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Sacred Cows

Posted: Tue Jun 02, 2009 8:50 pm
by Rob Farr
Steve and Ben's MoMA series got me thinking. Silent comedy had no problem tackling race, sex, war, ethnicity, capital punishment, homosexuality, terrorism (usually in the form of bomb-throwing anarchists), drug abuse, cannibalism, murder, insanity, white slavery, death, etc. etc. But what were the sacred cows that even Larry Semon dared not make fun of? Here are a few that I can think of and I'd invite the rest of the mafioso to chime in if I forgot any.

The Alamo (lots of comedies about besieged settlers holed up in forts, but The Alamo was sacred turf)
George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (not a single comedy where Honest Abe's pants catch on fire)
The 1918 Flu Pandemic (tho Billy Dooley's Sailor Beware comes damn close)
The Sinking of The Maine, Titanic and Luisitania (other ships can sink, but not those three)
Protestants or Catholics (or The Pope)
Anyone in the Bible (with the possible exception of Adam and Eve)
The Armenian Genocide
Warren G. Harding's death by food poisoning

Nothing else comes to mind right now. What am I missing?

Re: Sacred Cows

Posted: Tue Jun 02, 2009 8:53 pm
by Rob Farr
Oh, and venereal disease.

(first time I've ever posted that sentence)

Re: Sacred Cows

Posted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 12:12 am
by Bill Cassara
Venerial disease?
All these years when people made reference to V.D. I thought they were talking about Vernon Dent.
That's a joke son.

Re: Sacred Cows

Posted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 2:27 am
by Richard M Roberts
Birth Control and Abortion. (apart from the 1919 Universal Comedy BERTH CONTROL, but I think that was actually about trains).


Re: Sacred Cows

Posted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 5:31 pm
by Brent Walker
Abe Lincoln has factored into silent comedy, with Charles Dudley's impersonations in Arbuckle's THE BELLBOY and Stan Laurel's WIDE OPEN SPACES, and Georgie Billings in HANDS UP. Also in sound comedy, as when Rochester ends up landing in the lap of the Lincoln statue in the finale of IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD.

Re: Sacred Cows

Posted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 5:34 pm
by Brent Walker
And while the Armenian genocide wasn't covered in silent comedy (though I don't think it was widely known about or publicized in the U.S. during the silent era), there sure were a lot of "Terrible Turks" in silent comedies.

Re: Sacred Cows

Posted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 5:38 pm
by Brent Walker
Biblically, Ben Turpin played John the Baptist (or actually an actor playing John the Baptist) in Sennett's SALOME VS. SHENANDOAH (1919).

Re: Sacred Cows

Posted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 7:36 pm
by Rob Farr
Brent Walker wrote:Biblically, Ben Turpin played John the Baptist (or actually an actor playing John the Baptist) in Sennett's SALOME VS. SHENANDOAH (1919).

Now that I think of it, both Chaplin and Stan Laurel acted out comic versions of the David and Goliath story. OK, so let's amend my statement to say categorically that the New Testament was off limits.

Re: Sacred Cows

Posted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 8:08 pm
by Rob King
The sinking of the Lusitania not a fit topic for comedy? Well, maybe not explicitly. But it’s certainly in the background of the Syd Chaplin film A Submarine Pirate (December 1915). …

First off, there’s the historical proximity of the film to the Lusitania disaster (seven months earlier, in May of that year). Second, the plot: a submarine raids a passenger liner and then gets caught in a comic battle with a gun-boat. Admittedly, Syd’s motive is gold, not war; but I think audiences would have to have been living in a vacuum if the film didn’t remind them of the Lusitania (especially since at least two more passenger liners had fallen victim to a similar fate in the subsequent months).

Third, the term “Submarine Pirate” itself. I’ve come across an issue of the British paper, The Daily Mirror, with the headline “Sinking of the British Ship Oakby off Folkestone after being Torpedoed by a Submarine Pirate” (Feb. 27, 1915). Was the term “submarine pirate” used in America at the time? To tell the truth, I don’t know. But it certainly was in Britain. Might Syd Chaplin have brought it with him?

And here’s one last observation: the production report on the film gives May 5 as its starting date (which includes time spent on scenarios, as well as shooting, of course). The Lusitania disaster? Two days later. It’s impossible, I’d guess, to know the state of the scenario during those initial two days, or even if they had any firm ideas for the film at all (although Brent might have some info here); what seems certain, however, is that they were working out their ideas for the film right at the moment of the Lusitania and the attendant fallout.

Thanks, by the way, to the Mafia for creating this site. I sincerely hope that your attitude to being funny is different from Joe Pesci’s in Goodfellas.

Re: Sacred Cows

Posted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 10:24 pm
by Paul E. Gierucki
Our weapon of choice is the cream pie, Rob.
Baseball bats are used almost exclusively by
our Enforcers. Dons never make the hit.

Glad that we can amuse you!

-- Paul E. Gierucki