Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mack Sennett's Fun Factory on Best Film Books of 2010!

Thanks to Thomas Gladysz for listing Mack Sennett's Fun Factory on his list of Best Film Books of 2010, alongside such names as Kevin Brownlow, Leonard Maltin and Scott Eyman!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Encinitas Silent Film Festival

This Saturday November 6 at 8pm, I'll be the guest speaker at the Encinitas Silent Film Festival, prior to the evening of Buster Keaton in SHERLOCK JR., THE PLAYHOUSE and BACK STAGE (with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle). I'll be discussing the local San Diego connections for a number of Mack Sennett and other silent comedians. Robert Israel will be accompanying the films!

It will be a great event, and takes place at the 1928 La Paloma Theater in Encinitas, which has an indirect Mack Sennett connection which I will explain Saturday:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cinecon 46 - Down on the Farm and book signings

I'll be at Cinecon signing and selling copies of Mack Sennett's Fun Factory outside the dealers room at the Hollywood Renaissance in the book-signing area on the following times/days: Thursday 9/2 @5pm, Friday 9/3 @12-noon and Saturday 9/4 @12-noon. I'll also be introducing the 1920 Mack Sennett feature DOWN ON THE FARM on Thursday at 8:55pm. Hope to see you there!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Charlie Chaplin in A Thief Catcher, and other rarities at Slapsticon

Each July brings the classic film festival that is—for me—the most eagerly anticipated of the year: Slapsticon, held in the Washington, DC area (Arlington, VA, to be exact). Slapsticon is an absolute must for anyone who loves silent and early sound comedy made roughly during the years 1900-1960 (but with a prime focus on the comics of the silent and early sound period). Every year at Slapsticon, there are some unbelievable rarities—both from archives, and from the personal inventories of film collectors.

Charlie Chaplin in A THIEF CATCHER.

The “rarities” factor of this year’s Slapsticon, however, took things to an unprecedented level with the “re-premiere” of an early 1914 Keystone comedy called A THIEF CATCHER (discovered by historian and producer Paul E. Gierucki—you can read the details here), which features a brief but assertive appearance by Charlie Chaplin as a Keystone cop. Gierucki’s 16mm print is of the circa 1918 reissue by the Tower Film Company entitled HIS REGULAR JOB. A THIEF CATCHER is a film that at one time (in the 1910’s to 1930’s) was mentioned as a possible title in Chaplin’s oeuvre. However, when authors began writing books about Chaplin, it disappeared from his filmography—no doubt because of confusion with a possible retitle of another lost Chaplin appearance in HER FRIEND THE BANDIT (a film reportedly reissued as “THE” THIEF CATCHER). As a result, the Slapsticon screening received much attention in the domestic and international press (including the BBC and Reuters), and the film lived up to all the “hype” as a quality early Keystone one-reeler, Chaplin or no Chaplin.

A THIEF CATCHER, first and foremost, is a showcase for its star Ford Sterling, who is a gifted and under-appreciated comedian. Sterling’s flourishes in the film—which include at one point getting his own fingers inextricably entwined as though they were imaginary “Chinese handcuffs”—had the audience howling. In the film, Sterling is a rural sheriff (or at least is wearing a sheriff’s badge—some subtitles may have been deleted from the reissue print that would explain his precise status) who ends up being held captive in a shack by a trio of what are described in the title as “yeggmen” (an old phrase for safecrackers or burglars). The first yeggman is played by a clean-shaven Mack Swain (in a newsboys cap and sweater). The second yeggman, who holds Sterling hostage by gunpoint in a shack, is Edgar Kennedy—sporting a thick black “Italian” mustache, enhanced eyebrows and a well-past-5:00 shadow of a beard. The third yeggman is played by Bill Hauber, but he is knocked down a hill before the arrival at the shack (Hauber later turns up as a cop).

When Charlie Chaplin arrives onscreen, there is very little doubt that it is indeed the famous graduate of Fred Karno’s music hall troupe (though Slapsticonian humor being what it is, Mr. Gierucki--after the screening--was greeted by many helpfully tongue-in-cheek confirmations that “it was definitely Billy West”). Wearing a slightly oversized policeman’s coat and a flat (rather than tall) hat, and wielding a billy club, Chaplin’s appearance and body movement is unmistakably unique to anyone having even the passing familiarity with his work. Chaplin is accompanied by a second cop, who is much taller, wears the tall “bobby” style hat often associated with (though not always sported by) Keystone cops, and large black pasted on eyebrows and mustache. (With the artificial facial applications, the second cop is difficult to recognize--I had initially thought he might be Dave “Andy” Anderson, but quickly retracted that belief.) Chaplin and the second cop trail Swain to the shack where Sterling is being held by Kennedy. Arriving and standing behind Swain, Chaplin begins a series of “Chaplin-esque” gestures: first stopping to hoist his belt, then putting his left hand up to the other cop to mime “I’ll handle this,” then shifting his billy club from his right hand to his left and using it to poke Swain in the stomach to get his attention. When Kennedy exits the shack to join his partner, Chaplin pushes Swain out of the way with his right hand to get to Kennedy, then punches Kennedy lightly on the should with the right hand while going into the familiar crouch and stances (neck tilted slightly foreward, legs apart) Chaplin assumed whenever he “meant business.”

Eventually, the rest of the Keystone cops (who were seen in the station earlier in the film) are summoned to subdue the yeggmen. Without a second or third viewing, it was difficult to see all the cop faces in the station scene. The chief at the desk was definitely someone I didn’t immediately recognize, though it may be someone under heavy makeup who I’d recognize with a little more study. Rube Miller definitely plays the only cop in the station with a flat hat (the others have the tall bobby style headwear), and Rube later leads a phalanx of cops to the shack. I believe I quickly spotted George Jeske among the cops in the station, and when the authorities arrive at the shack, Bill Hauber (who earlier had played the third yeggman) is definitely prominent among their ranks. Earlier in the film, there was a large middle-aged woman with dark hair who was seen beating a rug. Again, her identity merits further viewings—I had initially suspected Phyllis Allen, but that is too easy a conclusion to jump to without additional study.

Besides A THIEF CATCHER, a number of other Sennett offerings were shown Saturday morning during “The Sennett Spot,” which I introduced. Ford Sterling also went over very well with the audience (as did Charlie Murray) in the rare 1920 Sennett-Paramount DON’T WEAKEN. The crowd also loved the 1914 SHOT IN THE EXCITEMENT, with a rare Keystone lead role for Alice Howell (opposite Al St. John and Rube Miller). However, the film I was most anticipating—because I had not seen it before—was the 1926 Sennett-Pathe comedy FUNNYMOONERS, starring Ralph Graves, who is supported by Thelma Parr, Marvin Loback (in a travel pest role that slightly predated Billy Bevan in HOBOKEN TO HOLLYWOOD, and by many decades John Candy in PLANES,TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES), Vernon Dent and Sunshine Hart. In the film, Graves is continually rebuffed as a suitor for Thelma by her father William McCall, who then arranges her to be sent to a girls school to get her away from Graves. Ralph dons drag to impersonate the school chaperone escorting Thelma to the school. Their plan seems to work, until Ralph agrees to give Loback a ride. His presence not only destroys Ralphs’ car, but any attempts by eloping Ralph and Thelma to finalize their wedding vows.

Watching FUNNYMOONERS for the first time, I was able to add some character roles for actors who were mentioned in scenario files for the film, but without roles specified. Louise Carver plays the real school chaperone “Miss Simpkins,” and Joe Young appears briefly as a motorist. Barney Hellum, listed as being cast in the film, is not seen in this print. Additionally, I spotted Billy Gilbert as a hotel proprietor, and Martin Kinney (the strange-looking undertaker-esque performer of Ham & Bud and Triangle Comedies) in a rare Sennett appearance as a deputy of sheriff Vernon Dent.

Among the many Slapsticon films which should be noted from a Sennett standpoint was GENTS OF LEISURE, a 1930 Paramount Phil Ryan talkie two-reeler starring Chester Conklin and Vernon Dent, and directed by Del Lord. Chester and Vernon play two hoboes who are very similar to the ones played by Billy Bevan and Andy Clyde in several films for Lord in 1926. In fact, Lord—who never met a successful visual gag he could reuse in future comedies, including those starring the Three Stooges—reaches back to those Bevan-Clyde films for several gags. At the beginning, in a gag brought forth from WHISPERING WHISKERS (1926), Conklin and Dent are sleeping side by side on railroad tracks. A train approaches, and each man quickly rolls out of the way of the locomotive in opposite directions. Later, on the run from a cop, Conklin and Dent enter a barn and don a cowsuit, as had been done in previous Lord comedies like BLACK OXFORDS and WANDERING WILLIES (and the Sennett talkie THE BEE’S BUZZ).

On the Monday after Slapsticon, I viewed a number of films at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Among them were THE MAN NEXT DOOR (1913), the earliest surviving appearance by the Keystone cops (who are played in the film by Bill Hauber, Charles Avery, Dave Anderson. Ford Sterling runs afoul of gun-toting neighbor Nick Cogley when he is caught with Nick’s wife Dot Farley (who I had mistakenly identified as Ford’s wife in my book). I also saw LITTLE BILLY’S CITY COUSIN (1914), a Keystone kiddies entry in which Matty Roubert and Gordon Griffith play two country boys who become rivals when Little Billy’s (Paul Jacobs) attractive female city cousin arrives for a visit.

I also watched a 1913 Rex comedy entitled THE WIDOW AND THE WIDOWER, starring Wilfred Lucas and Lucille Ward (both shortly to join Keystone). I recognized that one billed member of the cast, Chance Ward, is the actor who plays the rich man to whose house Mabel Normand makes a delivery in the Keystone THE RIOT (1913). Chance Ward, with mustache and hat, can also be seen as a pool player in a still from Keystone's A GAME OF POOL (1913). I had never seen Chance Ward's name associated with Keystone before recognizing him in this film.

Most interesting of these Library of Congress films were two of Sennett’s “Woodley Specials”—special films made specifically for exhibition at Sennett’s own Woodley Theater in downtown Los Angeles, and not a part of his regular release schedule. Most of them were made in 1917 under the direction of Eddie Cline, though there were no credits on the original titles. Each film was approximately 5 minutes. The first was a title I knew about: WOODLEY SPECIAL presents “THE KEYSTONE GIRLS OPEN THE TROUT SEASON.” In it a gaggle of Sennett girls, including Juanita Hansen, Mary Thurman, Phyllis Haver, Ethel Teare, Maude Wayne, Vera Reynolds and Myrtle Lind, are seen fishing with poles in a mountain stream. No doubt owing to the temperature of the water, they are uncharacteristically not wearing bathing suits, but instead wading outfits which do not show much skin. Alice Davenport is on hand as the girls’ chaperone.

F. Richard Jones in the Sennett commissary.

More of an eye-opener to me was WOODLEY SPECIAL presents “WHAT HAPPENED TO MRS. JONES”, a Woodley title of which I was not previously aware. The Mrs. Jones of the title who visits the studio with her daughter Dicky is actually the first wife of Keystone/Sennett director Mrs. F. Richard Jones—Carol Jones (What happened to Mrs Jones?--well, she and Dick Jones would soon divorce, then he had a second brief marriage, followed by his third marriage to Sennett girl and future Hollywood costume designer Irene Lentz—who survived him after his untimely death). “Dicky” is the Jones’ daughter Dickey Carol Jones, who was less than a year old when this film was made. Mrs. Jones and Dicky arrive at the studio entrance, where a guard (probably the "Mr. Walker" who Sennett mentioned in his autobiography) stands watch and a number of Keystone employees are seen going in and out. We see Sennett girls wearing island costumes that look like those in the two Billy Armstrong-starred comedies A SHANGHAIED JONAH and HULA HULA LAND, which means this was likely filmed in April or May 1917. Dickey is placed in a carriage towed by a dog, which then chases another dog, with Mrs. Jones in pursuit. The Sennett cyclorama figures into this sequence. We also see Polly Moran entertaining her co-workers with a monologue (which of course we cannot hear, this being a silent film). All in all, WHAT HAPPENED TO MRS. JONES is one of the more interesting candid films associated with the Sennett studio, and features some revealing “behind the scenes at the studio” shots.

Besides the films, Slapsticon is valuable as a meeting place for an international quorum of comedy film historians, authors, researchers, preservationists, collectors, documentary and dvd producers and fans. Besides the “usual suspects” who I’m happy to see every year (many of whom can also be found on forums such as Silent Comedy Mafia), I was also delighted to make the acquaintance of many first time attendees. Among these were Hilde D'haeyere, who came all the way from Belgium and is doing extensive research on the subject of Sennett-Color. In fact, Hilde taught me a number of details about Sennett-Color, not the least of which was that I was mistaken in thinking it was based on two-strip Technicolor. Instead, it was closer to Multicolor or Cinecolor, and indeed did include genuine blue in its color palette. As a matter of fact, armed with this information, I put two and two together and realized that William T. Crespinel—who founded Cinecolor in 1932—actually worked as a Sennett cinematographer as early as 1929, so it is possible that he had a hand in Sennett Color as well. I eagerly await Hilde’s research on the subject to tell us all more! It was also a pleasure to meet Andrew Scholl, who came all the way from Australia, and has been doing extensive research on the graduates of Australia’s seminal Pollard Opera Company, who include Snub Pollard, Alf Goulding, Daphne Pollard and Billy Bevan. I was also very glad to make the acquaintance of Trav S.D., author of a book I really enjoyed and which is highly recommended: No Applause--Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous. Now the hard part is waiting another 11+ months to do it all again at Slapsticon 2011—hope to see you there! (In the meantime, keep up to date on the planning and schedule at the Slapsticon website).

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Crossroads of New York - archive footage surfaces!

David Kiehn, author of the excellent Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company, has identified an archival holding of the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin on the Lost Films website as being from the Sennett feature THE CROSSROADS OF NEW YORK. He is absolutely correct, and I added some additional identifications to the site.

THE CROSSROADS OF NEW YORK was previously believed lost, so this 215m of red-orange tinted 35mm footage is quite a find. With the surfacing of a new Chaplin title (A THIEF CATCHER), the cache of films from New Zealand and other discoveries, 2010 is turning out to be quite a year for "new" silent films!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Rare Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle films shown in Los Angeles June 9, 2010

This Wednesday, June 9th at 8pm, I'll be introducing some rare 1914 Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle Keystone comedies from the Library of Congress, ZIP THE DODGER and an excerpt from FATTY'S WINE PARTY, along with MABEL'S WILFUL WAY and another Arbuckle Keystone TBA at the Cinefamily (at the legendary Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax). The shorts will be shown before the rare Marion Davies feature THE CARDBOARD LOVER (also from LOC), which will be introduced by Hugh Munro Neely. This is a very rare opportunity to see these LOC-preserved films shown in Southern California.

Previously unknown Charlie Chaplin appearance unearthed!

It was always believed that Charlie Chaplin appeared in 35 films for Mack Sennett's Keystone studios during 1914. However, nearly 100 years later, a 36th film has been discovered. Chaplin makes a brief appearances as a Keystone cop in A THIEF CATCHER, released February 19, 1914, but filmed between January 5 and 26, 1914. It was made after MAKING A LIVING, and Chaplin's bit would have been filmed sometime during or after Chaplin's filming of KID AUTO RACES AT VENICE, CAL. (filmed January 10) and MABEL'S STRANGE PREDICAMENT (filmed January 6 to 12). The discovery was made by Paul E. Gierucki, and the film will be shown at Slapsticon in Arlington, VA (July 15-18, 2010). You can read more in this article by Scott Eyman in the Palm Beach Post and on the Slapsticon website which contains a press release.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Leonard Maltin's review of Mack Sennett's Fun Factory

Leonard Maltin has reviewed Mack Sennett's Fun Factory on his website. I am truly appreciative, and beyond that it is a real honor to me, since Leonard wrote several of the books (Movie Comedy Teams, The Great Movie Shorts, etc.) that quenched my thirst for information when I was first delving into the world of early film comedy, and inspired me to start researching and writing about the subject myself.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Review of Mack Sennett's Factory on the World of Charley Chase

Yair Solan's The World of Charley Chase is one of the longest-running (14 years and counting) and best websites dedicated to film history and comedians--and it is without a doubt the best web portal for information on the great Hal Roach comedian Charley "Chase" Parrott,  who got his start at Keystone in 1914. I am very grateful to Yair for posting a review of Mack Sennett's Fun Factory on his site.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Paul "Little Billy" Jacobs - 1910-2004

 At the time of writing Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory, I wasn’t able to ascertain the current status or whereabouts of Keystone kid komedy star Paul “Little Billy” Jacobs. I knew that he was born July 31, 1910, in Laclede, Idaho, and that he was alive at the time of the film of Richard Attenborough’s 1992 film CHAPLIN, at which time Chaplin biographer David Robinson brought him to the set. However, I could find no likely death index matches under the name Paul Jacobs, so I held out for the possibility that he might still be alive (after all, his father Dr. Joseph Jacobs lived to 94 and continued practicing medicine in Los Angeles longer than any other physician up to that time).

However, I recently learned from Mr. Robinson that in his later years Paul Jacobs went by the name “William James,” and lived in Glendale, California. Armed with that new information, I discovered that a William H. James with a matching birthday (July 31, 1910) died in Glendale on September 29, 2004. He lived to the same age his father had—94 years.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Betsy Ann Hisle

Last month's issue of Classic Images contained a fascinating article by J. Philip Hysell called “Betsy Ann Hisle: Finding a Lost Player” (Classic Images No. 417, March 2010). In it, Hysell reveals a lot of details about this obscure child performer which he gathered through detailed genealogical research. He even tracked down Hisle's daughter, who still had a "resume" of film appearances which Betsy Ann (real name: Juanita) kept. On that list are three Mack Sennett Comedies from 1924-25.

Using the photographs accompanying the article, I can confirm that indeed Betsy Ann Hisle did appear in very small parts in these three films. In THE HOLLYWOOD KID (1924) (which incorporated scenes from an unfinished short entitled ROUGH AND READY), Betsy plays the older of two daughters of Charlie Murray and Louise Carver. In the Harry Langdon-starred ALL NIGHT LONG (1924), she is one of the three children of Harry and Natalie Kingston who are seen at the very end of the film (she is mostly seen from the back, though there are brief shots of her face). And most interestingly, in REMEMBER WHEN? (1925) Betsy Ann Hisle appears to be playing Harry Langdon as a boy (wearing male drag) at the beginning and during a brief flashback in the middle of the film.

Not long after this brief work at the Sennett studio, Betsy Ann Hisle appeared in a number of high profile silent features such as BEAU GESTE, THE WAY OF ALL FLESH and SORRELL AND SON. Thanks to Mr. Hysell's excellent work, we can also now add her to the ranks of Mack Sennett performers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Leo Sulky in Laurel and Hardy films

In the biography section of Mack Sennett's Fun Factory, I include some previously unidentified credits by some Mack Sennett performers in Laurel and Hardy comedies. I've shared these--as well as some other previously uncredited L&H appearances by other performers--with my good friend Randy Skretvedt, who is currently working on a greatly-expanded edition of his standard-bearing book "Laurel and Hardy: the Magic Behind the Movies" which should be coming out soon. (This link is to the second edition--the most recent version now in print; however, with all the additional details and information Randy is adding to the book, his third edition is going to be well worth the wait!) However, I did want to give some details here about one particular Sennett alum who pops up in a number of shorts and features starring Stan and Babe.

First of all, it is important to note that many of the performers who appeared in Laurel and Hardy's classic Hal Roach comedies had previously worked in Keystone or Mack Sennett Comedies. Among them were Stan and Babe's arch-nemesis James Finlayson, who had originally made his name as a slippery Sennett villain. The "ever popular" Mae Busch and her SONS OF THE DESERT "brother" Charley Chase were originally teamed in a series of 1915 Keystone Comedies. Chase, then Charles Parrott, had once worked in the vaudeville troupe of fellow 1915 Keystone actor Harry Bernard--the same Harry Bernard who later became a reliable L&H player. Edgar Kennedy started at Keystone in 1913, and Thelma Hill, Blanche Payson and Bobby Dunn also gained their original fame while working for Sennett years prior to their brushes with L&H.

Among the other L&H supporters with Sennett pedigrees include Eddie Baker, Wilfred Lucas, Charlotte Mineau, Madeline Hurlock, Isabelle Keith (Isobel Keep in her Sennett bathing girl days), Otto Fries, Silas Wilcox, Pat Harmon, Sam Lufkin, Art Rowlands, Leo Willis, Kewpie Morgan and (of course) Ben Turpin, just to name a few. Even Noah Young, it has recently come to light (see my previous blog posting on the subject), started at Keystone in 1916 before his Roach days.

Another performer who made the transition from Sennett to Roach (and to Laurel and Hardy comedies), was Leo Sulky (1874-1957). Originally a Chicago-based vaudevillian (appearing in Alice Howell's CINDERELLA CINDERS two-reeler, shot in that city before he moved west), Sulky appeared in many Sennett comedies of 1924-1927, starring Harry Langdon, Billy Bevan, Alice Day, Ralph Graves, Ben Turpin, and others. For instance, in Langdon's BOOBS IN THE WOOD, he has two roles--as a poker dealer and a mean bar patron called Tough Mike. He plays a Kentucky sheriff in THE IRON NAG with Billy Bevan, and was frequently cast in officious roles.

After seeing Sulky in dozens of Sennett comedies, I began spotting him--with his distinctive moon face and light eyes that were almost transparent--in comedies by other filmmakers (including Fox Sunshine and the Weiss Brothers), as well as feature films of the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's. Since many of these were "face bits", and he did not speak dialog, Leo often did not receive credit in casting directories. Thus, a relative handful of his film appearances were documented, and only a fraction of his credits appear on

Among the features in which I've spotted Leo Sulky are SVENGALI (1931) with John Barrymore (as a Moroccan waiter), THE MOUTHPIECE (1932) with Warren William (where he is a courtroom extra), the Preston Sturges-scribed THE POWER AND THE GLORY (1933) (as a strike leader during a montage sequence), the second version of THE MALTESE FALCON, SATAN MET A LADY (1936) (as a bartender) and the Jack Benny-Fred Allen vehicle IT'S IN THE BAG (1945) (as an elevator extra).

I also began spotting Sulky in a number of Hal Roach comedies of the late 1920's and early 1930's, featuring Charley Chase, Our Gang Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts, the Taxi Boys. and Laurel and Hardy. However, if your are a devotee of Stan and Babe, you can be forgiven if his name doesn't ring a bell. Leo Sulky has previously only been identified as a courtroom extra in the feature OUR RELATIONS (1936). However, I've spotted him in a number of others, silent and sound, including at least two where he appears in stills but not the final release.

Here are the L&H Leo Sulky appearances I've discovered to date:

LOVE 'EM AND WEEP (1927): Leo plays the mustachioed maitre 'd at the Pink Pup, who sniffs Stan's breath upon arrival (seen here with Mae Busch).

HABEAS CORPUS (1928): Leo Sulky can be seen as a detective in a still from a deleted sequence (also involving Richard Carle) which appears on p. 131 of the original edition of Randy Skretvedt's book. This scene does not appear in the final film, not does Sulky.

THE HOOSEGOW (1929): Leo Sulky appears as a prison guard standing next to Tiny Sandford when Stan and Ollie arrive at the facility via paddy wagon, just before Tiny goes over to confront the boys (who've received apples to use as a signal for a jailbreak attempt).

PARDON US (1931): Two years after THE HOOSEGOW, Leo Sulky almost made a second appearance as a prison guard opposite L&H, in the boys' first feature film. However, this sequence was edited or reshot--as in the final film Stan and Ollie sit at the mess table on their own, and Sulky is not seen. However, they are later approached by another guard, Tiny Sandford--who'd previously played a guard with Sulky in THE HOOSEGOW.

BEAU HUNKS (1931): Leo Sulky played two different extra parts in L&H's four-reel featurette. In the first role, he is a Legionnaire at screen right of the Fort Arid commander (Broderick O'Farrell) after the visit by the Riff-Raff chief, and before Stan and Ollie arrive at the gates through a sandstorm.

Leo Sulky shows up a bit later in BEAU HUNKS, this time as a "riff" soldier standing behind the Riff-Raff chief (director James W. Horne) after he gives the command "onward," to attack the fort.

OUR RELATIONS (1936) : Finally, there is Leo Sulky's appearance in the one Laurel and Hardy film for which he's been previously credited. He plays the courtroom extra in the feature, sitting in the second row nearest the door where Mrs. Laurel and Mrs. Hardy (Betty Healy and Daphne Pollard) make their entrance.

Leo Sulky continued doing face bits and dress extra work into the 1950's, when he appeared at several Mack Sennett Alumni Association gatherings prior to his death in 1957. Below, Leo dons Keystone Cops gear with James Finalyson, Mack Sennett and others at the 1950 Mack Sennett alumni reunion in Simi Valley, California. Mack Sennett sits in the chair. Above him, left to right, are Charles Lynch, Max Asher, Hank Mann, Vera Steadman, Leo Sulky, James Finalyson (dressed in his Sennett villain guise) and Charles "Heinie" Conklin.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thomas Gladysz - San Francisco Silent Movie Examiner - book review

A big thanks to Thomas Gladysz for his review of Mack Sennett's Fun Factory at San Francisco Silent Film Examiner!

Plus, Mr. Gladysz just added an interesting post on his Louise Brooks Society blog regarding the overlap of people who worked with both Mack Sennett and Louise Brooks.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Helen “Ollie” Carlyle: Keystone’s Saucy Maid had Pioneering California Bloodlines

In this scene from the Keystone two-reeler THAT LITTLE BAND OF GOLD (1915), Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle—newly married to Mabel Normand—still can't resist temptation to flirt with his maid. However, when he's caught by his mother-in-law (Alice Davenport), he tries to put the blame on the innocent servant girl.

The actress playing the maid in this film is someone whose identity was revealed for the first time in Mack Sennett's Fun Factory: Ollie Carlyle, also known as Helen Carlyle and Helen Hellman. She appears in at least 17 Keystone comedies made from December 1914 to July 31, 1915, and in almost half of those (8) she plays a maid. Often (though not in the above film) her character is a bit saucy and an instigator in flirtation, and also given to bouts of good-natured laughter. Her largest role is as Arbuckle’s leading lady in WHEN LOVE TOOK WINGS (1915) (seen below, with Frank Hayes as her father), which features a payoff gag in which Arbuckle—after much trouble fighting off several rivals—is finally successful in eloping with his sweetheart. However, immediately after the ceremony, he discovers that she is is actually bald and wearing a wig.

In Kemp Niver’s book Early Motion Pictures, he credited this actress as Estelle Allen. Allen was actually a fairly popular dramatic actress of the period, who was playing leading woman parts in the Kay Bee and Broncho productions of Thomas Ince at the same time this actress was playing much smaller roles in Keystone comedies. She is definitely not Estelle Allen (bearing little resemblance other than long, dark locks), and Allen is not believed to have ever worked at Keystone.

My breakthrough in identifying the correct name of the “maid” actress came when I was looking through the March 24, 1915 and April 9 1915, issues of the trade publication Photoplayers’ Weekly, which mentioned that the actress in Arbuckle’s WHEN LOVE TOOK WINGS was named Ollie Carlyle. For the sake of the film's payoff gag, Carlyle is wearing a skull cap over her real hair, with a wig on top of that—giving her a slightly different appearance and hairline than normal (as seen in the screen shots immediately above and below). However, despite that, she is easily identified as the same “maid” actress who appeared in the other Keystone productions.

I also discovered that Hampton Del Ruth, Keystone’s scenario editor at the time, had been married in the 1910’s to an actress named Helen Carlyle, who appeared in Keystone comedies. Helen Carlyle died at age 40 of a stomach disorder on June 30, 1933. Her wire service obituaries mentioned that she had appeared in small parts in several films of then-recent vintage, and that she was the former wife of Hampton Del Ruth. Her obituaries (such as one that appeared in the Oakland Tribune on July 4, 1933) also stated “Miss Carlyle began her screen career in the old Keystone comedy days, appearing with the late Mabel Normand and Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle.” Her Los Angeles Times obituary, also July 4, offered a bigger clue to her real identity when it stated, “Miss Carlyle, a native of Los Angeles and a member of the pioneer Hellman family...” Her July 5 obituary in the Modesto (CA) News-Herald also affirmed her as, “A member of a pioneer Southern California family, the Hellmans; she used the name Carlyle for her screen appearances.”

The Hellman family was one of the most important founding families in Los Angeles. Isaias W. Hellman formed the city’s first successful lending organization, the Farmers & Merchants Bank. He lent the money for Harrison Gray Otis to develop the Los Angeles Times, made investments to such important figures as Henry Huntington and Edward Doheny (responsible for major developments in oil, gas, electricity and railroads in the area), and was also instrumental in funding the continued development of San Francisco via his stewardship of the Wells Fargo Bank. The history and legacy of I.W. Hellman and his family is chronicled in an excellent book called Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California by Frances Dinkelspiel (the great-great granddaughter of I.W. Hellman).

Helen “Ollie” Carlyle was the granddaughter of Isaias W. Hellman's cousin, Isaiah Moses Hellman, who served as Los Angeles’ City Treasurer in the 1870s. Helen's father, Marco Hellman, was born to I.M. and Caroline Hellman in 1870. Marco, however, appears to have been the “black sheep” of the Hellman family. In fact, an October 30, 1894, L.A. Times article actually called him “the black sheep of the name.” While the other members of the Hellman family defined industriousness, Marco—still in his early twenties—was frequently brought into court on various charges of fraud and embezzlement (some involving a failed semi-professional baseball league he had operated). Confusingly, there were several other Marco Hellmans in the family—including Marco I.W. Hellman Jr. (son of I.W.) and Marco H. Hellman (the son of I.W.'s also-influential brother Herman W. Hellman)—who followed in their fathers' successful financial footsteps. These other Marco Hellmans complained about their good names being besmirched because of constantly being mistaken for their similarly-named black sheep relation. However, any mistaken identity issues would end on February 22, 1895, when—with legal and financial woes mounting—Marco Hellman took his own life by gunshot.

Helen Hellman had been born in Los Angeles on October 15, 1892, slightly more than two years before her birth father's suicide. Her mother was Ethel Jane Thompson, born in June 1874, in Kentucky. If and when Marco and Ethel married cannot be verified. However, in 1894 Ethel Thompson did marry Adam C. Dartt (sometimes spelled Dart), who was in the oil business. (In the 1903 incorporation for the Standard Lime Company, the five directors include A.C. Dartt and two men named H.P. and R.C. Thompson, who were likely related to Ethel Jane.) In the 1900 census for A.C. and Ethel Dart, there are three children, all born in California but with their father’s birthplace given as Canada (which was the birthplace of A.C. Dartt) and their mother’s as Kentucky. The children were Mildred (born April 1894), Ollie (born October 1896) and Clemon (born February 1899). However, Ollie Dart was in reality Helen Hellman—born four years earlier in 1892, but with her information “fudged” to make her appear the product of her mother’s second marriage to the Canadian-born Dartt. However, all subsequent census entries for Helen/Ollie would correctly show her father’s birthplace as that of Marco Hellman’s—California. (Older sister Mildred was also the daughter of Marco and Ethel, and appears to have actually been born in 1891.) Clemon Dartt, the son of A.C. and Ethel, died in 1901; in 1902 that couple added another daughter named Margaret Dartt.

Shortly thereafter, the oil business led the Dartt family to relocate to Kern County, California. In Kern County, Helen had a child named Donald K. Dively, on June 25, 1909. She and the father, Richard Dively, married in Tulare County on December 4, 1909. By the time of the 1910 census in May, however, Helen Dively and her son Donald were living with sister Mildred Allen (a married name) in Malibu, though her information shows Helen as still married (Helen’s mother, stepfather and sister Margaret were still living in Kern County).

The 1900 census had provided the first evidence of Helen being referred to as “Ollie,” the name by which she was referred in the Photoplayers’ Weekly. However, in the 1915, Los Angeles City Directory, there is an Olive Carlyle, “photo player” (the standard city directory designation for film actor or actress as a profession) living with Mrs. Ethel Dart at 498 California St. It is possible that Helen’s middle name was Olive, with “Ollie” as a nickname. The origin of "Carlyle" as a stage/film name cannot be traced.

Helen/Ollie reportedly began her screen career in 1913, though her death certificate suggest that she entered the theatrical profession (probably on stage) circa 1903. I could not find a divorce date for Helen and Richard Dively, nor a marriage date for Helen and Hampton Del Ruth. Thus, I am not certain whether she met Hampton at Keystone, after which they married; or whether they met and married prior her work at Keystone. However, it makes the most sense that Helen started acting at Keystone, then met Hampton, and retired from acting after marriage in the summer of 1915 (when she disappears from Keystone films—such as FATTY'S CHANCE ACQUAINTANCE, pictured, where she's flanked by Billie Bennett, who thinks Helen/Ollie has stolen her purse, and Billie Walsh). By 1916, Hampton Del Ruth had become the production manager at Keystone. Two years later, he left for Fox Sunshine, where he would shortly take over for Henry Lehrman as the director general of that comedy studio (while also giving the first of many directorial assignments to his younger brother Roy Del Ruth, who had been a scenario writer at Keystone).

In the January, 1920, census, Hampton (age 31) and Helen (age 26) Del Ruth were living at 1618 Hobart in Los Angeles, with Hampton’s mother Theresa, and Helen’s son Donald, her mother Ethel, her sisters Margaret Dartt and Mildred Wells, and Mildred’s daughter Frances. However, Hampton and Helen divorced shortly afterward, prior to Hampton Del Ruth marrying actress Alta Allen on November 25, 1920.

Sometime in the 1920’s, after the divorce, Helen Carlyle (as she was known at that point) returned to acting on the stage. In 1928, she was appearing in an Oakland, California production of “Admiral Crichton,” which starred Robert Warwick. In the April 13, 1930 census, Helen Hellman (the first time her birth name appeared in a census) was living at 366 N. Van Ness in Los Angeles, with her sister Margaret Dartt. Son Donald, now 20, was not living with them.

In the early 1930’s, Helen Carlyle appeared in such films as MODELS AND WIVES, a 1931 Universal two-reeler starring Charlie Murray and George Sidney, and FORGOTTEN COMMANDMENTS—a 1932 Paramount feature starring Gene Raymond. Helen Carlyle did her last film work in April 1932, after which she began suffering the effects of ulcerative colitis, which would cause her death on June 30, 1933 at Hollywood Hospital. Prior to hospitalization, Helen Carlyle had been residing at 1628 Argyle in Hollywood with her sister Margaret Dartt. She was buried in an unmarked grave at Hollywood Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever).

Though hardly a significant performer in the annals of Keystone (appearing in about a dozen and a half shorts over a 6 month period, with only one known performance as “leading lady") Helen “Ollie” Carlyle displayed enough charm and charisma in her brief appearances which make her worthy of being remembered. Additionally, her blood relation to one of Los Angeles’ most influential pioneer families made her unique—in a time when actors (and particularly “picture people”) were looked down upon by high society.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mack Sennett's Fun Factory on TCM and Laughsmith sites

Mack Sennett's Fun Factory is honored to have received a recommendation from Laughsmith Entertainment, and is also mentioned in the Movie News on the Turner Classic Movies website.

Laughsmith Entertainment, of course, are the stellar folks who have given us several of the greatest DVD releases of the past several years--Industrial Strength Keaton and The Forgotten Films of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (the latter of which is unfortunately, for the time being, out of print), and their documentary Stooges: the Men Behind the Mayhem. All are highly recommended.

And Turner Classic Movies should need no introduction for anyone who loves the steady flow of timeless motion pictures they've been streaming over cable, dish, FIOS, DVD, On Demand and any other communication portal (short of ham radio and radar) for the past 16 years and counting.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Survival of Films Often Depends Upon Who Distributed Them - the Film Preservation Blogathon

When studying the survival rate of silent films, a curious pattern begins to emerge: success often equals failure, while failure often equals success. The “success” in this equation refers to the ability of a motion picture studio to weather all the changes, obstacles and competition thrown its way during the fledgling decades of the 1910’s and 1920’s, to survive into the 1930’s and beyond. “Failure” refers to the chances that films made by that same studio may or may not still exist.

Simply put, movie studios that continued to exist as an entity—and thus hold onto the copyrights of their films and the prints and master materials—often did not value their back catalog until it was too late. Universal Pictures—which was founded 100 years ago in 1910 by Carl Laemmle as the Independent Motion Picture Company (IMP)—dumped most of its silent films in the ocean. The majority of Universal silent features that survive today exist only because film collectors saved 16mm Universal “Show at Home” prints of those films. Paramount similarly disposed of many of their silents, and Fox lost virtually all of theirs in a 1937 New Jersey fire.

By contrast, film companies that went out of business during that same period often had their bones picked by scavenging opportunists, who reissued their films to theaters and downsized them to smaller gauges such as 16mm, 9.5mm and 28mm for home and non-theatrical use.  Though nitrate 35mm prints from major and minor studios, surviving and not-surviving companies, have been known to turn up (particularly in “end of the distribution line” outposts, where prints that were supposed to be returned to the distributor languished)—the bulk of the films released in non-theatrical gauges were produced by entities that no longer existed.

The silent films produced by Mack Sennett bear witness to this pattern. From 1912 to 1917, Sennett produced nearly 650 Keystone Comedies, distributed by the Mutual and Triangle organizations. All three of the companies in this equation—Keystone, Mutual and Triangle—had ceased to exist as functioning organizations by 1920. Many Keystone Comedies were reissued in the late 1910’s by companies such as W.H. Productions, Tower Productions and Keystone-Eagle Films. Many more Keystones reissues followed in the 1920’s and beyond (particularly those featuring Charlie Chaplin), and many of the films were subsequently issued in home gauges—with no one around to enforce their copyrights.

Actually, Mack Sennett and his bosses at the New York Motion Picture Company did not even begin copyrighting their films until late 1914 (in response to the bootlegging activities of film pirates). Ironically, when Sennett did begin copyrighting his films, he also submitted paper prints to the Library of Congress—even though this copyright requirement had ended in 1912. As a result, thanks to these paper prints, nearly every 1915 Keystone-Mutual survives today. Because of these prints, and the films that were reissued without legal challenge, around 300 Keystones survive today in one form or another.

Contrast this with the films Mack Sennett produced during the years 1917 to 1921 for his next distributor, Paramount Pictures—an entity which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in about two years. During this period, Sennett made 78 two-reelers for Paramount, which were sold back to Paramount at the end of Sennett’s contract. Most of them were likely later dumped into the sea by Paramount with its other silents. Paramount still owned the copyright, but if it couldn’t be bothered to preserve “more prestigious” feature films produced by the company itself, it certainly wasn’t going to doing anything with “lowly” two-reel comedies from an outside producer.

As a result, Mack Sennett’s Paramount era is his period with the worst survival rate. Maybe slightly more than a dozen of these 78 films survive today, many only in partial increments. Charles Tarbox is to be credited with saving a number of these (most of which came from a small handful of Sennett-Paramounts that were reissued in 1923) and releasing them in 16mm and 8mm through his company Film Classic Exchange. Others survive in film archives, though not all have been preserved. For instance, a nitrate 35mm print of the second reel (the first reel is not known to exist) of UP IN ALF’S PLACE—a wild 1919 comedy featuring Charlie Murray, James Finlayson, Kalla Pasha and Ben Turpin, which sends up cloak and dagger secret societies and Bolsheviks—exists at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, but is still awaiting a transfer to safety film.

Sennett followed his Paramount tenure by distributing through First National, a company that later merged with Warner Brothers. Unlike Paramount, Warner Brothers was active enough with the Sennett material to reissue footage from Sennett’s 17 two-reelers and several features owned by the company in a series of Vitaphone two-reelers in the 1940’s. These Vitaphone reissues constitute much of the extant material from this 1921-22 Sennett period (in addition to a few complete prints, mostly again courtesy Charles Tarbox).

From 1923 to 1929, Sennett distributed his final silent two-reelers through the Pathé Exchange—one of several companies that were an offshoot of the original French organization founded by Charles Pathé. Though the American Pathé company ceased to be an operating entity by the early 1930’s (excepting its newsreel brand, had been sold off as a separate entity), most of Mack Sennett’s Pathé comedies were issued for home and non-theatrical use under such labels as Pathé Baby, Pathéx and Pathéscope (many of them in 9.5mm)—whether in complete prints or excerpts. This has resulted in a survival rate of about 70% of Sennett’s 210 two-reelers for the company.

Pathé was also the distributor for Sennett’s chief rival Hal Roach, from 1915 to 1927, and the similarly good survival rate of Roach’s comedies from this period is owed to Pathé’s reissues and home releases. However, once Roach switched his distribution to the more powerful (and successful) M-G-M in 1927, survival rates of Roach silents drop. One of the major “holy grails” of lost silent comedy is the 1927 Hal Roach two-reeler HATS OFF—the only film starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy that is not known to survive. Pointedly, the film was released by M-G-M. Though a 1940’s catalog for a 16mm rental library lists HATS OFF among the available films, one can’t help but speculate that—had the film been distributed only a few months earlier by Pathé rather than M-G-M—HATS OFF might have a much stronger chance for survival (given Pathé’s more active role in home and non-theatrical distribution, and the resulting better chance for a stray print to be discovered).

Though comedic short subjects are often treated as second-class citizens to feature films in the battle for preservation, their unrelenting popularity with general audiences over the years—and the fact that many were produced by independent studios, through distribution channels that no longer exist—has resulted in their surviving at least in “home” gauges, if not 35mm.

But even Charlie Chaplin—the best known film performer of his generation—has at least one missing film in his oeuvre. The 1914 Keystone comedy HER FRIEND THE BANDIT still has not resurfaced in any form, though it was known to have been reissued several times (until such titles as MABEL’S FLIRTATION and THE THIEF CATCHER). For those intrepid explorers who are bravely and nobly embarking on the trail of lost films, I offer a possible clue. In 1978, one of the largest troves of nitrate films ever discovered were unearthed in the foundation of a swimming pool in Dawson City, Yukon. With this in mind, take a look at this August 25, 1916 announcement of a showing of HER FRIEND THE BANDIT—a full two years after its 1914 release—in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Might this print—which was being exhibited a full year after Keystone was no longer working with the film’s distributor, Mutual—have wound up in another pile of landfill buried beneath frozen tunda? Maybe not, but we can dream.

However, you don’t need to take a pick and shovel to Alaska (or the Yukon) to preserve our film heritage. You can do a lot more by contributing money to save the films that already exist—like that orphan reel of UP IN ALF’S PLACE—but haven’t yet been preserved due to a lack of funding. Do your part now by making a donation to the National Film Preservation Foundation. You can read more articles related to this week's Film Preservation Blogathon by visiting Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films.

The National Film Preservation Foundation is the independent, nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America’s film heritage. They work directly with archives to rescue endangered films that will not survive without public support.

The NFPF will give away 4 DVD sets as thank-you gifts to blogathon donors chosen in a random drawing: Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934 and Treasures IV: American Avant Garde Film, 1947-1986.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Noah Young at Keystone

his still from the 1916 Keystone THE VILLAGE BLACKSMITH appears on page 73 of Mack Sennett's Fun Factory. In the caption below it, I credit the film's star Hank Mann (right), Gonda Durand (center) and Tom Kennedy at the left. From my research sources, I knew Tom Kennedy was credited with playing the blacksmith in the film. And I listed Kennedy with some trepidation, as it did not look like Kennedy to me--however, I thought it might just be a weird angle.

However, my two learned comedy colleagues, Richard Roberts and Steve Rydzewski, each (independently) corrected me with their recognization that it is actually Noah Young--the strongman comedian best known for his work at Hal Roach Studios, particularly in the comedies of Harold Lloyd. In fact, Noah Young worked almost exclusively at Roach from 1918 until 1935, with only a few exceptions. After Richard first mentioned it to me, I could have kicked myself. I had seen Noah many times over many years, and by all rights should have recognized him. However, I was perhaps blinded to the fact that Young might have worked at Keystone prior to Roach. I had never seen him mentioned in any association with Mack Sennett or Keystone.

However, a quick look at his background puts it all into logical perspective. Noah Young was a record-setting weightlifter who competed for the Los Angeles Athletic Club, in the years prior to THE VILLAGE BLACKSMITH being filmed in January 1916. Mack Sennett resided at LAAC during this period, and hired many of the athletic club's boxers, swimmers and high-divers to work in his films, as performers and stunt men and women. On August 5-6, 1915, at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco (where MABEL AND FATTY VIEWING THE WORLD'S FAIR IN SAN FRANCISCO had been filmed five months earlier), Young broke two weightlifting records and captured first place in all five events in which he competed.

From there, he must have been hired by Mack Sennett. Though he appears to be playing a blacksmith in this still, it is not clear if he, in fact, replaced Tom Kennedy in the chief blacksmith role, or if perhaps Young plays a second blacksmith--perhaps a smaller role in which he had a chance to demonstrate his strength. Since the film is not known to exist, it is also unconfirmed as to whether Young actually ended up in the final release print. However, by mid-March, when the film was released, it had been announced that Noah Young had joined a circus--meaning his stay at Keystone was relatively brief. Though Young had much coverage in the Los Angeles Times from 1914 to 1916 for his LAAC weightlifting exploits, this circus announcement marked his last appearance in that paper until March 1918, making it likely that--between that time--Noah travelled the country performing his feats of strength under the big top and was not in Los Angeles.

Shortly after returning to Los Angeles in March 1918, where he re-established the Los Angeles Athletic Club as his training base of operations, Young began to appear in the comedies of Harold Lloyd. These one-reelers, such as THE NON-STOP KID and KICKING THE GERM OUT OF GERMANY, had always been believed to have been Noah Young's film debut. However, thanks to the eagle eyes of Richard Roberts and Steve Rydzewski, we now know that he may very well have made his first movie two years earlier--at Keystone.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Updates and Corrections

This blog was created, in part, to serve as a place to make updates, additions and corrections to details in Mack Sennett's Fun Factory when new information comes to light. Here is the first such installment:

1) MR. BRAGG, A FUGITIVE - cast additions
MR. BRAGG, A FUGITIVE (released on October 2, 1911), was one of Mack Sennett’s early directorial efforts for Biograph. At the time my book was completed, I had not been able to locate any prints or stills that would enable me to identify any cast members. Thus, it was listed with cast as "unknown" on p. 259 of the filmography.

However, my “silent comedy mafia” compatriots Steve Massa and Ben Model (curators of many great comedy film programs at New York’s Museum of Modern Art) recently viewed a rediscovered print of MR. BRAGG, A FUGITIVE at MOMA, and Steve reports that the cast includes Fred Mace, Vivian Prescott, Tony O'Sullivan, Dell Henderson and Donald Crisp. Thanks Steve and Ben!

2) Mabel Normand as director of MABEL’S LATEST PRANK, MABEL’S BLUNDER and HELLO MABEL
MABEL’S LATEST PRANK, MABEL’S BLUNDER and HELLO MABEL are three Mabel Normand-starred Keystone one-reelers which were filmed between late July and early September, 1914. As I explain in the introduction to the filmography, I largely used two primary sources for director credits for Keystone-Mutual comedies: 1) the New York Motion Picture Company negative record, and 2) the Keystone releases list. At the same time, I tried to avoid using any Keystone director’s credits from “American Film Index, 1908-1915,” which are wildly inaccurate with regard to Keystone films (something also covered in detail in the filmography introduction) and unfortunately still the source for many Keystone credits that appear on and other websites. However, the two primary Keystone sources for director’s credits are largely blank for the last half of the year 1914, leaving many of these directorial credits open to conjecture.

In my book, I use braces {} around any credits that were speculative, and in the cases of MABEL’S LATEST PRANK, MABEL’S BLUNDER and HELLO MABEL (on pp. 300-301), I speculatively credited them to Mack Sennett as director. This was based on the fact that the negative record did credit Sennett for the Mabel–starred films just before and after this trio (Mabel had directed herself earlier in the year, up until April). However, Mabel Normand historian and authority Marilyn Slater – who created and maintains the Looking for Mabel Normand website – reminded me of the fact that Mack Sennett was in New York attempting to sell TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE during much of late July to early September. DUring this same time, trades such as Motography (August 29, 1914) and Moving Picture World (September 19, 1914) refer to Mabel Normand directing again, without providing any specific titles. But it was during this period that these three films were made.

So while the director’s credits for MABEL’S LATEST PRANK, MABEL’S BLUNDER and HELLO MABEL are still officially speculative (pending the discovery of primary source data to concretely confirm it), it is most likely that Mabel Normand did direct these three films, rather than Mack Sennett. Also, in the filmography entry for MABEL’S BLUNDER, the character, played speculatively by Helen Carruthers, was mislabeled as “Mabel’s Friend” when it instead should have read “Harry’s Sister.” And, I should add here that MABEL’S BLUNDER was recently selected to The National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, alongside 524 other important films.

3) Biography Section
Two updates - the bio for Irene Lentz (p. 522) states that she was in Paris for a couple of years, but it was actually a couple of months. And in the bio for Ben Turpin (p. 551), it says he died at age 65, but it should have said that he died at age 70. At the time I originally wrote the Turpin biography, his widely-believed birth year was 1874. Then my pal Steve Rydzewski wrote his outstanding multi-part article on Ben Turpin in the great Slapstick! Magazine (which Steve himself founded and edited) in which he revealed that Ben was actually born 5 years earlier in 1869. At that point I updated Ben’s birth year in my bio, but neglected to update the age he died.

4) Photo Captions
Lastly, a pair of last minute identifications on photo captions yielded some misspellings. In the caption on p. 98, Bert Roach’s first name was misspelled “Bery,” and on p. 112 Charlotte Mineau’s last name came out “Minear.”

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Article on former Keystone Cop Robert Cox

Cheryl Lanning and Lon Davis interviewed and wrote an article on Robert Cox--one of the men who claimed status as "last of the Keystone Cops" in the 1970's--before he died in 1974. Cox lived in Phoenix, and the article originally appeared in Arizona magazine.

Cheryl and Lon have updated the article, and it is now posted on Silents Are Golden. It's a valuable peek into the life of a person who worked in and around the early motion picture industry.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sennett/Keystone Edendale Studio for Lease

I'm not sure what this means for its future, but a friend alerted me to a Craigslist item (dated 1/27) advertising the former Sennett studio as a potential charter school:

"Site of the former Mack Sennett Keystone Studios, the first film studio in Los Angeles. Last used as Center Theatre Group's prop and stage production facility. 30,000 sf, 24 foot clear ceilings, 60 foot clear span. Great potential for use as a Charter School. Up to 300 cars of parking. 2 freeway onramp and off ramp for Silver Lake and Echo Park. Close to 101. Clear shot to downtown LA. 2 miles from 5 freeway."

In the 1990's, the remaining stage from the Sennett studio was saved and incorporated into a Public Storage facility, with adjoining buildings added. Apparently, however, that is no more. It links to a page which states that the entire campus (4 buildings) is is for rent/lease for $10,000/mo.

This page mentions its possible use as a production facility or recording studio. It certainly would be fitting for the place to return to its original use as a production studio. Hopefully this is not a harbinger of anything bad in terms of the life of the Sennett stage.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Happy 130th Birthday, Mack Sennett!

Mack Sennett was born 130 years ago today: January 17, 1880, in Richmond, Quebec, Canada, under the name Michael Sinnott. And 100 years ago today, he was celebrating the second anniversary of his joining the Biograph Company.

Prior to that, Sennett had been on Broadway, as a chorus boy and then a small part actor (supporting Arnold Daly, then John Barrymore, in "The Boys of Company B"). But he also did some work as a model, as is evident in several postcards that emanate from this period. At least two different postcards use this shot of Mack and an unknown woman in a western themed pose. One version of the postcard appears in Mack Sennett's Fun Factory, showing the two against a white backdrop with the woman sitting on a barrel (in it, Mack is given the fictitious name of “Stanley Brady”). Here is a different postcard (courtesy Bob Birchard) that uses a hand-tinted variation on that same photo. However in this version, the barrel was artistically replaced with a bench, and a log cabin scene drawn behind the duo.

I’m still trying to determine the exact year Sennett posed for this photo, but I’m guessing it was in the period of 1905-1909. I’d love to hear from anyone who has a different version of this postcard (besides the one in my book) or any other similar photos Sennett might have posed for during this period. I'm also wondering if anyone recognizes the female model in this shot, and even the possibility that she might have been an actress who also worked for Biograph (if it was taken during the last two years of my estimated period).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Harold Lloyd in a Previously Unidentified Keystone Appearance

Mack Sennett's Fun Factory contains many new credits for performers in Keystone and Sennett films who were previously unidentified and are being identified for the first time. Among them is previously undocumented Keystone credit for Harold Lloyd, which I discovered several years ago when watching the early Keystone-Triangle two-reeler HER PAINTED HERO, starring Broadway comedian Hale Hamilton and also featuring Keystone mainstays Polly Moran and Charlie Murray.

Harold Lloyd’s first documentable appearance at Keystone came in LOVE, LOOT AND CRASH, which began production on Thursday, April 1, 1915. HER PAINTED HERO, though not released until November 21, 1915. was actually filmed between May 13 and June 30, 1915, and was the second Triangle Keystone to go into production (Mack Sennett began produced his earliest big-budget comedies for Triangle in May, while simultaneously producing his final lower-budgeted comedies to fulfill his Mutual contract until August of that year).

Georges D’Acunto, in issue number 7 of Slapstick! Magazine (circa 2002), wrote about Harold Lloyd’s appearance as a cook in another Keystone-Triangle three-reeler, A SUBMARINE PIRATE starring Syd Chaplin, the first time Lloyd's name had been mentioned in conjunction with a Triangle Keystone appearance.

Though released December 26, 1915, A SUBMARINE PIRATE went into production before HER PAINTED HERO, on Wednesday, May 5, 1915. However, delays in production (caused largely by several injuries, and snafus associated with filming on water) resulted in the film taking over five months to complete. However, it is likely Lloyd appeared in both films during May, prior to completing his final Mutual Keystone appearance (COURT HOUSE CROOKS) on May 26, 1915. (All beginning and ending dates for the filming of Keystones from late 1912 until early 1917, from the Keystone negative record, appear in each individual filmography title entry in Mack Sennett's Fun Factory.) At that point, Lloyd returned to work for Hal Roach at Rolin, and began production on his first “Lonesome Luke” comedy which was released July 31, 1915.

In HER PAINTED HERO, Lloyd plays a minister who arrives at a mansion (in reality A.G. Schlosser’s Castle San Souci, the same location used in TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE and several other Sennett films) to preside over a wedding. This was actually the second time Lloyd had played a minister at Keystone—ther first time had been in THEIR SOCIAL SPLASH, made the previous month.

HER PAINTED HERO was available in 16mm and 8mm for many years from Blackhawk Films. The following captures are not from the best quality print, but you can see Harold arriving on the steps of the mansion, and being greeted by homeowner Harry Booker, just after Booker has taken a fall.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Rogue Cinema Book Review

Many thanks to James L. Neibaur for his very positive review of Mack Sennett's Fun Factory (the very first review, I believe) on the Rogue Cinema site. Much appreciated!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Mack Sennett and His Fun Factory

Happy 2010, and welcome to my very first attempt at blogging. Now that my book "Mack Sennett's Fun Factory" (McFarland & Company) has finally become a reality, I'm going to be supplementing it here with additional tidbits of information, photos, etc., relating to Sennett, his films, his performers and studio workers, that didn't fit into my book (even at 671 very large pages, it was impossible to fit all the details about Sennett's more than 1000 films and his hundreds of employees, which I discovered over the course of 20 years of research).

I'm starting with a remarkable photo of Mack Sennett surveying production at his Edendale studio from the confines of his "switching tower." This originally ran in the November 1918 issue of Photoplay, and I've I'd had a print quality copy at my disposal I would have put it in the book. However, I am displaying it here, and would love to hear from anyone who might have a copy of the original still (or any similar stills of Sennett in his tower) in their collection.

Incidentally, after looking at the details on the set, I was able to determine that the film in production on the open-air stage is the Paramount-Mack Sennett Comedy WHOSE LITTLE WIFE ARE YOU?, which was released November 17, 1918, and was filmed circa August/September of that year. This is the drugstore set from that Eddie Cline-directed comedy, which stars Charlie Murray, Mary Thurman, Baldy Belmont, Wayland Trask, Eva Thatcher and Alice Lake (with Marie Prevost and Phyllis Haver among the Sennett girls in smaller bits).

Compare the set, including counter and prop pharmaceutical goods on the shelves, with the below still from my friend Bob Birchard (which appears on p. 96 of my book):

This still features Heinie Conklin and Ben Turpin, who make a brief cameo appearance in the film (which is believed lost) as two nuts on a raft who float through the drugstore after it floods.

Wayland Trask, at right, was a gifted character performer who tragically died the same day this film was released, November 17, 1918, as a result of the Spanish flu pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people throughout the world (and is eerily being echoed by the current epidemic, which like the 1918 outbreak is based on the H1N1 strain). This still captures Trask in his final film appearance, probably only a couple months before his death.

Incidentally, the caption for the top photograph reads: 'Mack Sennett in his "switching tower," from which he can overlook his entire studio. He can see Louise Fazenda and Charlie Murray going through the action for a scene; he can watch Mary Thurman as she registers the Sennett dramatic idea; and he can hear, too, the pantomimic turmoil that prove his station is not only a "see-all," but a "hear all" as well.'

Fazenda is not in this film (she had been co-starring with Murray earlier, but was now working with Chester Conklin). Mary Thurman may be the girl waiting her turn in the chair off-stage (she plays a customer who creates a love triangle between Charlie Murray and his son in the film Baldy Belmont). Marie Prevost (who plays a steam room customer) might be the girl with the short dress standing closer to the edge of the stage. The credited cinematographers on this film were Fred Jackman and his brother Floyd, and either might be on the camera platform (or another uncredited cameraman).