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.

Image result for louise fazenda portrait

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

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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

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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Book Review: “Mabel Normand: The Life and Career of a Hollywood Madcap”

Decades before the likes of Lucille Ball, there was another comedienne who was every bit as well known and influential–the “madcap” Mabel Normand. She was one of the earliest screen comediennes, and for a time was the biggest. She coached Roscoe Arbuckle and directed Charlie Chaplin when they first arrived at Keystone. She was loved by moviegoers the world over. And yet, strangely, almost no books have been written about her. One “major” biography came out over 20 years ago, and…left a lot to be desired. (References and bibliographies are useful things.)

But cue the trumpets, for at long last a new biography is coming out, the result of seven years’ worth of research by author and enthusiastic fan Timothy Dean Lefler. It’s detailed, it’s sourced, it even has appendices. It gives Mabel the kind of thorough appreciation that’s been needed for decades. Is it, perhaps, definitive? Well, let’s take a look. Continue reading

“Splashes of Fun and Beauty”–Sennett’s Famous Bathing Beauties

If you’re ever having an earnest discussion about silent comedy (and who wouldn’t), there are a few topics that will often bring out a smile: fake mustaches, cream pies, satirical twirling of said fake mustaches, the Ton of Fun. And there’s one topic that always seems to make people smile: Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties.

Bathing beauties

Once considered mildly risquébut now considered surprisingly innocent, the playful, perky, mischievous girls popped up in Sennett’s comedies time and time again. Admittedly the plots would sometimes screech to a halt just for them, but at least half of the theater audiences were too appreciative to mind. Continue reading

Polly, Minta and Louise–Three Unsung Keystone Ladies

I’m excited to have a little bit of Keystone month coincide with the Anti-Damsel Blogathon, hosted by The Last Drive In and Movies Silently. This ‘thon is devoted to take-charge women of films, both in front of and behind the screen. And really, who could be more take-charge than the Keystone ladies? Thanks for reading, and I hope you take time to read more of the great posts this weekend!

Everyone has heard the name of the great Mabel Normand–the spunky, athletic gal with Gibson Girl looks and just a touch of wistful grace. Back in the early 1910s “Madcap Mabel” was arguably the Keystone Film Company’s breakout star. Even today, her name is synonymous with the comedy studio.

But Mabel wasn’t the only funny lady at Keystone. There were many gals who worked at the Fun Factory, and there were three in particular whose talents shined almost as bright as Mabel’s. They were fearless, smart, and funny performers–Keystone simply wouldn’t have been complete without them. Let’s shine some spotlights on the considerable talents of Polly Moran, Minta Durfee and Louise Fazenda. Continue reading

Fantabulous Ford Sterling

Back when I first started watching Keystones, one thing that threw me right away was the over-the-top “mugging” of some of the actors. Seeing adults hop around like cartoon characters and make faces that toddlers would consider beneath them was startling, to say the least. While the sheer old-timey-ness of it was admittedly glorious, it sure took some getting used to.

Charlie grimacing like ford

Geez, Charlie.

Probably the worst offender for me at first was the energetic young Al St. John. His grimaces and hyperactivity drove me crazy…

Al st. john goofy grin

Geez, Al.

…until I started getting more acquainted with him. After awhile I started to see that hey, he was a great acrobat and had a nice screen presence. And heck, his crazy style could be darn funny. Almost in spite of myself, I became a fan. And at one point I thought to myself, “Past Me wouldn’t have expected this, but I really like Al St. John now…however, if there’s anything on God’s green earth I do know…

“…it’s that I’ll never like that friggin’ Ford Sterling.”

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Thoughts On “Bangville Police”

If you are intent on becoming a Keystone Film Company afficionado, as most people are, am I right, an essential film to have under your belt is the cute and charming split-reeler Bangville Police (1913).

Bangville title

This might be the film that you most often hear associated with the Keystone Kops, even though it was made relatively early in Keystone’s history. In 1913, Sennett’s company was still getting its footing, although its popularity was beginning to skyrocket. Continue reading

Mack Sennett, King of Comedy

Today, August 3, is the 103rd anniversary of when Keystone was officially incorporated on paper. Let’s celebrate by examining the life of the laugh company’s founder, Mack Sennett!

[Edit: I’m proud to say that this is also my 100th post!  Woo-hoo!!]

Of all the bona fide legends of the silent film era–which include Eric von Stroheim, D.W. Griffith, George Méliès, Abel Gance, et al.–one of the most important  is comedy pioneer Mack Sennett. Most people recognize his name, but the man himself is a bit elusive. What’s the story behind this person whose studio produced over a 1,000 films back in the early days of Hollywood?

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Learning To Love The Keystone Film Company

Greetings and welcome to…KEYSTONE MONTH!! (There are simply not enough exclamation points.) Let’s get this extended tribute to the comedy company started with some background and historic context (two of my favorite things!). 

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