Book Review: Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy

Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy by Steve Massa

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I received a book a couple of weeks ago (Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy) by film historian and film series curator Steve Massa that has made for fascinating reading and introduced me to the stories of dozens of very funny comediennes.

When we think of silent film comedy today, a great deal of attention gets paid to the male comedians:  Charlie, Buster, Harold, Mack, etc.  But there were dozens and dozens of famous female comedians, many of whom were headliners and big attractions of the day. (And many more who were bit players, love interests, and amusing entre’actes in between the main attraction of the film.  Sadly, most of these ladies have been forgotten.

Chubby Inherits a Harem advertisement from Slapstick Divas

Example of an advertisement in the book. (photo taken from the book)

SLAPSTICK DIVAS is a great read for silent film buffs

Fortunately, Massa has written an exhaustively researched and very complete history/compendium of comedic ladies who graced the silver screen from 1896 to the end of the silent era (and a little beyond).  He features over 450 biographies of funny ladies, many of whom you may not have heard of, but who were stars of their day. (And some who were wanna be stars)

He features knockabout clowns, bathing beauties, character actresses and leading ladies.  He also has a chapter on the many women who worked behind the scenes in the early film industry as directors, screenwriters, and producers, The book features a number of rare photographs, including promo shots, film cards, and film stills to give you some idea of the actor.  You will recognize some of the names here, but you’d have to be a super aficionado to know every name.

Steve does a great job of bringing these ladies and their stories into the light, and his writing style shows the love and respect that he has for his subject matter.

I can’t bring attention to every name, but I love this description of Alice Belcher (1880-1939) whose job was to be a spit-take for more famous comedians.

Excerpt of a bio of Alice Belcher from Steve Massa's Slapstick Divas

Description of Alice Belcher (photo from the book Slapstick Divas)

There are over 450 other women featured in the book, with this kind of detail (or much much more!)

If you are at all interested in film history, forgotten clowns, or the silent film era (and let’s face it, you are, which is why you are reading this blog) Slapstick Divas is for you It will give you a strong appreciation of what has come before in the frontiers of female physical comedy.

 

BUY THE BOOK ON AMAZON

You can also check out Steve’s other book on Silent Comedy: Lame Brains & Lunatics

Click on the book to see it on Amazon.

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