[Review of "King of Comedy" by Mack Sennett]

Monday, January 03, 1955

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

Reviews a book called "King of Comedy" by Mack Sennett as told to Cameron Shipp. First of all, it's authoritative - tells about how the Keystone comedies and Keystone Kops, and custard pies came into existence. Secondly, it's about the unsolved murder of William Desmond Taylor - great murder mystery from the 1920s. Third of all, it's a great love story between Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand. Talks about background of the story. Traces the connection beteween Sennett and D.W. Griffith. Stories about small studios like one in a brownstone on 14th Street. Actors called it "posing for the pictures" - one of whom was Douglas Fairbanks (Sr.). Background on the financial deals made. Tom Ince and Sennet were working for Kessel and Baumann of Keystone Films. Stopped production and hid the films in various places under different names. Talks about Mabel Normand - a great comedian with a light wickedness about her. Inventor of the characteristic Keystone comedies. Talks about Ben Turpin, Chaplin and comedy in the silent movies. Talks about his love for Normand, engaged to her three times. Story is tragic and beautiful and honestly told. Seldes talks about how he proposed to Normand to do a story called "I Am A Fool" by Sherwood Anderson. By coincidence, a production was being made for television. Expressionistic production - done in a non-realistic way with painted sets. Talks about television show Omnibus which had done a production of Antigone. Talks about productions distorting the direction of a classic.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

WNYC archives id: 70487
Municipal archives id: LT7228

Hosted by:

Gilbert Seldes


Lowell Institute


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Comments [1]

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About Lively Arts, The

Legendary critic and author of The Seven Lively Arts Gilbert Seldes discusses big-thinking issues in art and life from his characteristically populist perspective.

Simultaneously a timely and visionary program, Gilbert Seldes's The Lively Arts (1953-1956) examines contemporary issues of 1950s television, radio, and theater, as well as current events and the intellectual arts. Seldes, who was the first Director for Television at CBS News and the founding Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, was also a renowned critic, author, playwright, and editor. As a major social critic and observer, Seldes viewed theater, television, and radio with a prescient eye to the future based on a well-informed understanding of the past. 

These programs feature commentary and discussion on a wide range of topics — from sex and censorship in the movies to progressive education to juvenile delinquency to political campaigning on television — many of which are still hotly debated today. Serving as a precursor to Seldes's television programs and providing an audio context for his seminal books, this show is key to understanding today's cultural commentary.


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