Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hank Mann, From Star to Featured Extra

Hank Mann as a fruit vendor in Laurel and Hardy's The Dancing Masters (1943)

Hank Mann is widely celebrated among silent film comedy enthusiasts for his mastery of slapstick, pantomime, and characterization.  He stands out as one of the great stars of his field.  But his days as a star did not last long.  After learning his craft as a supporting player at Keystone, he rose to stardom in a series of L-KO comedies in 1916.  The following year, he solidified his status with a series of big-budget comedies at Fox Film Corporation.  But, then, he was drafted into the army.  On his return to civilian life, he had trouble reviving his career.  He eventually starred in a low-budget series of Arrow Comedies, which lasted from 1919 to 1920.  His career as a star was over at this point.  He wrote for other comedians and took on an occasional supporting role.  He embarked on a career as a character actor with the 1922 feature Quincy Adams Sawyer.

Here is a closer look at Mann in the ad.


Mann had small roles in more than a 160 feature features between 1922 and 1960.  Here he is as a train conductor in Garden of Eden (1928).

He got to build a robot in Smoky (1933).

He had a brief, but funny role in Danger: Love at Work (1937).


During his last years, Mann was reduced to working in films as a featured extra.  Look at his credits on Internet Movie Database.  He is "Husband in Bed" in Crime of Passion (1957).

He is "Bus Passenger" in Blue Denim (1959). 

He is "Storekeeper" in Last Train From Gun Hill (1959).  He is to the far right in the first picture and nearly dead center in the second. 


He is "Speakeasy Patron" in Some Like It Hot (1959).

Is that him to the left of Pat O'Brien?

He is "Townsman" in Inherit the Wind (1960).  He is visible between Fredric March and Spencer Tracy sitting near the window. 

Inherit the Wind was his last film.

The ranks of character actors included many former silent film comedians.  Take, for instance, Charles "Heinie" Conklin.

Conklin is a trumpet player in Wedding Present (1936).  As a prank, Joan Bennett later pays the musicians to pose as painters and destroy Cary Grant's office.


He is a bailiff in Road House (1948).

He is a gambler puzzled by Barbara Stanwyck's gambling technique in The Lady Gambles (1949).


He is a hotel waiter fighting his way through rowdy conventioneers in Woman in Hiding (1950).


The rowdiest conventioneer is a bongo-beating Joe Besser.


I will focus on one particular comedy-star-turned-character-actor in an upcoming article.

Mann's days as a silent film comedian are examined in my book "Eighteen Comedians of Silent Film," which is now available in a revised Kindle edition.

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