Thursday, October 24, 2013

Making a Fuss About Russ

Russ Powell may not be an actor that is well known, but he turned up in character roles in a number of popular films. 

The Soul of Youth (1920) Patrolman Jones

The Slim Princess (1920)  The Governor General

The Big Trail (1930) Windy Bill

The Public Enemy (1931) Bartender


Me and My Gal (1932) Burper

Taxi! (1932) Dance Judge Presenting Cup


King Kong (1933) Watchman

A Night at the Opera (1935) Carriage Driver


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) Host of the ugly man competition


Son of Frankenstein (1939) Webber, Grand Burgher

Prior to his work as a character actor, Powell took slaps and falls in comedy shorts for Biograph, MinA, Knickerbocker, Vogue, L-KO, Century and Sennett.  

Alone in the City of Sighs and Tears (1915, MinA)

His time in the field did not last long.  He began this period of his career in 1915 (as "Fat Customer" in Biograph's The Fashion Shop) and ended it in 1919 (as a jealous, gun-toting husband in Sennett's Reilly's Wash Day).

 The Morning After (1915, Knickerbocker)

Vogue put forth a determined effort to promote Powell as an up-and-coming comedy star.  In those days, an overweight comedian was defined by his voluminous belly.  The following ad could not have laid it out clearer - "Big, fat Russ Powell is the chief funnyman."  

Film Fun magazine included Powell in a pictorial called "Fourteen Funny Fat Folk of the Film."  We get it, people like to laugh at the obese.  Of course, people laugh at skinny folk, too.

Powell was cast opposite a bright starlet named Priscilla Dean, whose job it was to be pretty while Powell performed pratfalls.  To leave no doubt about the primary reason that Dean was in the series, director  John Francis Dillion nicknamed his leading lady "Pretty Priscilla."  


Dillion promised that the series would provide "slapstick with reason," which addressed complaints from exhibitors that most comedies were comprised of random hitting and running around.

Heaven Will Protect a Woiking Goil (1916, Vogue)
Regardless of what Vogue intended, the series may not have been an ideal showcase for Powell or Dean.  Trade reviews suggest that Paddy McGuire, a supporting player in the series, may have taken away the spotlight from the stars.  McGuire established a following by playing a character named Bungling Bill, the slapstick antics of which were nothing if not random, and the actor was able in the end to outlast Powell and Dean's time at Vogue.

It is notable among Powell's credits that the actor played the conniving Kingfish in Check and Double Check, a 1930 feature film adaptation of the "Amos and Andy" radio series.

I am always happy to do a little bell-ringing for a forgotten clown.  My teacher used to tell me that, every time a bell rings, a baggy pants (or baggy robe) angel gets his wings.

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