The silent era boasted an incredible number of stars, from sweet ingenue types to “grotesque” comedians to dashing heroes. But not all stars were fashionable flappers or svelte sheiks–some were more on the…hairy side. Or even came on four legs. Yes, I’m talking about the animal stars–could you tell?–and there was a virtual zoo of them back in the day.
While I’d originally hoped to put out two more posts, this is going to be the last one for Forgotten Comedians Month 2–it needed a bit more care. I hope you enjoyed following along! It was fun to have a “round two” of this theme month, so maybe it could become a recurring series…? I’d be down, just sayin’!
If you’ve been lurking around Silent-ology for awhile, you might’ve found my little bio for an apparently random bit player named Joe Bordeaux (sometimes spelled “Bordeau”). Why did I decide to write about this obscure person? Well, there’s a story involved. And a quasi-drinking game, of my own invention. I’ll explain.
Pictured in cop garb on the far left: our subject.
Have you ever had an actor who grew on you? Someone you really didn’t care for at first, but who finally won you over? For me, it was a comedian you may or may not have heard of: Al St. John, nephew of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and a key player at the legendary Keystone Film Company.
Why didn’t I care for him? Well…
Let’s just say he was a little much. But only at first! …Let’s take a look. 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 →
Judy Canova, Minnie Pearl, Louise Fazenda, Gale Henry, Mabel Normand, Lucille Ball in those I Love Lucy episodes where she blacks out teeth and wears hillbilly clothes–all of these talented ladies had fun bringing “country bumpkin” characters to the screen. Some did it part time (like Mabel) while others turned their rube characters into a full time career (like Minnie).
And those pigtails, funny hats and gingham dresses have hollered “bumpkin” to us ever since. But how often do you hear about their direct ancestor, Sis Hopkins? This great-grandmother of movie hillbillies was the creation of comedy pioneer Rose Melville. Her Sis was a very familiar character to audiences, debuting in the 1890s and appearing regularly in theaters across America for two straight decades.
Here’s an interesting piece I’ve been wanting to share! It’s from a book called The Legend of Charlie Chaplin, compiled by Peter Haines. This is a collection of essays and interviews by Chaplin’s friends, fellow actors, and other contemporaries, recalling their experiences with him. They’re essentially reprints from hard-to-find publications, the dates ranging from the 1910s-1970s. And we’re talking pieces by greats like Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, Stan Laurel, etc. I can’t recall hearing anyone discuss this book–although I suppose it was printed back in the early ’80s–and I got it off Amazon a few years ago on a whim (where it’s still available at surprisingly reasonable prices, by the way).
Keep an eye out for it!
One of the pieces is an interview given by our Buster Keaton to the French magazine Arts in October 1952, during the time when Limelight (1952) was being publicized. It’s, err, clearly translated from French, which was already translated from English, resulting in an oddly formal tone for the salt-of-the-earth Buster. But here and there you can decipher a very Buster-ish phrase or two. Continue reading →
How many of you have gotten to meet a movie star? Not me–despite sightseeing in Hollywood several times now, I have yet to meet (or even glimpse) anyone who’s actually been in movies, naturally. (Not even while wandering Rodeo Drive and daringly deciding to use the bathroom in the Four Seasons hotel–I mean, where else would they be?!) But I guess that’s to be expected. After all, wealthy stars live in fancy gated communities, have top notch security, and go to exclusive restaurants and boutiques and such–no wonder they don’t brush elbows with us commoners very often.
Guess I’ll hang out in the Four Seasons’ lobby next time. Oh, darn.
Ah, but it wasn’t always that way–there was a time that you could brush elbows with a “picture star” at the corner store, or maybe see them walking home from the studio to their little flat just down the block. Want a good example of this more informal era of cinematic stardom? I’d recommend The Picture Idol (1912), one of my favorite light comedies from the genteel Vitagraph studio.
Here’s something a little different–a magazine interview with that famed authoress of Three Weeks, that chooser of “It” girls, that grand dame of romance herself–Elinor Glyn! I wrote a piece on Glyn and her famed novel awhile back, and it’s been one of my favorite “Personalities” articles ever since.
There was a time when Glyn was considered the expert in the “moonlight and magnolias” type of love–and happily marketed herself as such. She had hair dyed “Titian red,” was rumored to travel with a tiger skin rug, and apparently coached Valentino in his romantic scenes. If you aren’t too familiar with this romance novelist-turned-screenwriter, Gloria Swanson’s fantastic description pretty much says it all:
She took over Hollywood. She went everywhere and passed her fearsome verdicts on everything. “This is glamorous,” she would say. “This is hideous,” she would say, as she baby-stepped through this or that dining room or garden party. People moved aside for her as if she were a sorceress on fire or a giant sting ray.
It’s an unfortunate fact that many stars are known mainly for a scandal or unfortunate demise. A lifetime of triumph and failure, hard work and reward, love and struggle–all are scoured away the second topics like “mysterious death” or “addiction” enter the picture. The individual involved dwindles down to a name, a “character” from long-ago times.
A prime example is Wallace Reid, major leading man of the 1910s and early 1920s. As a performer, he’s known mainly to silent film buffs. As a name, he has the sad distinction of being the first major Hollywood star to die of a drug addiction. “Drug addiction”–what a sledgehammer of a phrase. Decades of scandals have unfortunately accustomed us to scandals in Hollywood, but back in the early ’20s Reid’s death truly shocked the world.
But before we cover the tragic aspect of his life–and it was truly a tragedy–let’s get to know “Wally,” the well-liked Renaissance man whose good looks are at home in any decade. Continue reading →