Mack (1880-1960), American motion-picture producer and director,
who made a significant contribution to silent films in the United
States with the frenetic slapstick comedy that he introduced
was the film industry's first real producer, a versatile entrepreneur
who recognized and encouraged talent and who created a systematic
approach to production that yielded a large quantity of films.
Michael Sinnott in Danville, Quebec, Canada, he initially worked
as a laborer, although he had ambitions to become a singer.
He soon went to New York City, where he worked for a time in
burlesque and as a Broadway chorus boy.
1908 he began his film career at the American Mutoscope and
Biograph Company, working with director D. W. Griffith as an
actor and scriptwriter. By 1910 he was also doing some directing.
In 1912, with financial backing, he formed a new studio, Keystone,
which rapidly became the industry leader in the production of
slapstick comedy films, a genre that had originated in French
silent films but was transformed by Sennett into a more complex
art form, inventive and often even surrealistic.
particular style of comedy was largely a result of his superb
comic timing (demonstrated most vividly in his chase scenes),
a fondness for rude visual humor, and a willingness to improvise.
Indeed, at the outset his films were mostly improvised farces
with an endless stream of physical humor, often at the expense
of the established social order-as with the antics of his popular
Keystone Kops. A discerning judge of talent, Sennett assembled
a broad range of performers in his
company, among them actor Mabel Normand (whom he had taken away
from Biograph and with whom he had a close relationship for
many years) and others who became major figures in silent comedy:
Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Edgar Kennedy, Slim Summerville, Harry
Swain, Chester Conklin, and Ben Turpin. As the studio prospered,
Sennett's films became longer and more carefully planned, other
directors were brought in, and new series were added-notably
the Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties and the Kid Komedies
(an early precursor of the Our Gang films).
from the responsibilities of directing, Sennett devoted most
of his time to administration and to editing, overseeing the
final cut of all his films. In 1915 Keystone was merged as an
autonomous unit into the new Triangle Film Corporation, which
united the talents of Sennett, D. W. Griffith, and American
producer Thomas Ince. With more production funds at Sennett's
disposal, his films became more commercial and varied; he even
made some romantic comedies with actor Gloria Swanson. When
Triangle folded in 1917, Sennett formed a new company, Mack
Sennett Comedies, producing longer comedy short films and even
a few feature-length films, usually with Normand or Turpin.
most memorable of Sennett's features, however, had been made
earlier: Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914), which starred Marie
Dressler, Mabel Normand, and the young Charlie Chaplin, who
was discovered by Sennett in 1913. By 1923, when Sennett ceased
to work independently and began the first of a series of associations
with other organizations, his best films were behind him. However,
he continued to have a keen eye for talent, launching the great
comedian Harry Langdon during his stint with the international
motion-picture production studio Pathé (1923-1929), making short
films in sound with actors W.C. Fields and Bing Crosby at Paramount
Pictures (1932-1935), and working with actor Buster Keaton in
1935 at Educational Pictures.
the course of his 25-year career, Sennett produced more than
1000 silent films and several dozen sound films. He retired
in 1935 at the age of 55. In 1937 Sennett was honored with a
special Academy Award "for his lasting contribution to the comedy
technique of the screen." His autobiography, King of Comedy,
was published in 1954.
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