The Silent Comedy Mustache Hall Of Fame

Welcome, my friends, to the very first induction ceremony for our prestigious new Silent Comedy Mustache Hall of Fame! Some of the names of the following gentlemen may be familiar to you, while others have been obscured by the mists of time. But all have been judged worthy for one of the highest honors in all of screen comedy history: the eternal enshrinement of their contributions to pop culture within these sacred walls. I would like to thank the architect, Leopold Plumtree, for this magnificent structure, the first building of its kind to be shaped like a handlebar mustache.

Architectural model.

In the modern mind, film comedies of the early 20th century are associated with three dominant tropes: cream pies, banana peels, and fake mustaches. While the first two cliches were not as ubiquitous as society may believe, there certainly was a rich crop of crepe mustaches glorifying movie screens across the globe. For bearing the finest of these enrichments of celluloid mirth, we are pleased to honor the following inductees: Continue reading

The Quirky Charm of Charley Bowers

One of my absolute favorites among all the obscure comedians is Charley Bowers, a man once so thoroughly forgotten that it’s remarkable he was ever rediscovered. Were it not for the director of the Cinemathèque de Toulouse, Raymond Borde, who bought some old film cans from a carnival and noticed one marked “Bricolo,” we might not have Bowers’s work today. And what a darn shame that would be.

We would not, for instance, get to see eggs hatch into tiny Model T Fords, or broomstick ostriches dance to a Victrola, or pussy willow branches blossom into live pussy cats. We would miss out on gangs of thuggish oysters and singing, dancing drops of petroleum. The world would be a little less surreal.

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Obscure Films: “Shot In The Excitement” (1914)

There are some silent comedy shorts that are so of-their-time silly that you aren’t sure if a newbie could handle them. They’d probably think to themselves, “This is what silent comedy was like? Lots of grimacing and flailing around? Humor was, like, so primitive back then. And look at those special effects–why did they even bother before CGI?”

Um, CGI could never improve on Al St. John, for one thing.

What this newbie doesn’t know is that there’s more to these “primitive” comedies than meets the eye. Well, a little more, anyways. If you chuck aside your “21st century cynicism” glasses for about 15 minutes, you can have a delightful time experiencing the supreme Awesomeness of a short like Shot in the Excitement (1914). Allow me to give you a tour. Continue reading

Josie, Lige, “Pimple,” And Other Uber Obscure Silent Comedians

 

While many people are familiar with only a handful of big names, the world of silent comedy was a vast, dizzying hurricane of one- and two-reelers starring folk of every conceivable size, shape, and level of talent. A great many tried and a great many failed to win themselves a coveted spot on the “Beloved Performers Who Will Be Immortal” list.

…Well, Billy Dooley tried.

If you are a fan of silent comedy, you already know all those big names: Charlie, Buster, Harold, Mabel, Roscoe (not “Fatty,” mind you), and so on. If you are a buff, you probably also know Max, Lupino, Snub, Ford, and so on. And you also never to call Roscoe “Fatty.”

But what of all those other names? Who were some of the really obscure comedians from those far-off days when automobiles were finally catching on? Many of them are lucky if a handful of their shorts survive. But while the Immortals such as Charlie and Buster were certainly very popular back in the day, at one time these forgotten people had fanbases of their own (some smaller than others).  Continue reading

Hats Off To Charlie Murray

Among the ranks of the Forgotten Comedians there were many whose talents admittedly didn’t stand the test of time. They may have lacked charisma, or weren’t particularly unique, or maybe their films were uninspired. Their obscurity today is unfortunate, but understandable. But then there are others who were not only talented, but had personalities so colorful, so larger-than-life, that their obscurity is really almost inexplicable. Charlie Murray is one of these.


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Living Cartoons: 5 Silent “Grotesque” Comedians

We’re kicking off Forgotten Comedians month with a look at one of most memorable aspects of silent comedy–those wacky human oddities who made people laugh just by showing up onscreen.

They could’ve walked right out of the funny papers. They came in every conceivable shape and size: short and stubby, alarmingly tall, skinny as beanpoles or round as beach balls. They wore every kind of mismatched clothing: floppy shoes, enormous pants, tight coats, moth-eaten hats, and out of date dresses. If you touched their makeup, you’d probably leave a dent. Sometimes called “grotesque comedians” (an old-time term), these were people who specialized not just in acting funny, but in looking funny.

As Ben Turpin so richly demonstrates.

A few of the names might be familiar to you: Ford Sterling, Larry Semon, Al St. John. But come on, guys, they’re too easy. Let’s really dive into the nooks and crannies of ’10s and ’20s comedy. Who were some of the most outlandish and “out there” characters ever to inspire a cartoonist’s envy?  I invite you all to get acquainted with a few of the largely-forgotten names among the finest silent “grotesques”! Continue reading

Tiny Pennants, Satin Pillow Tops, And Other Early Movie Merchandise

Movie merchandise! Not only does it come in everything from smartphone cases to pajama pants, but in many cases it nets the studios more money than the films themselves. Global sales of Star Wars merchandise, for example, are tens of billions of dollars higher than the overall grosses of the films. (The Star Wars geek in me does not mind.)

While some licensing was done early on (Mickey Mouse comes to mind), the bloated merchandise juggernauts we’re familiar with weren’t really a “thing” until Star Wars: A New Hope. It kicked off the craze for action figures, lunch boxes, t-shirts, and so on to the point where Kenner had to issue IOUs for action figures in 1977. And Hollywood has never looked back.

“But weren’t Charlie Chaplin dolls a big thing back in the silent era?” you ask. While merchandising of popular characters and actors wasn’t done on the tremendous scale that it is today, there were various “novelties” that fans could collect in the ’10s and ’20s–often for only a few cents apiece. Continue reading

Fan Magazine Fun: More 1920s Fans Draw Their Favorite Stars

A little while ago I posted a page from 1925 Motion Picture Magazine that displayed entries in a “draw your favorite stars!” contest for kids. Looks like a previous issue (from April) had a contest for adults, too!

Fans draw stars contest mot pic mag Apr '25

I’m loving all of these, especially the slinky Colleen Moore. Nita is surprisingly modern (perhaps that’s fitting?) and Zasu is almost anime-inspired. You could say that the Zasu sketch nabbed the $10 prize because it was just a tad ahead of its time.

Hope everyone’s been having a great summer! I’m gearing up for next month right now–a theme month maaaay be in the works (my hints are the subtlest). It’s going to be a fun one, folks!

Thoughts On: “Synthetic Sin” (1929)

One of the most delightful things about watching a 1920s flapper film is that it’s always happy to confirm all your expectations about the Jazz Age…or the shined-up Hollywoodland Jazz Age, at any rate. The moment you pop in that DVD or plunk down in your seat in the (independent) theater, the bobbed hair, flasks, short-ish skirts, greased-back hair, Charleston dancing and snappy slang come roaring back to life. And what better way to revisit that exciting, “Ain’t We Got Fun?” era than with the vivacious Colleen Moore?

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