In the Beginning: Film Comedy Pioneers
Volume One of the "Slapstick Encyclopedia" concentrates on the very first American silent comedians, many of whom had only recently drifted from the vaudeville stage to the movie studio lots. The comedies on this volume date all the way back to 1909, when Ben Turpin starred in "Mr. Flip" as a love hungry man-on-the-make. Looking much like Groucho Marx, with his painted-on mustache and a wandering eye, Turpin tries to kiss and hug every woman he meets. But the women consistently get the best of him, especially in the scene where a telephone operator turns a little crank that shocks Turpin as he uses a pay telephone.
Other early comedies include "Alkali Ike's Auto" (1911) with Augustus Carney and "A Cure for Pokeritis" (1912) with John Bunny. One of the best scenes in "Alkali Ike's Auto" comes in the first few minutes, when Ike and Mustang Pete vie for the affections of a woman. While she's washing dishes, they fight over who'll do the drying. She ends up holding out each plate while Alkali Ike dries one side and Mustang Pete dries the other.
Unlike many of the shameless muggers on this video, John Bunny strove for a more refined brand of acting. We wanted "to feel the part." He said, "If you can manage to be the character you're impersonating, feel it so thoroughly that you transform yourself for the moment, your actions will tell more than you realize." Bunny was a bulldog of a man, with jowls, a wide nose, and a shape like a walrus. In "A Cure for Pokeritis" he wants to sneak off to a poker game, but his wife catches on to his plans and puts a Bible class onto his trail.