Today marks 100 years since the news broke about the infamous Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle scandal. Even if you’ve never seen an Arbuckle film (or aren’t too sure what the comedian even looked like), you’ve probably heard about his “wild Labor Day party” that took place in a San Francisco hotel back in 1921. While the exact sequence of events is rather mysterious to this day, actress Virginia Rappe became ill at the party and passed away a few days later. An autopsy determined the death was due to a ruptured bladder and the resulting infection. Arbuckle, who apparently had been alone with her when she first became ill, was accused of having assaulted her in some way that lead to her death. Several sensational trials later he was acquitted, but his career would never be the same. Nor, you could argue, would Hollywood.
I’ll be going into more detail about this case in a later post, so for now, here’s some trivia about the scandal. It just might contradict what you’ve often heard! My main source is Greg Merritt’s thoroughly-researched Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood. He did a fine job digging into the details of the case, and while it’s a bit melodramatic in spots and his theory on what actually happened in room 1219 isn’t super persuasive to me, it’s head and shoulders above other books on the scandal (like The Day the Laughter Stopped, which is basically a novel).
Good heavens, it’s been awhile since I published a new post. The reason? It’s a little boring, actually–I had two articles for Elsewhere due on the exact same day, so the research/writing for that ate up all my time. But the good news is, during that research/writing process I found a little gem from a 1926 Motion Picture Classic that you guys might get a kick out of. It’s an article called “Them Were the Happy Days,” described as “The first of a series of articles about the pioneer days of the motion picture–before it became a highly specialized industry.”
Now, keep in mind, these are reminisces about films that were made a little over a decade prior (the author keeps mentioning “1910,” but his stories seem to come from about 1910-1915). It’s like us reminiscing about the dear, old, long-forgotten days of The Dark Knight and Gran Torino.Continue reading →
Happy weekend everyone! In honor of Forgotten Comedians Month 2, I’m resharing this post from a few years back. I sure had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope you have fun reading it too!
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.
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 →
Haven’t done one of these posts in awhile! It’s time to poke through the ol’ antique fan magazines and see what they’ve been hiding for 90-100 years. Today, let’s focus on those artsy illustrations!
These charmers are from a two-page spread in the November 1923 issue of Motion Picture Magazine, called “Cut-Out Caricatures.” Well whaddaya know, this minimalist style just happens to be all the rage today:
So that’s Nita Naldi, Buster, Richard Barthelmess, Norma Talmadge, Mary, and Doug, respectively. Let’s not forget Bull Montana, because I almost did:
Whilst perusing old issues of Photoplay magazine, this little article caught my silent comedy-loving eye: “The Five Funniest Things In The World.” “Funniest Things” meaning “the top 5 gags guaranteed to make folks laugh.” Being written at the late date of 1918–and that is late, considering how fast screen comedy evolved–I knew it probably wouldn’t list banana peel gags or pie throwing. (I’d like to go back in time, stand in a room full of Edwardian film critics, say “CUSTARD PIE” and watch all the eyes roll.)
Hmm, so what were considered the funniest gags ever, from the viewpoint of our worldly-wise Photoplay writer Homer Croy?
While researching this month’s theme, I found a number of interesting or amusing newspaper clippings about “sheiks” that didn’t quite fit into my articles (or would’ve made them too long).
Or too weird. (Buffalo Courier, February 18, 1923.)
But since I like to share my joy, here’s a small collection covering various aspects of 1920s sheik culture. You might find these insights mighty similar to the public’s thoughts on flappers, too.
The use of “sheik” and “sheba” to describe hep teens seems to have grown in popularity very rapidly after the release of The Sheik in 1921 (as you know), and became a staple of contemporary slang until the early ’30s. Here’s an example from 1924–oh, those traffic-endangering young spooners! Continue reading →
Today let’s take a gander at Pictures and The Picturegoer, a British movie magazine that first came off the presses in 1911 and had a lengthy run until 1960 (it was eventually called just Picturegoer). The following cartoons, which filled in space at the editors’ whims, are all from October and November 1915 issues. They serve as fine opportunities for “humor archaeology”–in other words, trying to figure out what the heck they meant.
Here, for example, is “Film Titles Travestied.” Can you decipher it?
So you want to dress up as a flapper or a Prohibition-era gangster for Halloween!! (Don’t we all, at some point?) And you probably already have some visions in mind–a fringed dress paired with a feather boa, a pinstripe suit and white tie–something along those lines.
Don’t worry, even Hollywood with all its millions couldn’t get it right.
If you visit your nearest Halloween store, fringe and white ties are the only options you’ll find. Now, if that’s what you really want to wear, it’s your funer–I mean, it’s up to you. It’s okay, I will only judge you in the privacy of my mind (and only a little harshly). But if you want an authentic look that draws inspiration from the many real styles of the Jazz Age, then boy oh boy have I got some handy tips for you!! Continue reading →
So here’s a slightly baffling item from the quirky magazine Film Fun, which as you may recall is the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve decided that if Film Fun took human form, it would definitely be a starstruck teen with ADHD.
The June, 1926 issue included this two-page spread called “The Family Album.” Here’s the first page (rightclick and hit “open image in new tab” if you want to zoom in):
Which is all somewhat incomprehensible without context. Basically, stars posed for Victorian-style portraits meant to look like dead “relations” of yore, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, of course. Captions ramped up the fun by giving them old-fashioned sounding names like “Lulu Hicks” and “Hiram Bump.” Oh, you kids! Continue reading →