I discovered a curious new wrinkle in relation to the origins of the Musty Suffer series, which is a subject that I discussed in my last article.
The George Kleine Company contracted the comedy team Bickel and Watson to star in a series of five-reel feature films. The first film produced under this arrangement was The Fixer (1915), which was based on a play called "Hello Bill." It was a standard farce. Bill Fowler (Watson) runs into a number of problems on his way to marry wealthy widow Isabel Dare (Ruby Hoffman). Fortunately, Bill is friends with Christopher Cutting (Bickel), who has an exceptional talent for fixing problems. Using devious means to keep a marriage on track may not have made Bickel and Watson the most endearing characters, but it was worse when the pair went on to star as election fixers in The Politicians (1915). It is hard to imagine that the team was comfortable making these films, which lacked the vaudeville-style silliness that the performers had perfected in their stage act. Would Kleine let Bickel and Watson break out of the farce genre?
Responding to a special invitation from the Kleine company, exhibitors and reviewers arrived at Broadway's Candler Theatre on November 14, 1915 for a trade showing of a five-reel comedy called Keep Moving. The film was promoted as a yet another Bickel and Watson feature, but those five reels had something very different to offer. Those who attended the event became the first members of the public to be introduced to a foolish tramp named Musty Suffer. It must be clarified, though, that the tramp doesn't begin Keep Moving as a tramp and he isn't even called Musty Suffer at first. He is a prince in the wacky land of Blunderland (we know the place is wacky because the king and queen travel around the throne room on roller skates). The prince has a fateful encounter with a fairy tramp. The fairy, as played by Maxfield Moree, is a strange and dilapidated creature. A writer for Moving Picture World once called Moree "unquestionably one of the skinniest human beings extant," which may be the reason that a reviewer of Keep Moving described the fairy tramp as "cadaverous." The character was a cross between a hobo clown and a fairy, possessing heavy stubble, baggy pants, a ballet skirt, and a wand with a star at the end. The fairy agrees to transform the prince into a humble tramp so that he will be free to explore the wide world. It is now that he adopts the name Musty Suffer and he finds that, as his new name suggests, he must perpetually suffer while learning the harsh ways of the world. He is accompanied on his journey by a fellow tramp played by Bickel.
The Kleine studio, which was located in the Bronx, drew its talent from the New York stage. The director of Keep Moving, Louis Myll, had no previous experience making films. Myll had worked for many years as a stage manager for prominent play producers, including Kleine and David Belasco. The film's leading lady was vaudeville star Cissie Fitzgerald, whose naughty song act earned her the nickname "The Girl with the Wink."
(I also want to note that, based on additional research, I have expanded my plot summaries for the series.)