Friday, June 07, 2013
And This Blog Loves Alice Howell, Cinema's First "Wacky Redhead"
Another movie legend who's rapidly becoming a favorite at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog is gonzo silent film comedienne Alice Howell.
Twenty years before Lucille Ball made her silver screen debut as a showgirl in delirious Busby Berkeley musicals, Alice Howell, the go-for-broke redhead with a Q-Tip hairdo and a flair for knockabout farce, was tearing it up in Mack Sennett's rip-roaring Keystone Comedies.
Here she is, co-starring with Al St. John in a typically slow-paced and genteel Keystone comedy produced in 1914, Shot In The Excitement.
Because only a handful of her 70+ starring vehicles exist - and none were available when Robert Youngson produced his influential series of silent comedy compilation features (The Golden Age Of Comedy, When Comedy Was King, Days Of Thrills & Laughter, 30 Years Of Fun among them) - L-KO, Century Comedies, Emerald Motion Picture Company, Bulls-Eye/Reelcraft and Universal Pictures star Alice Howell is only now starting to get some recognition as one of the frequently crowned Queens Of Slapstick.
As a result of the unavailability of her films, there also hasn't been a heckuva lot written about Alice, besides an excellent article by Trav S.D., author of Chain Of Fools: Silent Comedy And Its Legacies - From Nickelodeons To YouTube, the full chapter she receives in Lame Brains And Lunatics: The Good, The Bad And The Forgotten Of Silent Comedy by Steve Massa and a section in Eccentrics Of Comedy by Anthony Slide.
While Alice's earliest starring vehicle available, from 1917, is pure knockabout, she delivers the goods with a combination of her trademark over-the-top outrageousness with more naturalistic underplaying.
Unlike many in the arts, Alice was not driven to be in showbiz and couldn't care less about recognition; she happily retired from movies in 1927, never looking back.
Alice's daughter, Yvonne Howell made a few screen appearances as a supporting comedienne and ingenue in silent films.
Yvonne subsequently married Oscar-winning filmmaker George Stevens, himself a former Hal Roach Studio cameraman and director who eventually helmed such ambitious big screen epics as Shane and Giant.
However, before graduating to big-budget "A" pictures at RKO, Stevens directed comedy shorts in both Edgar Kennedy's Mr. Average Man series and the very funny Blondes & The Redheads 2-reelers, featuring the hilarious comic actor (and frequent collaborator of W.C. Fields) Grady Sutton. After this, Stevens graduated to directing features starring the wacky team of Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey.
While there's not much from either Howell readily available on DVD, one can find a few of Alice's starring vehicles on scattered European releases and the Rare Film Classics blog.
Better yet, there's volume 1 of the splendid Dizzy Damsels & Crazy Janes DVD series by New Hampshire vintage comedy specialists Looser Than Loose Publishing.
There are also very funny supporting appearances of Alice's from Sennett and L-KO films on the excellent Chaplin At Keystone and Slapstick Encyclopedia sets.
More comic gems will no doubt be brought to light when Paul E. Gierucki's CineMuseum company is officially up and running.
The latest and greatest: the Artie Mogull film collection, which includes four newly discovered Alice Howell Reelcraft comedies from 1920, Her Lucky Day, His Wooden Leg-acy, A Convict's Happy Bride and Squirrel Time, has been acquired by the Library Of Congress.