Not too long ago I read some delightful Facebook comments by a teacher who was talking about how she occasionally showed silent films to her high school class (I think it was high school….maybe it was middle school…hmm…anyways.). She shared a funny story about the way her students reacted to a viewing of One Week(no one saw that last gag coming!) and mentioned a couple other silent stars her class had really liked.
But the one star she couldn’t quite talk them into watching? Mary Pickford. Apparently, they were a little leery to take that step.
Fans of film history–rejoice! For in the Year of our Lord two thousand and seventeen, the library of essential early film books like The Parade’s Gone By and Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory has been expanded by Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy by film historian Steve Massa. It’s been my most anticipated book of the year, and as you can already tell, I was not disappointed.
Now that we’re a little over halfway through Comique Month, I wanted to pause and give a nod to mighty little Luke the dog, Roscoe Arbuckle’s canine sidekick and one of silent comedy’s most talented animal stars–to be precise, one of its most talented stuntanimals.
I wanted to wish a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Louise Fazenda, one of our great unsung comediennes!
And it wouldn’t be a birthday without a fabulous Art Deco cake:
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 →
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.
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 →
[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.
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.”
Contrary to popular lore she wasn’t technically the first movie star, but she certainly was one of the earliest. Continue reading →
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.
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 →