Archive for the Stars of Slapstick Category

Stars of Slapstick #224: Marie Mosquini

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

Stars of Slapstick #222: Johnny Arthur

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.

Stars of Slapstick #221: Gaylord Lloyd

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.

Stars of Slapstick #220: Alice Davenport

Posted in Broadway, Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Women with tags , , , , , , on February 29, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Alice Davenport (Alice Shepphard, 1864-1936). Born in New York, Alice went on the stage as a child and acted in stock and melodrama productions for decades. She was briefly married to stage and screen actor Harry Davenport, of a famous theatrical family (we’ll inevitably blog about them). Mr. Davenport is best known to modern audiences as Dr. Meade in Gone with the Wind. The couple had two daughters, Dorothy (who married Wallace Reid) and Ann.

She went into films in 1911. She worked for the Nestor and Horsely companies, before coming to Biograph in 1912 where she became part of Mack Sennett’s stock company in films like A Spanish Dilemma and Mabel’s Lovers. Sennett loved types, and Davenport was perfect for playing dowagers, mothers-in-law, and “battle-ax” wife characters. She stayed with him at Keystone, and she is a staple of many of Charlie Chaplin’s first films, and comedies starring Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Mack Swain and others. In 1919, she left Sennett to appear in Fox Sunshine comedies, although she does appear in Sennett’s Oh, Mabel Behave (1922). She has a bit part in the audience on Larry Semon’s The Show. Her regular film credits end in 1924. She returned to Broadway in 1929 and 1930, took one last role as an extra in the western The Dude Wrangler (her only talkie) and then retired. The prolific Davenport appeared in 140 films — many of them classics of silent comedy.

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.

Stars of Slapstick #218: Laura La Plante

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Westerns with tags , , , , , , on November 1, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Laura La Plante (1904-1996).

If we fudge a little in filing her under “Stars of Slapstick”, it’s not by much. She got her start in the movies (at the tender age of 15) in Bringing Up Father shorts (based on the comic strip) for the Christie Film Company, one of the minor comedy studios. Within months she had graduated to features at the majors. In the ’20s she was to star in many comedies opposite Reginald Denny, as well as westerns opposite Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson. In 1923, she was voted one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. In 1926 she married director William Seiter. The following year she made the film she is best remembered for today, the original (silent) version of The Cat and the Canary. Notable sound films included The King of Jazz (1930) with Paul Whiteman and God’s Gift to Women (1931) with Frank Fay. In 1934 she divorced Seiter and married producer Irving Asher, then moved to Britain where she worked in films through 1935. After she made a habndul of sporadic appearances through the mid 1950s.

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.

Stars of Slapstick #217: Jimmy Aubrey

Posted in British Music Hall, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on October 23, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Jimmy Aubrey (1887–1983).

The son of an American-born gymnast, Aubrey was born and raised in Lancashire, England. He got his start in music hall with Karno’s Speechless Comedians, where he worked with Syd and Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and many of the other physical comedians we have written about in these annals. He jumped ship in 1908 during an American tour, as Chaplin, Laurel and many others would later do. For several years he worked primarily in American vaudeville, and then in 1914 began to make comedy films. From 1914 through 1916 he starred as “Heinie” in a series of Starlight Comedies for the independent Mittenthal Film Company. Starting in 1916 he worked at Vitagraph with the likes of Hughie Mack, Larry Semon and Oliver Hardy. From 1919 through 1925 he starred in his own silent comedy shorts for a variety of studios with his trademark “double brush” mustache. Starting in the late 20’s he worked mostly as a comical supporting or bit player, working in hundreds of movies through 1953. He worked in every genre of film, and many of the films are classics (read the IMDB list here). About a quarter of his sound era work was in B movie westerns. Read a wonderful article about that work here.

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.

These Are the Female Silent Comedians

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Mabel Normand, Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Women with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2015 by travsd

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On Tuesdays and Thursdays in October, Turner Classic Movies will be presenting a series of programs called Trailblazing Women, hosted by none other than Ileana Douglas. 

This seemed an auspicious time for me to publish this little listicle I was planning anyway on the women of silent comedy. This is sort of a follow-up to my earlier post in which I ranked the silent comedians.  I thought up this post because dames necessarily got short shrift on the earlier list, which was focused on slapstick comedy stars. If we did such a list today, bang, zoom, no problem. Melissa McCarthy not only heads that list, but at the present moment she is my favorite contemporary slapstick star, male or female. I’m here to tell ya she has changed the entire playing field.

But a century ago, or 80 or 90 years ago? There were plenty of female comedy stars but it was rare for them to have violence done to them for all sorts of cultural reasons you already know. I’m not saying no lady ever took a pie in the face. It’s a question of ratio and proportion and what the primary associations are. The biggest female movie stars associated with comedies might best be called comic actresses (as opposed to slapstick clowns) and they may also have acted in many non-comic roles. That’s one type. Another type are the leading ladies to the major comedians. They definitely had an important role to play in the comedy, but their parts were generally more passive and reactive. They were beauties to be adored — not slobs to throw down the stairs. A third type would be the lady slapstick clown in an ensemble — important, but not a marquee name that would be above the title to sell a picture. And a fourth type would be a lady slapstick star for real….but not a major ticket-selling star (as were the artists who made that list I previously posted) But they deserve notice and celebration, so they get THIS list. There’s a lot of ’em. Probably more than you knew existed, and I didn’t even list them all.

I flirted with ranking them, but I can’t, really. So this is a just a list in no particular order (with some of the bigger ones toward the top). Click on her name and get info about the artist! (Oh yeah, I’m gonna make you work for it).

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Mabel Normand

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Constance Talmadge

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Gloria Swanson 

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Marion Davies

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Colleen Moore

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Edna Purviance

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Alice Howell

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Gale Henry

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Louise Fazenda

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Bebe Daniels

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Mildred Davis

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Jobyna Ralston

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Sybil Seeley

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Kathryn McGuire

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Marie Prevost

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Phyllis Haver

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Minta Durfee

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Flora Finch

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Alberta Vaughn

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Alice Lake

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Dorothy Devore

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Virginia Fox 

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Marion “Peanuts” Byron 

ca. 1920's --- Anita Garvin models pearl beaded outfit in front of large feather fan. Undated photograph. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Anita Garvin

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Dot Farley

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Madeline Hurlock

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Phyllis Allen 

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Dorothy Dwan

And many, many others, no doubt — but please don’t write to tell me “You forgot such and such!” or “Don’t forget X, Y and Z!”. Or (in spite of all my qualifiers and caveats) “So-and-so isn’t really a comedian.” You may have noticed by now I seldom publish or acknowledge such “contributions”. Feel free to start your own blog if you have an opinion you’d like to express!

For more on silent comedy please check out 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

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