Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Pictorial Study of Waddy and Arty

One of my recent posts included a photo of Edison Studios' Waddy and Arty, one of film's first comedy teams.  I only know of one Waddy and Arty film that is still around.  The film is a one-reel comedy called On the Lazy Line (1914), which the esteemed Kalton Lahue singled out for discussion in World of Laughter: The Motion Picture Comedy Short, 1910-1930.  I have long been curious about the team and, after looking into their history, I have come to believe that they are worthy of attention.

William Wadsworth
Waddy was William Wadsworth.  Wadsworth had performed dramatic roles on stage for several years before he joined Edison Studios.  It was interesting for me to learn that Wadsworth may have worked with Lloyd Hamilton in the James K. Hackett theater company.

Wadsworth joined the Edison company in the Fall of 1911.  He was immediately featured in broad comedy roles.  In Willie Wise and his Motor Boat (1911), Wadsworth purchases a motor boat to impress a young woman, but he finds that it is harder to steer the boat than he imagined.  The boat goes speeding wildly through the waves and, via trick photography, leaps over a small island. 

Wadsworth's comedies were, in general, silly and lively.  Another example is As the Tooth Came Out (1913), in which Wadsworth played a man suffering from a toothache.  Wadsworth has nightmarish hallucinations when he is given nitrous oxide by his dentist.  He imagines that his tooth is extracted by a horned demon.  Then, the tooth grows to six feet tall and chases him through town.  When the tooth catches up to him, it taps him on the shoulder and announces, "Tag, you're it!"

The story for Seven Years Bad Luck (1913) squeezed a great deal of action into one reel.  Wadsworth seems to fall victim to an epidemic of bad luck after his maid breaks a mirror in his home.  It could not be a worse day for him.  A flower pot falls on his head and ruins his hat, he loses his wallet, he falls down a hole, and he loses his job.  He is trying to hang himself when his playful dog runs off with the rope.  Before he can find another way to kill himself, the man who dropped the flower pot on his head arrives at his home with a new hat.  All sorts of good luck follows.  The best turn of events occurs when his old boss has a change of heart and offers him a better job than the one he had before.  Wadsworth, who no longer believes that breaking a mirror brings bad luck, ends the film by smashing a large mirror.

I was particularly amused reading the story for With Slight Variations (1914).  Wadsworth uses inheritance money to take an ocean cruise, but deck hands rob him of his money and throw him overboard.  Wadsworth ends up stranded on a tropical island.  When a showgirl's trunk washes up on shore, he dresses up an bundle of sticks with one of the showgirl's flashy outfits.  Cast Away would have been a different movie if Tom Hanks had found a FedEx package with showgirl outfits.  I am sure that Wadsworth's bundle of sticks was a better companion than Hanks' Wilson the Volley Ball.  As With Slight Variations progresses, a captain arrives with a party to explore the island.  Wadsworth is hailed as a hero when he bravely rescues the party from the island's cannibal natives.

In His Undesirable Relatives (1913), Wadsworth is desperate to rid himself of freeloading relatives.  He finally comes up with the idea to have his maid (Alice Washburn) pretend to have the measles by applying spots of cranberry sauce across her face.

Arthur Housman

Arthur Housman was Arty.  Housman started working at Edison at the start of 1912.  His first film for Edison was Everything Comes to Him Who Waits (1912), which Moving Picture World described as a "crockery breaking farce."  Charles Ogle, a burly actor who had the distinction of being the cinema's first Frankenstein monster, starred as a clumsy, hot-tempered waiter.  When the waiter is billed by the owner for the dishes he has broken, the waiter goes on a rampage and breaks every dish that he can put his hands on.  Wadsworth as the restaurant owner and Housman as a fellow waiter cower in fear as the former Frankenstein monster shows that he regards dishes as being just as bad as fire.

At first, Housman was confined to supporting roles in slapstick farces, many of which featured Wadworth in the lead role.  In Two Knights in a Barroom (1912), Wadsworth played a tramp begging various merchants for a handout and Housman played one of the merchants that the tramp approached.

When the Right Man Comes Along (1913)

Housman received one of his first leading man roles in When the Right Man Comes Along (1913).  He played the "right man" of the title, but the film was really a vehicle for Mary Fuller, who was cast as a Wall Street titan.  Fuller's character, a cold and aloof business woman, has no interest in marriage until she meets Arthur Royden (Housman).  Royden spurns her attentions at first, but he has a change of heart when the business woman abandons her mannish dress for more feminine fashions.

Mary Fuller
Housman's good looks led the actor to be cast as a love interest in a number of films.  A Reluctant Cinderella (1913), as When the Right Man Comes Along, was focused on its leading lady.  A young woman attending a dinner dance is bothered by a slipper pinching her feet.  She feels that she is safe to remove the slipper under the table, but other guests kick the slipper along until it is out of her reach.  She now has to hide her unclad foot while searching for the lost slipper.  The dashing Dick Evans, played by Housman, is the Prince Charming who finds the slipper and seeks out its dainty-footed owner.

Housman had the spotlight to himself in at least two films.  The first was The Sultan and the Roller Skates (1914).  The plot of an evil sultan kidnapping a pretty American woman was familiar, but the filmmakers introduced a funny twist to the proceedings.  It had the kidnapping sultan, the beautiful American woman and, as a special feature, roller skates.  A sultan (William Chalfin) is so fascinated by American champion roller-skater Mae Higgins (Elsie MacLeod) that he has his soldiers take her captive.  Sam Spaulding (Housman), with whom Mae recently won a roller-tango contest, formulates a plan to rescue Mae.  He brings sample cases of roller skates to the sultan and offers to provide training and equipment to the sultan's extensive harem so that they can roller skate for his entertainment.  Eventually, Sam and Mae use roller skates to outrace the sultan's guards and speed out of the palace.

Getting to the Ball Game (1914)
Another solo vehicle for Housman was Getting to the Ball Game (1914).  The film focused on a simple situation.  Housman, a baseball fan, has a flat tire on his way to a pennant game.  He remains determined to make it to the game regardless of this and further setbacks.  The film's climax was shot at a pivotal game between the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

One other interesting film that starred Housman was A Story of Crime (1914), which took a satirical look at gossiping neighbors.  A dim-witted servant girl misunderstands when Mr. Dorner (Housman) playfully threatens to strike his wife and she promptly informs others in the community of the man's ferocity.  Soon, the neighbors are talking and the incident described by the servant girl is exaggerated each time that it is related.  In the end, it is reported to the police that Mr. Dorner has killed his wife.  The police arrive at the Dorner's home and are surprised to find a couple that is the model of domestic bliss.

Wadsworth occasionally showed up in a small role in a Housman comedy.  He was a neighbor in A Story of Crime and the sultan's treasurer in The Sultan and the Roller Skates.  The first time that the actors had more than a passing interaction on screen was in an elopement comedy called Beau Crummel and His Bride (1913).  The plot was not at all elaborate or unique.  After Beau Crummel (Housman) runs off with Elise (Elsie McLeod), Elise's disapproving father (Wadworth) tracks the couple to a hotel and makes trouble for them.

As a change of pace, Housman wore funny old age make-up for a slapstick comedy called The Two Merchants (1913).  Housman played a small-town merchant engaged in an intense rivalry with a second merchant played by William West.  The two men set aside their animosity for one another to compete against a new store in town.

Falling in Love with Inez (1913)

Housman had a supporting role in Falling in Love with Inez (1913).  The film revealed the travails endured by the caretaker of a beautiful young woman.  Uncle John is infuriated when his young clerks (Edwin Clarke and Housman) show an interest in the comely niece that he has hired to be his stenographer.  He replaces the clerks with hideous old men, but his niece continues to attract men wherever she goes.

Housman in How a Horseshoe Upset a Happy Family (1912).

Edison made an extraordinary effort to promote Housman's starring role in The Gilded Kidd (1914), which was a special expanded comedy (two reels instead of the usual one reel that Edison devoted to comedies).  The film featured Housman as a bratty man-child named Harry Kidd.  The film opens with Kidd stealing a clothing store mannequin for a prank.  A police officer catches Kidd with the dummy, but the police officer reacts in a friendly and familiar manner and doesn't bother to arrest Kidd.  It turns out that the prankster is immune from the authorities due to his famous financier dad.  The theft of the dummy is far from being the first unlawful deed perpetuated by Kidd, who has achieved newspaper notoriety for his frequent antics.

Kidd falls in love with Elsie (Elsie MacLeod), but Elsie is reluctant to marry a man who is a public joke.  Kidd becomes distressed to learn that Elise has become interested in Tom Graham (Edward Earle).  Kidd and Graham come up with a wager to settle their rivalry.  Graham, who knows that it is impossible for Kidd to be arrested, vows to stop seeing Elise if Kidd can find a way to get himself thrown into jail.  If Kidd loses the bet, he must give up his pursuit of Elise.

Kidd fails to get arrested for breaking a window or stealing fruit because the victims know to simply send a bill to Kidd's father.  Kidd tells the police that he murdered a man, but the police refuse to believe his confession since he is unable to produce a body.  In desperation, Kidd bribes a warden to let him take a prisoner's place in a jail cell.  Elise is part of a woman's club that comes to the jail that day.  When she sees Kidd in the cell, she checks out the register and sees that the crime listed for this inmate is "breach of promise."  Elsie becomes furious and refuses to ever see Kidd again. 

The Blue Coyote Cherry Crop (1914)

Housman played a more dramatic role in The Blue Coyote Cherry Crop (1914), which offered a story of tragedy and sentiment.  When an old miner dies, three young miners (Robert Conness, Carlton King and Housman) band together to secretly provide financial support to the old man's daughter, who is attending a fashionable boarding school in the East.

The Blue Coyote Cherry Crop (1914)

The actors in Edison's comedy units had to be ready to serve in a variety of functions from film to film.  Wadsworth and Housman appeared together as dissolute husbands in When the Men Leave Town (1914), but the fact that they were among the men who leave town meant that they weren't around for much of the action.  The film was a satire on the suffragette movement.  When a woman is elected mayor, she bans drinking, smoking and gambling, which is the reason for the men leaving town.  The women plan to operate the town without the men, but they run into a few problems.  First, the women who take charge of trash pick-ups find the trash cans too heavy to lift.  Also, the trolley breaks down and none of the women know how to repair it.  The women try to telegraph the men to return home, but even sending a telegraph is beyond their ability.  Instead, they use a carrier pigeon to get word to the men, who agree to come back as long as they can continue to drink, smoke and gamble. 

Here are films that included a disunited Wadsworth and Housman in the cast:

What Happened to Mary (1912)
Uncle Mun and the Minister (1912)
A Queen for the Day (1912)
How They Got the Vote (1913)
After the Welsh Rabbit (1913)
Superstitious Joe (1913)
He Would Fix Things (1913)
Porgy's Banquet (1913)
Qualifying for Lena (1914)
Post No Bills (1914)  
A Matter of High Explosives (1914)

Harry Gripp and William Wadsworth in Post No Bills (1914).

Wadsworth and Housman were originally teamed for a series called "Wood B. Wedd."  Wood B. Wedd, as the character's name suggests, is a man committed to finding himself a wife.  As the producers saw it, the character's romantic temperament was expected to led him into "weird and unusual situations."  Wadsworth assumed the role of the lovesick bachelor.  Housman played Wedd's devoted best friend, Darby Jenks, to whom Wedd turned whenever he needed help out of a difficult situation.

Her Face was Her Fortune (1913)

The first film in the series, Her Face was Her Fortune (1913), begins by showing several women reject Wedd's proposals of marriage.  Widow Conner puts up a fight when Wedd tries to take back the lovely bouquet that he brought with him.  When Wedd emerges from her home, he is holding a bunch of crushed and bent flowers.  Wedd corresponds with a wealthy woman, who agrees to marry him.  He arrives at the woman's home to meet her for the first time.  The woman turns to face Wedd, revealing a chin adorned with long whiskers.  She explains that she earned her fortune as a bearded lady in the circus.  Wedd is so appalled that he flees the home immediately.

What follows is a listing of the other series entries with photos and selected plot summaries.  The second entry in the series, The Lovely Señorita (1914), is not included in the list because it did not feature Housman.

The Beautiful Leading Lady (1914)

The Vision in the Window (1914)

Wedd falls in love with a beautiful woman that he sees sitting in a window.  He receives bumps and bruises during several ill-fated attempts to reach the woman.  He finally succeeds in meeting the lovely lady only to discover that she is a wax figure.

In High Life (1914)

A Lady of Spirits (1914)

Wedd is frightened away from his latest lady love when a dinner at her home is attended by the woman's dearly departed relatives.

The Revengeful Servant Girl (1914)

A servant girl, Araminta (Lizzie Conway), is angry when Wedd breaks off their engagement to propose marriage to another woman (Elsie MacLeod).  Araminta is determined to do anything she can to make trouble for the new couple.  One evening, she slips a sleeping mixture into Wedd's coffee so that he will oversleep the next morning and miss his wedding.  In the morning, Jenks uses everything from gongs to ice water to arouse Wedd from his deep slumber.  Unfortunately, Wedd arrives at the church minutes after his bride has departed.  The jilted groom believes his situation could not be worse until a group of angry guests descend upon him and beat him into the ground.

A Canine Rival (1914)

Wedd, who hates dogs, has no chance of marrying Dora unless he can find a way to cope with her unfriendly dog Gyp.

The Buxom Country Lass (1914)


Fanny Merrick will not marry Wedd unless he can prove he can put in a hard day's work on her farm.  Wedd, who has never done farm work before, enlists the aid of Jenks to get his chores done.  The inexperienced farm hands have nothing but trouble throughout the day.  They struggle to milk a cow, they get attacked by bees, and they chase after pigs that have fled their pen.

Love by the Pound (1914)

Wedd wants to marry the stout Miranda when he learns that her uncle will give the young woman her weight in gold on the day that she marries.

Wood B. Wedd and the Microbes (1914)

Wedd is interested in marrying a wealthy woman, but the woman will not accept his marriage proposal unless he submits to a series of tests to prove that he is fit and hygienic. 

Wood B. Wedd Goes Snipe Hunting (1914)

Wedd realizes that his many failures in the matrimonial field were due to the way that Jenks managed his affairs.  The friends part ways and are soon competing for the affections of the same girl, Susie.  After Wedd outdoes Jenks in a snipe hunting contest, Susie happily consents to marry him.  The couple go off to a motion picture show, but the theatre happens to be running a "Wood B. Wedd" comedy.  When Susie sees Wedd on screen embracing a buxom woman, she becomes outraged and returns the engagement ring.

On the Lazy Line (1914)

During this period, Wadworth and Housman were also paired up in comedies that were not part of the "Wood B. Wedd" series.  These films included Seth's Sweetheart (1914), On the Lazy Line (1914), The Basket Habit (1914) and Something to A Door (1914).  Seth's Sweetheart cast the pair as romantic rivals.  Housman, a "city chap," steals Sally (Viola Dana) from country boy Wadsworth and Wadsworth does his best to win back the fair lady.  The plot to Something to A Door turned Wadsworth and Housman into business rivals.  Bessie's fiancé, Jim Ferris (Housman), and her father, Papa Hammond (Wadsworth), have a clash at a board of directors meeting and the father retaliates by demanding that his daughter break off her engagement with Ferris.  Ferris is enjoying a visit with Bessie when Hammond arrives home unexpectedly.

He hurries to sneak out of the home before Hammond sees him and, in his haste, he slams the door shut on the tail of his expensive grey overcoat.  Hammond sees Ferris through the window and, although he clearly recognizes the man, he phones the police to report that a burglar in a grey overcoat is standing on his front porch.  

Ferris reluctantly slips out of his coat to make a hasty escape.  Hammond is removing the coat from the porch when the door slams shut behind him.  Locked out of his home, he sits down on his porch and throws on the coat to keep warm.  When the police arrive, they assume that Hammond is the suspicious character who was reported to them and they promptly place him under arrest.

Wadsworth and Housman moved directly from the "Wood B. Wedd" series to the "Waddy and Arty" series.  Wadsworth adopted old age make-up for the role of Waddy.  Housman kept to the same look that he had adopted for the Darby Jenks character.  Housman was, in this modest guise, more natural than other film comedians of the day.  At a time, most film comedians wore big moustaches and made funny faces.  Housman, as Arty, didn't have a moustache, a wig, a putty nose, or greasepaint eyebrows.  The lack of facial hair made him look young and innocent.  The character of Arty was described by one reviewer as "beardless and youthfully callow."  Stills suggest that he commonly reacted to situations with a deadpan expression.  Reviewers sometimes complained that a Waddy and Arty comedy would have been better if the action moved faster, but the slower pace of their films may have been intentional.  Of course, it is impossible to dispute the reviewers' complaints about pacing without actually seeing the films.  But Waddy, a fatigued old man, and Arty, a vacuous young man, didn't look as if they were designed to be the most energetic pair.

Here is a listing of the Waddy and Arty comedies with photos and selected plot summaries.

The Courtship of the Cooks (1914)

Two cooks compete to win the heart of a wealthy widow. 

The Champion Process Server (1915)

Expensive Economy (1915)

A man gets into trouble when he fails to leave a waitress a tip.

A Superfluous Baby (1915)

Lodgings for Two (1915)

Found, a Flesh Reducer (1915)

Arty, a "reducing expert," helps Waddy to lose weight.

Seen from the Gallery (1915)

Suspicious Characters (1915)

Waddy and Arty break into a mansion with the intent to rob jewels out of a safe.  Meanwhile, the owner of the home fails to notice his young daughter climb into the safe.  He locks the safe with the daughter still inside and then casually retires to bed.  The ill-intentioned burglars become heroes when their safecracking efforts free the adorable little girl from her dire confinement.  The film climaxes with the burglars getting into a pie fight with a police officer. 

The Tailor's Bill (1915)  

Wadsworth, a tailor, tracks down Housman to collect payment of a bill.

A Spiritual Elopement (1915)  

After her father dies, Evelyn Banks (Viola Dana) gets in a dispute with her uncle (Wadsworth) over property papers that belonged to her father.  Evelyn enlists help from her boyfriend (Housman) to scare off her uncle by making him think that her house is haunted.  The film climaxes with Housman performing the classic Commedia dell'arte routine "Lazzi of the Statue." 

One Way to Advertise (1915)

Edison's official plot summary: "A harmless advertisement is transformed into something quite shocking when a goat rips the paper in half."

Hypno and Trance (1915)


Rooney the Bride (1915)

Rooney (Wadsworth) does not have the best day.  To start, he clumsily drops bricks on a young woman as she walks under his ladder.  When he gets home, Rooney lets his seamstress wife use him as a tailor's dummy so that she can stitch up a customer's bridal gown.  When the bride arrives, Rooney realizes that this is the same woman that he injured earlier in the day.  He is so anxious to avoid the woman that he leaps out of a window in the bridal gown.  An improbable twist in the story, or I should say a twist more improbable than the other improbable twists of the story, leads Rooney to pose as the bride of Artie Boone (Housman) to help Boone collect a $10,000 wedding gift from his uncle.

Her Country Cousin (1915)

Seen Through the Make-Up (1915)

Hans and His Boss (1915)

Arty tells his girlfriend, a rich widow, that he has to go out drinking with his boss if he wants to keep his job.  He later has to have Waddy pretend to be his boss to maintain his ruse.

Music in Flats (1915)

Arty takes singing lessons and, when a beautiful woman who lives downstairs becomes enchanted hearing the singing teacher's voice, Arty pretends that it was his voice that the woman heard.

A Clean Sweep (1915)

His Sad Awakening (1915)

Press releases for this film focused on the old age make-up that Housman adopted for the film.

Martha's Romeo (1915)

The Idle Rich (1915)

Nearly a Scandal

Chinks and Chickens (1915)

A farmer finds broken planks in his hen house and instructs his farm hands, Waddy and Arty, to "close up the chinks in the hen house."  Waddy and Arty, who fail to understand their boss' use of the word "chinks," proceed to raid a number of laundries so that they can apprehend Chinese people and lock them in the hen house.

All Cooked Up (1915)

Housman and Wadworth attended an annual banquet hosted by Thomas Edison, who showed Waddy and Arty comedies as the evening's entertainment.  It's amusing to imagine the serious-minded Edison being the boss of a couple of slapstick comedians.

The Waddy and Arty series ended after turning out 24 official releases between December, 1914, and May, 1915.  This put the total of films that featured both Wadsworth and Housman at 45.  Wadsworth and Housman continued to work at Edison, but they never again appeared together in the same film.  Housman worked with Edison newcomer Oliver Hardy during this period.  Hardy gleefully thrashed Housman in the college hazing comedy The Simp and the Sophomores (1915).  Housman left Edison on July 1, 1915.  The following notice appeared in Motography

July 3, 1915

Arthur Housman Leaves Edison

Arthur Housman, one of the most universally popular comedians on the screen, left the Edison Company on July 1. Mr. Housman's versatility enables him to play drama, light comedy, and slapstick comedy with perfect ease.  Most of his screen appearances while a member of the Edison stock company for the last few years, however, have been in comedy; being co-star with William Wadsworth in the "Waddy and Arty" series, and featured in a number of one and two-reel comedies which he practically carried with his own humorous characterizations.  One of his best pictures was "The Basket Habit," in which he played the part of a monocled, shrinking Englishman, and which was featured on the program of the New York Theater on Broadway on the day of its release.

It was reasonable for Housman to have left Edison at this time since the company was about to close its comedy division to focus its resources on dramatic productions.

Wadsworth played character roles in Edison dramas for the next two years.  His film career ended when Edison moved to shut down their total operations in 1917.  Wadsworth did not hesitate to return to the stage.  He worked frequently on Broadway between 1920 and 1944.  He originated the role of Joe Stoddard, the undertaker, in the 1938 Broadway production of Our Town.  He died in Brooklyn in 1950 at the age of 75.

The Lash of Destiny (1917)
Housman worked regularly in character roles in dramatic features for the next fifteen years.  He occasionally returned to starring roles in short comedies, including a short-lived series of Housman Comedies in the early 1920s and Fox's series of "The Married Life of Helen and Warren" comedies in the late 1920s.  Housman Comedies, Inc. also produced a five-reel feature, The Snitching Hour, in 1922.  Housman returned to comedy full-time when his funny turn as a drunk in Harold Lloyd's Feet First (1930) put him in high demand to play comic souses.  Housman remains best remembered today for his appearances in five Laurel & Hardy films.  Housman died of pneumonia at the age of 52 in 1942.