Sunday, November 29, 2015
The Team of André Deed and Max Linder
Georg Renken, a Max Linder authority, contributed valuable research to my recent article on the mirror routine. Now, Mr. Renken has come forth with additional information on Linder that you might find interesting.
In 1906, Pathé Frères made history in their efforts to establish the film industry's first comedy stars. They started out by introducing André Deed and then, only months later, they brought forth to the public Max Linder. Their goal, in each instance, was to present a familiar figure that audiences would be glad to revisit week after week.
The company did not see a need to note the actors’ names in their film titles or promotional literature until 1910, but Renken found an exception to the rule in 1908 ads that were published in a Brazilian newspaper, Gazeta de Noticias. Linder was referenced in the ads by his full professional name, but Deed was referenced simply as "Did." The ads have allowed Renken to identify missing credits for both actors. More interesting, he discovered from the ads in Gazeta de Noticias as well as a Portugal newspaper that Linder and Deed appeared together in at least three films. None of these films has been known to survive, but significant information about the films has been provided by catalog summaries, periodical ads and press reviews.
My main interest has been to determine the roles that the comedians played in these films and the way in which they interacted. This has proven to be an impossible task. The extensive plot information that is available on the films fails to link specific actors to specific roles. All that I am left with is conjecture.
The first film is Unwilling chiropodist (released originally in France as Pedicure par amour and released later in Brazil as Callista A Força). The ad reads: "Resounding apotheosis of laughter and intense joy. Ultra comical. Scenes represented by celebrated actors DID and Max Linder. Success of hilarity." The "celebrated actors" reference and the fact that the actors were noted by name is proof that the comedians had attained early star power in Brazil. In this instance, we have overwhelming evidence that Linder played the lead role in the film. The film was re-released in 1913, by which time Linder’s name was being prominently featured in ads. Also, a still from the film was published in a 1947 film history book. Linder, in his suit and top hat, is an unmistakable figure in the photo.
Linder certainly laid claim to the film’s central comedy business, which he turned into a trademark sketch. He performed it on stage from 1912 to 1914 and he featured it in yet another film, Max pedicure (1914).
The plot of Unwilling chiropodist is appropriately silly. Linder is carrying on an affair with a married woman. When her husband arrives home unexpectedly, Linder pretends to be a chiropodist who has come to attend to the wife's aching feet. Soon, he is having to tend to the husband's bunions and cut his toenails. The Moving Picture World reported, "Then comes the man servant, the grocer, the coachman, they all require his skill and attention, and at last, unable to stand the strain any longer, our sham doctor rushes out into the street, much to the amusement of the revenged husband." My guess is that Deed played one of the men who got a foot treatment from Linder.
The second film is Fake doctor (released in France as Consultation improvisee). The ad reads, "Extra comical strip, real factory of laughter, whose result of the most frank joy. Will reign amongst the honorable viewers. Represented by Max Linder and Did." New York Dramatic Mirror reported, "The best Pathe comedians work in this picture," which also suggests a joint effort by Linder and Deed. We again have a false identity plot. When the doctor is called away to the scene of an accident, his servant takes great pleasure in putting on the doctor's white coat and prescribing a variety of medications to the doctor's patients. The servant role is well suited to Linder, who specialized in imposter roles. We already saw Linder pretend to be a chiropodist and do his best to bluff his way through foot treatment. How hard would it be to imagine him pretending to be doctor and dispensing pills? Although the dandy character that the comedian came to epitomize was too self-important to ever work as a servant, his preoccupation with status and his obsession with impressing the ladies often caused him to pretend that he was someone that he really wasn’t.
The third comedy, The Music Teacher (released in France as La maitresse de piano), did not reach Portugal until December, 1910. At the time, an ad that appeared for the film in a Portugal newspaper announced: "We call the attention of the public to this film, interpreted by the celebrated artists Dide and Max Linder." In this film, a young man falls in love with a pretty young woman, but her father denies him entrance to their home. The young man is desperate to see his beloved lady. As it turns out, his solution is to dress in drag so that he can pretend to be the young woman's music teacher. Yes, essentially the same plot was used decades later for Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). This plot is well suited to Deed. In fact, Deed went on to use the same plot for a 1911 comedy called Foolshead, Lady of Company (released originally in Italy under the title Cretinetti dama di compagnia). Also, Linder was not a comedian who tended to engage in drag business. The comedian dressed as a woman to undo a rival in the 1913 comedy Le duel de Max. Otherwise, I cannot think of one other time that he donned a dress.
Unfortunately, I cannot figure the role that Linder had in The Music Teacher. But it is at least good to know that, in this brief farce, film's earliest comedy kings got to join forces to deliver "frank joy" and a "resounding apotheosis of laughter."
Renken identified Deed as the leading man of another 1908 comedy, The Pretty Typist (released in France as La jolie dactylographe). The actor can be clearly identified in this photo from the film. He is the forlorn office clerk who stands to the left of the other actors.
The film’s plot involves Deed's character becoming enamored of the titular pretty typist. The Moving Picture World reported, "As soon as he sees her at work on the typewriter, he begins to smile in her direction from his high stool, showing plainly that first sight is enough for him. His arms now begin to fly about, his heart like[wise] flails, and in his enthusiasm he falls from his chair to the floor. . ." He plans to talk to the typist, but he cannot take a step in her direction without his no-nonsense boss getting in the way. The boss stands in the center of the photo ejecting another of the typist’s admirers from the office. At first, I thought that the boss looked like Linder. But the boss is significantly taller than Deed. I could find no record of Deed’s height, but I do know that Linder was 5' 2" and few men could stand next to him and appear to be shorter. Is the boss Linder or not? I ask that you judge for yourself.