Happy 121st Birthday, Louise!

I wanted to wish a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Louise Fazenda, one of our great unsung comediennes!

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And it wouldn’t be a birthday without a fabulous Art Deco cake:

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Shoot, the bakery left out the first “1”!

A veteran of Joker comedies who achieved fame as one of Mack Sennett’s Keystone regulars, Ms. Fazenda also had a long career as a character actress in the talkies. She was married to producer Hal B. Wallis for over thirty years. Although most sources say her birth year was 1895 (even contemporary magazines and newspapers), according to her birth certificate the year was actually 1896. I wrote a detailed article on her life here. (Featuring mah very own research! I’m hoping to pen a Louise biography, so if you have any information please contact me.) Continue reading

Bert Williams: Vaudeville Superstar

If you have even a passing interest in learning about vaudeville–that hugely influential form of entertainment that today’s pop culture wouldn’t be the same without–and indeed want to acquaint yourself with early stage shows in general, there’s one name in particular that you should know: Bert Williams.

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Oh yes, I can sense you raising your eyebrows right now–Williams (who himself was black) is in that cringeworthy blackface makeup, white gloves and all. This was how he appeared on the stage, and how audiences recognized him. But this man was much more than a dated makeup–this was a performer who transcended a stock character appearance by his sheer talent and charisma, and became one of the most successful performers of his time. A performer so beloved, that after his sudden death in 1922 from pneumonia over 5,000 fans filed past his casket.  Continue reading

My Top 5 Favorite Silent Stars

Hola! I’ve been out of town for a awhile but am back just in time for the Five Stars Blogathon hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe, celebrating National Classic Movie Day–my kind of holiday!

In true Silent-ology style, I decided to focus on my top 5 utmost favorites from the silent era, rather than film in general. So let’s count down to number 1: Continue reading

Georges Méliès: Pioneer Of Cinematic Spectacle

[His films] had a visual style as distinctive as Douanier Rousseau or Chagall, and a sense of fantasy, fun and nonsense whose exuberance is still infectious…. —David Robinson

His full name was Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès, and he was born on December 8, 1861 in beautiful Paris. His wealthy parents, Jean-Louis-Stanislas Méliès and Johannah-Catherine Schuering, owned a successful factory for high-quality boots. Their parents imagined that Georges and his older brothers Henri and Gaston would simply take over the family business one day. But little did they know that Georges would not only take up a cutting-edge industry they had never even imagined, but that he would attain global fame as one of its greatest pioneers.

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“The Biograph Girl”–The Career Of Early Star Florence Lawrence

For a long time the world knew her as “The Biograph Girl.” Family and friends knew her as “Flo.” And in time, fans would know her by her full, rhyming name, “Florence Lawrence.” And today we also tend to add this phrase–“The First Movie Star.”

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Contrary to popular lore she wasn’t technically the first movie star, but she certainly was one of the earliest. Continue reading

Forever Debonair: The Enduring Work Of Comedy Pioneer Max Linder

At first glance, he appears to be an actor from society dramas. He had perfectly creased trousers, well-shined shoes, a coat and tie, white gloves, and, most impressively of all, a high silk top hat brushed to a fine sheen. But then there’s those big, practically bulging eyes–eyes that could only belong to a comedian.

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These are the eyes of Max Linder, a film comedy pioneer that paved the way for all the great comedians of the silent era and beyond. If there’s a comedy routine you like, chances are Linder got there first. While he isn’t as well-known today as folks like Buster Keaton or Mabel Normand, Linder shares their aura of timelessness. All he needs is to be introduced to new audiences–for who today in this era of steampunk and all things vintage can resist comedies starring a dapper Edwardian gentleman with a tidy mustache and a top hat? Continue reading

Louise Fazenda, Comic Venus

I am pleased to present this (relatively brief!) look at the life and career of the underappreciated Louise Fazenda, one of our earliest and most popular female clowns. I am currently researching Louise in as much depth as I can for a possible book project, so if you or anyone you know has any info on her life and career, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Custard pies, a chase, a fall, mud, a fire hose, soup, a leak in the plumbing, innumerable lost garments, broken dishes, a slide on a cake of soap, mud in the hair, pie in the eyes, soup down the back, a fall into a lake, policemen, a cleaning up, a bucket of suds and a mop, a slavey with a round-eyed, utterly blank expression, a Mack Sennett comedy–Louise Fazenda.

–Allen Corliss, Photoplay

Long before Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett would earn their places in pop culture history, there were a number of comediennes who paved the way for them. The most famous of these was Mabel Normand, the irrepressible, winsome Keystone star. But not too far behind her was another irrepressible performer: Louise Fazenda.

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Many people today are at least familiar with the name of Mabel Normand, but how many are aware of Louise Fazenda? She was one of the most popular comediennes of the silent screen and one of the most familiar character actresses of the early talkie era, but she often gets no more than a passing mention even in film histories. And yet, she was one of the most well-known female clowns, and–as a bonus–was one of Hollywoodland’s most beloved and charitable individuals. Continue reading

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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