Recommended Reading

"Lame Brains and Lunatics: The Good, The Bad and The Forgotten of Silent Comedy"

by Steve Massa (BearManor Media, 2013)

I love this book! Why? Mainly because it was just plain fun to read. Of course, any book named "Lame Brains and Lunatics" should be, but author Steve Massa writes with a love of the silent comedians - many you may not even recognize - and has a wealth of knowledge and interesting trivia included in these 478 pages regarding the well-known and little-known geniuses of the silent screen. For example, are you familiar with Fay Tincher? Ever seen one of her comedies? Not having one defined comic persona and working for forgotten companies such as Komic Comedies and World Film, it's no wonder she's not remembered today - although she was a very talented comedian. Fortunately, one of her best shorts, "Rowdy Ann" (1919), is available on the DVD set "Slapstick Encyclopedia." However, Tincher is only one of several deserving, yet underappreciated, silent comedians who have found a chapter in Massa's engaging omnibus. In addition to her own starring vehicles, also for minor companies, Gale Henry's "elongated" form can be seen in some Charley Chase shorts and in minor parts in some pretty well-known talkies such as "The Awful Truth" (1937) and "Bringing Up Baby" (1938). Everyone's seen the cock-eyed George Rowe in Laurel and Hardy and Charley Chase shorts, but only Massa would think of devoting a chapter to this comedian who by his very presence added so much to the Hal Roach comedies. Every heard of Marcel Perez? Alice Howell? They have chapters, too. And there are those with whom we are more familiar on film but have seen so little about them in print - Al St. John, Max Linder, Billie Ritchie, Max Davidson and others. What also makes Massa's book an intriguing treasure are the biographical snapshots we get of so many silent comedians, directors and producers woven into the chapter discussions about the stars mentioned above - people like Martha Sleeper, Sunshine Sammy Morrison, John Bunny, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew, Henry Lehrman, Josie Sadler, Harry Davenport, Eddie Dillon, Johnny Sinclair, and too many more to mention. Favorite chapters? The reader will find those on Marie Dressler and Max Linder to be bittersweet tales. "Comedy Teams of the Teens and Twenties" introduces us to the Hallroom Boys, Jimmy Adams and Lige Conley, Neely Edwards and Bert Roach, Cliff Bowes and Virginia Vance, The Spat Family, The Smith Family, Pee Wee Tuttle and Ben Corbett, Ton of Fun and others. How many of these have you heard of? I've mentioned many times before how much I enjoy books such as this that allow the reader to go to a chapter anywhere in the book - whatever may pique your interest at the moment - and read a chapter in 15 or 30 minutes without the necessity of reading from start to finish - and without pages and pages devoted to someone's great-great-great-great grandparents and all their offspring. Steve Massa is a true encyclopedia of knowledge about the comedy of the silent era. The book is definitely a must-have for any silent movie fan, and, as you read through it, you'll have an overpowering urge to go find a DVD of these comedies to watch. As expected, many are lost to time, but there are quite a few still out there - David Shepard's "Slapstick Encyclopedia" is a good place to start and serves as a great companion to this book. As I said, it's a fun book to read, and, oh, did I mention I love this book!!

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