Friday, February 16, 2018

Born Today February 16: Mack Swain


Seasoned vaudevillian and silent film comic Mack Swain was born Moroni Swain on this day in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Swain had been a seasoned live comic for many years before signing with Mack Sennett and his Keystone Film Co.  He made his film debut in the Mabel Normand comedy short A Muddy Romance in 1913.  He showed up in a few Normand films from then on; and he appeared in the Charlie Chaplin 1914 feature Tillie's Punctured Romance (one of my favorite appearances of his with Chaplin is in the hilarious short called by various names, including Laughing Gas also in 1914).  At Keystone, he was the partner of fellow comic Chester Conklin as the duo of Ambrose and Walrus--with Swain as Ambrose.  The character, however, was not confined to films with Conklin; Swain made several Ambrose films where the character appeared in a solo capacity--most of these films were shorts.  And, a goodly number of these films were made after he signed with the L-KO Kompany in 1918, where he stayed for a year; the first film that he made with them was Ambrose's Icy Love. Swain also has some 15 directing credits to his name.  His directorial debut came in 1919 with what is basically the one man act in Heroic Ambrose; the film was made for Frohman Amusement who he would stay with into the 1920's.  By the dawn of the 1920's, the appetite for comedic 2-reelers was waning. Swain was able to work pretty steadily in 1920 in short films featuring Ambrose; but after this, his film appearances slowed.  He shows back up in a Charlie Chaplin film in 1921 as one of many, many extras in Chaplin's film The Idle Class.  He appeared in more Chaplin films in the 1920's and also worked with Jack White (who worked with The Three Stooges in the 1930's). He also worked with the likes of Lloyd BaconBen Turpin, Paul Leni, Harry Pollard, Allan Dwan, and Clarence Brown during the decade.  His film career picked back up steam starting in 1926 and continued through to the arrival of the talkies.  Amongst the features that he appeared in in the mid to late 1920's are: the Will Rogers feature A Texas Steer (1927), the original Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928), Mockery (1927) starring Lon Chaney Sr. with Ricardo Cortez, and the remake of Tillie's Punctured Romance (1928) which saw him back in a film with Conklin.  A few films that he made in the 1920's also saw him working again with Mack Sennett; one of the later of these-- the comedy short The Girl From Nowhere (1928)--was shot partially in the two-color process of Technicolor. He also appeared in his first sound film in 1928 as well; Caught in the Fog was a partial silent feature shot for Warner Brothers, using their facilities for early sound production in Burbank.  Swain had regular work in the early 1930's, working steadily through 1932, when he obviously began to have reasons to leave films (probably health related).  He didn't appear in any films in 1933 or 1934 and only appeared in one film in 1935--his last.  He made an uncredited appearance in Bad Boy.  He died suddenly that same year after a sudden illness caused internal bleeding.  He passed away in Tacoma, Washington on the 25th of August at the age of just 59.  He is buried in the state of Washington at the Huntsville Cemetery.


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