Festival looks at low-key comic



September 22, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Most actors are known for their work in front of the camera. Silent comedian Charley Chase may be even better known for his work behind the camera, said Chase scholar Yair Solan.
Solan, a Ph.D. student in English at the City University of New York and presenter at this year’s Buster Keaton Celebration at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center, became intrigued by Chase when he noticed his name appearing time and again in the credits of Laurel and Hardy films.
Chase, born Charles Parrott, wrote, directed and supervised comedies at the Hal Roach studio where Laurel and Hardy worked, Solan said. Earlier production work was done under Chase’s given name, he added.
Chase also worked as an actor, though, Solan said.
“He did his work entirely in short (film)s in the mid 1920s,” Solan said. “By the time he started acting, the major comedians had already moved into features,” he noted, explaining why Chase’s career is less well known than that of his contemporaries.
In addition, Solan said, Chase — and his work — suffered due to his alcoholism.
Still, Solan said, “There was always a comical logic to his films.”
He said the actor is as funny as any other star of the day, and may be better appreciated now.
“His best stuff is really like a situation comedy,” Solan said. “It’s not slapstick like his contemporaries.”
Chase did make one feature-length film, “Modern Love,” Solan said, but by that time his health was failing.
“By the next time he wanted to make a feature length film, in the 1930s, the studios did not want to take him on,” Solan said.
Chase’s drinking added the tragedy to his life, Solan said, noting that link to the theme of this year’s Celebration, “Tragic Clowns and America’s Melting Pot.”
Unlike other stars of the day, whose personas could be over-the-top, Solan said Chase’s “screen character was more a regular guy — an everyman more than a clown” — another reason his career as an actor did not fly as high as those of Keaton, Chaplin or other slapstick stars.
“So he concentrated more on writing and directing at various studios,” Solan said. In that capacity, Solan said, Chase “produced the earliest ‘Our Gang’ films,” — a group of child actors better known to some as The Little Rascals. He later went on to produce some of the Three Stooges’ short films.
Chase’s alcoholism got the better of him, however, and he died in 1940 at age 46.
Solan’s talk, “Charley Chase — Renaissance Man of Early Film Comedy,” will be at 10:10 a.m. Saturday and will include numerous film clips.

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