Guest Author - Amber Grey
Since he was young boy, Mack Sennett had aspirations to entertain people. Although his own mother discouraged Sennett's theatrical ambitions, he found the courage to chase after his own dreams. After being inspired by vaudeville, Sennett went to New York where he worked his way into the theater industry. He was able to claim himself as an actor, singer and dancer when he met the legendary D.W. Griffith and began working for Biograph. While there, Griffith took him under his wing in which he learned how to direct and write for film.
Afterwards, he momentarily worked at the New York Motion Picture Company before traveling to California to see the development of the film making industry there. His acquirement of Keystone Studios was supposedly based on an unsettled gambling debt. In exchange for paying it off, he convinced the unhappy bookies to invest in his new film company. Fortunately for him, they agreed and Sennett worked tirelessly to make sure it succeeded.
The entrepreneurial filmmaker had a knack for spotting talent. He hired the then little-known comedians and actors such as Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, Edgar Kennedy, Slim Summerville, Harry Swain, Chester Conklin, and Ben Turpin. Keystone Studios was otherwise known as the "Fun Factory" around Hollywood for its consistent production of comedic shorts. These films were known for their antics including pie fights. Reportedly, one of the first "pie in the face" stunts was filmed on Sennett's lot. Sennett once commented, "We never make sport of religion, politics, race or mothers. A mother never gets hit with a custard pie. Mothers-in-law, yes. But mothers-never."
One way in which Sennett utilized up and coming female talent was in a series known as "Sennett's Bathing Beauties." Some of the girls remained nameless but others became icons including the queen of screwball comedies, Carole Lombard and silver screen legend, Gloria Swanson. Although, Swanson would deny ever being a part of the series. The series combined pin-up sex appeal with the girls scantily-clad in bathing suits while participating in comedic stunts. They were so popular that other studios including Fox created their own version of this series.
Sennett also had creative, talented people working for him behind the scenes as well. Directors Frank Lloyd and Frank Capra both got their start for at Keystone before they both won Academy Awards for their films later in their careers.
In 1915, Keystone merged into Triangle Film Corporation. This decision reunited Sennett with D.w. Griffith and Thomas Ince. This allowed for a greater expansion but it only lasted two years before Sennett moved in another direction and created another film company under his own name, Mack Sennett Comedies.
With the kind of success he achieved, it is extraordinary to think that his career lasted a mere 20 years before Sennett went bankrupt due to the Great Depression. Instead of starting over again, Sennett accepted an early retirement while he found better financial success in real estate and oil. After all, he was partly responsible for buying a large acerage of land that later became the site of the "Hollywood" sign.
In 1933, he retired and four years later, Sennett was given a special Academy Award at the annual ceremony. The award read, "For his lasting contribution to the comedy technique of the screen, The Academy presents a Special Award to that master of fun, discoverer of stars...sympathetic, kindly, understanding, genius: Mack Sennett."
His work was rediscovered in the 1950s with the advent of television and his shorts were shown in circulation. In 1954, Sennett released an autobiography titled, "King of Comedy." In 1960, he passed away leaving behind a legacy of slapstick, visual humor that is used to this day in a variety of ways to entertain audiences worldwide.