Mack Sennett

Mack Sennett (born Michael Sinnott; January 17, 1880 – November 5, 1960) was a Canadian-American film actor, director, and producer, and studio head, known as the King of Comedy.

Born in Canada, he started in films in the Biograph company of New York, and later opened Keystone Studios in Edendale, California in 1912. It was the first fully enclosed film stage, and Sennett became famous as the originator of slapstick routines such as pie-throwing and car-chases, as seen in the Keystone Cops films. He also produced short features that displayed his Bathing Beauties, many of whom went on to develop successful acting careers.

Sennett's work in sound-movies was less successful and he was bankrupted in 1933. He was presented with an honorary Academy Award for his contribution to film comedy.

Mack Sennett
Mack Sennett 1916
Born
Michael Sinnott

January 17, 1880
DiedNovember 5, 1960 (aged 80)
OccupationActor, director, producer, screenwriter, presenter, composer, cinematographer
Years active1908–1949

Early life

Born Michael Sinnott in Richmond Ste-Bibiane Parish, Quebec, Canada, he was the son of Irish Catholic John Sinnott and Catherine Foy, married 1879 in Tingwick, Québec.[1] The newlyweds moved the same year to Richmond, where John Sinnott was hired as a laborer. By 1883, when Michael's brother George was born, John Sinnott was working in Richmond as an innkeeper; he worked as an innkeeper for many years afterward. John Sinnott and Catherine Foy had all their children and raised their family in Richmond, then a small Eastern Townships village. At that time, Michael's grandparents were living in Danville, Québec. Michael Sinnott moved to Connecticut when he was 17 years old.

He lived for a while in Northampton, Massachusetts, where, according to his autobiography, Sennett first got the idea to become an opera singer after seeing a vaudeville show. He claimed that the most respected lawyer in town, Northampton mayor (and future President of the United States) Calvin Coolidge, as well as Sennett's own mother, tried to talk him out of his musical ambitions.[2]

In New York City, Sennett became an actor, singer, dancer, clown, set designer, and director for Biograph. A major distinction in his acting career, often overlooked, is the fact that Sennett played Sherlock Holmes 11 times, albeit as a parody, between 1911 and 1913. [3]

Keystone Studios

Mack Sennett Studios 1917
Mack Sennett Studios, circa 1917

With financial backing from Adam Kessel and Charles O. Bauman of the New York Motion Picture Company, Michael "Mack" Sennett founded Keystone Studios in Edendale, California in 1912 (which is now a part of Echo Park). The original main building which was the first totally enclosed film stage and studio ever constructed, is still there today. Many important actors cemented their film careers with Sennett, including Marie Dressler, Mabel Normand, Charles Chaplin, Harry Langdon, Roscoe Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd, Raymond Griffith, Gloria Swanson, Ford Sterling, Andy Clyde, Chester Conklin, Polly Moran, Louise Fazenda, The Keystone Cops, Bing Crosby, and W. C. Fields.

Mack Sennett's slapstick comedies were noted for their wild car chases and custard pie warfare, especially in the Keystone Cops series. Sennett's first female comedian was Mabel Normand, who became a major star under his direction and with whom he embarked on a tumultuous romantic relationship. Sennett also developed the Kid Comedies, a forerunner of the Our Gang films, and in a short time, his name became synonymous with screen comedy which were called "flickers" at the time. In 1915, Keystone Studios became an autonomous production unit of the ambitious Triangle Film Corporation, as Sennett joined forces with D. W. Griffith and Thomas Ince, both powerful figures in the film industry.

MackSennetBathingBeauties
Sennett Bathing Beauties

Sennett Bathing Beauties

Also beginning in 1915, Sennett assembled a bevy of women known as the Sennett Bathing Beauties to appear in provocative bathing costumes in comedy short subjects, in promotional material, and in promotional events such as Venice Beach beauty contests. The Sennett Bathing Beauties continued to appear through 1928.

Independent production

In 1917, Sennett gave up the Keystone trademark and organized his own company, Mack Sennett Comedies Corporation. (Sennett's bosses retained the Keystone trademark and produced a cheap series of comedy shorts that were "Keystones" in name only: they were unsuccessful, and Sennett had no connection with them.) Sennett went on to produce more ambitious comedy short films and a few feature-length films. During the 1920s, his short subjects were in much demand, featuring stars such as Louise Fazenda, Billy Bevan, Andy Clyde, Harry Gribbon, Vernon Dent, Alice Day, Ralph Graves, Charlie Murray, and Harry Langdon. He produced several features with his brightest stars such as Ben Turpin and Mabel Normand.

Many of Sennett's films of the early 1920s were inherited by Warner Bros. Studio. Warner Bros. merged with the original distributor, First National, and added music and commentary to several of these short subjects. Unfortunately, many of the films of this period were destroyed due to inadequate storage. As a result, many of Sennett's films from his most productive and creative period no longer exist.[4]

Move to Pathé Exchange

In the mid-1920s, Sennett moved to Pathé Exchange distribution. Pathé had a huge market share, but made bad corporate decisions, such as attempting to sell too many comedies at once (including those of Sennett's main competitor, Hal Roach). In 1927, Paramount and MGM, which were Hollywood's two top studios at the time, took note of the profits being made by smaller companies such as Pathé Exchange and Educational Pictures. So, Paramount and MGM decided to resume the production and distribution of short subjects. Hal Roach signed with MGM, but Mack Sennett remained with Pathé Exchange even during hard times, which were brought on by the competition. Hundreds of other independent exhibitors and movie houses of this period had switched from Pathe' to the new MGM or Paramount films and short subjects.

Experiments, awards, and bankruptcy

Mabel's Dramatic Career 1913.jpeg
Movie theatre audience members Roscoe Arbuckle and Mack Sennett square off while watching Mabel Normand onscreen in Mabel's Dramatic Career (1913)
The Fatal Mallet
Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, and Charles Chaplin in The Fatal Mallet (1914)
Silent film Love, Speed and Thrills (1915) directed by Walter Wright and produced by Mack Sennett, running time: 14:12, is a chase film in which a man (named Walrus) kidnaps the wife of his benefactor, but the so-called "Keystone Cops" are also chasing down Walrus.

Sennett made a reasonably smooth transition to sound films, releasing them through Earle Hammons's Educational Pictures. Sennett occasionally experimented with color. Plus, he was the first to get a talkie short subject on the market in 1928. In 1932, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Live Action Short Film in the comedy division for producing The Loud Mouth (with Matt McHugh, in the sports-heckler role later taken in Columbia Pictures remakes by Charley Chase and Shemp Howard). Sennett also won an Academy Award in the novelty division for his film Wrestling Swordfish also in 1932.[5] On March 25, 1932, he became a United States citizen.[6]

Sennett often clung to outmoded techniques, making his early-1930s films seem dated and quaint. This doomed his attempt to re-enter the feature-film market with Hypnotized (starring blackface comedians Moran and Mack, "The Two Black Crows"). However, Sennett enjoyed great success with short comedies starring Bing Crosby, which were more than likely instrumental in Sennett's product being picked up by a major studio, Paramount Pictures. W. C. Fields conceived and starred in four famous Sennett-Paramount comedies. Fields himself recalled that he "made seven comedies for the Irishman", his original deal called for one film and an option for six more, but ultimately only four were made.

Sennett's studio did not survive the Great Depression. His partnership with Paramount lasted only one year and he was forced into bankruptcy in November 1933.

On January 12, 1934, Sennett was injured in an automobile accident that killed blackface performer Charles Mack in Mesa, Arizona.[7]

His last work, in 1935, was as a producer-director for Educational Pictures, in which he directed Buster Keaton in The Timid Young Man and Joan Davis in Way Up Thar. (The 1935 Vitaphone short subject Keystone Hotel is not a Sennett production, although it featured several alumni from the Mack Sennett Studios. Actually, Sennett was not involved in the making of this film.)

Mack Sennett went into semiretirement at the age of 55, having produced more than 1,000 silent films and several dozen talkies during a 25-year career. His studio property was purchased by Mascot Pictures (later part of Republic Pictures), and many of his former staffers found work at Columbia Pictures.

In March 1938, Sennett was presented with an honorary Academy Award: "for his lasting contribution to the comedy technique of the screen, the basic principles of which are as important today as when they were first put into practice, the Academy presents a Special Award to that master of fun, discoverer of stars, sympathetic, kindly, understanding comedy genius - Mack Sennett."[5]

Later projects

Rumors abounded that Sennett would be returning to film production (a 1938 publicity release indicated that he would be working with Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy), but apart from Sennett reissuing a couple of his Bing Crosby two-reelers to theaters, nothing happened. Sennett did appear in front of the camera, however, in Hollywood Cavalcade (1939), itself a thinly disguised version of the Mack Sennett-Mabel Normand romance. In 1949, he provided film footage for and also appeared in the first full-length comedy compilation called Down Memory Lane (1949), which was written and narrated by Steve Allen. Sennett was profiled in the television series This is Your Life in 1954.[8][9] and made a cameo appearance (for $1,000) in Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops (1955). His last contribution worth noting was to the NBC radio program Biography in Sound relating memories of working with W.C. Fields, which was broadcast February 28, 1956.

Death

Mack Sennett died on November 5, 1960, in Woodland Hills, California, aged 80.[10] He was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.[11]

Tributes

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Sennett was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard. He was also inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in 2014.

Keystone legacy

A line in a Henry Kuttner science-fiction short story "Piggy Bank" reads, "Within seconds the scene resembled a Mack Sennett pie-throwing comedy."[12]

In A Story of Water, a 1961 short film by Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, the directors dedicate the film to Mack Sennett.

Henry Mancini's score for the 1963 film The Pink Panther, the original entry in the series, contains a segment called "Shades of Sennett". It is played on a silent film era style "barrel house" piano, and accompanies a climactic scene in which the incompetent police detective Inspector Clouseau is involved in a multi-vehicle chase with the antagonists.

In 1974, Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman wrote the musical Mack & Mabel, chronicling the romance between Sennett and Mabel Normand.

Sennett also was a leading character in The Biograph Girl, a 1980 musical about the silent-film era.

Peter Lovesey's 1983 novel Keystone is a whodunnit set in the Keystone Studios and involving (among others), Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand, Roscoe Arbuckle, and the Keystone Cops.

Dan Aykroyd portrayed Mack Sennett in the 1992 movie Chaplin. Marisa Tomei played Mabel Normand and Robert Downey, Jr. starred as Charlie Chaplin.

Joseph Beattie and Andrea Deck portrayed Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, respectively, in episode eight of series two of ITV's Mr. Selfridge.

See also

References

  1. ^ "Give Citizenship to Mack Sennett". Retrieved 2010-04-23.
  2. ^ King of Comedy by Mack Sennett, 1954
  3. ^ "The Survival of Mack Sennett's Comedies – Flicker Alley". Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  4. ^ "The Survival of Mack Sennett's Comedies – Flicker Alley". Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  5. ^ a b Academy Awards Database at Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  6. ^ "Mack Sennett is Naturalized". The New York Times. March 26, 1932.
  7. ^ "Mack, Comedian, Killed In Crash. Moran, His Partner in Blackface Skits, Escapes Injury in Arizona Mishap". The New York Times. Associated Press. January 12, 1934. Retrieved 2015-03-22. ... injured Mack Sennett, former producer of 'Bathing Beauty' film comedies.
  8. ^ This Is Your Life, broadcast March 10, 1954. on IMDb
  9. ^ Thomas, Bob (1954). "Sennett Takes Sentimental Journey in Past at Reunion". Panama City News, March 12, 1954. Retrieved from Looking for Mabel Normand on 2012-02-03.
  10. ^ "Mack Sennett, 76, Film Pioneer Who Developed Slapstick, Dies. Keystone Kops, Custard Pies and Bathing Beauties Were Symbols of His Movies". The New York Times. November 6, 1960.
  11. ^ "Sennett Buried in Hollywood". The New York Times. November 24, 1960.
  12. ^ A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, vol. 2, Anthony Boucher (ed.) Doubleday & Co., 1959.

Further reading

  • Lahue, Kalton (1971); Mack Sennett's Keystone: The man, the myth and the comedies; New York: Barnes; ISBN 978-0-498-07461-5

External links

A Busy Day

A Busy Day is a 1914 short film starring Charlie Chaplin and Mack Swain.

A Thief Catcher

A Thief Catcher is a one-reel 1914 American comedy film, produced by Mack Sennett for his Keystone film company, directed by Ford Sterling, and starring Sterling, Mack Swain, Edgar Kennedy, and Charles Chaplin as a policeman. Chaplin had claimed in interviews that he had played a bit-role as a policeman while at Keystone Studios.

Between Showers

Between Showers is a 1914 short film made by Keystone Studios and directed by Henry Lehrman. It starred Charlie Chaplin, Ford Sterling, Emma Clifton, and Chester Conklin.

Cruel, Cruel Love

Cruel, Cruel Love is a 1914 American comedy silent film made at the Keystone Studios and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Gentlemen of Nerve

Gentlemen of Nerve is a 1914 American comedy silent film directed by Charles Chaplin, starring Chaplin and Mabel Normand, and produced by Mack Sennett for Keystone Studios.

Getting Acquainted

Getting Acquainted, subsequently retitled A Fair Exchange, is a 1914 American comedy silent film written and directed by Charles Chaplin, starring Chaplin and Mabel Normand, and produced by Mack Sennett for Keystone Studios .

Mabel's Busy Day

Mabel's Busy Day is a 1914 short comedy film starring Mabel Normand and Charles Chaplin; the film was also written and directed by Mabel Normand. The supporting cast includes Chester Conklin, Slim Summerville, Edgar Kennedy, Al St. John, Charley Chase, and Mack Sennett.

Mabel Normand

Mabel Ethelreid Normand (November 10, 1892 – February 23, 1930) was an American silent-film actress, screenwriter, director, and producer. She was a popular star and collaborator of Mack Sennett in his Keystone Studios films, and at the height of her career in the late 1910s and early 1920s, had her own movie studio and production company. Onscreen, she appeared in 12 successful films with Charlie Chaplin and 17 with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, sometimes writing and directing (or co-writing/directing) movies featuring Chaplin as her leading man.Throughout the 1920s, her name was linked with widely publicized scandals, including the 1922 murder of William Desmond Taylor and the 1924 shooting of Courtland S. Dines, who was shot by Normand's chauffeur using her pistol. She was not a suspect in either crime. Her film career declined, and she suffered a recurrence of tuberculosis in 1923, which led to a decline in her health, retirement from films, and her death in 1930 at age 37.

Mabel at the Wheel

Mabel at the Wheel is a 1914 American motion picture starring Charles Chaplin and Mabel Normand, and directed by Mabel Normand and Mack Sennett.

Making a Living

Making a Living (also known as Doing His Best, A Busted Johnny, Troubles and Take My Picture) is the first film starring Charlie Chaplin. It premiered on February 2, 1914. Chaplin plays Edgar English, a lady-charming swindler who runs afoul of the Keystone Kops. It was written and directed by Henry Lehrman.

Recreation (film)

Recreation is a short comedy film written, directed, and starring Charlie Chaplin. It was released on 13 August 1914.

Tango Tangles

Tango Tangles is a 1914 American film comedy short starring Charles Chaplin and Roscoe Arbuckle. The action takes place in a dance hall, with a drunken Chaplin, Ford Sterling, and the huge, menacing, and acrobatic Arbuckle fighting over a girl. The supporting cast also features Chester Conklin and Minta Durfee. The picture was written, directed and produced by Mack Sennett for Keystone Studios and distributed by Mutual Film Corporation.

In Tango Tangles, Charlie Chaplin appears without makeup and his usual mustache, baggy pants, and oversized shoes. The film was shot at a dance hall without any sort of formal script. Mack Sennett, in his 1954 autobiography King of Comedy, said of the impromptu nature of Tango Tangles, "We took Chaplin, [Ford] Sterling, [Roscoe] Arbuckle and [Chester] Conklin to a dance hall, turned them loose, and pointed a camera at them. They made funny, and that was it." Tango Tangles marked the last time that Ford Sterling and Chaplin appeared in the same film. Sterling had decided to leave Keystone where he had gained most of his fame as the chief of the Keystone Cops.

The Fatal Mallet

The Fatal Mallet is a 1914 American-made motion picture starring Charles Chaplin and Mabel Normand. The film was written and directed by Mack Sennett, who also portrays one of Chaplin's rivals for Normand's attention (Sennett and Normand were offscreen lovers during this period).

The Fatal Mallet is one of more than a dozen early films that writer/director/comedian Mabel Normand made with Charles Chaplin; Normand, who had written and directed films before Chaplin, mentored the young comedian.

The Knockout

The Knockout (1914) was Charlie Chaplin's seventeenth film for Keystone Studios. Chaplin only has a small role, and Fatty Arbuckle takes up the main role (it is one of only a few films in which Chaplin's Little Tramp character appears in a secondary role; Chaplin doesn't even appear until the second half of the film). It also stars Arbuckle's wife, Minta Durfee, Edgar Kennedy and Keystone owner, Mack Sennett in a minor role as a spectator. The film was directed by Charles Avery, and made in 1914 in America.

The New Janitor

The New Janitor was the 27th comedy from Keystone Studios to feature Charlie Chaplin. The film is arguably one of his best for the studio, and a precursor to a key Essanay Studios short, The Bank. The film also demonstrates the differences that Chaplin had with Keystone comedy in that it is a coherent whole in which the stock characters actually fill some emotional center. Chaplin brings a certain complexity to his janitor, unusual to the comedy factory of Mack Sennett. The film, which stars among Sennett's bit players Jess Dandy, Al St. John, John T. Dillon, and Helen Carruthers, is far more centered and clear in direction. Comedy flows from within the story rather than as a by-product of story. After all this is a typical bank robbery storyline.

The Property Man

The Property Man is a short 1914 American comedy silent film made by Keystone Studios starring Charlie Chaplin.

Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914 film)

Tillie's Punctured Romance is a 1914 American silent comedy film directed by Mack Sennett and starring Marie Dressler, Mabel Normand, Charlie Chaplin, and the Keystone Cops. The picture was the first feature-length motion picture produced by the Keystone Film Company, and is the only one featuring Chaplin.

The film is based on Dressler's stage play Tillie's Nightmare by A. Baldwin Sloane and Edgar Smith. Tillie's Punctured Romance is notable for being the last Chaplin film which he neither wrote nor directed, as well as the first feature-length comedy in all of cinema. In it, Chaplin plays an entirely different role from his Tramp character, which was relatively new at the time.

Twenty Minutes of Love

Twenty Minutes of Love is a 1914 American comedy silent film made by Keystone Studios. The film is widely reported as Charlie Chaplin's directorial debut; some sources name Joseph Maddern as the director, but generally credit Chaplin as the creative force.

Wrestling Swordfish

Wrestling Swordfish is a 1931 American short adventure film produced by Mack Sennett. It won an Oscar in 1932 for Best Short Subject (Novelty).

1928–1950
1951–1975
1976–2000
2001–present

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