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).