Charlie Chaplin was “The Little Tramp”, Buster Keaton was “The Great Stone Face” and “Fatty” Arbuckle was known as…well, “Fatty”. Yes, many of the legendary stars of silent era comedies had such nicknames, but there were others who are long since forgotten. So let us take a moment to remember such stars as…
The Merry Bigot: Brought to the screen by former vaudevillian actor Harry Smithson in 1919, “The Merry Bigot” never met a race or nationality he didn’t want to oppress…but always with a smile! Twice a winner of the then prestigious “Ku Klux Klan Komedy” award, Smithson made more than a dozen “Merry Bigot” films in three years. His career came to a sudden end in 1922, when he “mysteriously” disappeared while taking a stroll through Harlem.
Otto “Hiney” Hausen: Though actually born in Pennsylvania, Otto built up a substantial career by playing German soldiers, spies and even the Kaiser during the first world war. Since every film ended with Otto getting his behind soundly kicked, movie viewers started calling him “Hiney” and the name stuck.
All good things must end however and when the war was finally over, so was Otto’s career. An early victim of type casting, he wound up working as a waiter a “Wolfgang’s House of Schnitzel”, where for an extra large tip patrons were allowed to kick him…for old time’s sake.
The Bootleg Kids: A precursor to the “Little Rascals”, this group of lovable street urchins always managed to stay one step ahead of the law as they delivered bathtub gin to speakeasies in a very popular series of movies in the 1920’s.
The most popular of the kids were “Knuckles”, the wiry but scrappy enforcer, “Swishy”, the slightly effeminate, but tough as nails leader and “Jail Bait”, the only girl in the gang, who as a pubescent temptress sent more cinema villains to prison than the keystone cops ever did.
After the kids grew too old to play their roles they all went their separate ways. “Knuckles” went into professional boxing where he compiled an unfortunate record of 0 wins and 47 losses. He would eventually end up in a home for the terminally punch drunk.
“Swishy” became a prison warden who was feared by all the inmates for his “rigid” discipline…if you catch my drift.
Last but not least, “Jail Bait” opened a “sporting house” for gentlemen. After being in business a good number of years, her clients gave her a new nickname…"Madame Claptrap".
As, the roaring twenties came to an end, so did the era of silent films. You know, at the time there were more than a few people who thought that sound was going to ruin motion pictures forever and now whenever I hear Sylvester Stallone mangle a line of dialogue…I’m not so sure they were wrong.
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