Charley Chase, a forgotten genius was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 20, 1893, under the name of Charles Parrott. He is still only a teenager who already sings in the cinemas of the city to the great joy of the public. This success and the fact of writing his own texts naturally lead him to the stage. Dreaming of performing elsewhere than Baltimore, he debuted at the music hall where he shared the bill with other artists in what was called at the time the “attractions”, a novelty that was all the rage.
Eight years after arriving in California, Chase has already made films for several studios, including Universal, Paramount, Fox, and King Bee.
He began his film career in 1912, moving to Keystone studio shortly thereafter.
Charley Chase: 11 Rare and Lesser Known Facts Of The Face Behind Silent And Talking Films
1. At twenty-six, he conquers Hollywood:
In 1913, he began working with Mack Sennett, boss of Keystone Studio, where he met another promising comedian: Charlie Chaplin. The two become friends and very soon Chaplin asks Chase to star in his films. Although its participation is modest, training is priceless. In Dough and dynamite (1914), Chase plays the role of a man who observes the actions of patrons and restaurant staff. Actions and gestures to which he reacts soberly but with formidable precision. If we look at him, fascinated, it’s not that he steals the show, but that we identify with him. He only gives in to the codes of burlesque when he receives a dish in the face.
Chaplin notices Chase’s talent and, unprecedentedly, offers him to co-star in a film called His New Profession. The success of the film does not change anything in the eyes of Sennett who continues to offer Chase only serious roles. Shortly after, Chase left Keystone to offer his services elsewhere.
2. At thirty-six, he is the king of comedy:
He began working as a director in 1920 at the Hal Roach studios, directing several films in the series Our Gang (known in Spanish as The gang), which was entirely led by child actors.
He landed the job because someone suggested that Comedy Producer Hal Roach hire a resourceful actor/director.
Charley Chase and his brother who already worked for Roach began to team up.
Summoned by Hal Roach, the 27-year-old seasoned artist impresses the mogul to such an extent that he hires him as Managing Director.
At the time, the Hal Roach studio was a small company that produced only short subjects starring Harold Lloyd. Roach, who wants to expand the scope of his activities to other series, knows that thanks to his experience, Chase is the man for the job. Chase accepts the proposal and that’s how a relationship begins fortuitously that will last fifteen years.
Chase is responsible for all of the studio’s productions, with the exception of films with Harold Lloyd. “Super Funny”, as it is nicely called, provides material for many collections.
3. This is how he becomes the king of the “hassle comedy”:
When Harold Llyod leaves Roach to produce his own feature films, he leaves a great void. Remembering that Chase is an actor, Roach urges him to make a reel-sized film of which he would be the hero. It’s been years since Chase has been in front of the cameras, and he reluctantly views failure. Directing suits him very well, but Roach eventually convinces him, and in the summer of 1923 he complies.
If he was afraid of losing his hand, it was wrong. When it came out in January 1924, the first film, aptly titled At First Sight (At First Sight), was a success. The film initiates a series of thirty others which came out the same year. The character played by Chase is called Jimmy Jump. The genius of the Jimmy Jump series is such that it will be copied or taken up by many directors (including Chase himself).
With Jimmy Jump, Chase becomes the king of the “hassle comedy”.
4. Next, he was directed by Leo McCarey, with whom he actually formed a team:
While Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Llyod are now devoted to feature films, Chase is refining its format from one to two reels per film. And that’s where he finds his cruising speed.
Isn’t life terrible is directed by Leo McCarey who will collaborate on 45 other adventures of Charley. Between them, McCarey and Chase create cinematographic magic that remains a source of inspiration today.
Their films (of which only eight have disappeared) are true instructions for use of what to do to make a comedy a success. The relaxed atmosphere that reigns on the “Charley” sets helps keep stress down. Chase and McCarey often indulge in impromptu “oxen” where everyone is singing and playing music. It is these moments of relaxation that contribute to the blossoming of this comedy which delights the public, everywhere in the world.
5. He practiced a humor that oscillated between comedy and slapstick or hit and hit humor:
Among McCarey and Chase’s classics, Mighty Like a Moose, considered the best two-reel film of the entire silent era, gives Chase a dual role without special effects. A husband and wife who have had cosmetic surgery fall in love with each other without realizing who they are. The scene in which Charley fights against himself to save his wife’s honor is a classic. In Innocent Husbands, Charley “manifests” as a deceased relative to convince his wife that he is loyal to her. In His Wooden Wedding, Charley is convinced that his future wife has a wooden leg. The scene where he imagines the whole family, including the dog, endowed with a wooden leg is hilarious. Crazy Like a Fox claims the prowess of Chase who plays crazy to escape an arranged marriage and finally realizes that the girl he is trying to get rid of is in fact the one he dreams of. In Bromo and Juliet, Chase is a Romeo who, finding his thighs too thin, stuffs them with sponges. Running to get to the theater, it goes under automatic watering and scoops oversized “muscles”.
6. In 1929 Charley Chase went to talkies and unlike other comedians or actors of his time:
When McCarey leaves the studio, James, Chase’s brother, takes over. The Chase department, despite constant team changes, has become an excellent learning ground, and film production continues unaffected by the advent of the talkie. The “Charley” with sound have the same success as the silent ones.
7. In 1933, following his stellar appearances in the Laurel and Hardy film Sons of the Desert, in 1936, he left Hal Roach’s studios:
Tanned by Hal Roach, Chase resolves to produce a feature film called Bank Night. Too quickly released in theaters, the film did not benefit from the desired post-production. At the preview, he flops. Reduced to two reels and renamed Neighborhood, the film becomes the 59th and final short subject produced by the studio instead of being Chase’s first feature film. After fifteen years of collaboration, Roach lets go of Chase.
8. In 1937, Columbia retained a shorts department, so he found work at Columbia Pictures:
Chase finds the opportunity to act in new series and to write films for other directors. Although the films for Columbia do not stand in comparison with those of Studio Roach, Chase does make some wonderful short films (of the twenty he produces and in which he stars, there are four that no one knows about!).
At Columbia, he starred in one of the two-roll shorts that this company produced and where comedians like Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, and The Three Stooges acted, whom he even directed.
Word then spread in Hollywood that Chase was ready for a smashing comeback. It is about a feature film. And before that from a comedy show on Broadway.
9. At forty-six, he disappears:
But a few days before signing his contract, Chase indulges in the usual binge drinking that is forbidden to him. He comes home, goes to bed, and never wakes up again. On June 20, 1940, Charley Chase died of a heart attack. He is forty-six years old.
Hundreds of films are interpreted, written, directed, even supervised by a man who, in his time, is considered by many, as much more than a genius. In contact with his generosity, those who will soon become the big names in cinema are formed. He is unanimous and his films are among the wonders of direction and the jewels of humor. So why did Charley Chase fade into oblivion? What happened to cause his films to rot at the bottom of who knows what chest, for years to come, or to suffer the fate of most nitrate media?
10. Finding Charley Chase’s films is now the responsibility of curators, collectors and admirers:
His disorderly life and his alcoholism were undermining his health, but today the work of Charley Chase has undergone an extraordinary revaluation, which has come to propose him, quite correctly, as one of the great American comedians of the golden age of motion picture comedy.
Knowing that there are several versions of the same film in a state of conservation varying from one to another, a movement intended to revive this monument of American cinema was born. Thanks to copies of exceptional quality, the work of a man whose short films were praised, both by critics and by the public, is brought to the attention of all. The curators and collectors who “adopted” Charley Chase, pamper him, restore him and give him the place it deserves in the history of cinema. Thus, “Charley the entertainer” can finally show today’s spectators what made those of yesterday laugh and it is clear that the spring still works.
11. Charley Chase appeared in the credits of his films and in those of others in several forms:
- With his birth name, Charles Parrott,
- With variants of his pseudonym, such as Charles Chase, Charley Chan Chase, and Charlie Chase.
- In the Spanish-speaking world, Charley Chase became known by the name Adriano in the 1920s.
On the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he is remembered today by a star placed in front of 6630 Hollywood Boulevard – long may his art reign!