Archive for the Stars of Slapstick Category

Tom Lewis: Worked with the Greats

Posted in Broadway, Comedy, Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2017 by travsd

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Tom Lewis (Thomas Lewis McGuire, 1867-1927) was born on May 17. Originally from New Brunswick, NJ, he was a comedian who played both in vaudeville and on Broadway, and later in silent films. He was in the original production of George M. Cohan’s Little Johnny Jones, and over a dozen other Broadway shows including The Passing Show of 1917, the original production of George S. Kaufman’s Helen of Troy, New York (1923), and the Ziegfeld Follies of 1924.

At the same time, he was a vaudeville staple. He was one of the fabled original ten to form the vaudeville union the White Rats.  Starting in 1912 he was teamed for a time with baseball player Turkey Mike Donlin in vaud. And he also played the Palace, the greatest vaudeville venue in the country.

Staring in 1920 he began appearing regularly in films, notably as Mr. Murphy in The Callahans and the Murphys with Marie Dressler and Polly Moran (1927), and as the first mate in Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.  

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

Walter Forde: The “British Harold Lloyd”

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2017 by travsd

April 21 is the natal day of British actor/ comedian/ director Walter Forde (Thomas Seymour Woolford, 1898-1984). Forde was the son of music hall comedian Tom Seymour, joining his father onstage as a child, where he learned to be an actor and physical comedian. In 1920, he wrote and starred in a series of British silent comedy two-reelers, playing a bungling character named “Walter”. The films were created in collaboration with his father, and Walter’s character often wore a straw boater and shared certain similarities in personality with Harold Lloyd. In 1923, Forde and his father tried their luck at Universal in the U.S. Forde only stayed a short time; Seymour remained in Hollywood. Forde went back to London and resumed the Walter series, directing several of them, and achieved even greater success in his home country. In 1928 he began directing features and phased out the Walter character by 1930.

Forde’s career as a director in the sound era is interesting, for it suggests a different path somebody like Lloyd might have gone down had they been so declined. Lloyd had co-directed many of his films; after retiring as an actor he produced a couple, but after that he pretty much left the business. What if he’d tried his hand at directing?  Among the slapstick comedy men, Forde’s post-silent career trajectory seems closest to somebody like George Stevens, who’d begun as cinematographer on Laurel and Hardy pictures, moved up to directing shorts for Hal Roach, and then moved up to feature film directing in all genres, not just comedy. Forde was a very different kind of director from Stevens, but like him, he was by no means restricted to screwball comedy; he also did work in other genres, especially mysteries, crime dramas, thrillers, etc. Two of his better known films today are The Ghost Train (1931 and later remade again by Forde in 1941) and Rome Express (1932). Much like Alfred Hitchcock, he worked in close collaboration with his wife Culley, a former continuity girl. In the post-war era he had difficulty getting films made; his last was Cardboard Cavalier (1949). He retired to Los Angeles for his net three and a half decades.

Many of his films, including some Walter comedies are available on Youtube; you should check ’em out!

For more on slapstick comedy don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc. For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Elise Cavanna: An Artist of Diverse Canvases

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Stars of Slapstick, VISUAL ART, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2017 by travsd

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AN ARTIST OF DIVERSE CANVASES. 

Today is the birthday of Elise Cavanna (Elise Seeds, 1902-1963).

Originally from Philadelphia, Cavanna took art classes at the Pennsylvania Academy before studying dance with Isadora Duncan. She performed in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1925 where she befriended both W.C. Fields and Louise Brooks, fortuitous connections in both cases. After appearing in her second and last Broadway show Morals (1925-26) with Mischa Auer, Wheeler Dryden, and Edward Van Sloan, she got a part in the Louise Brooks film Love ’em and Leave ’em (1926), and It’s the Old Army Game (1926) with both Fields and Brooks.

Fields relished Cavanna’s comic physicality. She was tall and thin, with crazy, long limbs, not worlds away from Charlotte Greenwood. He put her to great use in his classic shorts The Dentist (1932), The Pharmacist (1933) and The Barber Shop (1933), and she also has a bit part in You’re Telling Me (1934). Her appearances in the Fields comedies is what she is best remembered for today.

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Cavanna worked steadily throughout the 1930s, sometimes with minor speaking parts, more usually in bit roles. She is in short subjects with great comic stars like Ned Sparks and Walter Catlett, she has a small role in Wheeler and Woolsey’s Hips, Hips Hooray (1934), and she has a fairly decent part in I Met My Love Again (1938) with Joan Bennett and Henry Fonda. In 1939 she parted ways with the film business, although she did return on one occasion to take a walk-on in the movie Ziegfeld Follies (1945) for old times sake.

By then, she was deep into a completely different life. In 1932 Cavanna married Merle Armitage, a man who was at the center of the arts scene in Los Angeles. Armitage was a collector, arts patron, book designer, writer, publisher, and administrator with the WPA. From the time of her marriage, Cavanna’s social set became artists as opposed to the movie colony. She began to paint again, and exhibited her work professionally. This is what she looked like in her other life:

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For more on slapstick comedy don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc. For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Marie Mosquini: Leading Lady to Snub Pollard!

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2016 by travsd

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Maria Mosquini’s (1899-1983) birthday is today.

Lucky Los Angeles native Mosquini stepped right out of high school directly into roles in Hal Roach comedies. She started out in bit parts in Harold Lloyd’s “Lonesome Luke” series in 1917, later appearing in many of his “glasses” comedies as well. She’s also in some of Stan Laurel’s early solo pictures for Roach, like Just Rambling Along (1918) and Hustling for Health (1919). Mosquini usually had smaller parts in the Lloyd comedies, but she was generally the leading lady in her many pictures where Snub Pollard was the star, and she also appeared opposite other Roach stars like Will Rogers and Charley Chase. But she never quite broke out as a star in her own right, properly graduated to features, or made the transition to sound. In 1930, she married the talkie pioneer Lee De Forest and retired, remaining with him until his death in 1961. Occasionally she took walk-on roles through the 1930s, but mostly she was known as a Los Angeles socialite in her later years.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy, see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

Florence Lake: Squeaky Voiced Mrs. Kennedy

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Stars of Slapstick, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2016 by travsd

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LAKE OF THE SQUEAKY VOICE. 

Today is the birthday of Florence Lake (Florence Silverlake, 1904-1980). Lake started out in 1910 in a vaudeville act called “Family Affair” with her parents and her brother Arthur. Arthur was later to gain fame in the part of Dagwood Bumstead in the screen and radio versions of the comic strip Blondie.

Like Arthur, Florence had an extreme comic character with a high pitched voice that served her well in films. She began getting movie roles in 1929, initially appearing in film shorts with the likes of Smith and Dale and Clark and McCullough. But in 1931 she began appearing as Edgar Kennedy’s wife in his series of RKO comedy shorts, a part she was to play through his death in 1948, becoming her best known film role. Throughout that period she also appeared in shorts and features of all sorts as well, comedies, musicals, dramas and westerns. From the ’50s through 1976, she continued to be in demand as a recognizable bit player on both film and television, most regularly on the tv version of Lassie, as Jenny the telephone operator from 1954 through 1962. Her last credit is an episode of Emergency! 

To learn more about comedy film history don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc.

Johnny Arthur: More Than Mr. Hood

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Johnny Arthur (John Lennox Arthur Williams, 1883-1951).

The whining, whimpering, simpering Arthur is best known to classic comedy fans today for playing Darla’s father in several Our Gang shorts in the 1930s. By then he was mainly a supporting player, but in earlier years he had often starred in films, and not always comedies. Arthur’s character was often (even usually) swishy, effeminate types, often fussy clerks, but also hen-pecked husbands and even (in the Pre-Code era), implied homosexuals. His pencil neck, wispy mustache, and petulant manner all served him well in the characterization.

He’d been appearing onstage for nearly a quarter century when Roland West gave him a part in the now-lost science fiction feature The Unknown Purple (1923). In 1925, Arthur starred alongside Lon Chaney in West’s The Monster, as the hero, a young clerk who wants to be a detective, investigating a series of disappearances around a sanitarium. Later that year, he began to star in comedy shorts for Educational Pictures, most of them directed by Norman Taurog or Roscoe Arbuckle (under the pseudonym William Goodrich).

In the sound era he was a supporting player in features: you can see him in such classics as Dames (1934), The Ghost Walks (1934), and Crime and Punishment (1935). Films for Hal Roach included Our Relations (1936) with Laurel and Hardy, and several Our Gang Shorts.  He’s in Mae West’s Every Day’s a Holiday (1937), Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take it With You (1938), Hope and Crosby’s Road to Singapore (1940), the exceedingly weird all-star Li’l Abner (1940), and Fred Allen’s It’s in the Bag (1945). I am particularly intrigued by a 1943 Roach film called Nazty Nuisance, a satire on the Axis Powers in which he plays a stereotypical Japanese character by the name of Suki Yaki. His last credit was in the 1947 classic It Happened on Fifth Avenue, directed by Roy Del Ruth. 

He passed away four years later, an apparent pauper, and was buried on charity funds in an unmarked grave. Thanks to the generosity of fans, he finally got a headstone in 2012.

To learn more about comedy film history don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc. For still more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Gaylord Lloyd: Harold’s Lucky Brother

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2016 by travsd
Gaylord is the one on the right.

Gaylord is the one on the right.

It’s well known that Charlie Chaplin employed his brothers Sydney Chaplin and Wheeler Dryden on his films, and then later cast most of his children, and equally well known that Buster Keaton often cast his parents Joe and Myra and his sister Louise. It’s perhaps less well known that Harold Lloyd provided such employment for his older brother Gaylord (1888-1943).

Gaylord started out as a double for Harold and a bit player in 1919. This ability to double was especially useful in twin comedies like His Royal Slyness (1919). In 1921 he was tried in his own series of shorts, which was timely because Harold was about to up to features. But comedies like The Lucky Number and Dodge Your Debts didn’t set the world on fire, so Gaylord was moved back to supporting roles. By the late twenties he was working on his brother’s features behind the camera, as assistant director, location manager, and business manager. He died in 1943 at the age of 55.

To learn more about comedy film history don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc. For still more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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