Friday, January 17, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mack Sennett!

Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog pays tribute to Mack Sennett, a.k.a. The King Of Comedy, born on January 17, 1880.

The career of Sennett, a.k.a. King Of Comedy, has been chronicled very thoroughly and skillfully in Brent Walker's Mack Sennett's Fun Factory book.

As pretty much everyone who reads this blog knows darn well, the roster of comedians, comediennes and character actors who worked with Mack Sennett, then moved on to bigger projects, was longer than a telephone book and, thankfully, infinitely more entertaining.

Sennett began making 1-reel comedies for D.W. Griffith at Biograph, then started Keystone Studios in 1912. Ford Sterling, Fred Mace, "Madcap Mabel" Normand, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and The Keystone Cops were among the first Keystone stars in 1912-1913.

Submitted for your approval, Keystone's staggeringly inept police force, here in their glory, in Bangville Police.

The end of 1913 saw the arrival at Sennett's of the first 20th century "British Invasion" and still the biggest comedy star in movies, Charlie Chaplin.

The first four of Chaplin's thirty-five Keystone Comedies were released theatrically in February 1914.

In the historic comedy The New Janitor, we see two firsts, both from frantic Keystone and in Charlie's illustrious career: that first hint of pathos and a sense of where Chaplin's stories would be going just a couple of years down the road.

Besides Chaplin, the Sennett Studio headliners Mabel Normand, Roscoe Arbuckle and Harry Langdon would leave the Fun Factory and find big money and international stardom in feature films.

Of course, the biggest Fun Factory "free agent" of all was Chaplin, who signed with Essanay, headed by George K. Spoor and western star G.M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson, for a then un-heard of $1,250 a week in 1915.

Then again, other Sennett stars (Fred Mace) did about as well as Saturday Night Live graduates whose careers ended with the transition from TV to movies. Director Henry "Pathe" Lehrman, sometimes termed "Suicide" for his cavalier attitude towards the safety of actors, left Sennett to form his own studio, L-Ko (Lehrman Knock-Out) and later Fox Sunshine Comedies; both expressed an even more frenetic, surreal and iconoclastic variant on the Keystone style, if such a thing can be imagined.

Some comedy luminaries, as Harold Lloyd and Charley Chase did, began their careers at Sennett as supporting players. Here's a very young "pre-glasses" Harold Lloyd in the Roscoe Arbuckle comedy Miss Fatty's Seaside Lovers.

Both Harold and Charley Chase would leave and go on to great success in front of and behind the cameras, as producer-writer-director-stars.

"Madcap Mabel" Normand would star in feature films for both Goldwyn and Sennett.

Indeed, the Sennett roster from the studio's two decade history encompassed a veritable Who's Who of silent era moviemaking, with Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields joining the lengthy list in talkies.

Directors and writers Roy Del Ruth, Frank Capra and Del Lord would enjoy lengthy careers in screen comedy and successfully bring at least some measure of that signature Sennett frenzy well into the sound era.

The studio's stars included:

Mabel Normand

Fred Mace

Roscoe Arbuckle

Ford Sterling

Al St. John

Ben Turpin

Chester Conklin

Harry Langdon

Raymond Griffith

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