Sunday, June 5, 2011

The King of Comedy

Mack Sennett, founder of Hollywood's Keystone Studio and hailed as the "King of Comedy," was another of Mary Pickford's contemporaries. Like Mary, Sennett was a Canadian. He was born January 17, 1880 in Danville, Quebec, the son of a blacksmith. The family moved to Connecticut when Mack was 17.

Although he originally hoped to become an opera singer, the story goes that it was meeting Marie Dressler, the Canadian-born star of vaudeville, that led him to New York in search of work on the stage. Dressler was appearing in The Lady Slavey in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1898 when Sennett told her he wanted to break into show biz. Marie Dressler wrote a note to David Belasco, famed Broadway producer, on Sennett's behalf.

After appearing in burlesque and vaudeville shows, Mack Sennett apprenticed at the Biograph studio in New York from 1908-1912. This was where he first met Mary Pickford. They were both appearing in the early silent movies directed by D. W. Griffith. Both Sennett and Mary were also writing screen stories and having friendly competitions with each other to sell their work to Griffith.

There's an amusing story in my soon-to-be-released book, Mary Pickford, Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart, about how Mack wanted to put Mary's name on one of his scenarios because he thought Mary's writing was being accepted only on account of her long, blonde hair.

 Mack Sennett became a producer and director himself, founding the Keystone Studio where he became famous for his slapstick comedies, including the zany Keystone Cop series. During his career, Sennett directed most of the well-known comedians of the silent film era. He has to his credit more than 1000 silent movies as well as a number of talkies.  Sennett died in 1960, just before his eightieth birthday.

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