Louise Fazenda in 1925. Image: Peacock’s Garden

This is our new hero.

She is Louise Fazenda, silent film comedienne, whose film career began in 1913 when she was a high school student. Her Big Break arrived when she was hired by Mack Sennett (“The King of Comedy”) at Keystone Studios.

She appeared in almost 300 movies – and worked at every major studio – specializing in non-glamorous roles. In one film, she played the mother of Mack Sennett’s character when she was 17 years old; Sennett himself would have been in his early 30s.

It is famously said that whenever superstar Mabel Normand needled Sennett about making “classier” films, he would threaten her with, “I’ll send for Fazenda.”

Fazenda was funny and popular, and she would (and could) do anything for a laugh. Her lowbrow look, they say, inspired comediennes Judy Canova, Minnie Pearl, and Carol Burnett.

Here’s Fazenda in action. Look at this gag from Hearts and Flowers (1919):

Isn’t she wonderful? She’s in her prime, and knows it, working with some of the best comedians in the Biz.

In Hearts and Flowers, Fazenda’s character is seduced by Ford Sterling who mistakenly believes she’s the heir to a $2,000,000 fortune. It’s a quirky movie with the usual Keystone slapstick and some very funny lines. Fazenda, however, is the best part of it.

Let’s look in on her in an early Keystone feature-length film, Down on the Farm (1920). Here she’s a shrewd farm girl who must Tread Carefully when it comes to the amorous mortgage lender:

Fazenda was born in Indiana to a father of Portuguese, French, and Italian descent, and a mother of German ancestry. When Fazenda was a child, the family moved to California where they opened a grocery store.

Before becoming a Movie Star, Fazenda helped support her family by working odd jobs – one of which was delivering groceries in a horse-drawn wagon.

She married a Noel Smith in 1917, whom she divorced in 1926. The following year, she married Warner Bros. producer Hal B. Wallis (he produced Casablanca, among other legendary films). Her movie career began to slow down, although she continued her screen appearances until 1939.

She and Wallis remained married until her death in 1962.

Fazenda marries Hal B. Wallis on Thanksgiving Day, 1927. Image: Beguiling Hollywood

The main reason Louise Fazenda is our hero is her philanthropy.

According to Bizarre Los Angeles, many stories of her Good Deeds surfaced after her death. Fazenda once learned of a five year-old girl who was hospitalized after a car accident that had killed the girl’s mother. Fazenda paid all the girl’s expenses.

Fazenda also Picked up the Tab when she heard of a law student dropping out of school because his wife was pregnant and the couple couldn’t afford a baby and a law degree.

“She used to go out to UCLA Medical Center, where she’d feed the young children, rock them and sing them to sleep,” a friend said. “More than once a doctor left the instruction: ‘Let the child spend some time with Louise Fazenda.’”

Los Angeles Times obituary

Fazenda didn’t seek publicity for her humanitarianism, even when she Took In two children during the Second World War. Her obituary says she’d “fend off the testimonials to her philanthropy which she shunned as long as she lived.”

Her generosity and kindheartedness made a real difference to people who needed it.

That’s why she’s our hero.

This post is part of the Second Luso World Cinema Blogathon, hosted by Crítica Retô and Spellbound by Movies.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

43 Comment on “Our New Hero: Louise Fazenda

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