Chaplin scholar to talk of ’Oles

Register Reporter

Dr. Lisa Stein teaches 20th century American and British literature at Ohio University-Zanesville.
While she teaches the whole century, “my area of specialty is the 1910s, ’20s and ’30s,” she said. That era happens to coincide with the heyday of silent film, and, Stein admits, “silent film and silent comedy is my sideline.”
Stein has been given a chance to delve into her sideline a bit more.
“I was asked to join the committee” that plans and orchestrates the annual Keaton Celebration, she said. She accepted.
Stein’s specialty is Charlie Chaplin and his brother, Syd. Friday, she will give a talk about one of Syd’s films, “The Better ’Ole.”
“It’s ol’,” Stein said of the Cockney pronunciation, and refers to the fox holes of WWI. “The line is, if you can find a better ’ole, go to it,” she said.
The movie is based on the comic strips of British cartoonist and WWI captain Bruce Bairnsfather.
“He became famous for the character Sydney plays in the film, Old Bill Busby,” Stein said. Busby was modeled after a typical British soldier in the conflict, Stein said. The comic was very popular in England during the war.
However, the film was not made until the next decade. That fact, plus the difference in humor between the two countries meant the story was changed quite a bit to be marketable, Stein said.
“My presentation will begin with Bruce Bairnsfather’s story and how Warner Brothers changed it to appeal to the American public,” she said.
Although the movie script was written by Bairnsfather as a comedy, “it was ‘slapstickized,’ which means it was very Mack Sennett,” Stein said. The comedy was made overtly physical, the hallmark of Sennett’s Keystone Studio, she said.
Both Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are remembered for that silent style whose appeal has lasted through the ages.
“They had to be more physical because they didn’t have dialogue to get their comedy across,” Stein noted.
The thing that makes the antics of Keaton and Chaplin so timeless, Stein said, is that “they both had music hall or vaudeville backgrounds.” Keystone movies were “an easy transformation from the stage,” she noted.
It was Chaplin who got his brother work with Sennett’s studio. But after a year, Syd left to act as manager for his better-known brother, Stein said.
“He got (Charlie) a $1 million contract within a year,” she said. “He was considered the money brother and had finesse with it. Charlie didn’t.” Stein said the brother-as-manager combination is not unusual. “Walt Disney and his brother Roy did the same thing,” she said.
Stein has the support of Charlie Chaplins’s eight living children in her work on a biography of their uncle Sydney, she said. It will be the first biography published about Syd Chaplin. She is hoping to publish it next year.