Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Mack Sennett
1880 - 1960

Holy Cross Cemetery

Mack Sennett was born and raised in Canada, the son of working-class Irish immigrants, with dreams of becoming an opera singer, but he became the silent screen's undisputed King of Comedy.

Sennett's family moved to the East Coast when Sennett was a teen-ager, and he decided to try his luck on the stage, where he found work as a burlesque performer and Broadway chorus boy. Looking for more regular employment, Sennett went to Biograph studios in 1908, and began acting in films under the direction of D.W. Griffith, and co-starring with Florence Lawrence, Lionel Barrymore, Mary Pickford and Mabel Normand. By 1910, Sennett was also directing.

In 1912, Sennett left Biograph and formed his own studio -- Keystone -- and began to specialize in slapstick comedies. The Keystone roster soon included comedy stars Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Edgar Kennedy, Slim Summerville, Chester Conklin, Charlie Chase, Mack Swain and Normand, who left Biograph to work with Sennett. Wallace Beery and Gloria Swanson also got their starts working for Sennett at Keystone. In 1914, a British dancehall comedian named Charlie Chaplin came the United States and was signed by Keystone. Chaplin appeared in 35 comedies at the studio during 1914, most of them directed by Sennett.

The typical Keystone comedy featured a thin plot and a quick succession of visual gags and often-improvised physical comedy. Sennett was also a master at taking advantage of any real-life situation that might happen to occur, such as a parade, a fire or the draining of a lake, and using it as the backdrop for one of his comedies. In his first year in business, Sennett produced 140 films, many of them featuring his famous Keystone Kops.

In 1915, Keystone became part of the newly formed Triangle Film Corporation. Two years later, Sennett left to again form his own company, Mack Sennett Comedies, working first for Paramount studios. Sennett continued to produce two-reel comedies, with an occasional feature-length film. The end of the silent era in the late 1920s also marked the end of Sennett's reign as King of Comedy, with Hal Roach replacing him. Sennett retired in 1935, moving to a farm in Canada, virtually penniless. He returned to Hollywood in 1937 to accept an honorary Academy Award, "for his lasting contribution to the comedy technique of the screen, the basic principles of which are as important today as when they were first put into practice, the Academy presents a special award to that master of fun, discoverer of stars, sympathetic, kindly, understanding comedy genius, Mack Sennett."

Sennett was portrayed by Robert Preston in the Broadway musical, "Mack and Mabel," in the mid-1970s, and by Dan Aykroyd in "Chaplin" (1992).

Sennett's grave marker identifies him as the "Beloved King of Comedy."

Sennett was born Mikall Sinnott on Jan. 17, 1880, in Richmond, Canada. He died on Nov. 5, 1960, in Woodland Hills, CA.

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