Al St. John

Last updated
Al St. John
Al St. John in Who's Who on the Screen.jpg
Who's Who on the Screen, 1920
Born
Alfred St. John

(1892-09-10)September 10, 1892
DiedJanuary 21, 1963(1963-01-21) (aged 70)
OccupationActor, stunt performer, director, writer
Years active1912–1962
Spouse(s)
Lillian Marion Ball
(m. 1914;div. 1923)

June Price Pearce
(m. 19261957)

Yvonne St. John
Flo-Bell Moore [1]
Children1
Relatives Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (uncle)

Al St. John (also credited as Al Saint John and "Fuzzy" St. John; September 10, 1892 – January 21, 1963) was an early American motion-picture comedian. He was a nephew of silent film star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, with whom he often performed on screen. St. John was employed by Mack Sennett and also worked with many other leading players such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Mabel Normand. His film career successfully transitioned from the silent era into sound, and by the late 1930s and 1940s he was working predominantly in Westerns, often portraying the scruffy comedy-relief character "Fuzzy Q. Jones". Among his notable performances in that role are in the "Billy the Kid" series of films released by the Producers Releasing Corporation from 1940 to 1946 and in that company's "Lone Rider" series from 1941 to 1943.

Contents

Early life, family and education

Alfred St. John was born in Santa Ana, California. He was the only child of parents Walter St. John, who supported the family initially as a farm laborer and later as a house builder, and Nora N. St. John (née Arbuckle), who was the older sister of actor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. His uncle Roscoe, was five years older than Alfred. [2] [3]

Career

Barney Oldfield's A Race for a Life (1913) with left to right: Hank Mann, Ford Sterling, Al St. John and in the foreground Mabel Normand Barney Oldfield's Race for a Life.jpg
Barney Oldfield's A Race for a Life (1913) with left to right: Hank Mann, Ford Sterling, Al St. John and in the foreground Mabel Normand
Left: Ford Sterling as Keystone Cops Police chief [seated}; 4th from right: Al St John in In the Clutches of the Gang (1914) KeystoneKops.jpg
Left: Ford Sterling as Keystone Cops Police chief [seated}; 4th from right: Al St John in In the Clutches of the Gang (1914)
St. John (right) with Buster Keaton and Roscoe Arbuckle in Out West (1918) OutWest1918-01.jpg
St. John (right) with Buster Keaton and Roscoe Arbuckle in Out West (1918)

Young "Al" entered silent films in 1911 to work as an extra and in minor character roles. Soon, however, he graduated to co-starring and then to starring roles in comedy shorts for a variety of studios. [4]

St. John frequently appeared as Arbuckle's mischievously villainous rival for the attentions of leading ladies such as Mabel Normand and Minta Durfee. He worked with Arbuckle and Charles Chaplin in The Rounders (1914), although his most critically praised film during this period with Arbuckle remains Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916). In France, he was billed as "Picratt." [5]

As Fatty's rival "Al Clove" in Love (1919) Al St. John.jpg
As Fatty's rival "Al Clove" in Love (1919)

When Arbuckle formed his own production company, he brought St. John with him and recruited stage star Buster Keaton into his films, creating a formidable roughhouse trio. [6] After Arbuckle was involved in a widely publicized scandal that prevented him from appearing in movies, he pseudonymously directed his nephew Al as a comic leading man in silent and sound films such as The Iron Mule (1925) and Bridge Wives (1932). Dozens of St. John's early films were screened during the 56-film Arbuckle retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2006.[ citation needed ]

As St. John's screen career continued through the 1930s, he was increasingly cast as scruffy, bearded comic characters. He appears, for example, in this type of role in Buster Keaton's 1937 comedy short Love Nest on Wheels , portraying the hillbilly character Uncle Jed. [7] That same year he began supporting cowboy stars Fred Scott and later Jack Randall, but most of his films were made for Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). For that studio, he played "Fuzzy Q. Jones" in the Billy the Kid series starring Bob Steele, the Lone Rider series (starring George Houston and later Bob Livingston), and the Billy the Kid/Billy Carson series starring Buster Crabbe.

Buster Crabbe (left) with St. John in Shadows of Death (1945) Buster Crabbe-Al St. John in Shadows of Death.jpg
Buster Crabbe (left) with St. John in Shadows of Death (1945)

The name "Fuzzy" originally belonged to a different actor, John Forrest “Fuzzy“ Knight, who took on the role of "cowboy sidekick" before St. John. The studio first intended to hire Knight for the Western series, but then gave the role to St. John, who took on the nickname of his rival for his screen character. [8]

Exhibitors loved Fuzzy, who could be counted on to attract moviegoers. Fuzzy's character was the main box-office draw in these films when shown in England and Europe. These ultra-low-budget Westerns took only a bit more than a week to film, so that Crabbe and St. John made 36 films together in a surprisingly short time. When Crabbe left PRC (according to interviews, in disgust at the productions' increasingly low budgets), St. John was paired with new star Lash LaRue. Ultimately, St. John performed in more than 80 Westerns as Fuzzy.

St. John also created a character, "Stoney," in the film The Law of the 45's that later appeared, but played by different actors (including John Wayne), in the continuing Western film series The Three Mesquiteers . [9]

St. John acted in more than 350 films during his screen career, which spanned the years 1911 through 1952.

Final years

For a decade after the end of his motion-picture career, he made assorted personal appearances at fairs, rodeos, on television, and at overseas US military bases. He performed as well with traveling live-action productions such as the Tommy Scott Wild West Show. [10]

St. John's death on January 21, 1963, occurred while he was touring with Scott. According to his obituaries, he suffered a massive heart attack at a motel in Lyons, Georgia, as he prepared for a special appearance at a nearby American Legion club. It was also widely reported in news accounts that the 70-year-old veteran entertainer died at the motel "in the arms of his wife, Flo-Bell Moore". [10] [11] After a private funeral service in Lyons, St. John's body was sent to Macon, Georgia for cremation. His ashes were then transferred to Homosassa Springs, Florida, where they were "deposited" at Fuzzy and Flo-Bell's permanent residence on the couple's "Double F Ranch". [4]

Filmography

Related Research Articles

Keystone Cops Group of fictional characters

The Keystone Cops are fictional, humorously incompetent policemen featured in silent film slapstick comedies produced by Mack Sennett for his Keystone Film Company between 1912 and 1917.

Roscoe Arbuckle American actor and comedian (1887–1933)

Roscoe Conkling "Fatty" Arbuckle was an American silent film actor, comedian, director, and screenwriter. He started at the Selig Polyscope Company and eventually moved to Keystone Studios, where he worked with Mabel Normand and Harold Lloyd as well as with his nephew, Al St. John. He also mentored Charlie Chaplin, Monty Banks and Bob Hope, and brought vaudeville star Buster Keaton into the movie business. Arbuckle was one of the most popular silent stars of the 1910s and one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, signing a contract in 1920 with Paramount Pictures for $14,000.

Educational Pictures American film company

Educational Pictures, also known as Educational Film Exchanges, Inc. or Educational Films Corporation of America, was an American film production and film distribution company founded in 1916 by Earle Hammons (1882–1962). Educational primarily distributed short subjects; it is best known for its series of comedies starring Buster Keaton (1934-37) and the earliest screen appearances of Shirley Temple (1932-34). The company ceased production in 1938, and finally closed in 1940 when its film library was sold at auction.

<i>The Butcher Boy</i> (1917 film) 1917 film by Roscoe Arbuckle

The Butcher Boy is a 1917 American two-reel silent comedy film written by, directed by, and starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and featuring Al St. John, Buster Keaton and Alice Lake. This was the first in Arbuckle's series of films with the Comique Film Corporation, and Keaton's film debut.

<i>Out West</i> (1918 film) 1918 film

Out West is a 1918 American two-reel silent comedy film, a satire on contemporary Westerns, starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, and Al St. John. It was the first of Arbuckle's "Comique" films to be filmed on the West Coast, the previous five having been filmed in and around New York City. The idea for the story came from Natalie Talmadge, who was later to become Keaton's first wife. The film contains racial stereotypes and attitudes, including a scene in which a gang of rowdy cowboys make a black man, played by Ernie Morrison Sr., dance by shooting at his feet.

<i>The Cook</i> (1918 film) 1918 film by Roscoe Arbuckle

The Cook is a 1918 American two-reel silent comedy film written by, directed by, and starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and featuring Buster Keaton and Al St. John. The movie is a slapstick comedy and focuses on goings-on at a high-end restaurant with Arbuckle as the Cook and Keaton as the Waiter.

<i>Good Night, Nurse!</i> 1918 American film directed by Roscoe"Flapjack" Arbuckle

Good Night, Nurse! is a 1918 American two-reel silent comedy film written by, and directed by, and starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and featuring Buster Keaton. The action centers in a sanitarium Arbuckle's character was involuntarily brought to by his wife to be operated on by Keaton's character for alcoholism.

<i>Back Stage</i> (1919 film) 1919 film by Roscoe Arbuckle

Back Stage is a 1919 American two-reel silent comedy film directed by and starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and featuring Buster Keaton and Al St. John.

<i>The Round-Up</i> (1920 film) 1920 film

The Round-Up is a 1920 American silent Western film starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and featuring Wallace Beery. The movie was written by Edmund Day and Tom Forman, directed by George Melford, and based on Day's play that was a huge hit for Roscoe Arbuckle's older cousin Macklyn Arbuckle and Julia Dean on the Broadway stage in 1907. It was Macklyn in the play who created the famous phrase used in advertisements of the film, nobody loves a fat man.

<i>The Bell Boy</i> 1918 film by Roscoe Arbuckle

The Bell Boy is a 1918 American two-reel silent comedy film directed by Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle for the Comique film company.

<i>Coney Island</i> (1917 film) 1917 film by Roscoe Arbuckle

Coney Island is a 1917 American two-reel silent comedy film starring, written and directed by Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and featuring Buster Keaton.

<i>The Rough House</i> 1917 film

The Rough House is a 1917 American two-reel silent comedy film written by, directed by, and starring both Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Buster Keaton. The Rough House was Keaton's first film as a director.

<i>His Wedding Night</i> 1917 film

His Wedding Night is a 1917 American two-reel silent comedy film written by, directed by, and starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. It also features Buster Keaton and Al St. John

<i>A Country Hero</i> 1917 film

A Country Hero is a 1917 American two-reel silent comedy film directed by and starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and featuring Buster Keaton. The film is considered to be lost.

<i>Moonshine</i> (1918 film) 1918 film

Moonshine is a 1918 American two-reel silent comedy film directed by and starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and featuring Buster Keaton. The movie is available on Youtube.

Elgin Lessley

Elgin Lessley was an American hand-crank cameraman of the silent film era—a period of filmmaking when virtually all special effects work had to be produced inside the camera during filming. Though Lessley worked earlier with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, and later with Harry Langdon, he is best known for the groundbreaking effects he produced with Buster Keaton, who dubbed him "the human metronome" for his ability to crank consistently at any requested speed.

<i>Rustlers Hideout</i> 1945 film by Sam Newfield

Rustlers' Hideout is a 1944 American Western film directed by Sam Newfield. In 1940 Crabbe had followed and replaced Bob Steele in the role of Billy the Kid in a series of B-Westerns. After 19 films as Billy, the character was renamed Billy Carson with seemingly no other changes to the series. He even kept his sidekick from the "Kid" films. This was the 14th of the Carson series out of a total of 23 (1940-1946).

The Billy the Kid series of 42 Western films was produced between 1940 and 1946, and released by Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation.

Al St. John filmography

Al St. John (1893–1963) was an American comic actor who appeared in 394 films between 1913 and 1952. Starting at Mack Sennett's Keystone Film Company, St. John rose through the ranks to become one of the major comedy stars of the 1920s, though less than half of his starring roles still survive today. With the advent of sound drastically changing and curtailing the two-reel comedy format, St. John diversified, creating a second career for himself as a comic sidekick in Western films and ultimately developing the character of "Fuzzy Q. Jones", for which he is best known in posterity.

Luke the Dog Fictional character

Luke the Dog (1913–1926) was a Staffordshire Terrier that performed as a recurring character in American silent comedy shorts between 1914 and 1920. He was also the personal pet of actress Minta Durfee and her husband, the comedian and director Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.

References

  1. "Al St. John marital history". b-westerns.com. Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  2. "St. John, Al", Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, 1921. New York: Motion Picture News, Inc., 1921, p. 203. Internet Archive, San Francisco. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  3. "Twelfth Census of the United States: 1900", digital image of original enumeration page, St. John household, 18 June 1900, San Jose Township Pamona City Ward 5, Los Angeles, California; "Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910", image of original enumeration page, 19 April 1910, District 75, 91, Los Angeles, California; Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C. FamilySearch Archives.
  4. 1 2 "Al St. John Veteran Film Comic Dies", extended obituary, The Arizona Republic (Phoenix), 22 January 1963, p. 24. ProQuest.
  5. Sweeney, Kevin W. (2007). Buster Keaton Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. p. 152. ISBN   978-1-57806-963-7.
  6. Eagan, Daniel. "More on Fatty Arbuckle: His Films and His Legacy". Smithsonian Magazine, November 16, 2011. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  7. "Love Nest on Wheels (1937)", cast credits, catalogue, British Film Institute, London. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  8. Corneau, Ernest. Hall of Fame of Western Film Stars. Christopher Publishing, 1969, p. 235.
  9. Pitts, Michael R. Poverty Row Studios, 1929-1940: An Illustrated History of 55 Independent Film Companies, with a Filmography for Each McFarland, 2005, pp. 52-53.
  10. 1 2 "Al St. John, Western Star, Dies in Lyons", The Atlanta Constitution , 22 January 1963, p. 32. ProQuest Historical Newspapers, Ann Arbor, Michigan; subscription access through The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
  11. "Al St. John, Western Film Comic, Dies", obituary Los Angeles Times , 22 January 1963, p. 4. ProQuest.

Further reading