Robert Z. “Pop” Leonard was a highly successful contract director at MGM, to such extent that critical appreciation of his work is practically nonexistent or of a negative kind. Nevertheless, the transparency of Leonard’s work conceals a skilled and talented artisan of the highest order, and several of his films rate as classics and remain popular favorites decades after they were made. Born in Chicago, Leonard began as a stage actor, making his film debut in 1908 at the Selig Polyscope studios in Chicago; his directing career began in 1913 at Rex, a former independent then operating as a unit within Universal. Leonard’s early films were comedies, often starring Leonard himself as a “boob” or an ethnic Swedish caricature. From the time vaudeville star Mae Murray arrived in Hollywood in 1916, Leonard gradually became her principal director, he abandoned his own career as a movie actor by 1918, but did make unbilled cameo appearances in later films.
Murray’s headstrong behavior and… read more
Joseph Frank Keaton was born on October 4, 1895, to a pair of vaudeville performers. Spending his childhood on the road with his family, he earned the nickname Buster at the age of six months. By the age of three, the youngster was appearing as part of his parents act whenever they could evade child labor laws. In vaudeville, Keaton developed remarkable talents as an acrobatic comedian with a superb sense of timing, and became a rising star by his teens. In early 1917, Buster left his act with his parents, and appeared in a Broadway comic revue later that year, but the key to Keaton’s future came when he met a fellow vaudeville comedian. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was starring in a low-budget two-reel screen comedy, The Butcher Boy, and invited Keaton to play a small role in the picture. The two hit it off and became a successful onscreen team, starring in a long string of comic hits. Fascinated by the medium of film, Keaton soon began writing their pictures, and assisted in directing… read more