January 17, 1880
|Died||November 5, 1960 80) (aged|
Mack Sennett (born Michael Sinnott; January 17, 1880 – November 5, 1960) was a Canadian actor, filmmaker, and studio head, known as the 'King of Comedy'.
Born in Danville, Quebec,in 1880, he started in films in the Biograph Company of New York City, and later opened Keystone Studios in Edendale, California in 1912. Keystone possessed 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. In 1938 he was presented with an honorary Academy Award for his contribution to film comedy.
Born Michael Sinnott in Danville, Quebec, he was the son of Irish Catholic John Sinnott and Catherine Foy. His parents married in 1879 in Tingwick, Quebecand moved the same year to Richmond, Quebec where Sinnott was hired as a laborer. By 1883, when Sennett's brother George was born, Sinnott was working as an innkeeper, a position he held for many years. Sennett's parents had all their children and raised their family in Richmond, then a small Eastern Townships village. At that time, Sennett's grandparents were living in Danville, Quebec. Sennett moved to Connecticut when he was 17 years old.
He lived for a while in Northampton, Massachusetts, where, according to his autobiography, he first got the idea to become an opera singer after seeing a vaudeville show. He said that the most respected lawyer in town, Northampton mayor (and future President of the United States) Calvin Coolidge, as well as Sennett's mother, tried to talk him out of his musical ambitions.
In New York City, he took on the stage name Mack Sennett and became an actor, singer, dancer, clown, set designer, and director for the Biograph Company. A distinction in his acting career, often overlooked, is that he played Sherlock Holmes 11 times, albeit as a parody, between 1911 and 1913.
With financial backing from Adam Kessel and Charles O. Bauman of the New York Motion Picture Company, Sennett founded Keystone Studios in Edendale, California – now a part of Echo Park – in 1912. The original main building which was the first totally enclosed film stage and studio ever constructed, is still standing. Many successful actors began 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.
“In its pre-1920s heyday [Sennett’s Fun Factory] created a vigorous new style of motion picture comedy founded on speed, insolence and destruction, which won them the undying affection of the French Dadaists…” —Film historian Richard Koszarski
Dubbed the King of Hollywood's Fun Factory,Sennett's studios produced slapstick comedies that were noted for their hair-raising car chases and custard pie warfare, especially in the Keystone Cops series. The comic formulas, however well executed, were based on humorous situations rather than the personal traits of the comedian. The various social types, often grotesquely portrayed by members of Sennett's troupe, were adequate to render the largely “interchangeable routines: “Having a funny mustache, or crossed-eyes, or an extra two-hundred pounds was as much individualization as was required.”
Film historian Richard Koszarski qualifies "fun factory" influence on comedic film acting:
"While Mack Sennett has a secure and valued place in the history of screen comedy, it is surely not as a developer of individual talents...Chaplin, Langdon and Lloyd were all on the lot at one point or another, but developed their styles only in spite of Sennett, and grew to their artistic peaks only away from his influence...screen comedy followed Chaplin’s lead and began to focus more on personality than situation."
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.
“It is an axiom of screen comedy that a Shetland pony must never be put in an undignified position. People don’t like it...immunity of pretty girls doesn’t go as far as the immunity of the Shetland pony...you can have her fall into mud puddles. They will laugh at that. But the spectacle of a girl dripping with pie is unpleasing...movie fans don’t like to see pretty girls smeared up with pastry. Shetland ponies and pretty girls are immune.”— Max Sennett, from The Psychology of Film Comedy, November 1918
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.
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.[ citation needed ] During the 1920s his short subjects were in much demand; they featured 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 physically deteriorated to the point of destruction, due to inadequate storage. As a result, many of Sennett's films from his most productive and creative period no longer exist.
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, Hollywood's two most successful studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount Pictures, took note of the profits being made by smaller companies such as Pathé Exchange and Educational Pictures. MGM and Paramount resumed 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 Pathé to the new MGM or Paramount films and short subjects.[ citation needed ]
Sennett made a reasonably smooth transition to sound films, releasing them through Earle Hammons's Educational Pictures. Sennett occasionally experimented with color. He was also 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.On March 25, 1932, he became a United States citizen.
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 with Fields as star. Two other Sennett shorts were made with Fields scripts: The Singing Boxer (1933) with Donald Novis and Too Many Highballs (1933) with Lloyd Hamilton.
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.
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."
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,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.
Sennett died on November 5, 1960, in Woodland Hills, California, aged 80.He was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
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.
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.
Edward Francis Cline was an American screenwriter, actor, writer and director best known for his work with comedians W.C. Fields and Buster Keaton. He was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin and died in Hollywood, California.
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 Kops. The picture was the only feature-length comedy made by the Keystone Film Company.
Amabel Ethelreid Normand, better known as Mabel Normand, was an American silent film actress, screenwriter, director, and producer. She was a popular star and collaborator of Mack Sennett in their Keystone Studios films, and at the height of her career in the late 1910s and early 1920s had her own film studio and production company. Onscreen, she appeared in twelve successful films with Charlie Chaplin and seventeen with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, sometimes writing and directing films featuring Chaplin as her leading man.
Keystone Studios was an early film studio founded in Edendale, California on July 4, 1912 as the Keystone Pictures Studio by Mack Sennett with backing from actor-writer Adam Kessel (1866–1946) and Charles O. Baumann (1874–1931), owners of the New York Motion Picture Company. The company, referred to at its office as The Keystone Film Company, filmed in and around Glendale and Silver Lake, Los Angeles for several years, and its films were distributed by the Mutual Film Corporation between 1912 and 1915. The Keystone film brand declined rapidly after Sennett went independent in 1917.
Silent comedy is a style of film, related to but distinct from mime, invented to bring comedy into the medium of film in the silent film era (1900s–1920s) before a synchronized soundtrack which could include talking was technologically available for the majority of films. Silent comedy is still practiced, albeit much less frequently, and it has influenced comedy in modern media as well.
Henry "Harry" Philmore Langdon was an American comedian who appeared in vaudeville, silent films, and talkies.
Mack Swain was an early American film actor, who appeared in many of Mack Sennett’s comedies at Keystone Studios, including the Keystone Cops series. He also appeared in major features by Charlie Chaplin.
Henry Lehrman was an American actor, screenwriter, director and producer. Lehrman was a very prominent figure of Hollywood's silent film era, working with such cinematic pioneers as D. W. Griffith and Mack Sennett. He directed, as well as co-starred in, Charlie Chaplin's very first film, Making a Living.
Edendale is a historical name for a district in Los Angeles, California, northwest of Downtown Los Angeles, in what is known today as Echo Park, Los Feliz and Silver Lake. In the opening decades of the 20th century, in the era of silent movies, Edendale was known as the home of most major movie studios on the West Coast. Among its many claims, it was home to the Keystone Kops, and the site of many movie firsts, including Charlie Chaplin's first movie, the first feature-length comedy, and the first pie-in-the-face. The Edendale movie studios were mostly concentrated in a four-block stretch of Allesandro Street, between Berkeley Avenue and Duane Street. Allesandro Street was later renamed Glendale Boulevard.
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.
A Noise from the Deep is a 1913 American short silent comedy film starring Mabel Normand and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. The film was directed and produced by Mack Sennett and also features the Keystone Cops on horseback.
The Water Nymph is a 1912 American silent comedy "split reel" short film starring Mabel Normand and directed by Mack Sennett. Normand performed her own diving stunts for the film, which was the first Keystone Studios comedy.
At Coney Island, also known as Cohen at Coney Island, is a 1912 American short silent comedy starring Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand, and Ford Sterling. Sennett also directed and produced the film. According to the book Mack Sennett's Fun Factory: A History and Filmography of His Studio and His Keystone and Mack Sennett Comedies, with Biographies of Players and Personnel, Sennett claimed this was the first Keystone Studios production, shot on location at Coney Island on July 4, 1912. It was the eleventh Keystone film released, on a split-reel with A Grocery Clerk's Romance.
The L-KO Kompany, or L-KO Komedies, was an American motion picture company founded by Henry Lehrman that produced silent one-, two- and very occasionally three-reel comedy shorts between 1914 and 1919. The initials L-KO stand for "Lehrman KnockOut".
Sennett Bathing Beauties was a bevy of women performing in bathing costumes assembled by film producer Mack Sennett during the silent film era.
Hollywood Cavalcade is a 1939 American film featuring Alice Faye as a young performer making her way in the early days of Hollywood, from slapstick silent pictures through the transition from silent to sound.
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.
Peggy Pearce was an American film actress of the silent era. She worked primarily in short subjects at the L-KO Kompany and Keystone Studios. She appeared alongside stars including Charles Chaplin, Roscoe Arbuckle, Billie Ritchie, Slim Summerville, Ford Sterling, and Mabel Normand.
Teddy the Dog or Keystone Teddy was the most famous animal actor associated with the Mack Sennett studios. The Great Dane was one of only three of the studio's stars whose name appeared in the title of a film. He performed chiefly in Sennett comedies, but he also appeared in dramatic films including Stella Maris (1918), The Strangers' Banquet (1922) and A Boy of Flanders (1924).
... injured Mack Sennett, former producer of 'Bathing Beauty' film comedies.