Forgotten silent film genius Larry Semon
May 1, 2006 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Forgotten silent film comedian Larry Semon. Part II - Heyday. Part III - Trouble Brewing. In 1920, he was the world's 2nd-most-famous Hollywood star, with a contract and creative control rivaling Chaplin. In 1921, he made a popular series of films with Oliver Hardy as his main comic foil, six years before Laurel & Hardy became a household name. In 1925, he directed a truly bizarre silent version of The Wizard of Oz, just as wild overspending, erratic behavior and lawsuits ruined his career. The Larry Semon Research site has an interesting picture gallery.
posted by mediareport (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It was great to read that write-up of the Semon Oz movie, but what's the deal with the sudden tirade against "political correctness" in the middle of it?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:26 PM on May 1, 2006

Really interesting stuff, mediareport.

I noticed that too, Faint of Butt. It's almost like the author has some sort of obsessive-compulsive tic that the movie set off. The funny thing is, there are lots of interesting things that can be said about race in popular entertainment in the first half of the twentieth century, but he doesn't manage to say any of them....
posted by mr_roboto at 12:29 PM on May 1, 2006

Semon's Oz is an interesting footnote, but unwatchable as a movie. The current DVD release makes it even worse by having an...actress? read all the title cards over a soundtrack of new age loops. Dreadful.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:10 PM on May 1, 2006

There are some decent reviews of some of Semon's early shorts, like Stage Hand, The Bell Hop and Head Waiter at, along with an informative review (minus "pc" digressions :) of his Wizard of Oz.

PinkStainlessTail, I think Netflix has a version that's better than previous ones; their DVD has a bunch of the early Oz versions from 1910-1930 or so, including Semon's. And to be honest, it's a bit tedious, but I liked Semon's Oz, in that "so bad it's fascinating" kind of way, sure, but also as a historical curiosity that's really not as godawful as most folks say it is. It has some interesting special effects, for one thing - stuff I'd never seen before in silent films.
posted by mediareport at 1:22 PM on May 1, 2006

After reading the Oz review I was intriged by G Howe Black. Found him on The Internet Movie Database. Real name was Spencer Bell. Born in Lexington Ky in 1887. Died 1935. According to IMDB he was in 27 movies. I have Oz on DVD ( no new age loops on mine) I find it rather trippy and surprisingly good effects for when it was made.
posted by Yer-Ol-Pal at 2:12 PM on May 1, 2006

From the Oz writeup:
There is a long series of gags and mishaps that have absolutely nothing to do with the story. Larry is kicked into a cactus patch by a mule. (Do cacti grow in Kansas?) ... A goose steals Larry's lollipop ... [and] squirts Larry with some milky substance.
Just how did Larry pronounce his name?
posted by rob511 at 2:33 PM on May 1, 2006

@PinkStainlessTail--by "current release" you aren't talking about the version that's included in the recently-released four-disc edition of the Victor Fleming Wizard of Oz, are you? (I hope not--I bought that and haven't gotten around to watching it yet, and was looking forward to the silent version.)
posted by Prospero at 3:00 PM on May 1, 2006

Oh--three discs, not four.
posted by Prospero at 3:03 PM on May 1, 2006

Excellent post. I know of Larry Semon only through the inevitable mentions of him in various books about Laurel and Hardy, so this is mostly new for me.
posted by briank at 5:02 PM on May 1, 2006

Don't forget the rumors that he faked his own death in 1928. His Hollywood legend is now complete.
posted by mediareport at 5:25 PM on May 1, 2006

After a spurt of activity, he collapsed and was spent.
posted by rleamon at 6:12 PM on May 1, 2006

it's actually not too bad, if you forget it's supposed to be the Oz we're familiar with--i found it a hoot, actually, in that corny, embarassing, slapstick way all Laurel and Hardy, etc, films were back then--not up to Chaplin or Keaton levels but totally entertaining. (there used to be a torrent around of it--it's worth looking for)
posted by amberglow at 6:18 PM on May 1, 2006

Prospero: it was this single disc edition, so you should be fine. Looking at the reviews, I'm not the only one who found this release terrible.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:21 PM on May 1, 2006

That's not the one I have, PST. This version at Netflix also mentions a "new orchestral score," so at least that part is fixed. I'm with amberglow; it's worth watching at least once.
posted by mediareport at 6:32 PM on May 1, 2006

This was fascinating! Thanks for the FPP, mediareport. A pity most of his stuff is unavailable. I'd like to watch his earlier work and evaluate it for myself.
posted by ktoad at 10:32 AM on May 2, 2006

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