Comedyis no laughing matter, as the true story of film pioneer Henry “Pathe” Lehrmanproves.
Today’stelevision sitcoms and $100 million comedy feature films owe everything to thedaring film pioneers that blazed a bawdy trail before them. Henry Lehrman beganworking at the influential Biograph in 1908 as an actor-for-hire, idea man, andsometime consultant along with legendary director D. W. Griffith. Lehrmanadvanced from a vibrant stint making Kinemacolor films to an interval at IMPbefore joining Mack Sennett and Mable Normand making Keystone comedies. Lehrmaneven directed Charlie Chaplin in his first film, Making a Living (1914). The roughhouse, knockabout style of many ofLehrman's early silent movie comedies earned him the nickname “Mr.Suicide.”
By1919, Lehrman’s meteoric rise led to the realization of his dreams: fullindependence and artistic control . . . and then it all collapsed. Hisinvolvement in the notorious scandal surrounding Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle andthe alleged rape and subsequent death of Lehrman’s fiancé, Virginia Rappe,silenced the laughter Hollywood once loved.
Filmhistorian Thomas Reeder dispels some of film history’s oldest myths in thismeticulously researched biography and filmography that revisits the lives andcareers of Gloria Swanson, Laurel and Hardy, Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, MackSwain, Mary Pickford, Tom Mix, and others from silent movies to the first soundfilms.
Lavishlyillustrated with 339 images discovered in archives and personal collections.Foreword by Sam Gill. Introduction by Steve Massa. Filmography featuring casts,credits, synopses, and contemporary reviews for all of Lehrman’s films.Bibliography. Index. Appendices include the first a detailed history of theSterling Motion Picture Company after Lehrman’s departure, and a detailedhistory of the L-Ko Comedy Company after Lehrman’s departure.
Aboutthe author: Thomas Reeder contributed numerous film-related articles for SilentFilm Quarterly, Filmfax, and The Galitzianer. He isalso author of Stop Yellin’: Ben Pivar and the Horror, Mystery andAction-Adventure Films of His Universal B-Unit, and Poetic Justice.
“Forgotten during his ownlifetime, scant attention has been paid to Lehrman in the seventy years sincehis death. Now we finally have an examination, thorough and unbiased, thatestablishes Lehrman’s rightful place in film history. Silent comedy scholarsand fans, in addition to anyone interested in Hollywood lore, owe a debt ofgratitude to Tom for his dogged determination and accurate eye in bringinglight to this dark and neglected corner of movie history.” -Steve Massa, authorof Slapstick Divas
“Henry Lehrman—Mack Sennett’sright-hand man at Keystone and Charlie Chaplin’s first screen director—isalmost completely forgotten by anyone who isn’t a rabid fan of silent comedies,yet his distinctive imprint as actor, writer, and/or director remains onliterally hundreds of reels, both silent and sound. Thomas Reeder hasconducted copious amounts of research and penned an account of Lehrman’s lifeand legacy that is as entertaining as the man’s films.” -Michael J. Hayde,author of Chaplin’s Vintage Year
“In the most meticulous andcareful research from a film historian who also knows the value of aninformative footnote, Tom Reeder has compiled more in-depth information on thisAmerican comedy ‘original’ than anyone I feel sure in saying, has in the past,is doing now, or will attempt in the future, who set themselves the task tofind and make any more revelations of Lehrman ‘truths.’” -Sam Gill, notedauthor and film historian.
"Within ten years of his 1906 arrival in the U.S., Henry Lehrman had achieved both fame and fortune in the fledgling film industry. It was Lehrman's guidance and creativity that ushered newcomer Charles Chaplin to international popularity at Mack Sennett's Keystone. Roscoe Arbuckle, Ford Sterling and numerous others benefited immeasurably from his direction as well. Author Thomas Reeder wrote Mr. Suicide: Henry "Pathe" Lehrman and The Birth of Silent Comedy, subject matter that only fans of silent slapstick would be familiar with before opening the book. At 800 pages you can be assured the author did his legwork. Does he cover the alleged rape and subsequent death of Lehrman's finance, Virginia Rappe, at the hands of his friend Arbuckle? He sure does. If a producer wanted to license this book into a documentary, the meat and potatoes are found within the first 400 pages. The second half documents all of Henry Lehrman's comedy shorts, complete with cast, production credits, plots, reviews and behind-the-scenes trivia."
- Martin Grams Jr.
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