Hard to believe but my second little (literary) baby is now a tween! Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube was released ten years ago today, on March 28, 2013.
I timed the book for the centennial of Charlie Chaplin’s signing with Keystone, and it has been interesting experience marking all of the notable centennials since then and experiencing each benchmark in real time. A decade we are now reaching the point where the great comedians were coming into their own in features. Keaton’s first ones The Three Ages and Our Hospitality were released in 1923; so were Harold Lloyd’s iconic Safety Last (the one with the clock) and Why Worry? (the one with the giant); and Chaplin’s A Woman of Paris (1923). A decade prior to that, silent film comedy had been in its infancy.
Some happy benchmarks from over the past decade: a Chaplin screening I presented at the Brooklyn Lyceum in 2013 (one of the last events held there I believe); a Keaton presentation with Slate‘s Dana Stevens, author of Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century at the Way Station just before the pandemic (one of the last events there, too — I seem to close a lot of theatres!) The Harry Langdon symposium in Niles California that same year was especially rewarding, as was Jason Zinoman’s plug for the book in The New York Times (in connection with Stan Laurel, I believe). And I fondly recall my talk on Universal Founder Carl Laemmle at the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival. At present, I am about halfway through recording an audiobook version, and will hopefully have the opportunity to do a new round of events upon its release later this year. I also have some (still vague) ideas to observe two related upcoming centennials: the birth of Jerry Lewis (2026) and the teaming of Laurel and Hardy (2027). But that’s a long way off!
As it happens, this year also happens to be the centennial of the first radio variety shows, and the 75th anniversary of Ed Sullivan‘s and Milton Berle’s TV variety shows, so we have a new book forthcoming (in November) Vaudeville in Your Living Room: A Century of Radio and TV Variety, so that new baby will steal some focus from what is now the middle child! But I do hope you will check it out.
Meantime there are also hundreds of posts related to silent and slapstick comedy here on Travalanche. I thought I would take this opportunity to create a little finding aid for your surfing pleasure. Here are some notable posts:
In Which I Rank the Silent Comedians
How the French Invented Film Comedy
Charlie Chaplin section with over 100 posts on the comedian and his movies
Buster Keaton section, with over 60 posts about the comedian and his movies
On Harold Lloyd’s “Boy with the Glasses”
Harold Lloyd section with 3 dozen posts
How Laurel and Hardy became a Team
Laurel and Hardy section with 60 posts
It’s Time to Put Larry Semon Back on Top
Charley Chase and the Comedy of Embarrassment
Stars of Slapstick series, with nearly 400 posts about all the remaining silent and slapstick comedians and films
BUT, I caution you that you could read all of these posts, and still not have the experience of reading the book, which takes you on a journey from the clowns of ancient times all the way to the present day. The point is the continuum, hence the title. Comedy lovers, get yer happiness here!
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