A Teddy Tale

The EYE film institute in the Netherlands has a terrific YouTube channel, with an especially rich selection of early European comedies. Here’s one that jumped out at me from it’s title: TEDDY A MANGÉ DES GRENOUILLES, or ‘Teddy eats Frogs’!  This is a delightfully bizarre variation on the typical one-gag chase films made in the 1900s. Here, the little gendarme Teddy steals a man’s breakfast, overindulges on frogs’ legs and feels some side-effects. Soon, he can’t stop jumping, and is causing havoc on the streets of Paris with half the town in pursuit. It’s a wonderfully silly short, with great acrobatics and some dangerous stunting – at one point, he jumps all over the roof of a moving steam engine, while a lady is being dragged behind it!

I’d never seen a ‘Teddy’ film before. Turns out his real name is Édouard Pinto. In common with most of the early European clowns like Robinet, Polycarpe and Cretinetti, Pinto worked under a screen character name used in each film.

He was born in Lisbon in 1887 (How many other Portuguese silent comedians can you name?) and  began performing on stage from the age of eight. He played ‘Pif-Paf’, in an act with his older brother, and together they toured around Europe and Africa. It was in 1906 that he was talent-scouted by Pathé to make films for them. After an eighteen month contract, he moved on to the Lux Company, where the above film was made.

Pinto later went on to direct himself, but WW1 interrupted his career. Like Max Linder, he suffered gas attacks and injuries in the conflict, and was invalided out in 1916. Fortunately, he was rehabilitated enough to resume his film career.

teddy pinto

From July 1919 to January 1920 he played in LE FILS DE NUIT,  a serial shot in Algeria and France. Filming a scene in Saint-Remy-de-Provence he had a terrible accident: “The bridge that was supposed to give way under its weight gives way too soon. Teddy, with his horse, fell ten metres and crashed into the bottom […] he was pulled in a pitiful state: open left shoulder, dislocated arm, sprained wrist, dislocated right knee. Teddy, after three months of care, still uses his left arm with some discomfort.”

The experience put Pinto off films. After a couple more appearances, he retired from the screen. It’s sometimes been said that physical comedy and ballet aren’t too far apart ( W.C. Fields referred to Chaplin as “a goddamn ballet dancer”), and Pinto is perhaps more proof. He spent the rest of his career as a teacher of modern dance.

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