.

For more on vaudeville, 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.