Silent Film Forgotten Clowns

By | Jan 7, 2008

When speaking of comic of the silent era it’s not uncommon to think of Laurel and Hardy, although most will recall their sound pictures, and Charlie Chaplin. But there have been many Silent Clowns that have simply been forgotten, although at their heyday, they were some of the most popular people of films.

Mabel Normand
Mabel Normand

The first time that Charlie Chaplin performed his famous ‘Little Tramp’ (Although this was the second film released with him as that character. The first released was A Day at the Race at Venice) was in the film Mabel’s Strange Predicament starring Mabel Normand. Normand is credited as being the most prominent comedienne of silent films. Not only did she perform in her silent films she also wrote and directed quite a few of them. In 1918 she signed a contract with Samuel Goldwyn that gave her $3,500 a week leaving Keystone studios as well as the male star of many of her films there, Roscoe ‘Fatty Arbuckle.

Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle

Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle

Arbuckle was one of the most popular stars in films from 1914-1922. He was the leading male comic, director and screenwriter. Unfortunately he is better remembered today for the scandal in which at a San Francisco party held in his room a young woman died. He was tried three times, the first two in mistrials with the 3rd resulting in an acquittal and a written apology issued by the court. The trial of public opinion ended his career in films.

Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton was given his first big break by Roscoe Arbuckle in the film The Butcher Boy. Keaton’s films feature clever visual gags and camera trickery. The man himself performed with a deadpan expression that earned him the nickname “The Great Stone Face”. For film historian he is considered one of the greatest directors of all time. His film The General is perhaps the best of all of the silent comedy films.

Harold Lloyd

Harold Lloyd Hanging from Clock on Safety Last
Harold Lloyd made nearly 200 films between 1914 and 1947 and is considered along with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin as one of the most influential film comics of the silent era. Many of his films featured extended chase scenes and daredevil feats by his ordinary man in glasses. One of the most famous comic image is of Lloyd hanging onto the hands of a clock way above the street in the film Safety Last!

Harry Langdon

Harry Langdon
Many of the comic greats of silent film work with or was discovered by Mack Sennett. Harry Langdon was one of them. His screen character was of a wild-eyed innocent man with childlike characteristics. His best work was when he was directed others with those that he took creative control being less appealing. In his later career he played the role of comic goofs, but it was in his silent films that his talent shone.

Edna Purviance

Edna Purvance
Edna Purviance may be the most forgotten of all of the silent film clowns by name, but not her face. She appeared in 33 of Chaplin’s productions including his classic The Kid.


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