November, 1960 was a tough month for Hollywood’s “kings.”
Yesterday, I wrote about the 50th anniversary of the passing of Clark Gable, the “King of Hollywood,” who died on November 16, 1960. His death came just eleven days after the passing of Mack Sennett, Hollywood’s “King of Comedy,” at age 80.
Mack Sennett, the ribald silent comedy producer who brought the “pie fight” and the wild car chase to the masses, was born in Canada in 1880. After his family relocated to New England when Sennett was a teenager, young Mack decided to go into vaudeville. He later claimed that his mother and some of her friends, including future U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, tried to talk him out of his decision.
Sennett migrated to New York where he got work at Biograph Studios as an actor and director. By 1912, he was on the move again, this time to the West Coast, where he founded Keystone Studios near Echo Park. This hyper-manic lot became the birthplace of the entire genre of silent film slapstick comedy, launching the careers of such stars as Fatty Arbuckle, Ben Turpin, Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, the Keystone Cops, and a young English music hall veteran named Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin arrived at Keystone in 1914 and by the end of that year he had made 35 films for Sennett, becoming the world’s biggest box office star in the process.
Chaplin left Keystone in 1915 and Sennett eventually moved his operations to a new complex in Studio City. He continued cranking out comedies at a furious rate at his new laugh factory, launching several more notable careers.
Sennett’s fortune, along with his studio, was lost in the Great Depression. He retired from filmmaking at the age of 55 after having produced a roster of over 1000 silent and talkie films over a 25-year career.
Like yesterday’s fallen king Clark Gable, Sennett was quite a philanderer in his time and is sometimes credited with the creation of the “casting couch.”
Sennett’s old stomping grounds in Studio City was for a time the home of Republic Pictures, and is now known as the CBS Studio Center. This is the home of several long-running television series, including Gilligan’s Island, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, Leave It To Beaver, CSI: NY, Boston Common, and Seinfeld.
The site of Sennett’s Keystone Studio is today a storage facility.