Happy 121st Birthday, Louise!

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

portrait-backlit - Copy

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

Image result for 1920s birthday 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

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Obscure Films: “Hearts and Flowers” (1919)

This is the final post for Forgotten Comedians Month. This past August was successful indeed–the heartiest of thanks to everyone who’s been following along these last few weeks! I’m sure Charlie Murray, Gale Henry, Musty Suffer, Charley Bowers, Louise Fazenda, and all the other forgotten folk appreciate it. (Oh, and Pimple. We mustn’t forget Pimple.) September’s looking mighty interesting, since in a matter of days a certain important film will be turning 100…

Are you in the mood for a short comedy?  Would you like to watch something that’s off the beaten track? Do you have a hankering to see pompous orchestra leaders, ladies in men’s clothing, bathing beauties playing ball, and flower girls rolling down hills? If so, Hearts and Flowers (1919) may be the short for you!

Hearts Flowers stars posed film fun '19

Film Fun, 1919.

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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

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

“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

Thoughts On “The Knockout” (1914)

If you’re already a big silent comedy fan, you might recognize The Knockout as being the one Keystone Walter Kerr used in his beloved book The Silent Clowns to illustrate how supposedly “unfunny” early Sennett films were. (And if you’re just starting to learn about silent comedy, I’m excited to be introducing you to The Knockout!) After describing the plot in some detail (“cowardice and belligerence alternate with indifferent logic through the balance of the twenty-minute film”), Kerr concludes with these observations: “It is probable that, except for an innovative detail here and there, the substance of this’plot’ doesn’t strike you as particularly funny. My point is that it isn’t, not through today’s eyes.”

So let it be written.

Walter Kerr, I love your book. The Silent Clowns is one of the most beautifully-written and thoughtful works of film criticism I’ve ever seen. You have inspired me, moved me, and made me think…but I think you’re wrong about The Knockout.  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

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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