Welcome to THE LOST LAUGH, a website and blog dedicated to the classic clowns of (roughly) the 1910s -1950s.
My name is Matthew Ross, and I’ve had a passion for silent and early sound comedy since I first saw Laurel and Hardy on TV when I was four years old. From there my interest spread to the other greats like Chaplin, Keaton and the Marx Brothers, and kept on growing. As well as the classics, I’m fascinated by the fringes of the industry. Neglected and forgotten performers, who brushed greatness but whose names have not endured. Many of these now seem dated; some of them do not transcend cultural barriers. Some were of dubious value in the first place! But amongst them were some perfect fools, magical acrobats, superb pantomimists, skilled filmmakers and witty wordsmiths who still can provide so much entertainment. Charley Chase, Lupino Lane, Lloyd Hamilton, Harry Langdon, Will Hay, George Formby, Mabel Normand, Dan Leno, Clark and McCullough, Alice Howell, Jack Hulbert, Roscoe Arbuckle, Anita Garvin, Charley Bowers, Max Linder, Wanda Wiley, Poodles Hanneford, Gale Henry, Walter Forde…. the list goes on. THE LOST LAUGH is my tribute to those performers.
On this site, you’ll find a selection of articles, research, rare photos and film clips from these great and forgotten stars of silent comedy, sound shorts, music hall, radio, and so on. There are three basic elements to the site.
This blog, which I update semi-regularly with articles, film clips, photos and the like.
A more in-depth reference guide to classic comedy performers, people like those listed above. These are permanent web pages accessed through the menus at the top of the page. I’m slowly adding to these and hope to have a comprehensive guide to the comedians of this era one day.
THE LOST LAUGH MAGAZINE (formerly MOVIE NIGHT) is a free ezine started in 2011 that goes into even greater detail and contains exclusive material not reproduced on the site. It’s a labour of love, produced roughly once or twice a year (depending on what other projects I have going on) and features exclusive articles and photos, as well as contributions from guest writers. You can access back issues here – if you’d like to subscribe and have new issues sent direct to your email inbox, you can find more info on how to do that inside the magazines.
Thanks for reading. I hope you find some new favourite films and performers while you’re here!
The next issue of The Lost Laugh Magazine is currently in the works. I’m hoping it will be ready in the next month or so.
Issue #14 will investigate some of the ‘light comedies’ of the 1920s. The cover star is Marie Prevost, who is usually remembered chiefly as a terrible cautionary tale of the tragedy that can befall a fallen star. It’s unfortunate that this has overshadowed her tremendous skill as a comic performer in both Sennett slapstick and more sophisticated farces. In this issue, we put the spotlight back on her overlooked comedy talent.
The ‘light comedies’ of Johnny Hines, Reginald Denny and Doug MacLean also feature, and did you know that great dramatic actor George Arliss made some lightly comic feature films? . It’s a thrill to be able to publish a guest article by Mr Arliss’ biographer Robert Fells, focussing on this forgotten aspect of his career.
Laurel & Hardy’s triumphant tour of Britain in 1932 is well-known, but the visit made by Harold Lloyd in the same year has received little attention. Lloyd’s tour included one unusual location – a mining village in Northern England. The story of this unusual visit is told in detail fo the first time in a new article.
Slapstick lovers, fear not! Billy Bevan and Al Alt make appearances, and we also feature the zany, Milligan-esque series of burlesques made by The Masquers Club in the 1930s.
All of this, plus the regular news, features and reviews.
It’s not too late to contribute news, articles or reviews! If you have a vintage comedy-related project you’d like to promote, or you’d like to write an article, review a DVD, BluRay or book, please get in touch! Drop me a line in the comments or at movienightmag [AT] gmail. com
Walrus-moustached Billy Bevan is one of the most iconic faces of slapstick. However, while many of us know classic gags and routines featuring him, his complete films have often been elusive. Now Dave Glass and Dave Wyatt are planning to remedy that with a follow up to last year’s Lupino Lane BluRay, throwing the spotlight on Mr Bevan. Hooray! The Kickstarter campaign has just been launched – take a look at the video below:
Here’s more detail from Dave Glass:
So here we are again!…. with our 3rd Kickstarter…and this time… we’re throwing the spotlight onto Billy Bevan (cue sound effect!)
Billy was THE face of Sennett slapstick comedies in the 20s. Whenever you watch a compilation of silent comedy clips, his face usually pops up.
And for many of us, when we were young, it was HIS comedies that hypnotized us the most.
So as before, we’ve been in touch with some archives and collectors, to try and unearth some of the best but lesser seen Mack Sennett films that featured Billy Bevan. And we’ve got some real goodies!!
Our first port of call was Lobster Films. Serge Bromberg kindly sent his humungous list of Billies and after we’d been resuscitated, we found some real rarites for starters:
MUSCLEBOUND MUSIC (1926) – extremely rare complete print (35mm French) which contains a couple of scenes familiar to fans of Robert Youngson’s ‘Golden Age of Comedy’.
THE QUACK DOCTOR (1920) – another rarity and a great example of one of the early 20s Sennetts that Billy made with Louise Fazenda. This one co-stars many of the Sennett favourites too including Ben Turpin.
NIP AND TUCK (1923) – a real treat this one. It has a terrific chase with cops galore and Cameo the Wonder Dog! A few minutes worth were used in Youngson’s ‘Golden Age of Comedy’, but other than that, it’s not been available. This is the complete 35mm fine grain camera neg (from the Youngson collection!) – in other words, it looks spectacular. PLUS Lobster will be doing the restoration on this one themselves.
We’ll return to the Lobster farm in a moment….. but in the meantime, we’d contacted Elif at the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.
They offered us their super rare 2K scan of CALLING HUBBY’S BLUFF (1929) – which also stars Dot Farley and Vernon Dent and is a very funny example of the late 20s situational style of comedy that Mack Sennett was producing then. Great stuff.
However, we’d also heard that EYE had a real treasure tucked away. One of THE iconic Mack Sennett comedies is a film called LIZZIES OF THE FIELD (1924), which features so many scenes of mayhem that have been used time and time again in comedy compilations. Welllllll….. this film has only ever been available in the world as a 1 reel version…. until NOW! I’d heard that EYE had a TWO REEL version in their basement… and yes, Elif confirmed that was true. Yippeeee!!! And when I happened to tell fellow ‘Lizzies’ fan Serge about this, he said “Yippeeeee” even louder! In fact, he got so excited, he’s now arranged with Elif to borrow and re-scan the original nitrate print, and restore it, using the sparkling Blackhawk film materials, to create the ultimate version of this favourite classic…. for us to use.
….. so there will now be a slight intermission, to allow you to catch your breath and restore your heart beat back to a normal rate…..
ok. ready to continue?…… ok…… sorry, but there’s MORE!!!
Serge told me he’d also been chatting about Billy to fellow fan and film enthusiast Jon Mirsalis, so after a quick chat with Jon, he’s kindly letting us use his super rare print of FROM RAGS TO BRITCHES (1925), which is another hilarious rare Bevan film co-starring Madeline Hurlock and Kewpie Morgan. Lobster have already made a 2K scan of this, so it just needs the restoration work.
And another? Well, this one wasn’t even known to exist… until recently.
If you’re a Sennett / Bevan fan, you’ve probably heard of WANDERING WILLIES and WHISPERING WHISKERS, which both contain some of the most iconic Sennett scenes ever seen!
Right, well hold on to your pants, because we’ve found….. WANDERING WAISTLINES! (1924) – And it’s a real treat!! It’s a similar gag packed slapstick fest, co-starring Sid Smith, Kalla Pasha and some of the most eye ball tickling stunts you’ll ever see. (Even Brent Walker hasn’t seen this one!) Thanks go to the Library of Congress for this print.
So those are the 7 main films in the collection. But there IS more!
As you may know, I’ve been uploading the occasional rare silent comedy to my You Tube channel (‘Reel Comedies’) and there’s one particular film I uploaded a few years ago, which has now gained more views than all of the other films combined. And what film is that Dave? Well Dave…. it’s a Billy Bevan rarity called ON PATROL (1922) which contains so many classic comedy scenes.
This “lost” film only exists in fragments, which have been found in various comedy clip compilations and those have been the main source for the restoration I produced. But it’s in need of an upgrade. So fresh new scans of the various film elements will be made, to provide you with the best possible looking version of this “lost” film that we can. (p.s. the picture on the front cover of Brent Walker’s book is from ON PATROL!)
And the other classic Bevan we’ve been asked to include is the restored version of WALL STREET BLUES (1924), which again doesn’t exist in any archive that we know of, but features some unforgettable scenes. This will be an updated version containing newly scanned footage.
Loads of fantastic content to look forward to there! The great news is that the Kickstarter has already been successful, so the Blu Ray is guaranteed to go ahead; there’s still until the 26th July to make your pledge and grab yourself a copy of what’s sure to be a great disk.
James Finlayson, or Fin, is of course best known for his role as a supporting actor. The pop-eyed, forever exasperated Scot is beloved as Laurel & Hardy’s nemesis, but before this, he had held ambitions of being a star comic, and was briefly groomed for stardom with leading roles in a number of Hal Roach comedies. After being increasingly singled out for his work opposite Stan Laurel, Snub Pollard and Clyde Cook, Fin was given a chance at carrying his own series.
In 1925, he made a couple of one-reel starring shorts. The most well-known is YES, YES NANETTE. This short would be quite obscure if not for the fact it was directed by Stan Laurel and featured Babe Hardy in the cast; as a result, it has featured on several Laurel & Hardy solo collections.
Less often seen is IN THE GREASE, in which Fin tries his hand at becoming a school teacher for a day. The idea of setting his reactionary comedy against a class of unruly school kids is a good one (and can’t help but bring to mind his later role in Laurel & Hardy’s PARDON US!), but the one-reel length doesn’t really give enough time to develop the material. Still, some nice little gags and a fun way to spend ten minutes:
The difficulty in starring Fin was that his funniest talent was reacting to others. This naturally meant that most of the action went to the other actors in his films, and with the wide array of talent around Roach in the mid-20s, he soon slipped from the limelight.
By 1926, Fin was billed as one of Roach’s “all stars”, and if not carrying the action entirely he still got some great opportunities. Here’s a less-often seen example, WISE GUYS PREFER BRUNETTES, featuring Fin alongside Ted Healy (of Stooges fame) and Helene Chadwick, and directed by Stan Laurel in a bizarre and slightly risqué campus comedy:
As the Laurel & Hardy team rose in prominence, Fin’s role in the all-star shorts began to contract. Even so, as late as THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS (1927), publicity still refers to Stan, Babe and Fin as a new three-man team! However, his role in HATS OFF! was clearly a demotion, and soon he was off to find pastures new. Despite some interesting roles, such as LADIES’ NIGHT IN A TURKISH BATH (1928), he was soon back at Roach in the supporting role that would earn him his immortality. It’s fortunate for film fans that he came back to do such wonderful work with L & H, but his starring shorts remain an interesting footnote.
it’s amazing what keeps turning up on YouTube. I was especially pleased to see a couple of rare shorts starring Joe Cook appear recently, in lovely transfers from the Library of Congress archives.
I’ve wanted to see these films for ages, as the few bits of Cook I’ve seen show him to be a unique and undeservedly forgotten comedian. With upturned nose, pointy chin and an enormous grin, he was was a caricaturist’s dream. He was also one of the very best and most versatile comic performers to come out of vaudeville.
Cook combined the best of many other Vaudeville characteristics that we now associate with better remembered performers. He combined traits of all three key Marxes (sorry, Zeppo): Groucho’s fondness for circular, nonsensical double talk, Chico’s sly conning and Harpo’s ‘White Magic’ all featured in his schtick. Like W.C. Fields, he was an incredible eccentric juggler, while his broad grin and amiable nature were reminiscent of Joe E Brown.
Yet Cook was unique, a force of nature all by himself. With that sunny smile, a symbol of his indefatigable attitude, he was perhaps more purely likeable than any of his contemporaries.
This quality was born out of adversity, and probably of necessity. Born Joseph Lopez of Spanish and Irish parents, he was orphaned at three, adopted, and left home early in his teens to join a medicine show. There, he played a comic sidekick helping sell ‘Doctor Dunham’s Cure-all Tonic’; the winning smile and fast-talking manner he developed surely began here as part of his salesman’s pitch.
Medicine show performers were expected to be endlessly versatile to provide a full show. In addition to his juggling, Cook learned to walk a slackwire, played guitar and ukulele and did a sharpshooting act. He became known as ‘A One-man Circus’ when he took his act into Vaudeville, and on to Carroll’s Vanities. Around this time, his juggling act was preserved as part of an interest reel for Educational Pictures:
Pretty nifty, but not a patch on his slackline routine, with added hoops!
The terrific clip above is from Cook’s first starring feature, RAIN OR SHINE. He was the perfect star for this circus-themed musical comedy, which was converted from stage to film by a young Frank Capra in 1930. The film shows Cook in excellent form, with plenty of chances to show off his multiple talents. Here’s a fun example of one of his breathless double talk routines, which circles around itself to become utterly meaningless, a Joe Cook trademark. (His stooge here is the estimable Tom Howard, also a performer who should be better remembered).
Cook flirted with a career in films, but RAIN OR SHINE failed to launch him in the way it should have done. Curious, when Hollywood was falling over itself to snap up Broadway stars in the early 30s. Cook would try again for Fox in 1933/4, starring in a handful of other features such as HOLD YOUR HORSES and FINE AND DANDY, but after this he primarily focused on stage and radio. like Clark & McCullough, he was largely content to keep his film work to shorts made quickly between other engagements. To this end, he signed with Educational Pictures in 1935, and made five shorts for them: MR WIDGET, NOSE FOR NEWS, THE WHITE HOPE, PENNY WISE and GIV ‘IM AIR.
Educational were clearly chuffed with their signing, featuring him prominently in publicity alongside their other big catch, Buster Keaton. Cook was given his head to contribute stories and screenplays, and the films feature a great collection of sight gags, double talk and wonderful nonsense. Special effort seems to have gone into the first, MR WIDGET. Cook plays a hapless salesman, but that’s really just a loose excuse for him to show off some of his goofy inventions, get involved in some crosstalk acts and indulge in some wonderfully surreal goings on. We first see him giving a nonsensical speech after receiving an award. This turns out to be just a dream as he wakes up in his mechanised bed, an appliance straight out of the Snub Pollard School of Classic Comedy Inventions (TM). There’s a white magic routine with a drinking fountain that Stan Laurel surely would have approved of, and a funny scene of Joe trying to buy an overcoat that has a superbly understated payoff as he arrives at his office.
Generally the supporting casts in Educational talkies are pretty wooden, but the exception here is an appearance by venerable, snarling baddie Dick Cramer. Cramer is out to get Cook, who distracts him by reading him a children’s story. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but the warmth with which Cook adopts the role of storyteller, and the slow thawing of Cramer’s thug, make it really funny. All in all, a great little short which augured well for Cook’s tenure at Educational. The only thing that lets the short down is an unfortunate bit of racial material at the end, other than that it’s a joyous two reels. Here it is, by kind courtesy of Joseph Blough’s excellent YouTube channel:
Almost as good is A NOSE FOR NEWS, a tale of breezy reporter Cook being held in jail after an opportunistic criminal (Dick Cramer again) swaps places with him. The highlight is a sequence of Cook’s attempts to escape from his cell, each time managing to destroy the wall, but being caught in the act by Cramer, who forces him to return. Lots of fun again:
I hope to catch up with the otehr three Joe Cook shorts one day. It’s just a shame that he didn’t make more. His last film was a Zane Grey B-Western comedy, ARIZONA MAHONEY, made in 1936. Apparently he was able to work in a fair bit of his medicine show/One-Man-Circus act into the old-time setting, but it was hardly a prestigious film. He turned his attention to radio, before early-onset Parkinsons sadly curtailed his career.
Joe Cook passed away in 1959. While it’s a shame that he didn’t leave more lasting relics for us to remember him by, the scraps that remain show a truly gifted, multitalented performer with bags of charisma. How many performers today could describe themselves as a One Man Circus?
Old films give us a window into the cultures, values and everyday norms of the past, and comedies sometimes hold up the mirror to society best of all. Although silent comedies rarely tackled politics head-on, they often took inspiration from current events and trends, and people’s attitude to them. Often this was in passing, but sometimes comics went the whole hog to make satires. The Suffrage moment became a favourite topic for comedy; many men in the male-dominated society felt threatened by the increasing voice of women, and this was reflected in comedic portrayals of fearsome battleaxes. As the 1920s rolled on, the increasingly confident and empowered flapper generation began to be represented in films, with wonderful performers like Clara Bow, Dorothy Devore and Marie Prevost flying the flag for contemporary women.
However, not all welcomed such developments. The narrow-minded mutterings in some quarters that skirts were getting too short and things really were going too far were ripe for spoofing. Emasculated men having to deal with the housework became a comedy staple, but the gagwriters at the Hal Roach studios went one step further and made some wonderfully silly and surreal films where genders were bent as men and women swapped roles fully. They weren’t trying to make a serious point, just having some fun and trying to make good comedy that would resonate with their audiences. Nevertheless, the films give a fascinating insight into what was considered conventional for each gender in the 1920s.
In 1922, the gagmen and performers had great fun playing with exaggerated gender stereotypes in Snub Pollard’s YEARS TO COME. Set in a future where men’s and women’s roles are reversed, it offers the amusingly goofy sight of the heavily moustached Pollard and the usually tough and burly Noah Young delighting in incongruous feminine mannerisms.
The Roach gagmen always liked to revist a good idea, and in 1926 they remodelled the basic idea of YEARS TO COME with another moustachioed comic, Clyde Cook. WHAT’S THE WORLD COMING TO? was even dafter than the original, and mocks the more ridiculous gender conventions of Hollywood film for all they are worth. To this end, we get James Finlayson as a shrewish father-in-law (“about to bear up bravely as his little one is wrenched from his apron strings”), and Laura de Cardi as a caddish lounge-lizard, as well as a series of ridicuously surreal visions of an outlandish future.
This gag-happy little film was co-written by Stan Laurel and Frank Terry (It is Terry who makes a cameo as a man in a window, not Laurel as often stated. Sorry, Stan Fans!) For many years known primarily in a one-reel cutdown, WHAT’S THE WORLD COMING TO? has been restored to its full glory, and kindly shared online by The San Francisco Silent Film Festival:
Roach comedian Charley Chase had a theory that comedy ideas could be recycled around every seven years. Sure enough, in the mid-30s he began reaching back to some older plots from the silent era. 1935’s OKAY TOOTS! was maybe inspired by the two previous films. Though not a remake of them, it takes a similar approach in playing with gender roles. In fact, it anticipates FREAKY FRIDAY as Charley and his wife Toots (Jeanie Roberts) swap bodies, each speaking with the other’s voice as Charley gets a lesson not to take all his wife does for granted. It’s a bizarre little film – unlike the previous two shorts, Charley and Jeanie do not outwardly look or dress like the opposite sex, but everyone accepts them as such without question. Chase’s impotent indignation as a group of housewives give him an enforced makeover is a highlight, as is his variation on a parallel parking routine used by Lloyd Hamilton and W.C.Fields. Look out for a funny bit from Charlie Hall at his most menacing too!
Though these films and the conventions they spoof are obviously very dated now, they remain interesting artefacts of their times – and more importantly, they’re still funny!
As we reach the point in the pandemic where anniversaries are being reported, a series of grim milestones remind us how long we’ve been dealing with all this. A more positive flipside of this is that many of the new initiatives and innovations that have managed to bring some sunshine into our lives are celebrating anniversaries of their own. The way we socialise and enjoy entertainment has completely been transformed in the last twelve months, and although some doors have shut, others have opened up new worlds of possibilities.
For silent film fans, the void seemed especially hard to fill. The whole essence of silent cinema revival usually centres around the live experience, after all. Silent comedy, in particular, needs an audience so that the viewer can roll on a wave of giggles and chortles. Laughter is always best when it is shared.
In March last year, the first episode of the nascent Silent Comedy Watch Party was aired. It couldn’t bring film fans together physically, but it could reproduce that feeling of an event, a shared experience. Quickly it became a huge success, uniting silent comedy fans and helping them to feel like they were sharing their laughter with others. Now, a year later the show’s hosts Ben Model and Steve Massa are just about to celebrate its one year anniversary. With the 50th Watch Party beckoning on Sunday, it has become so much more than just a live stream!
The idea of the show began when Ben returned from performing a weekend of shows in Nebraska and watched all his upcoming gigs for 2020 promptly get cancelled:
“Although I’d had the idea and tech to pull this off for some time,” says Model, “I hadn’t had a strong motivation to make a silent film show happen as a live-stream…but now there was a humanitarian need for this. I thought of all the people who could use a really good laugh to deal with the shutdown, the fear and stress of the pandemic, and not knowing when it would end. I called up Steve [Massa] about my idea for The Silent Comedy Watch Party, and we agreed this would be a great way to help people out.”
Laughter is the best medicine, after all, and coupled to the warm, community feeling of the events, the Watch Parties began to mean a great deal. Often they have been the highlight of empty or anxious weeks as the pandemic progressed. Although family commitments have meant I haven’t been able to catch every episode live, I’ve watched every single one thanks to the archive of shows on YouTube.
As the show’s press release reveals, “Messages, which came in over email and social media after the first live-stream, were full of gratitude for providing relief from the pandemic stress and for bringing viewers much-needed laughter. This has continued to be the case every week, with stories of families gathering to watch, spouses who’d never given the silents the time of day becoming fans, while other viewers told of how the show had helped them get through personal dark times and recovery from illnesses. “This is what gets me through the week” is a frequent comment Model sees about the show. During a period when days all run together, it’s become a weekly anchor of appointment TV for the 400-600 people who watch together, virtually, during the live-stream and the 1,500-3,000 people who watch the archived shows during the days after the stream.“
It’s not just the spirit of being at a live cinema event that’s being recreated, but something bigger, something global that silent film events have never been before. Now silent comedy fans from around the world who would never attend the same event in pre-COVID times can join in the fun together. Many of the films are rarities, from archives or obscure DVD releases and there are many that the viewers haven’t seen before, increasing that shared experience. In a way what we’re actually getting is something that brings us closer still to the original shared experience of silent cinema-going; seeing these films for the first time, and talking about them at the same time. I’ve really loved having chats with friends around the world each week about films that have just been screened, or seeing message boards and social media lighting up in praise of performers like Snub Pollard, Wanda Wiley or Charley Chase.
The celebration of these overlooked performers is one of the real highlights of the series of shows. Again, it creates something comparable to the original silent film experience; in the 1920s, it wouldn’t have been Keaton or Chaplin every week, but the likes of Bobby Dunn, Alice Howell, Paul Parrott or Joe Rock who filled the programmes at cinemas. It’s fantastic to see these kind of performers, so often overlooked by live cinema events, getting the most exposure that they’ve had in years. Quite naturally, live silent events often skew to the classic films, and while there are some great events showcasing rarities, it’s not often that you get such deep dives into the substrata of silent comedy. The global audience offered by the internet means that “will there be an audience for such obscure films?” is not a concern in the same way. We’ve seen a terrific slew of events, webinars and online festivals benefit from this over the last year, and on the punter side, it’s wonderful to be able to attend events that I’d always dreamed of without travelling across the world (I never did make it to a Slapsticon, to my eternal regret).
Of course, another advantage has been the ability to bring in guest hosts from around the world. The list of Silent Comedy watch Party contributors includes Suzanne Lloyd, grand-daughter of Harold Lloyd; Library of Congress curators, Rob Stone and Rachel Del Gaudio; Elif Rongen-Kaynakci from the EYE Filmmuseum in the Netherlands; and filmmaker and artist, Ina Archer who is also a media conservator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Though undoubtedly we have missed out on the beauty of real world big screen events this year, we have gained something too. The Silent Comedy Watch Parties are a prime example of this and continue to be a real source of fun and inspiration. Congratulations to Ben & Steve for reaching their 50th show, and a big thanks for helping to make the last year miles better for silent comedy fans than it had any right to be. See you at the Watch Party on Sunday!
The first-anniversary show of “THE SILENT COMEDY WATCH PARTY” will live-stream on March 21, 2021, and will include the films: AN EYE FOR FIGURES (1920) with Hank Mann, shown on the very first episode; THE FADE-AWAY (1925), a Fleischer cartoon with Ko-Ko the clown, shown on episode 2, and QUEEN OF ACES (1925) starring Wanda Wiley, one of the forgotten funny ladies of silent films who’s become an SCWP fan favorite. Here’s the link to watch: The Silent Comedy Watch Party ep. 50 – 3/21/21 – Ben Model and Steve Massa – 1-year anniversary! – YouTube The show begins at 3PM EDT (that’s 7PM GMT ).
While you’re waiting for showtime, why not check out this piece on the shows from last year, when Ben very kindly stopped by The Lost Laugh Blog for a Q & A. Finally, in case you’re new to the shows (where have you been??) here’s some more info from the show’s press release:
THE SILENT COMEDY WATCH PARTY
Every Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, watch classic comedy shorts from the 1910s and 1920s on YouTube with new live musical scores by renowned silent film accompanist Ben Model, and with live introductions by film historian, Steve Massa. The show’s logo and graphic design are by Marlene Weisman; associate producer is Crystal Kui; Mana Allen and Susan Selig (Model’s and Massa’s wives) handle the camera, lights and stage management at the couples’ respective Manhattan apartments. The films programmed feature well-known stars like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin as well as lesser-knowns such as Marcel Perez, Snub Pollard, Alice Howell, Gale Henry and more.
About Ben Model BEN MODEL is one of the nation’s leading silent film accompanists and performs on both piano and theatre organ. Ben works full-time presenting and accompanying silent films in a wide variety of venues around the USA and internationally – doing so virtually, now – carrying on a tradition he learned from silent film organist Lee Erwin (1909-2000).
Over the past 39 years Model has created and performed live scores for several hundred silent films. He is a resident film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art (NY) and at the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre, and performs at theatres, museums, schools and other venues around the US and internationally. His recorded scores have been heard on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and on numerous home-video releases from Kino Lorber, Milestone Films and Model’s own label Undercrank Productions. Ben Model is also a Visiting Professor at Wesleyan University (Connecticut), where he teaches a course on silent film. https://www.silentfilmmusic.com/
About Steve Massa STEVE MASSA is the author of Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy and Lame Brains and Lunatics: The Good, The Bad, and The Forgotten of Silent Comedy. He has organized and curated comedy film programs for the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Pordenone Silent Film Festival and Bristol Slapstick Festival, as well as provided essays for the National Film Registry, the National Film Preservation Foundation, and the Criterion Collection. Steve has provided notes and commentaries for many comedy DVD and Blu-ray releases, as well as co-curated Undercrank Productions’ The Mishaps of Musty Suffer, Volumes 1 & 2, the award-winning Marcel Perez Collection, Volumes 1 & 2, The Alice Howell Collection, and the forthcoming Edward Everett Horton Collection. His most recent book is Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle.
There are underappreciated silent comedians, and then there are truly forgotten ones. Al Alt definitely belongs to the latter group.
Alexander Alt, to give him his full name, was a jobbing comic in the mid-late 1920s. He worked for independent companies like Century and RayArt, as well as making afew films for Educational Pictures.
According to Steve Massa’s wonderful book LAME BRAINS AND LUNATICS, Alt was part of a vaudeville team with Hazel Howell. The pair made a few films (not that great, apparently) before Al went on to appear in some of the Hall Room Boys series in 1923. This series about a pair of dapper down-and-outs had a revolving door policy on comics; as well as Al, Jimmie Adams, Neeley Edwards, Sid Smith, Harry McCoy, George Williams, Zip Monberg and others all took turns playing ‘Percy & Ferdie’.
The dapper but embarassed young character stuck with Al after he moved on from the Hall Room Boys films. In fact, he became a bit like Century’s version of Charley Chase: a pleasant young husband getting himself into akward situations. As well as starring in his own comedies – sometimes teamed with Harry McCoy – he appeared as leading lady to Wanda Wiley and with the Century Follies girls.
Sadly, most of Century’s comedies are now missing, so we can’t see most of the comedies he made. Synopses and stills make them look quite interesting – EAT & RUN featured Alt & McCoy with a bicycle-propelled lunch wagon, and also featured Max Davidson.
Al moved over to RayArt, making films with and directed by Bobby Ray (best known from a few films he made teamed with Oliver Hardy that anticipate Hardy’s teaming with Stan Laurel). At least one of these survives: THE MILLION DOLLAR DERBY, featuring the delightfully ridiculous plot of Al having to wear a silly hat for 6 months to get an inheritance!
Alt & Ray apparently tried to jump on the bandwagon of comics like Monty Banks & Syd Chaplin making films in Britain – Variety’s London correspondent of Nov 15th 1928 reports them on holiday in London and trying to raise interest in a feature. They had no luck, and Al ended up in some Cameo comedies at Educational Pictures. Educational was on a high at the time, and these were Al’s most prestigious films.
Educational’s Cameo comedies were efficient one reelers that milked simple situations for gags. Al’s shorts won praise and sound like good, fun little one reelers from existing reviews.
In LUCKY BREAKS, Al played a sailor on shore leave who has all sorts of troubles with his belongings on the train ride home. Film Daily praised the short:
“His bundles become unwieldy and almost animated. The way that Al retrieves them, apologises to passengers and registers confusion and embarrassment is a joy to behold”
The reviewer concluded:
“This Al Alt person has swooped across the short comedy horizon and it looks as though he is going to make ’em all sit up and take notice before very long.”
Sadly for Al, it was really too late for anyone to take notice of a new silent comedian, and he was lost in the shuffle of the talkie revolution. Though he made a couple of cheap indie two reelers in the East (RELATIONS and THE PEST) his starring career was fading out. He returned to Educational for a few bit parts, but then moved behind the scenes, initially as an editor, but working up to be assistant director on a number of films into the 1950s and 60s. Apparently he lived on until 1992!
Al Alt is never going to be rediscovered as a master comedian, but he’s another one of the silent comedy terracotta army who added to the richness of the era and is worth a second look.
Here’s a lovely surprise. The Harold Lloyd estate has started posting complete, HD restorations of the Lloyd Catalogue on their YouTube Channel. There are currently the beautiful Criterion prints of his features SPEEDY and SAFETY LAST, but the real gems are some less common one-reelers from 1917-1918. Featuring Harold alongside Snub Pollard and Bebe Daniels, the selection includes one of the very scarce surviving Lonesome Luke films. I feel like I’ve always neglected the Lloyd one-reelers a bit in favour of his ‘mature’ work, and I’m looking forward to acquainting myself with these. These prints look stunning, which really makes the films more enjoyable. Below are a couple of highlights, but be sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel for further updates. Thanks to the Lloyd Estate for making these available!
LOOK PLEASANT PLEASE – lots of fun gags in this one, and a great jazz score.
LONESOME LUKE, MESSENGER: One of the few examples of Lloyd’s Chaplinesque character to survive the fire in his vaults:
BASHFUL: A charming little film, an early example of Lloyd being a less brash, more shy character.
There’s also the fantastic Brownlow & Gill documentary, HAROLD LLOYD – THE THIRD GENIUS
FRESH PAINT is from 1920, when Hal Roach Studios was still known as Rolin. At this point, the films were being cranked out weekly, and hadn’t quite hit on their winning formula yet, but this is lots of fun. In the director’s chair was Alf Goulding, an old pal of Snub’s from Australia who he had toured extensively with in the juvenile troupe ‘Pollard’s Lilliputians’.
Some prime Roach studios menace is provided by – who else? – Noah Young. Oh, and look out for a gag with a lampshade pinched from Chaplin’s THE ADVENTURER.
The lucky 13th issue of The Lost Laugh magazine is here, and available to download below!
At over 50 pages, it’s the most packed issue yet. There are articles on Snub Pollard, Walter Forde, Lupino Lane, forgotten female comedian Wanda Wiley, Buster Keaton and lots more! There are also some great guest contributions from silent comedy experts David Glass and David Wyatt, plus the usual news and reviews.
Working on this issue has certainly kept me entertained through the latest lockdown. I hope it gives you some entertainment too.
Here are the full contents:
Snub Pollard, a career overview and a focus on the Laurel & Hardy-style films he made with Marvin Loback.
The career of forgotten female comedian Wanda Wiley, who gave many of the male slapstick comics a run for their money. Also includes a full filmography, with synopses of each film.
The second part of our article on Walter Forde, detailing his silent comedy features, and including never-before published research.
An exclusive article on newly rediscovered Lloyd Hamilton footage by film historian David Wyatt!
Lupino Lane – details on the new BluRay/DVD set, including insights into the restoration process from David Glass. Also a look at Lane’s fascinating book “How to Become a Comedian”.
Buster Keaton’s last film, THE SCRIBE
Two long-unseen films starring Harry Langdon
A review of a very rare, previously lost Johnny Hines comedy, THE WRIGHT IDEA
Plus news and reviews of books, DVDs, Blu-Rays and streaming events.
— As always, please do get in touch with comments, constructive criticisms and ideas for future issues, and please do share on social media etc.
Finally, The Lost Laugh will always be free, but if you enjoy reading the magazine & site, and are in a position to contribute a little to site running costs, then you can buy me a virtual coffee on Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/thelostlaugh Thanks! 🙂